Main Menu  

   

This article was published in The Journal, Summer 2003.

Baptism into Christ and the Church in an interchurch family context 

The Question of Baptism was written by John Coventry, SJ and first published as a 'Centrepiece' to the AlF Newsletter in 1980. It was a foundational document of the British Association, encapsulating the reflection and experience of the first decade. It was reprinted in 1984 and again in 1989, each time with an additional reference to new interchurch family baptism stories. It was sent out to hundreds of enquirers, and became the backbone of the Baptism Pack that AlF first put together in 1994-95 and has added to in subsequent years.

Infant baptism

The Question of Baptism focused entirely on the baptism of a baby, since that was the focus of attention of AIF couples in the early years, and of those who wanted information from the Association about what might be possible. Many parents found it an agonising question: how could they baptise their baby in a way that respected and involved both the church communities to which they were related as a couple, and intended to be related as a family? It can be noted, however, that Fr John Coventry himself always felt that the sacrament of marriage already sanctified any children born of the marriage. He never tired of pointing out that what mattered most to the child was not how s/he was baptised but how s/he was brought up.

But baptism mattered a lot to the parents who felt they needed to mark their child's birth in the context of their two church communities. Most churches practised infant baptism, and the challenge of the new charismatic/baptist churches had hardly been felt. However, not without heart-searching and pain, some parents were prepared to delay baptism until they could arrange a celebration that would fulfil their aspirations as far as possible. One of our 'baptism stories' is about a baptism at home when the elder of the two children involved was old enough to reprove the Catholic priest for spilling water on the carpet! (Interchurch Families, 1,1 January 1993, p.3).

A broader perspective
It was only in later years, as we explored further the whole question of Christian initiation, that we began to focus on the question of infant baptism and believer's baptism, and the different roles that they play in the process of Christian initiation into Christ and his Church. It helped that we had the Revd Ruth Matthews, a Baptist minister, as our first Free Church co-chair. In August 1995 the theme of the AlF annual Swanwick conference was 'Growing in Christ'. The keynote speaker, Sr Cecily Boulding, OP spoke of the process of initiation: We agree that Christian initiation is an on-going process, but the churches to which you adhere are not alwavs in agreement about the liturgical shape of that process. Should infants be baptised? Or should conscious, responsible believers seek baptism for themselves? If baptism is given in infancy, how do we understand  confirmation?  And how do we handle questions about membership of the visible church that this raises? (IF 4,1, January 1996, p.15).

It so happened that for the first time a young Roman Catholic-Baptist couple, expecting a baby and seriously exploring the question, came to the 1995 conference. Following discussion there and to help further reflection, a paper on possibilities for Catholic-Baptist couples was written and added to the AIF Baptism Pack. We reproduce it here. It is a theoretical outline of a possible approach to the initiation of the children of Catholic-Baptist parents, taking account of the traditions and structures of both church communities.

Three stories

Following that document, we give three stories of what has happened in three different interchurch families belonging to the Association. The first couple, Lionel and Lindsay, intended to baptise their children as infants, but because they could not arrange a shared celebration in the way they wanted, delayed baptism until this was possible. In the event the celebration surpassed all that they could have envisaged or hoped for when their first child was born, and she was able to answer for herself when as a 6-year old she came to be baptised, along with her younger sister. (This event took place in September 2002 and was mentioned briefly in the January 2003 joumal, p.8.)

The second couple, Jim and Pamela, are the Catholic-Baptist couple who attended the 1995 AlF Swanwick conference. They had made a decision together to delay baptism until their child could express his own personal faith and ask for baptism. They wanted to make their commitment to the Christian upbringing of their children in the context of both church communities, and they tell their story of how this was done.

The third couple, Stephen and Marian, both belonged to a charismatic community church, which practises the baptism of believers, so their children were not baptized as infants. Then Stephen felt called to become a Roman Catholic. The painful changes involved were faced as a united couple and family, and happily the pre-teen boys had no objection to participating in the life of two congregations - they enjoyed it. The older two wanted to receive communion in the Catholic Church, as their contemporaries were doing; this of course raised the question of baptism. After much thought, discussion and prayer a celebration of baptism, to take place at home and involving both the Catholic priest and a minister of the charismatic community, was planned for summer 2003.

This article was published in The Journal, Summer 2003.