Filling in the Baptism Register

This morning I had an e-conversation with Gavin Collins, the Archdeacon of the Meon in Portsmouth Diocese, on the legalities around the decision to enter two mothers in the baptism register. He kindly agreed to share publicly his thinking around the decision to have two mothers recorded.

Picture © Portsmouth Diocese
Picture © Portsmouth Diocese

While it would not be appropriate for me to go into the personal circumstances of the couple involved in this case, I was happy to be able to confirm that there was not a father whose name appeared on the birth certificate or who had any other legal or other parental rights over the child. One of the women was the child’s birth mother, and so clearly should be entered as “mother” in the baptism register. The other partner has formal co-parental rights and responsibilities that have been recognised by the courts and social services, and so while she had not formally co-adopted the child, I was satisfied that there were formal parental rights that were sufficient to make it appropriate for her also to be entered as “mother” in the baptism register.

To my mind, the fact of the women having a civil partnership would not have been of itself sufficient to enable the 2nd woman to be properly described as “mother” – that would technically make her “step-mother” as the civil partnership carries the same legal status as a marriage – but the fact that she has formal co-parental responsibility recognised by the courts and there was in this case no legal father, present or absent, was the decisive factor.

Although the baptism hasn’t yet taken place, my understanding is that the register will be filled in with the name of the second mother in the space marked “Father”, but with the prefix “Mother: ” first. This practice would mean that the second mother was not appearing “in place of the father” but rather as an accurate description of the family setup.

The Archdeacon, a solicitor before ordination, was keen to point out that before he agreed this arrangement he did inquire whether there was a known father with any parental rights. If that had been the case then he very likely might have offered a different direction to the parish. It was also mentioned that the fact that the couple were in a civil partnership was not a deciding factor – a woman who enters into a civil partnership with a biological mother becomes the de facto “step-mother” to the child, but that does not bring with it automatic legal rights. However, in this case it was clear to the Archdeacon that there were formal parental rights for the non biological mother which meant it was reasonable to enter her name in the register.

This, the first case of its kind in Portsmouth Diocese, raises some interesting issues for the Church of England. As Archbishop Justin pointed out answering a question at the opening of the Evangelical Alliance’s new building, we are in a new context in the 21st Century and we need to work out how to adapt to that. That doesn’t mean that we change our doctrine, but it does mean, like the generation before us working out how to interact with divorced and step-families, we need to understand how the local parish deals with the new kind of family relationships that are emerging, especially those that have statutory backing.

41 Comments on “Filling in the Baptism Register

  1. I’m not sure that “I don’t want to talk about this but….” is the best media strategy here :-).

    Given that the parents are already all over the papers, and that there’s a hate-fest going on over at Pink News in the comments box as per usual, I’d say that exhaustive detail would be a better option.

    But his response – as far as it goes – seems to be spot on legally.

      • I really think you’re missing the point Peter. The civil law may say that two women may be recognized as a child’s parents but God doesn’t agree… And, since Human Rights law was incorporated in UK law, parliament cannot change a religion’s doctrines or rituals against its will.

        And,anyway, baptisms aren’t even legally recognised naming ceremonies – so the government has no valid interest in them.

        Because we believe that a sexual relationship between two women is sinful then we are quite at liberty to refuse to baptise the child until there is clear repentence and determination to follow Jesus.

        And we are quiite at liberty to refuse to put two women on our own baptism form!

        Any legal move to force the church to act against our beliefs would be overturned by the courts – it would be unjustifiable State interference in peoples freedom of religion.

        • Let me get this right. Two women turn up with a child for baptism. They are both the legal guardians of the child. You will do the baptism but you will only enter one of them (the biological mother I assume) on the baptism register?

          What if they are co-adopters?

          • That’s completely the sphere of the religion concerned. The Government can’t tell a religion what to believe, or how to do its own ceremonies and paperwork.

              • Its very nice of the State to continue to make CofE Canon law part of the law of the land…. Though I suspect that wouldn’t withstand a serious. challenge by a secularist lobby group.

                However, Human Rights principles protect religions from State interference. And it has already been established in Strasbourg (I believe) that established churches have the same protections as all other religions. So if the State attempted to legislate to force the CofE to adopt rites or beliefs it disagrees with the law would be struck down.

                In other words the CofE can use God’s / the natural definition of father and mother on its own paperwork and the State will have to lump it – even though the legal definition is different. However I suspect that there might be consequences for the church’s ‘privileges’.

