September 2011

The Reader Reports...

Dear Friends,

Well we made it!! We survived for three months without Brian, and hopefully we havenít left too many problems for him to sort out. My heartfelt thanks go to Peter, Alan and Tony for their support during the sabbatical, and, of course, to the many visiting clergy who have given us enormous help.

I am surprised at how quickly three months can pass by, but I suppose that time always flies by when one keeps busy. I have certainly enjoyed my role as ďcontinuity manĒ and it has given me some insight into the role of a parish priest.

What I have probably enjoyed most were the baptisms. I only occasionally get the chance to take a baptism in Bassett parish, but while Brian was away I took three double baptisms in the space of one month. It was lovely to visit the families at home, to share some time with them and explain what baptism is really about, and then to welcome them into the church for the baptism service itself.

However, it saddens me a little that in so many cases, baptisms take place separately from the main church services, when there are no members of the church family available to welcome the child or children being baptised into Godís family. I tried very hard to persuade the families to agree to the baptisms taking place during a main service, and if possible a family service, but unfortunately without any success. There were, of course many genuine reasons for wanting the baptism later in the day e.g. friends and family travelling some distance, or a large number of friends and family attending, which would mean the church would be overflowing (I had over 150 people at one baptism). However one canít help thinking that in some cases, the family is simply worried or embarrassed about attending a main church service.

Baptism is such an important part of the life of our church. It is one of those rare opportunities we have to welcome new families into our church family, but sadly an opportunity which is often wasted, so what can we do about it? I suppose one answer is really quite simple. If we canít persuade baptism families to have the baptism during a main service, we must try to persuade a few members of our regular congregations to come along to baptisms held at other times. This would ensure that there are some members of the church family present to give the child or children a proper welcome into Godís family, and furthermore to chat to the parents and godparents, make them feel at home, and perhaps encourage them to come along to a main Sunday service on another occasion. Talking to baptism families made me realise that their worries and fears about attending church are quite genuine. They worry about their children making a noise or causing a disturbance, wanting to run around or play with noisy toys. They worry about not being familiar with the services, when to sit or stand, and what to do when itís time to go up for communion.

Having brought three children up within the church family, I do have some sympathy for these fears and concerns, but in my case it was easy because everyone knew and accepted my family. Perhaps what we could do is to have the same few members whom we ask to attend baptisms, ready to welcome families on Sundays, get them to sit with the families, help keep an eye on the children, guide them through the service, and answer any questions or concerns which may arise. We are already very good at doing that at our family services, and could easily do the same at other services.

What all our churches badly need is more young families attending on a regular basis. Baptism provides the obvious opportunity, to get more young families into the church and we really need to make much more of that opportunity.

We must never forget those words of Jesus :- ďLet the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.Ē Mark 10:14.

Kind regards and best wishes to you all.

Malcolm Harper