Thinking Anglicans

Vicar declines to baptise child of unmarried parents

Updated yet again 2 June

The Vicar of St. John’s Church, Dukinfield, in the Diocese of Chester, has declined to baptise a baby, unless the parents agreed to get married first.

The story is reported in two national newspapers:

And in one local newspaper:

Manchester Evening News Vicar refuses to baptise child because his parents are not married

The Church of England website page Christening FAQs says

…Can anyone have a Christening service?

Yes, so long as they have not been Baptized already. The Church of England welcomes all babies, children and families for Christenings – whatever shape that family takes. You do not have to be married to ask for a Christening for your child. You do not have to have been a regular churchgoer – as parents, you do not even have to have been Christened yourselves. Everyone is welcome at their local church. Just ask your local vicar if this is something you are considering for your baby.

However, according to the Mail report, the diocese defended the vicar, thus:

A spokesman for the Church of England Diocese of Chester said: ‘Revd Tim Hayes would very much like to encourage the couple to take the Christian initiation of baptism very seriously.
‘At no point has he refused to baptise the child. The Church of England believes that the best place for a child grow is within marriage.
‘The vicar would be happy to help the couple be married and then to baptise their child at no financial cost to them – so that the best outcome can be achieved.
‘We hope the family will receive this offer warmly, but if they would rather not be married, then St John’s church, Dukinfield, will still be happy to offer them a service of thanksgiving.’

The text of Canon B 22 is as follows (thanks Mark B)

B 22 Of the baptism of infants

1. Due notice, normally of at least a week, shall be given before a child is brought to the church to be baptized.

2. If the minister shall refuse or unduly delay to baptize any such infant, the parents or guardians may apply to the bishop of the diocese, who shall, after consultation with the minister, give such directions as he thinks fit.

3. The minister shall instruct the parents or guardians of an infant to be admitted to Holy Baptism that the same responsibilities rest on them as are in the service of Holy Baptism required of the godparents.

4. No minister shall refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents, delay to baptize any infant within his cure that is brought to the church to be baptized, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to godparents in these Canons are observed.

Update

Christian Today has an article by Mark Woods who is a Baptist, entitled Infant baptism: Is it ever ok for the Church to turn parents away?
Mark incorrectly identifies the relevant diocese, which is, as noted above, Chester.

Update 2 June

Philip Jones has written a detailed legal analysis: Baptism and Godly Living.

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Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

“At no point has he refused to baptise the child”
“if they would rather not be married, then St John’s church, Dukinfield, will still be happy to offer them a service of thanksgiving”

So he has refused to baptise the child.

James A
Guest
James A

What utter tosh from the Chester Diocese. This priest is breaking the law by refusing to baptise a child in his parish. Pure and simple. Yet again, this is a prime example of evangelical sectarianism which says you have to be in a ‘culturally acceptable’ lifestyle to receive the sacraments of the Church. I’ll wager a fiver that if a gay couple turned up in St John’s, Dukinfield, and asked for their adopted child to be baptised, the response would be the same. Come on, Chester Diocese. Reality check, please. I don’t suppose the Area Bishop, Libby Lane, has attempted… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“I don’t suppose the Area Bishop, Libby Lane, has attempted to restate the orthodox position as outlined in the Book of Common Prayer and the Canons on baptism, has she?”

I’m sure Lane is far too busy explaining why discriminating against LGB people is, like, totally different from discriminating against her to trouble herself with such minutiae. A true bishop, no doubt.

Time for the parents to make a complaint, I think: this should be an open-and-shut case.

John Roch
Guest
John Roch

“Tosh” is a lot more polite than the words I have just uttered.

“To emphasise the weight he places on marriage, the vicar said that if money was the problem he would offer couples a wedding ceremony for free.”

Notice – “couples” plural.

So the PCC agrees to waive its fees?
Will he make sure that he pays the proper amounts over to the DBF or will he let the Diocese suffer the loss?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“This priest is breaking the law by refusing to baptise a child in his parish.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

What good is an established church if it doesn’t offer the sacraments it’s supposed to?

I hope some MPs will ask questions.