                PS Thanks for white listing me :-)

        • The position of the House of Bishops Pastoral Statement 2005:

          24. The Adoption Act 2003 allows for couples that are not married, opposite-sex and same-sex, to adopt children. The Civil Partnership Act includes legislation about children and reflects an expectation that some people who register civil partnerships will have children in their care.
          While the House of Bishops recognises many in the Church have reservations about these developments, we believe an unconditional welcome should be given to children in our churches, regardless of the structure of the family in which they are being brought up.

          25.In relation to infant baptism, Canon B 22.4 makes it clear that, while baptism can be delayed for the purposes of instruction (including on marriage and the family), it cannot be refused. The responsibility for taking vows on behalf of the infant rests with the parents and godparents. Provided there is a willingness, following a period of instruction to give those vows, priests cannot refuse to baptise simply because those caring for the infant are not, in their view, living in accordance with the Church’s teaching.

  2. I thInk it’s a good example of the sort of realities an established church will face given the change in both the law and what is considered mainstream

  3. What is “legal” and what is “moral” are often divergent things in the Brave New World of Mr Cameron’s “Conservativism”. And what is legal according to the state may differ entirely from what is legal according to canon law. Where the sacraments of the Church are concerned, we should not obsess about what the state thinks is legal, but follow what is appropriate in a Christian context. Just as one example, abortion is legal in this country and many MPs also think it is moral. The Church should avoid any form of collusion with things which are immoral, lest the State – and public opinion – come to the conclusion that the Church has changed its doctrine.

    • Fascinating.

      Will, in Tasmania, if a same-sex couple came bringing their child for baptism, assuming they were both the legal guardians of the child, whose names would be put in the register under “Parent”?

      • Under the policy there is one column “parents/guardians” under which all names would go. The concern here was less to do with the paperwork and more to do with instruction of unmarried parents, be they same sex or otherwise.

        • So in theory, a same-sex couple bring their child to baptism, you teach them the faith including the fact that sex is within the marriage of a man and a woman, they sit there stony-faced and then bring their child to baptism the next Sunday.

          The baptism register is then filled in with Sheila [sic] and Josephine Bloggs as parents…..

          • There is a whole bunch of pastoral things around this. But in the end policy usually gets down to the bureaucratic nitty gritty. So, in that sense, yes (to your first para). But the same stony-faced-ness should apply (if you assume that as a necessary reaction) to non-married hetereo couples bringing their child.

            Again, in nitty gritty black and white land, the canons simply require that instruction be given. The adherence of parents/guardians to said instruction and whether or not their response to the baptismal vows is conscionable – is, well, a matter of conscience.

            Of course there is a line somewhere whereby someone’s life choices are clearly making their intonation of the baptismal vows purely frivolous… but where’s the line to be drawn bureaucratically? If we haven’t drawn it clearly for de facto couples then we can’t suddenly bring clarity because same-sex couples are involved.

            Also, while I’m ranting, we’re not just talking about the adults involved (I’d be more reticent for instance if a same-sex or de-facto couple came for their own confirmation – they’d be some significant conversations about the Christian ethic and some lines in the sand). In the instance of baptism a child is involved, presumably someone is willing to exercise at least a mustard seed’s worth of faith, and so withholding a grace-filled sacrament should not be done lightly or inconsistently.

            Also, under the policy, the baptism register under “Parents/Guardians” has Sheila Bloggs and Josephine Smith listed on separate lines and connotes legal guardianship, not marital relationship.

            • See I think this is interesting. I would never describe Tasmania as a liberal diocese (perish the thought) but you’re basically coming to the same conclusion as Portsmouth Diocese in England.

              For me my baptismal theology has become more and more Lutheran down the years. I would now baptise children I wouldn’t a few years ago and I think those who would refuse baptism of a child on the basis of it’s parents lifestyle need to reflect on why they are paedo-baptists in the first place.

              • Amen.

                My paedo-baptism developed over the years but was cemented for me when my (very young at the time) children accompanied my wife and I to the communion rail of her home-town Lutheran church. The blessing from the pastor for my children? “May you continue in the grace of your baptism.”

                And, for what it’s worth: this policy promulgated by a clearly evangelical (off to GAFCON as his own man) bishop.

                • Thanks Will.

                  By the way, your comments kept going in the moderation queue so I’ve added you to the whitelist. Should be able to comment freely now with them appearing as soon as you’ve posted. Behave!

