For only the second time in my life, I just walked out of a church service.
It was a double baptism, two families, two babies. The church was full – both were large groups. All the way through, people were lounging, chatting to each other, checking their mobiles. They were just killing time until they could get out and go to the party.
The vicar asked politely at the beginning of the service that people should not take pictures during the worship. Everyone could have as many pictures as they liked afterwards, and he would happily take part in photos round the font.
A young man in the next row insolently raised his mobile phone, ensuring that the vicar could see that it was on, and that he had no intention of switching it off. There were jokes and comments and snide laughter.
It was like that all the way through. Our vicar insists (unwisely in my view) to have Communion as well as baptism in the service. This was a signal for the assembled company to switch off completely. They made no further attempt to follow the service in their booklets, or to stand for the hymns, or to take any part in the prayers. They continued to smirk, talk and snigger.
There was so much noise that, as he started the Eucharistic prayer, the most important bit of the service, he had to stop and wait until somebody noticed that he was waiting for the noise to die down. Even though he was wearing a microphone he was hard to hear above the racket.
And yet the parents and godparents have to say – and mean it too – ‘I turn to Christ’. They promise to pray and to bring their child up in the Christian faith and to bring them to church. I’ve heard them say it hundreds of times. And we never see them again.
It was all a farce. Do they think God doesn’t know that they don’t care and don’t mean it? Mocking the creator of the universe and the redeemer of the human race is not a good idea.
I need to decide whether, by continuing to attend these farces, I am in some way complicit. It’s almost like I’m committing spiritual perjury, and I’m increasingly uncomfortable with it.
Oh yes, I prayed. I prayed for them all the way through. And I’ll continue to do so. God can reach the hardest of hearts in the most unexpected ways.
What would I do instead? Offer the much shorter service of Thanksgiving and Blessing to all babies, regardless. The parents are not making any promises. They are just wanting to say thank you. When Jesus said ‘let the little children come to me’ he gave them a blessing, not a baptism. That’s absolutely relevant and right and I could do that wholeheartedly, and indeed have done it in my own ministry.
Let the families have this service whenever they want. They are not joining the church, they are simply wanting to give thanks. If they want it in an evening, or a weekday, or Sunday afternoon – no problem. Let the children come.
If people want to continue to baptism, then they need proper teaching as to its real meaning, and some evidence of commitment to Christ. That’s what baptism is: it’s a person saying, publicly, that they believe Jesus is the Son of God and that they want to follow him and serve him.
To say it, and not mean it, is lying to God.
(image from godofevolution.com)