Climate engagement at christening services a step too far for some

(Photo: Unsplash/Kaleb Tapp)

The Bishop of Oxford’s decision to introduce a new question into initiation services in response to what he called “the environmental and climate crisis” is proving controversial.

Bishop Steven Croft announced at the Diocesan Synod in Oxford on June 11 that he was allowing a new question for candidates for Baptismal and Confirmation services.

Bishop Croft and his assistant bishops in the Diocese of Oxford, covering Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, are now asking candidates as part of their commission as Christian disciples: “Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, to sustain and renew the life of the earth?”

Each candidate answers: “With the help of God I will do it.”

Bishop Croft said: “I have already presented it at two Oxford confirmations over the past two Sundays. I will be writing to clergy inviting them to include it in local baptismal services where appropriate and teach people what this means in preparation for baptism.”

He added: “We should be hopeful as we respond to environmental and climate crises. Change is possible. Humanity can do it.”

The Guardian reports a Greenpeace spokesperson welcoming Oxford’s decision: “The Diocese of Oxford is moving away from fossil fuels, which is essential, but this liturgical change goes further.

“The lesson for today is that in a climate and natural emergency, you need to put environmental considerations at the heart of your project from the start and keep them top of mind throughout.”

But in a Saturday article The telegraph of the day Headlined ‘There is no role for green politics in baptism’, leading Church of England traditionalist Reverend Marcus Walker argued against Bishop Croft’s decision.

“The question of how we engage with environmental concerns has recently become a major political issue, controversial enough to have even caused long-serving Tories to reconsider their loyalty to the Crown angered at the way some family members royal are proselytizing about ‘The Environment,’ he said.

The Reverend Walker, rector of St Bartholomew’s the Great in the City of London and one of the founders of the Save the Parish campaign, advised Bishop Croft “not to mess” with baptism and confirmation liturgy.

He warned “those who encourage the movement to ask themselves if the boot was on the other foot and that you were obliged to accept a political position which you oppose as a condition of baptism”.

He said the church should “be grateful to all who wish to commit themselves to Christ and welcome them with open arms.”

The canons (rules) of the CofE state that a minister performing a service “may, at his discretion, make or use variations which are not of substantial importance” in any authorized form of service.

Bishop Croft uses this provision to justify the introduction of his new sixth question in the commissioning portion of confirmation services which he leads, but he does not have the authority to require parish ministers to use his variation in baptismal services.

Prudence Dailey, a traditionalist lay member of CofE’s legislative body, the General Synod, for the Diocese of Oxford and past president of the Prayer Book Society, said christian today: “The Bishop of Oxford has said that parishes will be ‘encouraged’ to use the new question as part of the baptismal rite, but there is no indication that they will be obliged to do so.

“A vicar of the diocese suggested to me that most probably won’t use it, although of course there are plenty of ultra-Guardian clergy who will absolutely love another opportunity to be awakened. My advice to anyone who wants to avoid this stuff altogether? Use the BCP (the Book of Common Prayer from 1662).”

When asked what the reaction would be if a bishop introduced a response affirming his commitment to traditional Christian sexual ethics, Dailey said, “I imagine that in theory it would go well with some and less well with some. ‘others. liturgy to reflect ‘pet issues’ however is not something that should be encouraged – whatever those issues may be.”

Candidates for confirmation through the CofE are already invited to commit themselves to biblical authority in the following question: “Do you want to continue in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers ?”

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist.