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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK


Church offers atheists 'baby blessing'

The Church of England says it is trying to "push" baptisms

Baby blessing ceremonies are to be offered to atheist and agnostic parents by the Church of England.

The General Synod has voted to offer a service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child to non-believers.

The idea, suggested by Margaret Baxter, a lay member of the Synod from Blackburn, Lancashire, is designed to appeal to non-churchgoers who want to acknowledge their child's arrival into the world without appearing hypocritical.

Instead of asking such parents to profess their faith, prayers will be said, asking for the child to "come through faith and baptism to the fullness of God's grace".

Unlike traditional christenings, there will be no godfathers, baptismal font or candles.

Very adaptable

The service will be extremely flexible. It can be adapted to enable special wording for adopted children and handicapped infants and there will also be a special passage devoted to the father's role.

Supporters of the new blessing say it has been successfully tried out. Next month a Christian father and Buddhist mother will become the first couple to do it for real.

A Church of England spokesman said the ceremony was an alternative to a christening and he pointed out that a child who had been through such a service could be baptised later in life.

The Synod voted in favour of the new service on Tuesday but it will not be given final approval until November.

Decline in baptisms

In recent years, as churchgoing dwindles, there has been a trend away from traditional baptisms.

Many people have created their own informal ceremonies to acknowledge their children in a non-religious way.

Other organisations, such as the Pagan Federation and the Family Covenant Association, offer "blessings" which agnostic parents often feel are less hypocritical.

Terry Sanderson, a spokesman for the National Secular Society, said the church seemed to be losing its "core business", - the "hatch, match and despatch" trilogy of births, marriages and deaths.

He said: "People want to welcome their child into the world without welcoming them into the church.

"Humanist funerals and birth ceremonies are growing and the church is trying to catch up."

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