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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Shall we gather at the river?

Many people are not aware that in the Church of England the administration of Holy Baptism is either by immersion or by pouring. It is the immersion part that surprises some! Both the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship: Christian Initiation make clear that these are the (only) two options. Common Worship says that the president of the rite "dips each candidate in water, or pours water on them".

I think that few, if any, of our churches in the Diocese have a font large enough to accommodate baptism by  immersion. However, some of our parishes are close to bodies of water! For instance, Christ Church Dusseldorf has taken advantage of its place on the Rhein to provide this option for candidates to be baptised there. The Revd Stephen Seamer, the chaplain of Christ Church, has noted that such baptisms have been a real encouragement to members of the congregation. Such a service is scheduled again for 31 July.

Our clergy will be aware, of course, that when adults ("those of riper years" to use the Prayer Book language) are baptised, the canon law of the Church requires two things: the priest must notify the bishop at least a week before the baptism; and that the candidate shall be confirmed as soon after the baptism "as conveniently may be".  Baptism is unrepeatable. Those baptised in infancy are not "re-baptised".
The Revd Stephen Seamer (right) baptises a new Christian in the Rhein


  1. A former locum chaplain in Rotterdam used to baptise in the river when he worked in the Sabah Interior Mission (East Malaysia). The people of the long-houses would so be baptised. He explained them that in Baptism their sins would be washed away (in the context of thorough preparation and follow up). Not so nice for the people who live downstream, he would say with a twinkle in his eye.

  2. I confess i didn't know it was a requirement to advise the Bishop in advance of the baptism of 'those of riper years'. I can see it there in b&w and will do so from now on - but what I wonder is the logic of the canon? My concern is that it treats adult baptisms as exceptional (which no doubt they were when it was written) when in post-Christendom Europe we should surely see them more and more as normal (and indeed as normative, given that our theology of infant baptism derives from that of adults rather than vice versa). Thoughts?

  3. Notification is given to the bishop when an adult is baptised, so that the bishop and the candidate are aware that as soon as possible after the baptism, confirmation should be arranged. It is true that the norm of Christian Initiation assumes a candidate who is able to confess the faith, make the commitment to Christian discipleship, is baptised, confirmed and receives holy communion. When infants are baptised, obviously other arrangements are made - with Godparents speaking for the child's faith, and confirmation and holy communion following perhaps some years after the baptism itself.