St Mary's Church, Billingshurst

Baptism & Thanksgiving

A special service for your child: Introduction

A child is a wonderful gift from God and it's right that we want to celebrate such a fantastic gift. The Church of England offers two approaches - Thanksgiving and Baptism.

Both are ways of celebrating the life of your child with the support of family and close friends, and take place during a Church service so all the church members can welcome and commit themselves to pray for you in the nurture of your child. The main difference is in the extent and depth of Christian commitment that each form of service expresses.

What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving for the gift of a child is a celebration to mark the birth and naming of your child. We give thanks for your child's new life, and commit both you and the child to God, asking for his help and blessing in the years to come.

This takes place within one of our main Sunday morning services. There will be prayers of thanks for the gift of your child for you to join in, the supporting friends will be welcomed, the Vicar will hold your child and say a special prayer of blessing, and you will be given a copy of one of the Gospels to help you remind your child of God's love for them.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is the way we join the Christian family (the Church) and are given our Christian name(s). This is why it is also called Christening. Children are baptised on the understanding that they will receive a Christian upbringing, and when a young child is baptised the parents and the godparents make promises on behalf of the child. They promise to bring the child regularly to church, teach them about the Christian faith and pray for them. The parents and godparents are then asked to make the promises of the Christian faith. These promises cannot be made lightly. They demand a very serious commitment, and should be thought through seriously.

In Baptism, the child is signed with the sign of the cross, water is poured over their head (as a sign of God’s cleansing and forgiveness) and a special lighted candle is given. The child is welcomed as a member of the church - both locally and throughout the world.

It is important to understand that baptism is the beginning of a spiritual journey within the family of the church – not a one-off event which means that a child is ‘done’. As the welcoming and baptising church, we pray and trust that a baptised child will grow up to understand and accept fully for themselves the promises made in baptism, and we will do what we can to walk with you and your child on this journey.

The godparents must be baptised themselves, and should also be confirmed.

Is the Thanksgiving a ‘second class’ Baptism?

Definitely not! The two services are different ways of responding to God’s gift of a child and both are treated by the Church as great occasions. Thanksgivings are a first class alternative and joyfully used by both committed Christians and those who are not. Either way the child’s spiritual status is the same.

How do I know which is right for my child?

If you want to thank God for the gift of your child, but do not want to make the solemn promises that baptism involves before God and other people, then the Thanksgiving service is for you. Thanksgiving is also for those who simply feel they want to acknowledge God and give thanks to God for the birth (gift) of the child. Of course, your child can always be baptised at a later date should you, or the child (when older and able to understand the promises made) want this. That is why a lot of committed Christians, too, opt for the Thanksgiving service when their child is very young.

Baptism is for the children of parents who are, or want to be, practising Christians.

Do I have to come to church?

If you decide to have a Thanksgiving service, this does not imply any ongoing commitment to come to church. We would love to see you - and you might be surprised by what you find! But the Thanksgiving does not involve any promises to that effect. The Church of England baptism service, by contrast, does include the clear statement by parents and godparents that they will help their children "take their place within the life and worship of the church".

What happens next?

To help you make the decision about which service is right for you, our Baptism team would like to meet with you. This is usually at a special afternoon tea. These are held in September, January and May (more often if there is a need). This is an opportunity for us to meet with all families wanting a special service for their children, and for the families to get to know us a little better too. We will go through how each service is organised and answer any questions, as well as arrange the dates for the next baptism preparation course. Children and godparents/ grandparents are also welcome to join us and share the selection of homemade cakes.

Thanksgivings and Baptisms can take place within either our 9:30am Parish Communion (a traditional service with organ and robed choir, which lasts about an hour) or within our 11am Morning Worship (a more contemporary, less formal service led by the Worship Band which lasts 45-70 minutes). At 11am we have a crèche, and children’s and youth activities, so that parents can be freer to take part in the service itself.

If you would like a baptism service for your child, we ask that you start coming to church as regularly as you can (if you do not already do so) as you will be promising to bring your child to church afterwards. We will also expect you to attend a Baptism preparation course to more fully understand the Christian promises you will be making. Whilst we know that, sometimes, godparents live some distance away we would very much like them to join with you in this preparation.

Any further questions?

We hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions, or for an invitation to the next afternoon tea, please contact the church office.