Birthright or misconception? : an investigation of the pastoral care of parents in relation to baptismal enquiries in the Church of England
Many studies of religion deem this a 'secular' age and demonstrate an overall
decline in regular church attendance; others point to the existence of subgroupings
within society which retain religious belief without participation in
formal Church structures. Few studies, if any, have examined why baptism
retains its importance in the lives of many young families in this country; those
that have tend to dismiss the desire as a manifestation of 'Folk Religion' or an
excuse for a celebration. Some clergy interviewed for this study believe that
pressure from previous generations is largely responsible.
Through questionnaires, interviews and library-based research the research
challenges this view, analysing the beliefs of parents and their reasons for
requesting baptism. These are compared to other studies looking at religious
belief in the locality and country-wide, concluding that those requesting
baptism come into a previously unidentified category of church affiliation.
Within the Church of England there is diversity of opinion amongst clergy
regarding the nature and meaning of baptism and its application within the
local community. A survey of clergy in the author's Diocese is utilised to
compare and contrast differing perspectives of the rite of baptism. In-depth
interviews conclude that some clergy attitudes towards young parents are based
upon false premises which subsequently influence the quality of pastoral care.
Most parents surveyed have some kind of Christian belief and fall into the
category of 'occasional attender,' possessing deep emotional attachment to the
Church as Institution and as Place, the focus of major family events such as
weddings and funerals. In an age of SUbjective values, some parents view the
Church as the last bastion of moral and ethical absolutes and desire its
guidance for their children. Many parents believe it better to be 'spiritual'
rather than 'religious' equating the latter with rigidity and formality and this
further erodes the practice of regular church attendance.
Women emerge as vital for the transmission of religious belief to the next
generation, and using the insights of feminist theologians, the study investigates
misogynistic attitudes towards women in the Church and whether a 'spiritual
hysterectomy' has taken place historically and liturgically, which effectively
removes women from the symbolism of new birth at the heart of baptism. The
Church has also distanced worship from the household, a traditionally feminine
sphere of activity, forcing parents to express religious observance only in
church buildings which can be viewed as androcentric foci of power and
The study concludes that, not only are women vital to the future of the Church,
but with baptism still providing symbolic representation of community in
particular areas, their contribution to social cohesion has been grossly
Finally the Thesis postulates how symbolic representation at the heart of
baptism might be re-evaluated thereby connecting the experience of young
parents with the Christian faith. The study raises questions regarding pastoral
practice, demonstrating that the pool of parents presenting children for
baptism represents the future of the Church of England; how they are treated
has far reaching implications for its on-going existence.