I had the privilege of baptizing two young girls on Sunday morning. Baptism is always a joyful celebration but I was reminded by the comments of a lady attending the service of the strange attitude some congregations and clergy take to baptism. She spoke of other services she had been to that were at best perfunctory, the sense of being barely tolerated by regular church goers, and coming away no wiser as to what was supposed to have happened and why.
I have myself on occasion been known to whinge about how many baptisms we have in my parish and the need to schedule extra services to deal with the demand (I know - what an idiot - only because I'm tired!) But I think we're in one of those situations where what was alleged to have happened in the rose-tinted imaginary golden days of church has been turned on it's head - and given us an amazing opportunity to share God's grace.
Church communities will comment that there is not enough Christianity in schools - that Christianity is no longer sufficiently part of the ingrained culture of the nation - that we need more Christianity - like we used to have (allegedly). Then almost in the same breath we complain about the number of people we don't know and have little contact with who come to our door expecting to be welcomed for baptism.
When my grandfather was a priest and nearly every child in the community was baptised and baptism service on a Sunday afternoon might have involved a couple of dozen babies - there was no opportunity to have baptisms in the main service as there were so many. I'm sure they were done with love and care, but the image that comes to mind is a bit of a cattle market - lots of people, lots of babies being passed back and forth. (As an aside I'm absolutely certain these kind of services could not have been quiet and calmly ordered - people are people and anyone who tells me old-fashioned babies didn't cry, throw up and generally act like babies is telling big fat fibs).
Now I work in a world were not everyone automatically brings their child for baptism. Bad times? Not a bit of it. I have the luxury of getting to know the families who come to us for baptism. We have the time to talk together about who we all are and what it means - about God. I have the chance to make sure the language I use in liturgy is language which will communicate meaning to those involved. As a church community we have the regular opportunity to welcome and share in baptism in our main Eucharistic service.
I think my granddad would have given his right arm for these luxuries - and I think rather than whinging about less people being baptized than before we should recognize God's grace giving us the opportunity to explore the divine mystery of this sacrament.