hand in water

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One thing wrong with the baptism rite?

It would be churlish to oppose Statute 712 (“Bill 5”) of New Zealand Anglicanism’s General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW) without providing for some thinking through of an alternative solution to the problem that it is trying to address.

The presenting problem was that one person once (as far as I know) at a Eucharist inserted the baptism rite between the Epistle and the Gospel reading, taking literally the rubric on page 383 of A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (ANZHKMA) that

It follows the New Testament Lesson or The Gospel or The Sermon.

The intention of this rubric appears to have been that at “another service of worship” (other than a Eucharist) the baptism rite would come after the readings (“the New Testament Lesson” presumably being the last reading).

The solution of Statute 712 to this was to introduce greater confusion by having a church rule referring to “proclamation of the Word” where no such “proclamation of the Word” has been defined anywhere. Stranger still that this statute was introduced straight after a statute (711) that had just pointed out the mess the church is in because it had not defined a term!

The response to this possible new confusion was: “clergy should be trained to baptise appropriately”. And there you have it!

The best solution to this one-off occurrence is better clergy training.

Six of the seven (Tikanga Pakeha) diocesan synods have met and not assented to Statute 712 to amend the baptism rite. The seventh diocese assented with a letter that more work needs to be done.

More work needs to be done

The ANZHKMA baptism rite is a bit of a mess.

  • It is formatted as liturgical snakes-and-ladders. Its layout is Baptism – Confirmation – Baptism – Confirmation – Baptism! I have regularly seen clergy, intending to follow what is agreed, get lost. I have seen them get so flustered that they even get the words of the actual baptism moment confused.
  • The rite itself is erroneous more than the error Statute 712 is attempting to fix: page 396 section A omits The Presentation for Baptism! Page 397 Section D (You will need the latest revised Prayer Book edition – earlier ones omit Section D) omits The Presentation for Baptism and the questions to parents and godparents, and includes confirmation’s Commitment to Christian Service.
  • It is overly verbose. We do not need the constant didactic pieces (or at least make them optional), the repeated creeds and mini-creeds and mini-mini creeds, and doing everything twice. Half to two-thirds of the material can be trimmed with no loss and much gain. Less is more. The sacrament is being drowned in words.
  • The words in the rite are organised in such a way that they distract from the actions. When the water is (poured into the font and) blessed, people need to keep their eyes on the text because the responses are different to any others, and have no memorable cues (“whose promise endures… Amen. Come Holy Spirit… Amen! Praise and glory…”) Even at the very point of baptism, the rite has the people NOT watching the baptism, but the text, as they must come in immediately with, “Amen. God receives you…”
  • The concept that we do not make promises on behalf of children is so dated. That concept was a big “breakthrough” in this rite, but no one now notices it, or even knows about it. People regularly talk about “renewing our baptism promises” when, in this rite, such great care is taken not to make promises on behalf of a child.
  • The presenting theology is back-to-front: “let’s pour water on them and then see if they believe anything” (Section D page 397, the result of a motion of mine to GSTHW, allows the traditional order, but it is little known).

It is not surprising to me that this baptism rite is so little used. Parishes design their own rites, regularly sending me a copy for my suggestions.

A Revision?

The Roman Catholic rite of baptism at the Eucharist has the presentation as part of the Gathering, and the baptism rite following the homily. It is flexible, providing opportunity for people to give personal reason for asking for baptism. The same rite has a version used apart from the Eucharist. Again, it regularly indicates “these or similar words”. It follows a similar structure of Presentation – Readings – Homily – Intercessions (Prayer of the Faithful) – Baptism.

Other Anglican rites are similarly clear and simple.

So, my simple solution to the problem of someone placing the baptism rite before the Gospel reading at a Eucharist is not passing Statute 712 which generates more problems than it solves, but better clergy training, that baptism is in response to God’s Word. This, as I indicate, hardly rates in the problems with the NZ Anglican baptism rite.

If you really want to start thinking about revising our baptism rite, click on this link for my first draft to get discussion going.

Furthermore, here is the agreed NZ Anglican formulary with baptism coming after creed and promises rather than as printed where it comes before them. This traditional order has been allowed since 2002.

This is the second post in a series presenting positive solutions to the decisions by diocesan synods not to assent to statutes from GSTHW. The first is on amending the church’s constitution.

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