Sunday, May 19, 2024

Controversial Church Of Ireland Motion on Baptism Proposed at General Synod : 10th May 2024

Proposed by Prof Patricia Barker (Dublin & Glendalough) and seconded by Lynn Wright (Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh) the Motion affirms the sanctity of marriage but called on Synod to acknowledge that it is a reality of modern life that infants are often born to single parents and/or to couples who are not married. 

The Motion asked Synod to affirm that, in accordance with Canons, Chapter 9 of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland, irrespective of the marital status of the parents of an infant, a minister must not refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or godparents, delay to baptise any child within his or her cure who is brought to be baptised, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to sponsors and godparents are observed.

Before the motion was proposed, Archbishop John McDowell observed that the motion had no power to do what it sought to do. It could not impact the present or future practice of baptism by the Church of Ireland. He also said there had been a request for voting by orders.

Prof Barker said that the Motion followed on from last year’s General Synod when the matter of refusing to baptise and infant whose mother was not married was raised. A number of accounts of this practice had emerged in the intervening year, she said. She asked that members of Synod affirm what they believe is fundamentally already embedded in the Church’s Canon law.

“Canon law begins from that basic affirmation of consistency, equity and equality, for all who are members in the Body of Christ. And it seeks clarity about who may do what and who is answerable to whom,” she stated. “In relation to the practice of bringing infants to Church for Holy Baptism those two principles of consistency and clarity are being breached in some parishes in our island. Some clergy – indeed most clergy – will baptise an infant brought for baptism, without asking questions about the marital status of the mother of the infant. Our motion underpins our real concern that, in other cases, infants are refused Baptism by virtue only of the marital status of their mothers.”

She said the motion does not seek to change Canon law but to affirm that law must be applied consistently and with clear equality to all parishioners who find themselves in the same situation.

She outlined the principals of Canon law which were common to the churches of the Anglican Communion. She said that nowhere in the principals or in the Church of Ireland’s Canon 9 was there reference to the marital status of the mother of the child. “So this Motion this afternoon hinges around whether being the baby of a single parent is lawful cause to refuse Baptism to that baby. That is the issue on which you are being asked decide today,” she said.

She continued: “If this Synod believes that being a child of a single parent or of parents who are not married is lawful cause to refuse to baptise that child, the consequence of that decision is that, therefore, all children born outside of marriage should be refused in order to comply with our fundamental principles of consistency, equity and clarity.”

Seconding the motion, Lynn Wright, said she came to the podium with a heavy heart. She said she had a passion of concern for babies born out of wedlock simply because they are born to single parents. She said clergy were allowed to pick which infant is suitable for baptism and she asked if clergy were being true to Jesus.

Debating the motion, Dr Lucy Michael (Dublin and Glendalough) said the Church practices baptism for the cleansing of original sin and the initiation into the church community. She asked why anyone would refuse children baptism. “It is the child that we baptise and not the parents,” she commented. “The important thing is that the child knows they are part of us,” she added asking why the church would spend so much time on mission while turning people away from our community.

Joe Deverell (Meath and Kildare) supported the motion and pointed out that no one got to choose who their parents were.

Canon David Gillespie (Dublin) said he was troubled by the need for the motion. He said that a church that would refuse to baptise a child is not the Church of Ireland that I know. “We should welcome all families that come, no matter what shape that family takes,” he said.

The Revd Sam Johnston (Down) said the motion was well intentioned but said it had the potential to upset the balance of the pastoral care and theological care. He said the need for pastoral sensitivity was never greater. He said that parents had the opportunity to apply to the bishop if they did not agree with the decision of their rector. He said the motion removed the opportunity for the clergy and parents to engage in meaningful dialogue. He urged the synod to reject the motion and rather mandate clergy and bishops to navigate these complex times.

Gillian Purser (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) said that children were presented for baptism for a variety of reasons. But she asked if that mattered. If a child is baptised they are welcomed into our communities and even if the parents have no faith and the child is admitted to a school where faith is taught, then that was a good thing.

The Revd Mark Lennox (Dromore) said the motion raised questions in his mind about his ordination vows and suggested the motion caused conflict between the outworking of ordination vows and what the motion wished to achieve.

Susan Compton (Elphin and Ardagh) said she could not believe that there were areas of the Church of Ireland where children were denied baptism. She asked if it was an open and welcoming church and wondered if the Church could afford not to be.

Archdeacon Robert Miller said that the Canons were shaped to trust the clergy and the motion suggested that the clergy were not trusted. He said baptism is a sacrament and God was a prime mover in it. He said everything that was necessary for generosity was already enshrined in the Canons of the Church.

Janet Bray (Tuam, Limerick and Killoe) spoke personally and said her mother had her baptised before giving her up for adoption. She said she had been an active member of her church and could not imagine a church that would refuse baptism.

Joy Little (Elphin and Ardagh) spoke of her grandchildren and she said if anyone had judged her grandchildren differently, none of them would be in church now.

The Revd Catherine Simpson (Down) said her parents taught her to read the Bible, pray and brought her to church each week. She said baptism was administered to infants in the understanding that they would be brought up in the fellowship of the church. She said that the liturgy of baptism had potency. She said she was concerned that the church needed to be clear about what the motion was asking. She said the church must not miss the opportunity of nurturing the infant and their family. The parents must model a faith and the parents’ witness and connection to church is part of this. “The motion’s intent is welcome but its outworking is impossible,” she stated.

Phyllis Grothier (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) said there was nothing in the motion that stopped the discussion between the rector and the parents. She said baptism was an opportunity for outreach. When someone brought an infant to church she asked people to use the opportunity to build that faith.

In response Prof Barker thanked all who spoke and said she respected the dignity and sincerity with which people made their points. She said they were talking about babies who were refused holy baptism by virtue only of the marital status of their mother. She said she was a counsellor with the Rape Crisis Centre and recalled working with a woman who had been raped. She realised she was pregnant and carried the baby to full term. After the baby was delivered she asked Prof Barker if she would go with her to speak to her Rector about baptism. Her Rector welcomed her and her baby with open arms. She said the Rector was supportive and non judgemental and accepted her and her baby.

The vote was taken by orders with the result:

Clergy for: 69. Clergy against: 72.

Lay for: 144. Lay against: 83.

The motion fell.