Wednesday, 29 July 2015

epiclesis: a voyage of Epic proportions

I have a feeling this will be a rather long blog entry worthy of liturgical anorak status, but I do think that this is an important issue - so here goes:

Having raised the issue of baptism in my 'church growth strategies' I have found myself engaged with, and by, a number of people regarding three main issues (but here we deal with but two):

1. Who can do the baptism service - laity, deacon or priest?

2. Something even more passionately taken up - the place of the epiclesis, and

3. The 'overly long' prayer over water (their words, not mine) - outside the remit of this blog entry - perhaps another day..

1. Who can do it? 
In some dioceses the view is taken that a deacon*  can conduct a baptism (and I have even heard of weddings too, but that is for another day) whilst in another diocese the person 'doing' the service needs to be a priest (one who has been priested - that is become presbyteros). 

My training, and personal choice (mine, not the choice I would impose that means) was that the epiclesis was something I didn't do until priested. Others may hold a different view of course.

2. The epiclesis

The reason that whoever does the epiclesis needs to be a priest finds its focus in the understanding of the word: (Gk: ἐπίκλησις) - a most wonderful word indeed that relates to the 'invocation' or 'calling down' in the form of transformation or blessing by God's Holy Spirit.  One of the keys to recognising this in a service is that it is often accompanied by priest making the sign of the cross**  

The discussion surrounding epiclesis has been lively - and not without passion and fire - which coming from clergy surely merits a 'Hallelujah'!

In the discourse which follows, the [+] denotes the place where the sign of the cross (and therefore the epiclesis) are (according to popular view) generally to be found.

In the baptism service it has been argued (politely) yea we find an epiclesis occurring during the exorcism (the bit after the sign of the cross has been made on the candidate's head using oil - the chrismation):

May almighty God [+] deliver you from the powers of darkness, restore in you the image of his glory, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ. 

An epiclesis appears to occur again during the prayer over water::

Now sanctify [+] this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, they may be cleansed from sin and born again.

And, of course, at the end with the sending out and the blessing itself:

The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, 
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith; 
and the blessing of God almighty, [+] the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

The three epicleses lead me to the position whereby the person doing that part of the service should be a priest, BUT, I have always tried to ensure that the person preparing candidates is involved in the service and so have tried to do the baptism in partnership with them - and 'them' being a licenced lay minister means that they can tog up too (bargain!). 

Now although I know that some are happy to have a lay member or deacon do the service, I am happy to give my time to do another service ('Oh no!,' said a colleague, 'Not another one!'). The question here has to be do we let lay ministers or deacons do the service so that we can be doing less or are we letting others do it because we have a theological reason (and a collegial outworking too perhaps)?

The ASB (p,163) tells us: If the ministry of a bishop or priest cannot be obtained, a deacon may preside at a public baptism. 

It gives us the Exorcism as: 'May almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ.'
and the 'prayer over water: [+] Bless this water, that your servants who are washed in it may be made one with Christ in his death and in his resurrection, to be cleansed and delivered from all sin.

Common worship gives us the following notes (p.101) to savour:

Holy Baptism is normally administered by the parish priest in the course of public worship on Sunday ‘when the most number of people come together’ (Canon B 21).
  1. 1  Minister of Baptism
    Where rubrics speak of ‘the president’, this indicates the parish priest or other minister authorised to administer Holy Baptism. When the bishop is present he normally presides over the whole service. Parts of the service not assigned to the president may be delegated to others. 

(Canon B21 Indicates desirability of Baptism taking place on Sunday in the context of public worship.)

So is the ASB the root of our epiclesis saga? 
Let's have a quick look at baptism pre 1980  (after a squint at emergency baptism that is).

The 'emergency' baptism

When it comes to baptism, it is obvious that without the three epicleses being present the necessity of a priest is removed. One of the most popular reasons people have given for the validity of lay administered baptism comes in the form of the 'emergency' baptism. 'After all,' they say, 'If baptism is valid in an emergency, why does it become invalid when the service is planned and in calmer conditions?

The reason for this is the epiclesis of course - and if there isn't one, then it is obvious that anyone can conduct the service. Simple stuff this - all about what we say and don't say!

Emergency Baptism (ASB p.164)
In case of emergency, any person present may administer baptism according to the following form.
Using the given name of the one to be baptised (if known), pour water on him or her, saying,

I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer is then said.
Other prayers, such as the following, may be added.

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin and have raised him/her to the new life of grace. Strengthen him/her, O Lord, with your presence, enfold him/her in the arms of your mercy, and keep him/her safe for ever. Amen.