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

B 22 Of the baptism of infants 1. Due notice, normally of at least a week, shall be given before a child is brought to the church to be baptized. 2. If the minister shall refuse or unduly delay to baptize any such infant, the parents or guardians may apply to the bishop of the diocese, who shall, after consultation with the minister, give such directions as he thinks fit. 3. The minister shall instruct the parents or guardians of an infant to be admitted to Holy Baptism that the same responsibilities rest on them as are in the service… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

I always thought the Anglican view was of unlimited grace, so the incumbent cannot decide and must do it. Unitarians, incidentally, have a similar view of theistic grace or an anthropological one, that is, by having a service of meaning to the parents, the effect is to bind themselves symbolically to the child and all to the wider community. That’s why parents can decide and design the structure of the service. And round there such ‘nonconformist’ alternatives exist aplenty.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Thanks Mark, have copied the canon into the main article to make sure it gets noticed by our readers.

Father David
Guest
Father David

I notice that in one of the photograph in the Daily Mail the priest is preaching not wearing any ecclesiastical robes, is he breaking Canon Law by delivering his homily under dressed? Personally in 38 years of ministry I have never once refused to baptise a child but always rejoice when parents ( married or unmarried ) seek the Grace of God through the sacrament of baptism upon the infant.

Paul
Guest
Paul

As a conservative evangelical I have never refused to baptise a child because the service makes clear that the Lord is adding to his number those whom he is calling. Therefore the Lord choses who he calls not me and I only provide an invitation, actually a distinctly Calvinist position that I’m sure TA would love! My only slight sympathy lies in the little hint about school places being perhaps the motivating factor, but then I think I make the most of the opportunity regardless of motives.

Paul

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Wow – Canon B.22 would definitely be the nail in the coffin of any idea I might have of ever being a priest in the Church of England. In the Diocese of Edmonton our canons say ‘No member of the clergy shall be compelled to administer a sacrament to a particular individual when it is against the conscience of the member of the clergy to do so.’ I make no hard and fast rule about common law couples, but when couples who are not part of our worshipping community ask to have a child baptized, I ask them to get… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

I believe St. John the Baptist baptised anyone who showed up at John’s spot along the (Jordan?) riverside.
I can understand a priest refusing baptism if the priests believes the baptismal request is for reasons of fraud. But, other than that, I’d say baptise everyone who requests it, and let God decide whether it sticks.

Andrew Lightbown
Guest

Couldn’t agree more with Fr. David. Baptise and trust God that he is working his purpose out, and stop being so ‘liberal,’ in interpreting canon law.

Anthony Archer
Guest
Anthony Archer

Interesting Crockfords entry. Doesn’t include a training institution. Daily Mail has him studying theology and political science at (an unnamed) university. Sounds as if the theology trumped the politics. Bishop Michael Baughen would have ordained him. HAYES, Timothy James. b 62. d 89 p 90. C Lache cum Saltney Ches 89-94; P-in-c Dukinfield St Jo 94-99; V from 99… While the announcement is nuanced and is trying to state that baptism hasn’t been refused, the reality seems to be that conditions have been imposed. The only thing the bishop can do (if he is approached by the parents) is to… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Very glad you’re still here with us, Father David. So often (not always, mind!), your sentiments are truly exemplary even for ‘liberal’ Anglicans. Pax tecum.

Josh L
Guest
Josh L

What is going on out there? How in the world does a Christian minister refuse baptism to a child because of the parents? Very sad story.

SimonE
Guest
SimonE

I think that you will find that the wedding and Banns fees are statutory, and as such the vicar has no right to waive them.

John Bunyan
Guest
John Bunyan

The Book of Common Prayer, in the fine words that follow the reading from S.Mark 10 in the service for infant baptism, links the latter with our Lord’s welcoming and blessing of children and saying of them “of such is the kingdom of God”. These words, unlike the “Matthean commission” to baptise, I think all would accept as authentic. Our Lord’s practice and thoughts about baptism itself are not clear. However, on that occasion Jesus didn’t offer a “Thanksgiving” as an alternative or insist on blessing the children ONLY fairly early on a Sabbath morning and in the main synagogue… Read more »

Confused Sussex
Guest
Confused Sussex

So in the Diocese of Chester moral if not actual blackmail is the official policy

JCF
Guest
JCF

Well, what else can one expect, in this, the Year of Our Lord 1915? [I do have the year right, don’t I?]

