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This article was published in the January 2001 issue of The Journal.

Three baptisms in our family

My wife is Roman Catholic and I am Anglican. Christ is at the centre of our "domestic church". Liz and I are convinced that our shared life in Christ is more important, more powerful and more real than any division which comes from the fact of our being brought up (and remaining) Christians of different traditions. We are bringing up our children within our shared faith in Christ and have put no stress on it coming to them through two different communions. Only recently (our eldest child is 6 years old) are the children starting to pick up denominational language - mostly from our Roman Catholic parish and school.

Thomas
Our first child was baptised in the church community in which we were most involved at the time. It was a Roman Catholic parish. That suited us; the whole of our post-marriage growth within a Christian community had been nurtured there – although we both went to an Anglican mid-week eucharist fairly often (not together but near our respective places of work). We also went together to our local Anglican parish church for festivals and sometimes to evensong. The Catholic parish in which Thomas was baptised is a pearl of great price – totally welcoming in a way inconceivable to many Roman Catholics. The Anglican church to which we went for evensong was delighted to use one of those evensongs a few weeks after Thomas was born to celebrate his birth in the modern equivalent of the service for the "churching of women". The service of thanksgiving for the birth of a child is a part of the liturgy of the Alternative Service Book of which I am very fond.

Joanna
When Joanna was born slightly less than two years later we adopted the same model. At that time the Roman Catholic community was still the main focus of our family worship, although we were worshipping there slightly less and in the Church of England parish slightly more often, including some morning services. Liz had started up a toddler group at the Anglican church so we were more involved there. Still, it seemed natural to take Jo to our Catholic parish for her baptism, and we knew that the important thing was that she was baptised into Christ. The thanksgiving for Jo's birth was at a morning Sunday service in the Anglican church – we rarely got to evensong with two young children.

Deborah
When Deborah was born nearly three years later our worship life had changed. We had moved house in the meantime, and sadly left the Catholic parish that had been our home. The move meant that we had both reasons against going to our new Catholic parish for the baptism and reasons for doing so. We were not experiencing a loving welcome in our new Catholic community similar to that we had enjoyed earlier, so it was not so natural to go there. However, Thomas was attending our nearest church school, a Roman Catholic school and proud of it. If we chose to baptise Deborah in a different tradition, then (whatever Rome says about validity) school admission would in all probability be tricky, even for a younger sister of children already at the school.

Once again, therefore, we celebrated our thanksgiving for Deborah’s birth at our new and very welcoming Anglican church two or three weeks after she was born. For the baptism we went to the new parish of the priest who had been curate at our former Catholic parish. He is a most loving and welcoming person, who wanted to do for and with us what he felt called to do as a pastor. So, once again, we have a baptised Christian child for whom the Christian minister was a Roman Catholic priest. I might add that when we were preparing the baptism and going through the service, we came to the parents' declarations of their faith and their believing and trusting in "the church". At this point he commented very simply: "which is meant in the broadest sense of the word".

Our family and the Church of England
So how has this practice of thanksgiving in the Anglican church and baptism in the Roman Catholic parish impacted on us as a family? The reality for us is that here in England the formula works very comfortably. If any of the five Ballasters want to practise their Christian faith in the Church of England they are free to do so. All we need to do is to "be Anglican". The other four can (or when of suitable age will be able to) be on electoral rolls and serve on parish councils. The Church of England has allowed dual membership to those who are members in good standing of a trinitarian church not in communion with the Church of England, provided that they also declare themselves to be members of the Church of England and habitually attend worship in the parish. Even before that, they will certainly be welcome to receive the eucharist, as baptised members of a Christian tradition which has a trinitarian belief, under the rules of eucharistic hospitality.

Our family and the Roman Catholic Church
The reverse is not true. That is, according to the rules, although of course there are Roman Catholic priests who will apply loving pastoral understanding which reaches the same answer in practice. Therefore, if we had celebrated the birth at a Roman Catholic service and the baptism at a Church of England service we would have made our lives more complicated. This is not only so because of the "rules" but also because of the attitudes we meet with in our present parishes. Our Anglican parish is hugely welcoming of Liz and not particularly interested in her "denomination"; she is a worshipper with everyone else. Probably only a minority of the people we know there recall that she is a Roman Catholic. I have also found a great lack of interest in my denomination in the Roman Catholic congregation, and indeed, many parishioners there are scandalised that I am refused a eucharistic welcome. This is not entirely so, however, and certainly the priests in the parish are anxious that I "make up my mind", "accept the consequences of my decision", and so on.

Our family as domestic church
Within our household, as I have tried to imply, there is no issue for us; we would have been happy to celebrate the baptism within either tradition. It is Christ who baptises and it would have been done by Christ regardless of the form of the celebration or the minister involved. We are a domestic church and our church community is fed and nurtured by two traditions. All five of us are so fed; "membership" in any technical sense is not what governs who is fed when by which tradition.

I have only recently come to formulate and grasp the experience of our Christian life together in this way. This was not the conscious foundation on which we built our baptismal choices – but I guess it is a "discovery" not an "invention". That is to say, it was already a lived reality in our household, although I have only recently come to understand it in this way.

Ups and downs
During the times when I am Spirit filled and sensible, I see the three baptisms in our family as I have set out the story above and it is a truly wonderful family experience which I enjoy. Occasionally, though, I am tempted to get really irritated. If my church were more legalistic and less pastoral, some of my children would have been baptised into it. Why have we let the rules of only one of our denominations govern our actions in this way?

But then I get myself straight again and say to myself that this is silliness on my part – do I really want the Anglican church to be loving and welcoming and Christ-like or would I prefer it to be superior and anti-stranger? If it is the former, this will govern the welcome it offers and which I applaud. We have responded to the way in which the Church of England, as an institution, has been able to express its pastoral flexibility. We have therefore found the smoothest way to express the life of our domestic church, and have adopted a recurring liturgical pattern. First we have celebrated and given thanks to God for the birth of our child within our Anglican community, and then we have celebrated Christian baptism later in our Roman Catholic community. I should be happy with this pattern, and indeed I am …

All the same, I long for a Roman Catholic Church that stops using the phrase: "but you are not one of us".

Rufus Ballaster

 

This article was published in the January 2001 issue of The Journal