The person who administers emergency baptism should inform the priest of the appropriate parish, so that the baptism may be properly registered.
If the baptised person recovers, the baptism shall be recognised at a public celebration of the sacrament. The person baptised under emergency conditions and his or her sponsors shall take part in all parts of the baptismal liturgy, except for the baptism in water itself. 

Emergency Baptism (CW p.105)

In an emergency, a lay person may be the minister of baptism, and should subsequently inform those who have the pastoral responsibility for the person so baptised.

2 Parents are responsible for requesting emergency baptism for an infant. They should be assured that questions of ultimate salvation or of the provision of a Christian funeral for an infant who dies do not depend upon whether or not the child has been baptised.

3 Before baptising, the minister should ask the name of the person to be baptised. When, through the absence of parents or for some other reason, there is uncertainty as to the name of the person, the baptism can be properly administered without a name (so long as the identity of the person baptised can be duly recorded). 

Let's visit the BCP and the:

The 'traditional' view
I have been told by those who are old enough to have been conducting baptisms using the Book of Common Prayer (i.e. before the 1980 Alternative Service Book - The ASB - came into being) that they do not recall an epiclesis ever being part of the service - this is supported by the tone taken in Canon xxx. Mind you, I don't know anyone who has been around any later than the fifties with regard to ministry!!!

Not only was there no place for apparent epiclesis in the BCP baptism but I am also led to believe that the font would have been filled and used for more than one baptismal service over a period of weeks rather than refilled each and every service.

It seems that things changed quite markedly in the ASB (but the notes and references in it show it to more than a kneekerk or ill-considered (theologically or otherwise) document despite the critics of it). Common Worship continues along the path set by ASB to the place we find ourselves today.

A Conclusion of sorts
Were the epicleses removed form the service I cannot see any reason why a deacon or lay person (licensed or otherwise) cannot conduct a baptism service. The words would have to be tinkered with a little to tie up the liturgical and theological ends but that would be relatively simple I imaging.

But of course there is the requirement for a subsequent 'public celebration' - but this could be satisfied by a thanksgiving in the next Sunday service after the event. 

Regardless - I am not sure that the epicleses need to be in the service (but I'd very much like to keep them) but if they are retained then they need to be the province of the priest - but doing the service with two (or more) voices would be rather nice I reckon, so why not?

This has been quite a ramble for me as I've considered the liturgy, rubric and experiences of some of my colleagues in my desire to have a fuller understanding of who might conduct baptisms and how, should we return to the BCP approach for instance, the epiclesis did not feature as it does now. Is this a sign of clericalism or the current trend towards lay ministers doing the service a reflection of anticlericalism (or just being too skint to pay a stipend perhaps?).

Thanks for your perseverance (if you have persevered) and if you didn't, my apologies for this snaking consideration of epiclesis and baptism. I hope it has been of some use.



Morning Prayer - 29 July 2015

Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Companions of our Lord

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth. My soul shall glory in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Look upon him and be radiant and your faces shall not be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.

O taste and see that the Lord is gracious; blessed is the one who trusts in him.
Fear the Lord, all you his holy ones, for those who fear him lack nothing. Lions may lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good. Come, my children, and listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Who is there who delights in life and longs for days to enjoy good things?
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from lying words. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.The righteous cry and the Lord hears them and delivers them out of all their troubles.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the troubles of the righteous; from them all will the Lord deliver them. He keeps all their bones, so that not one of them is broken. But evil shall slay the wicked and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and will condemn none who seek refuge in him.

Jeremiah 33.1-13
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still confined in the court of the guard: Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defence against the siege-ramps and before the sword: The Chaldeans are coming in to fight and to fill them with the dead bodies of those whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath, for I have hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness. I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them; they shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.

Thus says the Lord: In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without human beings or animals’, in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without inhabitants, human or animal, there shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank-offerings to the house of the Lord: ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever!’ For I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says the Lord.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: In this place that is waste, without human beings or animals, and in all its towns there shall again be pasture for shepherds resting their flocks. In the towns of the hill country, of the Shephelah, and of the Negeb, in the land of Benjamin, the places around Jerusalem, and in the towns of Judah, flocks shall again pass under the hands of the one who counts them, says the Lord.

James 3
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

The Collect
God our Father,
whose Son enjoyed the love of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, in learning, argument and hospitality:
may we so rejoice in your love that the world may come to know the depths of your wisdom, the wonder of your compassion, and your power to bring life out of death; 
through the merits of Jesus Christ, our friend and brother, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Morning Prayer - 28 July 2015

Psalm 32
Happy the one whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered. Happy the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile. For I held my tongue; my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. Your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up like the drought in summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful make their prayers to you in time of trouble; in the great water flood, it shall not reach them. You are a place for me to hide in; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with songs of deliverance.

‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye. Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding; whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.

Great tribulations remain for the wicked, but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Psalm 36
Sin whispers to the wicked, in the depths of their heart; there is no fear of God before their eyes. They flatter themselves in their own eyes that their abominable sin will not be found out. The words of their mouth are unrighteous and full of deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and to do good. They think out mischief upon their beds and have set themselves in no good way; nor do they abhor that which is evil.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens and your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep; you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.

How precious is your loving mercy, O God!
All mortal flesh shall take refuge under the shadow of your wings. They shall be satisfied with the abundance of your house; they shall drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the well of life and in your light shall we see light

O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you and your righteousness to those who are true of heart. Let not the foot of pride come against me, nor the hand of the ungodly thrust me away. There are they fallen, all who work wickedness. They are cast down and shall not be able to stand.

Jeremiah 32.1-15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, ‘Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; King Zedekiah of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; and he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I attend to him, says the Lord; though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed?’

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

James 2.14-end
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith without works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. 

The Collect
Lord God,
your Son left the riches of heaven and became poor for our sake: when we prosper save us from pride, when we are needy save us from despair, that we may trust in you alone; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Morning Prayer - 27 July 2015

Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, Teacher of the Faith, 1901

Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not be afraid, and though there rise up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him. 

One thing have I asked of the Lord and that alone I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek his will in his temple. For in the day of trouble he shall hide me in his shelter; in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me and set me high upon a rock. And now shall he lift up my head above my enemies round about me; Therefore will I offer in his dwelling an oblation with great gladness; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy upon me and answer me.
My heart tells of your word, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor cast your servant away in displeasure. You have been my helper; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation. Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me on a level path, because of those who lie in wait for me. Deliver me not into the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen up against me,  and those who breathe out violence.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.

Psalm 30
I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have raised me up and have not let my foes triumph over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to you and you have healed me. You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored me to life from among those that go down to the Pit.

Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks to his holy name. For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favour for a lifetime. Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. In my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved. You, Lord, of your goodness, have made my hill so strong.’ Then you hid your face from me and I was utterly dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cried; to the Lord I made my supplication: ‘What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? ‘Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.’ You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Jeremiah 31.23-25, 27-37
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its towns when I restore their fortunes:
‘The Lord bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!’ 
And Judah and all its towns shall live there together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. 
I will satisfy the weary, and all who are faint I will replenish.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. 

Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the Lord of hosts is his name: If this fixed order were ever to cease from my presence, says the Lord, then also the offspring of Israel would cease to be a nation before me for ever. 

Thus says the Lord:
If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will reject all the offspring of Israel because of all they have done, says the Lord.

James 2.1-13
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.

The Collect
Lord God, your Son left the riches of heaven and became poor for our sake:
when we prosper save us from pride, 
when we are needy save us from despair,
that we may trust in you alone;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Church Growth strategies: 'Make your services attractive : 1. Baptism!'

Starting, as always, with a word from Stanley Hauerwas:

Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.

Last week I was given some wisdom from a clergy colleague who is (in their own words) 'transforming Church' as to how we need to, Make Church popular by throwing off the old stuff and attract people by making our services light!' 

Intrigued I asked what they meant and was pointed to the 'new' liturgy for baptism and the 'getting rid of all those words' as being part of the process. They continued, 'We don't  do all that old stuff where we talk about sin and the devil and that sort of thing, the people who come don't like it and it turns visitors off!'

Nodding (in unbelief rather than assent) I passed them the shovel and allowed them to keep on digging - and they did as they told me how Church needed to become accessible and stop using religious words and concepts and give the people what they want to hear in the way they want to hear it.'

I was taken back to one of my lecturers who challenged me regarding my approach to the baptism service some years back as I explained how I did mine. I explained that I engaged them and went through the safety stuff and make a joke about which way to leave and then asked them to not fight with crying children because, 'Church should be a place where children are.'

Shaking his head, my lecturer said, 'Oh, so you're one of those who like to make Church a circus are you? What about the solemnity and import of the service before you?'

Now, when this happened I was quite annoyed because in fact I don't think Church should be a circus and while I do think we need to make it accessible, the words of today's NT reading (which have always been a spur and guide for me) where Paul speaks of:

'being all thing to all people - without compromising our faith or falling into sin' 

Amazingly, a few years later I saw that self same lecturer conduct a baptism and (sad to say) it was dry, turgid church; church designed to remind us of the days when Brilliantine and suits were the order of the day. The liturgy was impeccable - the congregation unnecessary and the content uninspiring!