Darren Miner
Guest
Darren Miner

The Fourth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation of 1991 advocated against what it calls “indiscriminate baptism.” It advised proceeding with the baptism of an infant only if there is “a reasonable expectation that the child will in fact be nurtured within the community of faith.” Of course, that does not require that the parents be married! Interestingly, English canon law would seem to be firmly in the “indiscriminate baptism” camp (to use the terminology of the IALC).

robert ian Williams
Guest
robert ian Williams

the precedent of history is that baptism has been open to illegitimate children. However parents currently living together in a non married situation is in my mind legitimate grounds for refusal.

Baptism must never be reduced to a cultural rite of passage. However on the other hand you must also watch the evangelicals ( many of whom are crypto baptists) who sneaked in child blessings, which are now diverting thousands from baptism.

Will Richards
Guest
Will Richards

I never thought I would ever go on to the Daily Mail website, but I have contacted the journalist to suggest he advises the parents to make a CDM complaint against the incumbent. This is a flagrant breach of Canon and therefore illegal. It’s about time Timothy Hayes and the many other clergy like him who are turning our Church into a sectarian ghetto confronted the realities of the Church of England’s ecclesiology. Hayes’ stance is an example of a tendency that is alienating our Church from the majority of the population and is undermining its mission. If we got… Read more »

David Keen
Guest
David Keen

I’ve done plenty of baptisms and never said ‘no’ on the basis of whether or not the parents are married. But I wonder if this points up what a dogs breakfast we’re making of baptism. – ‘in my eyes…’: telling phrase, I’m not for people simply accepting the ‘authority of the church’ without question, but neither should parents individual interpretations of Christianity be free from question either. Part of preparation for baptism is helping people to understand what the commitment involves. When people bring a consumer mentality to baptism, ‘the customer is always right’, then you’ll get situations like this,… Read more »

Chris Routledge
Guest
Chris Routledge

Just to clarify the situation regarding “waiving of fees” – official CofE guidance (as stated in paragraphs 14-17 of “A Guide to Church of England Fees”, published in January 2015) does state that an incumbent/priest has the right to waive both the DBF and PCC fees “in a particular case.” It is very clear that this should only happen in cases of clear financial hardship, and in accordance with Diocesan guidelines, and the incumbent (or PCC) has to be able to give a clear account for a particular decision to waive a fee. So, for example, in my Diocese, the… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

This very afternoon I look forward to marrying a young couple who have been together for several years, which seems to be the norm nowadays rather than the exception, immediately after I have tied the knot we shall sing “The Lord of the dance” and proceed to the font to baptise their son. Hopefully that arrangement would prove to be acceptable in the diocese of Chester. Hasn’t the crusty old C of E recognised such an arrangement by producing a liturgy whereby the baptism of children can follow on immediately after the wedding ceremony?

Peter K+
Guest
Peter K+

In ‘Anglican formation’ classes at my (evangelical) vicar school I remember many of us were initially outraged when we learnt that we basically have to baptise anyone in our parish, subject to preparation. I think I’ve learnt to take a different view – it’s quite releasing not to be the gatekeeper. In the preparation sessions I spell out the vows as well as I can, the commitment they’re making, and let the parents make the ultimate decision. Sometimes I have been surprised and delighted when some families, who I’d been a little cynical about, ‘stick’ and become part of our… Read more »

Peter Mullins
Guest
Peter Mullins

Waiving fees. The legal position is that any incumbent may waive any fee due to the diocese and (after consultation with the Churchwardens) any fee due to the parish, but he or she would be expected to have a particular compelling reason for doing so in any individual case. Cost of wedding. If this couple intends to marry but does not feel it can yet afford to do so, the church fees are very unlikely to be the barrier; they will be saving up to meet the much more massive costs involved in everything from the dress to the reception.… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Well this is very bad publicity – though I for one do not assume it has all been accurately reported. But responding more generally to some of the responses on this thread… If baptism is just about the baby why does the service ask parents and the wider community to make such searching promises and commitments to Christian faith? And isn’t the the responsibility of the minister to help the couple be more aware of how serious these promises are and what a life of discipleship might look like? Anyone in ministry knows how difficult it is to do this… Read more »

Anne Lee
Guest
Anne Lee

My parents adopted 3 children just before and during the 2nd WW. I was born at the end of the 2nd WW. I have in my possession carbon copies of the letters my mother wrote to her Vicar and the replies she received from him, when she wished to have the sister nearest to me in age baptised with me. The Vicar refused to baptise my sister on the grounds that she was illegitimate. My mother’s correspondence was robust and pointed out that Jesus wanted children to go to him. My sister was baptised. But on the baptism certificate the… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

“The vicar would be happy to help the couple be married and then to baptise their child at no financial cost to them – SO THAT THE BEST OUTCOME CAN BE ACHIEVED.”

