The CofE has managed to hit the headlines with an article in various newspapers today, including the Telegraph about a lesbian couple trying to arrange a baptism for their child, Alfie. They were told that only the ‘natural’ mother of the child could be registered as the parent, and the other mum would have to be a godmother.
Sometimes I wonder about my colleagues… The Priest booked to take the baptism, Rev Gebauer, after the Vicar who had originally booked the baptism left, said this:
“Their sexuality has no bearing on the issue. It was never discussed. The church baptism register makes no provision for it. We can only make sure the child is theirs. For all we know they may have pinched the child.”
There are so many things wrong with what he said. Clearly their sexuality has a bearing on the issue otherwise he would be unlikely to have a problem with it! I heard one comment that his view was not unexpected because he is in his late 80’s, but this cannot be an excuse for what is clearly homophobic behaviour. To say that they need to make sure that the child is theirs is quite astonishing. I don’t think I have actually ever asked parents seeking baptism for their child to prove that the child is theirs (but then again, perhaps I’ve been doing it wrong all this time!) or had any trouble managing to baptise the child of a single parent, or parents of the opposite gender or the same gender, or indeed step parents.
Mr Gebauer went on to say: “We suggested time and again that the natural mum be registered as mum. Surely baptising the child is more important than being registered.”
Well in that case Mr Gebauer, what is your problem?
I’m extremely glad that the Archdeacon, Ven Gavin Collins, stepped in, and the baptism will go ahead as planned with both Aimi and Victoria named as the mother. He said: “I’m pleased that this issue has been resolved, and we look forward to welcoming Aimi, Victoria, Alfie and their friends and family. I’m sure it will be a great occasion as we welcome him into the Christian family.”
And in a nutshell there we have it. The point of baptism is to welcome people, usually children in the CofE but also adults, into the life of the church. Baptism marks a significant moment in their Christian life and we should be overjoyed that people seek baptism for themselves and their children.
Mr Gebauer has used the excuse that the registers for baptism do not allow for the insertion of details of two mothers, but only ‘mother’ and ‘father’. Baptism is known as one of the ‘Pastoral Offices’, along with Marriages and Funerals. If the church ties itself in knots over the paperwork then we are in danger of missing the opportunity to pastor to people, and quite often to people who otherwise may not come to church. Of course, paperwork is important. We need to get stuff right, and make sure we are working within the law but experience tells me that it takes an awfully long time for the church’s paperwork to catch up with things. I was, until just last year, still using up marriage banns application forms that had ‘spinster’ and ‘bachelor’ printed on them, and it’s a while since that changed!
What this surely must tell us, as clergy, is that we absolutely should strive to make the pastoral offices pastoral, and that includes all of our dealings with the relevant people before and after the occasion.
And people, if your vicar won’t baptise your child because you are a same-sex couple, single parent, step parent, unmarried, or any other reason that isn’t lawful then find another, go to the neighbouring parish, ask a friend for a recommendation, because we’re not all the same. And some of us want to welcome everyone who comes asking and seeking into knowing God’s all-embracing love and into the life of the church.
I’m fairly sure that when John the Baptist baptised Jesus he didn’t have to fill in a form first…