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A Rite on the Edge

The Language of Baptism and Christening in the Church of England

A Rite on the Edge

The Language of Baptism and Christening in the Church of England

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Publisher: SCM Press
ISBN: 9780334058502
Number of Pages: 288
Published: 30/10/2019
Width: 15.6 cm
Height: 23.4 cm

When it comes to baptism there is a profound disconnect between what churches and clergy understand it to mean and the understanding of those non-churchgoing families seeking the rite for their children.

Clergy and regular churchgoers feel that the church is being used and abused by families seeking a baptism, when they perceive them to be looking for `just an excuse for a party'. On the other hand, families seeking a christening in their local churches are baffled by the lack of enthusiasm and encouragement they find when they approach their local church.

Using a new interdisciplinary approach to practical theology, A Rite on the Edge, reflects theologically on the findings of research conducted by Sarah Lawrence into baptism in the Church of England and in English culture more widely, using insights and research methods from corpus linguistics. It offers a profound challenge for those struggling to comprehend how `outsiders' understand baptism.

More fundamentally, it asks how the Church of England can remain 'present and available for all' at a time of heightened tensions and confused expectations about who the church is `for'.


List of figures vi

Introduction vii

1. The problem of ‘baptism’ and ‘christening’ 1

2. What’s in a word? 6

3. The history of ‘baptism’ and ‘christening’ in the English language 17

4. Christening, baptism and the giving of a name 41

5. Marriage-like vows 59

6. Godparents 72

7. ‘Just an excuse for a party’: Joy and celebration in baptism 83

8. Yes, but is it really Christian baptism? 88

9. Whose Church is it anyway? 101

10. Reintroducing ‘christening’ to Christian approaches to baptism 120

Appendix 1: A note on methodology 130

Appendix 2: Corpora consulted 133

Bibliography 143

Sarah Lawrence

Revd Dr Sarah Lawrence is a Priest in the Church of England, having served parishes in Lincolnshire, Shropshire and Anglesey over the past ten years.

"This collection of stimulating and disturbing chapters should provoke vitally important exchanges and conversations between every person responsible for taking a lead in liturgy and those who think they know what `ecclesiology' is all about." -- Ann Loades, Honorary Professorial Fellow of St. Chad's College and Professor Emerita in Divinity at the University of Durham, UK

"A Rite on the Edge is an invaluable book. Scholarly, yet hugely accessible, theological, yet rooted I practice, it helps us think about the language we use in church and how that language is heard by those who want to be in touch, but don’t yet have the words.  It challenges presuppositions and raises important questions. The Church of England still meets thousands of families who choose to ask for a christening, and this book will help churches make positive responses as these families begin their faith journey.  Sarah’s work reinforces all that the Life Events team have discovered in the past 5 years – that if we want to make connections with a new generation of families, we will need to re-think language  and let that re-thinking inform welcome and worship." -- Canon Sandra Millar, Head of Life Events, Church of England