It is not the vicar’s place to require a couple to be married. The couple themselves will decide what the ‘best outcome’ is for their personal relationship.

Furthermore, since the Church of England refuses to marry gay or lesbian couples, does that mean that in those csses, all their children must remain unbaptised?

Or, as our Lord suggested, should we be saying “Let the little children come to me”?

robert
Guest
robert

Does this story mean that the vicar would be happy to baptise a child of a married same-sex couple?

Anne
Guest
Anne

In response to Simon E – the guidelines for Parochial Fees 2015 https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1562401/2014%2012%209%20%20guide%20to%20church%20of%20england%20parochial%20fees%20(2015).pdf – here state Waiving parochial fees 14. From time to time a situation may arise where an incumbent/priest in charge or parochial church council feels that a fee should be waived. The 1986 Measure, as amended, gives the incumbent/priest in charge a right to waive the DBF’s part of the fee “in a particular case” if he or she so chooses. The PCC has always had the right to waive its part of the fee. 15. In deciding what to do the following need to be borne… Read more »

John Bunyan
Guest
John Bunyan

May I add an answer to “Pluralist”? Unitarians in the UK and the US include unitarian Christians. The unitarian Christian church of which I have long been a member (as well as a priest of the Anglican Church of Australia), the historic, originally Episcopalian, King’s Chapel, Boston, in its Book of Common Prayer continues to use S.Matthew 28.19 at the baptising of children and adults. (A variant is allowed though not printed in the liturgy – “I baptize you in the name of the Father whose child you are, in the name of Jesus who loved little children, and in… Read more »

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

We no longer live in Christendom, but we live in post Christendom which isn’t the same as a secular society or virgin mission territory. The problem in this situation is marrying theological principle and sociological reality.Like most clergy I have sometimes been sorely tried by some couples asking for baptism but the sociological evidence suggests that refusal often cuts off the remaining link a family has with the church and reverberates around neighbourhood and family.Work has been done on this…I no longer have the references to hand but the easiest is perhaps the study by Geoff Ahern in his book… Read more »

Peter Mullins
Guest
Peter Mullins

“… in my Diocese, the DBF fees can only be waived with written consent from the Diocesan Office. (I only know this because, as a new incumbent, I went on some Diocesan training about weddings a few weeks ago, where the question of fees was obviously one of the topics discussed!)…” Your diocese had misled you. It can strongly request you keep it informed of the rare circumstances in which you chose to act in this way (indeed it has the right to issue suggested guidance), but it can’t insist on itself becoming a party to the decision (which is… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

Here comes the bride…… Eventually. The vintage Roller broke down and she was 30 minutes late. Still, we calmed her down and told her to be happy on her wedding day and thereafter the ceremony proceeded calmly, followed immediately by the baptism. Alas the groom trod on the bridal gown and ripped it! It didn’t really help matters when he said – “It’s only a dress”! I think Robert makes an interesting point when he asks if the vicar in the Chester diocese would be willing to baptise the child of a same sex couple who had previously been married… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

In response to David Runcorn, a couple of issues arise. The first is that in an emergency, baptism can be conducted without anyone making any promises – see page 102 of Common Worship Initiation Services, though the provision that the remainder of the Baptism service is completed if the emergency passes is there in the notes. The Book of Common Prayer Baptism service is very different from the modern one. The question is asked of Godfathers and Godmothers (not of parents, unless they also stand as Godparents) “Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all… Read more »

John B. Chilton
Guest
John B. Chilton

In a recent case in the Diocese of Central Florida the bishop stepped in (where the clergy had hesitated) and decided that the child of a same sex couple can be baptized. At the time we heard comments from those in the CoE of that in the CoE there never would have been a question, the baby would be baptized because there was a canon that guaranteed it. (Elsewhere I hear that denial of baptism in CoE is depressingly common.) I see you have a canon forbidding denial of baptism. But it appears meaningless if the bishop supports the clergyperson… Read more »

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Thank you, David Keen (at 8.43 am) for a more thoughtful response to what may well be, if not an incorrectly reported, then a partially reported story by the Press, some sections of which are always on the lookout to sensationalise stories about the C of E. It will be interesting to see whether the Diocese of Chester publishes any formal comment on its website: meanwhile the jibes on this blog against +Libby Lane seem wholly unmerited and unchristian.