  4. Strikes me that this is an excellent argument against infant baptism and for believers baptism. As has already been said, baptism is no longer a naming ceremony so is no longer necessary for anyone. Removing it also reduces some of the insanity around parents trying to get their kids into church schools.
    I know that christenings are seen by many churches as an evangelistic opportunity, but given that parents merely need to nod and agree beforehand and can then renege on any promises or commitments they may have made afterwards they are often more hassle than they are worth. Plus stopping them might make churches focus on going out into the community, rather than waiting for people to come in.

    • Plenty of us see baptism as *far more* than just an evangelistic opportunity. Starting out from a “believers baptism” perspective in answering this problem actually doesn’t help because it’s not the paradigm within which the debate is occuring.

      • True, but if the CofE were to shift to a theology of believers baptism (something which I personally see as far more scripturally sound, not to mention logical for a church that believes in free will) then there would be no need to have the name of parents on any forms, because it is only the name of the person being baptised and the minister responsible for the baptism. This way the church doesn’t have to consider the possibility of coming across as saying no to anyone, even though they disagree with their lifestyle choices, because they are no longer a part of the process.

          • People said that about women bishops…

            But my point still stands, even if only from a procedural perspective, that this case would be a whole lot easier if infant baptism was not practised in the CofE.

            • Actually, no. As church law stands a vicar is required to do the baptism regardless of the parents beliefs. It is like marriage and funerals, they are a rite which all have access to.

              • As I understand it, the minister should ensure that the parents are sufficiently instructed in the faith- the obvious corollary being that if they don’t believe more instruction is required before the child must be baptised (theoretically at list)

  5. Big question on top of this is how this impacts on the CofE’s stance on what marriage is. Surely this is potentially going to be the starting point (assuming the legal case in Chelmsford Diocese doesn’t get anywhere) for getting gay marriage being discussed with th aim of getting it accepted, given that there is an exception to the rule if a gay couple are officially recognised on CofE documentation.

    • Years ago, I went onto Thinking Anglicans when evangelicals were allowed to participate and went head to head with Tobias Haller.

      My underpinning proposition based on the Genesis account was this:
      ‘Marriage upholds the primacy of biological kinship’

      Primacy does not discount other family structures, but as an institution, its principal legal and social purpose is not to arbitrate private relations between consenting partners. It is to ameliorate the impact of the natural outcomes of sex on society.

      We now have legal innovations and our secular and Christian institutions re-purposed; all to expiate society’s guilt of past homophobic mistreatment. And it’s the gay community who get to extend penance indefinitely.

      In respect of sacraments, Article 25 states (probably with Eucharistic devotions in mind):
      ‘The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.’

      Unworthily is translated from the Greek, anaxios, dismissive of its true significance and worth.

      Canon B22: 4 states that a baptism can be delayed on account of a need for parental preparation. Parental signatures are not sought to authorise the baptism, since the ceremony occurs first. The signing is to record the solemn commitment of those parents to the spiritual welfare of the child.

      While the child is innocent, this travesty of baptismal responsibility is anaxios, dismissive of the true significance and worth of the sacrament.

      Let the Apostle and Article 25 tell you what the outcome will be!

      • Unfortunately I suspect that you are right. I worry that the House of Bishops is too focused on not being ‘damned’ in the eyes of our liberal elite (and those famous ‘people under 35″ ) to teach the truth about Gods condemnation of same sex sexual relationships… or of any other sexual relationship that is not currently condemned by society in general.

        Effectively this is leading young Christians into sin – which is something I would not like to have to answer to God for. It brings to mind Jesus stern warning involving millstones and oceans, and various judgements in Rev2.

  6. One of the developments in those states that have legalised same-sex marriage is the advent of three-parent families. By three-parent, I mean the biological mother, her spouse at the time of birth and the genetic father.

    Perhaps, the CofE will have, abandon its doctrine, and update the format of the baptismal certificate. Just to capitulate, sorry, ‘adapt’ to 21st century family structures.

    ‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump’ said St.Paul. Too true!

  7. Let me add a comment I posted to a mailing list this morning, if I may.

    One of the issues here is social demand vs biological reality, and whether a large dose of Anglican Fudge is the correct answer.

    We already have “dunno who the father is”, either with people mixing sperm then using
    insemination or a surrogate, or the more established “the father could be one of these various men”.

    But there is an deliberate attitude as well as a biological ambiguity.

    Take, for example, the Drewitt-Barlows who are suing their local church over gay ceremonies.

    They also have an unusual family of 5 surrogate children, and are
    currently after a sex-selected 6th:

    “The children were conceived using donor eggs and our sperm,” explains
    Barrie. “We know whose child is whose, but we haven’t told anyone else
    – not even the children. As far as we’re concerned, we’re their
    parents. It’s that simple. They don’t need to know whether they’re
    Tony’s or mine – they all belong to both of us.”

