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Baptism: The way in or the door out?

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Baptism The way in, or the door out?

The diocese is always looking for ways to renew the mission and life of the church. There is investment in structure and support, the curia and how it has grown in size and numbers, is testament to this. There is a commitment to proclaiming the gospel and bringing people to a deeper faith in God. Ongoing formation, evangelisation, education, are flourishing within the life of the diocese. The coal face of the mission is at parish level too. The reality for a parish priest such as myself, is that the parish is good, there is a structure that supports growth and renewal. The sacraments are at the heart of parish life. The fabric of parish life is priest and people discerning God’s will together with the wider church family. It offers good opportunities to be part of the proclamation of the kingdom.

The parish needs support. The age profile is alarmingly elderly, yet there are vast amounts of baptisms in the parish every year, additional to this, there are 60 First Holy Communion and 60 Confirmations every year. So why is the age profile of the parish elderly? Because, from baptism, people lapse and are often already lapsed when requesting a baptism.

It is so frustrating! What do I need as a parish priest from my diocese? I need support, creative initiatives to address this flaw to the continuing life of the parish. There is no on size fit all solution to renewal, but there are root causes that can be explored.

Baptism is seen as a ticket for entry into the school, and why? Because the schools are good and offer a range of education that appeals to parents who want the best for their children.

In the parish I get a request for baptism, I ensure that the parents come to a Mass and pick up a form afterwards. They fill that form in, arrange a meeting with me, and pick a date for the ceremony. Then there is an evening talk with all those who are having a child baptised in that month or so. It is a narrow window for evangelisation and despite the most gentle coaxing and enthusiastic encouraging, after the baptism takes place the parents are not seen again! Not just because the child is small, and it is difficult and challenging arranging life so that coming to Mass is no easy task. I understand the difficulties involved. The window is narrow, the next time I see these families is on the school play ground, and then in Year 3 and Year 6.

In the “meantime” of absence, the parish gets older, the fabric of life gets frayed at the edges. It is not just one parish that this happens but is a common experience for many.

What can be done? A working party could explore the following…

Address baptism and its relationship to school and parish.

Explore a covenant of commitment to the fabric of parish life by those requesting baptism:

Perhaps a 6 month or 12 month period where taking part in the parish is some way is agreed. This will widen the window of evangelising. the parish. (Parish life is not just attending Mass)

Explore the reasons why parents do not support the parish, is it church teaching, is it lifestyle choices, is it the prospect of the parish that puts people off. Parish life thrives when more take part. People say they are bored, or the Mass is boring, but if you only put the minimum effort in, you will be bored, the more you put in the more you get back! Identifying the areas of parish life that appeal to different people is a starting point. (Producing leaflets with activities, but without the people attending in the first place this is forlorn.)

How do we win over hearts and minds?

Schools and parishes what is the expectations. How are these expectations managed.

Has the sacrament of baptism become a way in the church doors, or a way into the school doors, and out of the church doors? Why can’t it be both?

I don’t know much, but I know that the current model of an ageing parish community is not going to be a sustainable one in the next ten years or less.


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