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You want your baby BAPTISED?
one parent ROMAN CATHOLIC,
the other NOT?

But don't Catholics have to . . . ?

Catholic partners undertake when they get married 'to do all I can within the unity of our partnership to have all the children baptised and brought up in the Catholic Church' (The Revised Directory on Mixed Marriages issued by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, 1990). Their partners are not asked for any such undertaking, and the 1993 Ecumenical Directory issued from Rome states that 'it should be recognised that the non­Catholic partner may feel a like obligation because of his/her own Christian commitment'. Baptism is a question which the parents have to decide about together.

So can our baby be baptised just as a Christian?

This is simply not possible, not while the Churches are still divided. Christian baptism is baptism into Christ and his Body the Church, and Church means a visible Christian community. So long as there are divisions, your baby must necessarily be baptised into a Christian community which belongs to a particular tradition. (Although some would say it is possible to have your baby baptised in the traditions of both parents.)

But my partner's Church doesn't practice infant baptism.

This is a really difficult question which we will return to later. For the moment, we are concerned with parents whose Churches both practice infant baptism, and their problem in making a decision as to which Church their child should be baptised in.

So how do we decide?

Baptism is the beginning of a long process: the initiation into Christ and his Church which takes place as your child grows into maturity.

The baptism of an infant only makes sense in relation to the way in which the child is going to be brought up as a Christian. If you are not involved in the life of any particular Christian community and don't expect to take your child to church, think carefully about whether you really want to ask for baptism ­ some clergy are willing to hold a service of thanksgiving and naming instead.

What if both sets of grandparents are pressuring us?

Grandparents are naturally concerned about the welfare of their children, and you can understand that inevitably they are likely to be deeply concerned about the question of their baptism. However, it is your child and your decision ­ and it needs to be a joint decision because you both share responsibility for your child's future.

Don't all the Churches now recognise baptism as true baptism, wherever it takes place?

Yes; In England, for example, you can ask for a common Certificate of Christian Baptism for your child issued jointly by the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Methodist Church. the United Reformed Church, and a number of others (not the Baptist Union). But this does not mean that the Churches agree on how this baptism relates to membership of a particular Church

So if we are sure we want baptism, do we have to choose one Church for our child?

Here we go back to the kind of Christian upbringing you intend to give. Will it be mainly in one Church rather than the other? For example, if in practice you are both more involved in the life of the Catholic Church ­ or only the Catholic goes to church regularly - it makes sense to have your child baptised into the Catholic community. And vice versa.

But it isn't always that simple. Having a child to bring up makes you more aware of who you are and of the values you want to share with and pass on to your child. The birth of a child can be the moment for a half­hearted Christian partner to rediscover faith. The other parent needs to welcome this proceed even if it complicates family life.

Some parents do indeed want their children to belong as far as possible to both of the parents' Churches ­ and so to be baptized into Christ and into the Church of Christ as it is expressed in both their Churches. 

Is a Church upbringing possible?

It is a big undertaking to decide to bring up your child within both your Churches. Some clergy may say that this is not possible. But many couples have found that it can be an enrichment for the child and for the family.

For this to work, the parents need to have - or to commit themselves to grow into - a real knowledge of each other's Churches. This means their differences as well as their underlying unity. For the child is the child of both parents and their Churches, and parents will want to share the best of both traditions with their children.

So what about baptism?

Some parents have made the celebration of baptism express the way they intend to bring up their children. They have involved both their Churches by arranging to share parts of the service with a representative of the other Church, so that both Churches (congregations as well as clergy) come together to celebrate their child's baptism into Christ and his Church. If this attracts you, remember it may be a new idea for your priest or minister.

There have been cases where the baptism has taken place in the home, which lessens the idea that either Church is predominating. This need not be a 'private' baptism; members of both congregations can participate. There are other cases in which the newly baptised child has been welcomed into the community of the Church in which the baptism did not take place. Sometimes the baptism has been registered in both Churches. 

What if we are a Catholic/Baptist couple?

Here is a real problem which the Churches have not yet resolved. At present there is a lot of thinking going on in many Christian traditions about the meaning of baptism and confirmation and church membership.

If you as a couple agree to have your baby baptised, one of you may not see this as a true baptism. You may decide to wait until your child is ready to decide for him/herself. However, there is now a growing Catholic practice of dividing up the rite of baptism and celebrating it over a period of time (e.g. the six weeks of Lent), both for adults and infants. You might be able to adapt this idea for your child, and spread the celebration over a longer period of time, and so reconcile the traditions of both infant and believers' baptism. But this would be real pioneering . .

Published by the Association of Interchurch Families, UK