    But surely every child has the right to know – if at all possible – who their genetic parents are? What if, as they get older, they want to know? “I’m not saying it’s never going to happen, and if it does we’ll deal with it.”

    That is a classic “we gonna do what we want and we refuse to address
    the consequences” attitude.

    What will happen when the current “polyamory” enthusiasts start
    presenting themselves for baptism as “we are family” with 5, or 7, or 12

    Or when they start demanding all to be married to each other, and
    *then* demand baptism services with 6 equal parents?

    It’s coming down the track and will soon be here. And the legal
    principle/momentum now is to remove social constraints in the face of
    “belief” limitations due to an emphasis on individual rights, which
    will help the process.

    I understand that child welfare suffers (immediate source: british crime survey) when children are not brought up by both biological parents, but I don’t expect that to have any
    more fundamental leverage in the argument than child welfare does when
    divorce arises (it was still made easier).

    Social demands of adults trump the interests of children.

  8. I’ve done a bit of research and with respect, this is not actually true. While there is a general common law duty of vicars towards their parishioners and, in particular, for marriage; this does not extend to baptism.

    The test of whether a religious ceremony involves a statutory duty is whether, absent the religious observance, the State would step in to fulfil that duty. In the case of marriage, yes. In the case of baptism, no.

    In this regard, I refer to Bishop Colin Buchanan’s excellent explanation :

    ‘The Church of England is the established Church of the land, and it is in part governed by statute law. Thus it is the law of the land which gives parishioners of each parish the right to get married in their parish church, a right which is irrespective of whether they are baptized or not, whether they believe or not, whether they would call themselves Christians or not, whether the vicar likes them or not, whether they are ready to undergo preparation or not. So we ask: does the law give a similar “right” to parishioners asking for baptism for their infants? There are many, both inside and outside the life of the Church, who think the answer is “yes”.

    But in fact the answer is “no”. The Church of England has since the 1960s had power to make its own rules about infant baptism (and baptism, it must be remembered is a biblical sacrament of the gospel of Jesus Christ – unlike marriage, which includes certain requirements of law, and cannot really require elements of faith in Jesus Christ). This means that an application for baptism by one or both parents of a child will be handled by a wholly church process, one which does not have a possibility of appeal to statute law in relation to “rights” by anyone who is aggrieved. It is in fact a careful and caring process.

    • @David Shepherd

      Um. I have researched a little also, and your statement (or Buchanans) appears to be only partly right. A Statutory Duty *does* exist:

      Canon B22.4 says:

      “Canon B22.4: 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.”

      Further the parents have recourse should a Minister refuse a baptism request:

      “Canon B22.2: 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.”

      And the Bishop can be subject to Judicial Review if necessary.

      This Canon Law is part of the law of the land, under the Synodical Government Measure 1969, and approved by Parliament.

      So – yes – the General can revise this law should it choose, but it *is* part of the law of the land, and such revision would also have to be approved by Parliament.


      • So, the provisos that may duly delay a baptism request are ‘the provisions relating to godparents in these canons.’ Looking at them in turn:

        Canon B23:4: ‘4. No person shall be admitted to be a sponsor or godparent who has not been baptized and confirmed. Nevertheless the minister shall have power to dispense with the requirement of confirmation in any case in which in his judgement need so requires.’
        This would mean that an infant baptism could be duly delayed according to Canon B22:4 or B23:4, if either:
        1. Preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents requires it;
        2. a chosen godparent is not baptised (while the confirmation requirement is within the minister’s discretion).
        Even if the parents h

  9. David Pocklington addressed this question on the very excellent Law and Religion UK blog. He pointed out that the secular law is clear that a child can only have one mother.

    This doesn’t mean that a child can’t have two female parents. Quite clearly he or she can. But only one will be recognised as the “mother” while the other will be recognised as the “parent” – this nomenclature extends to Birth Certificates.

    In his resolution to this dispute, Archdeacon Gavin Collins has put the C of E ahead of the liberal secular state when it comes to progressing gay rights!

    • While the form may say ‘mother’ and ‘father’, the Canon itself refers to parents. Given that Canon law is enacted with parliamentary scrutiny, the common legal meaning of parents should be applied.

      Whatever your political persuasion, no legal minutiae should deprive a person of this opportunity to commence towards biblically grounded catechism and morality. I relish the prospect.

      #equalevangelicalism will be trending soon.

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