When you begin to suspect things might just be working…

Yesterday saw the baptism of four children at an 11.30am service. This was three families-worth and our tiny church was packed.

For about nine months now, we have implemented the deanery policy and required all families to come to church at least three times before the baptism. This enables us to get to know them (and makes the baptismal preparation visit so much easier) and more importantly, them to know us, to understand where we are coming from and to get an insight into the faith which underpins what is for many just a social occasion.

This has really started to bear fruit, and God can clearly be seen behind this. These kinds of baptisms are always a challenge because most are unchurched, and so I take great pains to explain all of the symbols behind baptism as I go through.

At STE we now use all five symbols of baptism:
• The oil of baptism
• The water of baptism
• The oil of chrism
• The robing in a white cloth
• The candle of baptism

This gives us a richness within which to explore the wonders of salvation. I don’t think you can overdo the symbolism of something so special as bapstism. Here is a transformative event, here was the spark of my own faith journey, when I stood and made the promises on behalf of my own child and thought

“blimey, I believe in this! I suppose I’d better do something about it then.”

…and look where God’s sense of humour has led us to now. Baptism is a hugely missionary activity because you are doing something in front of a largely mystified and unbaptised group of people. It is therefore our role not merely to do it for them, but to use it as a tool to explain why, to explore what for, to engage, to enthuse, to sell, if that’s not too strong a word to use.

A couple of older people said “I don’t remember all these oils and things” which reminded me of how bland the BCP and ASB Baptism services are, how small-minded as only the Anglicans can do. In the words of the prophet Martin Smith: “God is bigger than / the air I breathe”. Breathe in your symbols and exhale the breath of God.

Afterwards, the church looked like an explosion in a paper factory: screwed up gift aid envelopes (why DO people do that?), which despite pointing out the back of the baptism service book which speaks of Gift Aid and mentioning it while the photographs were taken there is still a large number of people who refuse to have anything to do with the damn envelope. There were also service sheets just dumped (and who did they think was going to clean the place up – ME of course) – it’s like the tip of the cinema when you leave – all popcorn and discarded mass leaflets) and our new “Welcome Pamphlet”. Cleaning up took half and hour. What a waste.

At least they responded to the teaching of the baptism.

That afternoon we went off to Burgess Hill for the n:vision event “Adore” which saw 1200 young people come to worship with Matt Redman. We did the AV again, and Liam ran the Easyworship for most of the gig. Ed did the primary video mixing and I called the shots and covered for the both of them. We were a team, and Liam was just fantastic – I am so proud of him.

Matt Redman was excellent – fired up and passionate with a tight band. The RC Bishop of Arundel, and the Anglican Bishops of Horsham and Lewes (Suffragans in Chichester and both deeply committed to youth minstry) all came on stage and prayed for us at the start.

The preacher, Stef Liston, however, was awful. He was a pastor in Peckham and he spoke so fast that you couldn’t hear ore than a word in five. When I could hear him, it was tripe. He spoke about being a creationist which set my fundamentalist alarm bells ringing – if you are literal on that one how likely are you to apply a critical hermeneutic to the rest of Scripture – bad news. Even Liam turned to me at one point in is 35 minute rant and said “he needs to get the log out of his own eye first” – which was a pretty cool comment from a 13 year old I thought.

They called for Ministry Time at the end, but then went straight on with the gig, unlike last year with the Brazillians which although freeky was at least deeply spiritual. They should have more emotion in these events (which is why Matt Redman was so good, so passionate) rather than trying to preach the Gospel with more words than emotion. It simply does not work. I don’t know how that bit worked out, but it needed to be a bit more carefully planned and employed.

Overall a good gig, and how else can you see Matt Redman for only a fiver?