The additional offering (not changes) to the baptism service came about because of a disconnectedness between the baptismal family and the liturgy. Whilst I don't doubt that, I do have some struggles with the assumption that this was because the words were too difficult for the customer (which surely saying something rather negative about them and their education, reading age (the national average being nine) and culture) and the like.

Working in a setting which is more Sun (reading age of eight years) than The Times or Guardian (fourteen to sixteen years) I have found the words of our services (including the baptism service) to communicate well with those before me. I think to proclaim the dumbing down of the liturgy to make it accessible is to take an elitist and quite mocking approach rather than presenting something popularise and accessible.

So Where does the problem lie?

Not going to be popular this I reckon, but the problem isn't in with the punters but the providers!

Taking the baptism service's 'prayer over the water':

We thank you, almighty God, for the gift of water to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.

Over water the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. 
In water your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us from the death of sin to newness of life. 

We thank you, Father, for the water of baptism.
In it we are buried with Christ in his death. 
 By it we share in his resurrection. 
 Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. 

Therefore, in joyful obedience to your Son, we baptise into his fellowship those who come to him in faith. 

Now sanctify [an epiclesis is indicated here*] this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, they may be cleansed from sin and born again. Renewed in your image, may they walk by the light of faith and continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen. 

This one block of text provides us with the opportunity to include creation, Exodus, Redemption, Baptism and the ministry of Jesus leading to the cross and so much more. If this isn't being taken up then the problem is surely with the person ministering rather than the words of the people before them!

Moving on to the devil - from Futurama through to the old and gold films like the Omen, Rosemary's baby and the like (who do you think the 2012 film 'the devil' was about?) - you'll find dark thinks and satan featuring large in popular TV, film and literature. 

How odd that we worry about looking out of touch by talking about an entity who appears in so much of the modern cultures media offerings. In fact, plonking your audience into the 'low education' bracket probably means they have encountered more about the devil than many of the faithful members of your church!

People understand the tensions between Virtue and Vice, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong - so why are we so frightened to use the word 'sin; I wonder?

No I'm sorry but whilst I am all for making Church accessible I can't see how, as we seek to be all things to all people, watering down of the Gospel or weakening the message is going to do anything but fail to deliver the word. If people don't understand then we need to tell (and teach) them: And if we cannot then let us stop blaming the written words and realise the weakness lies with the person delivering it.

So baptism: How do you do yours? 

* Epiclesis: the invoking or imparting of the Holy Spirit (AKA the 'Priestly bit) - A Blessing, usually associated or accompanied by the making of the sign of the cross.

Top Horror films of 2014

2014 GrossTickets Sold
1Annabelle10/3/2014Warner Bros.R$84,273,81310,315,032
3Deliver Us from Evil7/2/2014Sony PicturesR$30,577,1223,742,609
5Devil's Due1/17/201420th Century FoxR$15,821,4611,936,531
6The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death1/2/2015RelativityPG-13$15,027,4151,839,340
7Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones1/3/2014Paramount PicturesR$14,118,7611,728,122
8The Quiet Ones4/25/2014LionsgatePG-13$8,509,8671,041,599
9The Pyramid12/5/201420th Century FoxR$2,706,405331,261
11The Remaining9/5/2014Sony PicturesPG-13$1,169,603143,158
13The Babadook11/28/2014IFC MidnightNot Rated$742,09290,831
14Mo jing4/18/2014China Lion Film DistributionNot Rated$172,01021,053
16A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night11/21/2014Kino LorberNot Rated$158,70719,425
17Afflicted4/4/2014CBS FilmsR$121,17914,832
18Gojira5/7/2004Rialto PicturesNot Rated$78,8699,653
19Honeymoon9/12/2014Magnolia PicturesR$9,3181,140
20The Sacrament6/6/2014Magnolia PicturesR$9,2211,128
2113 Sins4/18/2014RADiUS-TWCR$9,1341,117
22Come Back to Me7/25/2014Freestyle ReleasingR$7,744947
23The ABC’s of Death 210/31/2014Magnet PicturesNot Rated$7,171877
24Stage Fright5/9/2014Magnolia PicturesR$7,078866
25Almost Human2/21/2014IFC FilmsNot Rated$5,710698
26Tore tanzt6/27/2014Drafthouse FilmsNot Rated$4,871596
28V/H/S: Viral11/21/2014Magnolia PicturesR$2,756337
29Ahi va el diablo12/13/2013Magnolia PicturesR$1,263154
30[REC] 4: Apocalypse1/2/2015Magnolia PicturesR$70886
Total Gross of All Movies$254,898,971
Total Tickets Sold31,199,367