A first for St Mary’s…

12th April 2022

We often define our lives by notable firsts: our first word, our first step, our first kiss… This is also true in our shared lives: did you know that this year represents 100 years since the first BBC broadcast? And 100 years since the first game on Centre court at Wimbledon? Closer to home in our own community, we’ve had a notable first for St Swithun’s with the opening of its new car park.

And here’s another: next Sunday (Easter Day) at St Mary’s we will be baptising people by full immersion for the first time in the church’s long history. For some, this will be a well-known practice, but for others it might be worth explaining it to give you some background as to why it is so important.

Our goal as disciples is to ‘do and say the things that Jesus said and did’ – or try to get as close to that as possible! The Bible tells us that Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan and ‘came up out of the water’ (Mark 1: 10)implying that he had been fully immersed in the water.  Now, the Church of England has come to believe that it is not the amount of water that is important, but the fact that parents (where infants are involved) and adults make a promise to follow Christ and, in acknowledgment of that, receive water by sprinkling or full immersion. Both are wonderful!

I am delighted that at this time we have fellow pilgrims who wish to be baptised or renew their baptismal vows by being fully immersed, in as close a way as Jesus himself would have been. I have officiated at a number of these services and they are incredibly joyful. Even more on Easter Day, the traditional day in the church year where people chose to be baptised – the imagery linking us to the very real truth of resurrection. The Apostle Paul says this in his letter to the church in Colossae: ‘you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.’ We are looking forward to a public act of faith in which we are completely identifying with all that Jesus has commanded us to teach and obey.

Of course, putting a baptistry into an old church isn’t straightforward and has taken some time to plan.  We have been able to borrow one from our friends at St Mary’s Andover and meticulous planning has, and is, going into getting it installed, filled and warmed for our service. I am grateful to all those who have helped with this.

Two practical aspects follow: First, we will site the baptistry on the most solid floor in the church which is in the chancel end, near the altar (we had been advised that the weight of the water may be too great for the joists in the rest of the suspended floor). As such, to make enough space, the PCC and I have been granted a Temporary Minor Reordering Order (TMRO) from the Archdeacon permitting us to remove and store on site two child pews and their associated book holders. However, after discussion with the Archdeacon he advised that the TMRO lasts for 12 months, so we might also explore how to use this greater space in our worship, especially as a possible new home for Debbie and our growing group of talented musicians. After 12 months we can either return it to the previous arrangement or seek permanent permission by a faculty to remove these pews.

Secondly, because we will be setting up the baptistry early next week, we will ‘strip the altar’ of the side chapel on Maundy Thursday evening and not the main altar. This, as many of you know, is the final act of the Maundy Thursday evening service as we enter into Good Friday and is no less valid or meaningful if we use the side chapel altar on this occasion.

More than anything, I do hope you will engage in our services at St Mary’s, St Swithun’s and St Mary’s Chapel throughout Holy Week and especially on Easter Day. These are exciting and joyful occasions for us all to affirm again the truth that is central to our faith –
Alleluia, Christ is Risen; He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! Revd Paul