Water quenches thirst
Water brings life in dry places
In the baptism service water is a symbol of all these
A few days ago billions of
people around the world were horrified at the plight of the babies and children
drowning off the island of Lampedusa.
Now Archbishop Welby tells us he is celebrating the hugely
important moment when the Church of England sprinkles a prince baby with water.
We celebrate first the joy of the parents who have managed
to escape the Syrian conflict. This is a wonderful thing. Having a baby that
you can protect from chemical attacks is a wonderful thing as all babies are
Is it not only a royal baby for which the Archbishop of
Canterbury has made a special video message but all of our babies? Is it just
that they haven’t been broadcast yet?
As a nation are we celebrating the birth of someone who in
due course may be gay? That would be extraordinary. It gives you the sense of
forward looking to a better more inclusive society, where our Head of State
would be a symbol of a tolerant all
But most of all we are told we are celebrating baptism, that
at its heart is about God’s greatest gift of life, just ordinary physical life.
One we are lucky enough to enjoy but millions around the
world can’t because they are poverty stricken or blighted by war, about which
Christians continue to do so little and so ineffectively.
But Archbishop Welby says, its also about the offer of a
spiritual life to all, all that is who buy into the Church of England’s message
and become members of their club, to whom Archbishop Welby then says – it’s
All through Christian history, being baptised has meant
joining the family of the church and what a family – paedophile clerics,
sadistic nuns, dictators, homophobic congregations, sexist, racist and reactionary
devotees around the globe. That’s an extraordinary thing. It means that as a
Christian you can go anywhere and you’ll find those who are as prejudiced as
With Prince George of course, it’s even more extraordinary.
He may be the first gay head of state, visiting numerous countries that remain
fiercely anti-gay, so much so that it is even punishable by death. He will
visit countries too that oppress women, even behead women, torture detainees
and practice slavery.
We’ll pay for him to visit more countries than most of us
will ever be able afford and by ensuring that he makes his travel plans
carefully, there will always be those like him who have been baptised.
The Archbishop will sign Prince George with the sign of the
cross, because that is the sign by which he understands that he will have
boosted his congregation by a royal with all the invitations to plush events
that go with it and all the invidious perks and advantages his organisation can
Also during the service the other really important bit is
that he will splash water on the head of prince George. Is that to remember the
babies that drowned off Lampedusa and the corpses of children floating earlier
in the year in the Quig river, in Syria having been shot in the back of the
head. I suspect not, it will be more reminiscent of a Mediterranean beach
lapped by turquoise ripples.
I suppose one of the things that might happen when people
are looking at what’s going on with prince George, is they might say, well is
that something for a future king, just
for special people.
Of course the great good news is that God doesn’t care who
we are, it’s only the Archbishop of Canterbury and his Church of England that
broadcast special videos and offer preferential treatment to a prince.
Baptism is for all adults and children and there may be
people wondering if they could be baptised. The Anglican Church gives a clear
answer, not like the prince. It’s not as easy as that, the Anglican Church
requires you to qualify for God’s love.
You have to be royalty, rich, famous or a celebrity.
You have to hold influence and be able to pull strings. If
so, then it’s a doddle.
In fact then you can have a baptism at home in Buckingham
Palace or your country estate or your private chapel, at the time of your
choosing, at the location of your choosing and held in private.
But the rest of us have a mountain of obstacles to climb.
The Anglican Church expects parents to go through an onerous
and intrusive baptism preparation course.
They try often to choose your godparents.
They require you to have the baptism in the parish church.
- And it must be in public
- And during the main morning service of worship on a Sunday
- And when many
other families bring their children for baptism too.
It’s that lovely family atmosphere to which the Archbishop
of Canterbury refers – a chance to meet everyone – unless you are a royal
because then you can just wave at them from a balcony later or have Scarlet
Johannson’s photographer publish the baptismal photographs throughout the
And let’s not forget the collection plate that will be
pushed in front of everyone’s faces, including all your guests, with an accompanying request for a healthy
Oh yes, and if you are a member of the LGBT community, if
you are a gay or lesbian couple bearing your baby into the church, holding
hands, prepare for the frosty reception and a font with frozen water, making a
baptism probably impossible.
If you are divorced or a single parent you may fare not much
But Archbishop Welby urges us not to be put off.
He bids us go along to your local church and speak to the
priest and say you’ve been triggered, knowing about the baptism of a prince, to
ask deep questions.
Why is the church of Jesus is so profligate and rich? Why
does it continue to discriminate against gays, woman and the disabled? What
will happen if prince George wants to marry his gay partner? Will the church baptise the children of their
marriage? How will they react if he is
transgender? What is being done to weed
out paedophile clerics? Why is the church so sexist? How come the Church
describes God as Father and not Mother? Why does the Church say God only had an
incarnate son and not an incarnate daughter?
How come there are no woman bishops yet? There are really too many to
list… Go along and ask. I’m sure you will get a warm reception, perhaps a door
slammed in your face or a flushed and vexed vicar.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s message to the Duke and
Duchess of Cambridge is “What a treat, what wonderful times you will have.”
I’m sure that will
be true, as some of the richest parents on the planet, able to indulge in the
finest and the best – but please spare a thought for the majority of children
who are hungry and hurting, homeless and desperate, because that, after all, is
what the faith is about.
Through Christening, you’re bringing God into the middle of
the palace. There he is, on stinking straw, – part of a homeless refugee family
fleeing for their lives bearing a newborn in the arms, they may well not make
it, spluttering off Lampedusa.
That is what is extraordinary.
Lots of things happen at Christenings. We all say things to
the baby who doesn’t understand them. The most important thing the Archbishop
of Canterbury says to any child, that he’ll say, in his mind to prince George,
is a prayer. Unfortunately it amounts
to religious gobbledegook.
He admits he won’t understand it now.
I suspect he never will.
But let’s be clear.
Since 1994 I and since 2001 the Open Episcopal Church have
been offering everyone in the general public the same privileges as have always
been offered just to royalty and the rich as are being offered to Prince George
I and the clerics of our church will celebrate the birth and
baptism of your child in your home or in your garden or in any location of your
choosing, at any time and in any manner. Since 1994, we have celebrated
thousands of such ceremonies across the country and in other parts of the
We are a different kind of church.
Unconditionally loving, inclusive, accessible, modern, open
to all, offering our ministry to all, not looking to build our numbers, only to
serve equally all people, working for a just, loving, equitable, respectful,
peaceful world in which every person has their place and every life form is
If you want your child baptised just like a prince or a
princess, then get in touch.