x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Church plans joint marriages and illegitimate child baptisms

Opposition is mounting to a Church of England plan that would allow couples to marry and have their illegitimate children baptised at the same service.

LONDON // Opposition is mounting to a Church of England plan that would allow couples to marry and have their illegitimate children baptised at the same service. Traditionalists are expressing horror at the plan, saying it flies in the face of the church's teaching that sex before marriage is a sin. The church says it is merely responding to the reality of 21st century life when an increasing number of brides are turning up for their weddings with their children in tow.

Advisers at Church House in London, the administrative headquarters of the Church of England, hope that the two-in-one service will encourage more cohabiting couples to marry. Announced last week as guidelines for a new liturgy combining weddings and baptisms, the plan has been dubbed a "hatch and match" scheme by the British media. But both the Church of Ireland and the Church of Wales have rejected the notion of a combined service while traditionalists, including several bishops, have condemned the whole idea. They say that it contradicts 2,000 years of religious teaching by giving the impression that the church now condones cohabitation and unmarried parenthood.

Stephen Parkinson, director of the conservative Forward in Faith group, said: "It is totally bonkers. Obviously, the church is trying to put itself into line with the secular world. "Its doctrines say sex before marriage is a sin. They say they are not going to change that, but they do. "We are following the methods of the supermarkets: buy one, get one free. I don't know why they don't do a bumper deal and offer all seven sacraments in one service.

"It is making us a laughing stock." A Church of England spokesman denied that the new service meant the church was changing its teaching that sex should only take place within marriage. He said traditional teaching still pointed to celibacy outside of marriage and that children were best served by being raised by married parents. "The church wants to be able to say 'yes' to people who need our help, and this is a way for us to meet demand for these types of services," he added.

Details of the joint service, each element of which would cost the marrying couple £272 (Dh1,639) are being sent out to dioceses and parish churches throughout England. It was formulated after research commissioned by the archbishops of Canterbury and York found that increasing numbers of couples marrying in church already had children. But a spokesman for the Church of Wales said last weekend it would not be following its sister church's lead. "The new service guidelines, which merge the marriage service with baptism, are produced by the Church of England and are not, therefore, available for Welsh churches," she said.

"We have not produced similar guidelines and have no plans to do so as yet." Similarly, the Rt Rev Harold Miller, bishop of Down and Dromore, said there were no plans for the Church of Ireland to combine marriage and baptism services. "It is important to remember that marriage and baptism are very different things," he said. "Marriage is a creation ordinance normally celebrated largely with guests, whereas baptism is a Gospel sacrament which is best celebrated when the church family is gathered together.

"Baptism makes higher faith demands in terms of what people commit to. Indeed, some of these higher demands may well be at the heart of the question. "From time to time, clergy may say to someone requesting baptism for a child that they are expected to provide a Christian example, which may require them to be married." However, the Rt Rev Stephen Platten, the bishop of Wakefield and chairman of the liturgical commission that helped draw up the new guidelines, defended the two-in-one service.

"Baptism normally is celebrated in a Sunday act of worship, but patterns of relationship and marriage within society are presenting new opportunities for the church. "We are therefore offering guidance on how thanksgiving for the gift of a child, or indeed baptism, might be incorporated within a marriage service so the church can respond pastorally to our changing world if a priest feels it advisable to offer this option."

Several bishops in England, however, are now voicing concerns. The Rt Rev John Broadhurst, the bishop of Fulham in the London diocese, said: "It is a pity they have not put in a funeral for grandma as well. What are they playing at? "It seems trendy but reveals a complete lack of awareness of the reality of what goes on in parishes. I do not understand why they want to do it." dsapsted@thenational.ae