…or, what to consider when bringing a new church into being through the sacrament of Baptism
Shortly after our little community Hug Cullompton began to meet, I had my first request for Baptism. The candidate was a woman I met when leading a carol service at the local pub.
I explained that Baptism is a Sacrament – a sacred act – during which a candidate declares their faith and makes promises to play their part in the life of the church
“It will take time to prepare,” I said.
“That’s fine,” she replied. “It’s something I really want to do.”
So began a time of Baptismal preparation. Three of us met regularly, and gradually we made our way through a document called the Statement Concerning the Nature, Faith and Order of United Reformed Church. It explains how we define God and the church, what is distinctive about our denomination and what it means to be a Christian in our tradition. “If you’re going to be Baptised into the United Reformed Church,” I told her, “You need to understand what you’re signing up to.”
By June she was ready. We set the date for early September and found a venue – a river bank on the edge of the town. The two of us who were already members of the United Reformed Church decided we would like to renew our Baptismal vows, and formally commit to this new church community taking shape.
It was then that the question came: “Can you do this?”
In our tradition a candidate for Baptism usually becomes a member of a URC congregation who can support and nurture them in the faith. We weren’t a constituted congregation of the United Reformed Church, and this was to be our first formal ‘service’.
It turns out that whoever wrote the URC Manual (our rule book) hadn’t considered what would happen when a new church came into being through the sacrament of Baptism. In fact, the URC doesn’t really have any guidance or procedures suited to church planting.
However, that doesn’t mean new things aren’t possible. In the aforementioned Statement of the Nature, Faith and Order it says:
we affirm our right and readiness, if the need arises, to change the Basis of Union and to make new statements of faith in ever new obedience to the Living Christ.
We weren’t asking to change the Basis of Union, our foundational document, but we were asking the church to review its practices. Our request was forwarded to the committee which deals with matters of doctrine. A conversation took place between the members, during which agreement emerged that, in the case of a new church community, Baptism was possible. Biblical precedents were found in the stories of both an Ethiopian Eunuch baptised by a road (Acts 8.28-40), and Lydia, mainland Europe’s first Christian (Acts 16.10-16).
Although it was rather frustrating at the time, I am glad the question was asked. It ensured we did it ‘properly’, and we also drew attention to the need for appropriate responses to the new things God is doing in our midst.
The Baptism service was fantastic. More than 40 people came, family, friends and local church folk. Gathering on the banks of the river Culm that day felt like a milestone – and so it was.
To read more about Baptism click here.