The Church of England has – controversially – rewritten the Christening Ceremony by removing the section where parents have to promise to “repent sins” and “reject the devil”.
The changes to the centuries-old tradition have been endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who officiated at the Christening of Prince George – though I’m not sure if the new version of the service was used at that ceremony.
The new version is being tested in more than 1000 parishes (is St Michael’s one of the pilots?).
In the original wording of the ceremony the vicar asks parents: “Do you reject the devil and rebellions against God?” to which the reply is: “I reject them”. They are also asked to repent the sins that separate us from God and neighbour.
In the new ceremony, parents and godparents are asked to “reject evil and all its many forms, and all its empty promises”.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, writing in the Mail on Sunday has dismissed the rewritten ceremony as “dumbed down”, with the changes being the result of the church’s anxiety to make everyone feel welcome and not to offend anyone. A lay member of the general synod said the new version was “weak and woolly”.
The changes follow calls from reformers who wanted the language in services to be easier to understand for those who go to church only for weddings funerals or baptisms.
I can understand how these changes will divide the strict traditionalists from the modernisers, and it is interesting to note that this is the third revision of the service since 1980, prior to which the service had not changed in 400 years.
My personal view (and to note this has not been discussed with the clergy at St Michael’s) is that we do need to ensure the church remains relevant to a rapidly changing society, and if this means modifying centuries old liturgy then we should do so. Otherwise we might just as well revert to the original Latin. The only caveat I would add is that the changes should not undermine the spiritual and religious nature of the service or ceremony, i.e. become overtly secular. I don’t think these changes do that, and I find it hard to argue against a form of change who’s purpose is to make sure that people who attend a baptism service understand what is being said.
What do you think?