Father David
Guest
Father David

May I respond to Peter Mullins comment about fees? The Church Commissioners Table of Fees makes no specific charge for the administration of Holy Baptism. When parents ask how much a baptism will cost they are always pleasantly surprised when I tell them that it is free but that a donation to the church would be welcome. Similarly there is no specific charge made to receive Holy Communion. If the two Divinic sacraments are free then why do we charge a fee for what many in the Church regard as the other sacraments, for example marriage? Personally I find it… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

On a broader note, this does show, yet again, the wrongheadedness of the Church of England’s terror of confrontation, cute when it’s doddering old rectors who can’t stand up to the Mothers’ Union, less so when it allows abuses to go unchecked.

Even where a vicar openly flouts canon law, his diocese wrings its hands and seeks compromise, where it should be starting the disciplinary process. A voluntary law is no law.

Turbulent Priest
Guest
Turbulent Priest

If the bishop doesn’t get the decision reversed pdq then he/she should also be the subject of a CDM complaint. Similarly the archdeacon. Since the vicar prima facie is in breach of canon law, if the diocese colluded then those in relevant positions of authority are also. Is it only the couple who have locus standi to make a complaint? Since the victim in this case is the child, is there any process whereby someone else can make a complaint?

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

Just to note that under the Canon the parents or guardians of the child may apply to the Bishop of the Diocese. This is not the same as a CDM complaint, and to apply under the CDM without using the canonical route would invite the response “use the procedure under the Canon”. Second, it is interesting that the Canon explicitly envisages the possibility of a disagreement (and the earlier Canon from 1603/4 which I quoted in an earlier comment does too) and it does give the Bishop wide discretion as to the handling of the case – the Canon does… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark,
but presumably, the bishop would have to make her decision based on the Canon.
According to the reports, the couple in question identify as Christians and although they mention schools, there is no indication that admission to school is their only motivation for asking for Baptism. Nor is the priest’s refusal apparently based on a poor understanding of Baptism or on unacceptable reasons for asking for Baptism.

John Scrivener
Guest
John Scrivener

This argument is as old as the hills. At the Savoy Conference one of the Presbyterian ‘objections’ was as follows: ‘There being divers learned […]ministers, who not only judge it unlawful to baptise children whose parents both of them are atheists, infidels, heretics or unbaptized, but also such whose parents are excommunicate persons, fornicators, or otherwise notorious and scandalous sinners; we desire they may not be obliged to baptise the children of such, until they have made due profession of their repentance.’ To which the bishops replied: ‘We think this to be very hard and uncharitable and giving too arbitrary… Read more »

Adrian Judd
Guest
Adrian Judd

Canon B22 is permissive, allowing a course of action, rather than requiring a course of action (applying to the bishop). Other courses of action are available though a defence under the CDM could be that the complaint was about a doctrinal matter and so inadmissible, with the only alternative course of action being through the EJM 1963.
Of course there are almost certainly clergy in the diocese who would do what they can to repair the damage done by this attitude and requirement i.e. do the baptism.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

I would have thought that the only moral objection of the Church to proceeding with the Baptism of an infant, would be the inability of the parents and Godparents to agree to ‘renounce evil’ and to bring up the child in the nurture of the Church.

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

Erica – the Canons say “the bishop of the diocese”, which would be the diocesan bishop. There could be cases – e.g. a dispute between parents of different faiths about how their child was to be brought up, as one example, where the Bishop might support the parish priest in saying “no baptism”.

Anthony Archer
Guest
Anthony Archer

“I would have thought that the only moral objection of the Church to proceeding with the Baptism of an infant, would be the inability of the parents and Godparents to agree to ‘renounce evil’ and to bring up the child in the nurture of the Church.”

Yes, thanks for that reminder. Had forgotten that having children out of wedlock is sinful, even evil. How silly of me.