Will Prince George work his magic on the Church of England?

23 October 2013

Well, Prince George has already done his bit for the Church of England. Simply by getting baptised he will bolster a sacrament that pretty well defines Christianity and is, like the state church which he may yet be head of (assuming disestablishment never happens), in sharp decline.

In 1950, nearly 70 per cent of the population was baptised into the CofE, with most of the remainder christened into other denominations; in 2010 it was fewer than 20 per cent, and falling. Perhaps Kate Middleton can do for baptism what she does for Reiss dresses – bring it back into fashion. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a splendid little pep talk on video about the event, saying that he hoped it would inspire others to get their babies christened; at the same time he warned against thinking that it was something just for ‘special people’ as opposed to everyone.

Nothing, really, could have summed up the decline of the CofE so much as that observation. Once getting a child christened was just what you did, just like getting married was something you just did. In Alfie, the original, brilliant film, Michael Caine observes his girlfriend getting their child christened without him – it was a rather moving moment – and it defined his distance from his baby. Now the British working class may have a sort of folk memory of the sacrament from their grandmothers but it’s a opt-in rather than an opt-out custom, not something you do by default. It’s something children learn about in the same way they learn about Diwali, as an interesting thing religious people do.

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In these circumstances it may seem a bit perverse to make the whole thing less accessible, but that’s what I’m suggesting. I want godparents to be chosen from people who can believe what they’re saying at the event. And what they’re being asked to do – like Prince George’s were – is to renounce Satan (and all his works and pomps) and to declare they believe in God.

So very far from, as Janet Street Porter, suggested recently in the Mail, godparents being separable from the religious side of things, I’d like parents to select godparents who won’t actually put their hands behind their back – the way one celeb I know of did – when they’re asked to hold a candle and make promises on the baby’s behalf. I’d like the vicar/priest to ask them before they make the promises simply whether they can do so in good conscience and if they can’t, to suggest they find someone who can. I’d like to think that Prince George’s seven – including Mrs Tindall – were saying what they believe when they stood for Prince George but I think we can assume that this aspect of the thing is pretty well the last thing that the papers will be focussing on tomorrow.

It’s possible, I suppose, for the whole royal thing to work a bit of its magic on the CofE…if it’s allowed to. When I met Richard Chartres recently, the Bishop of London, I expressed scepticism about the Duchess of Cambridge’s commitment to Anglicanism. Not at all, he said reproachfully. And he told me that when they were talking things through prior to her pre-nuptial confirmation she said ‘I’m going to go away and think about all this’. And she did; fair play to her. So you could say that the Windsors have made one convert. The Queen for her part does her best to promote the church of which she is governor; in every single Christmas address she brings the thing round to the Christian significance of the event and every single time the BBC , and every other broadcaster, filters that bit out.

The Royal Family is on a bit of a roll just now; maybe the Midas touch of the Windsor/Middletons can normalise christenings. It would be nice if the Duke and Duchess went to church occasionally too – and not just those official services they have to attend – but that may be too much to hope for. Still by getting one baby baptised, they could help re-evangelise England. Someone’s got to.

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Show comments
  • Tom Tom

    Baptism in the C of E has nothing to do with Christian Faith. Since the Church of England is an Erastian Church it is legally obliged to baptise a child even if the parents are not Christian or Church attendees. The Church of England is not a religious congregation but rather a social organisation which is contrary to other Christian Churches. There are serious doctrinal issues with Child Baptism anyway since it does not occur in The Bible and whole body immersion is the Jewish method from which the Christian ceremony is derived.

    The principle of Child Baptism was that it took place asap after birth in case of child mortality so it could be buried in sanctified ground. Since child mortality is reduced and neonates are usually cremated rather than interred in the mass graves hidden way in old cemeteries, the religious component is replaced by a technocratic one.

  • Iain Hill

    Perhaps we are coming round at last to the idea tat Christianity is great for those who want it, and totally irrelevant to the rest of us. The BBC is right to filter, because neither HMQ nor anyone else has the right to impose their personal view on other people.

    • Tom Tom

      Would be nice to have a Christian Church but it would be very different
      from the Church of England which is not. The Church of England is
      secular not spiritual, social not theological

  • baboulie

    One wonders what your motive to promote Christianity is when you hope that it will ‘catch on’ in the way that a fashion accessory catches on. Presumably you do not see baptism as the result of a very personal and thoroughly reflected upon decision (and ultimately authentic conviction in one’s faith).This seems to confirm my suspicion that the Spectator’s recent bible bashing is nothing more than cynical politics. Are you interested in matters surrounding faith or are you promoting lifestyle ‘choices’ which match your socio-political ideology.

  • Duke_Bouvier

    Well, it was jolly nice for Justin to show up specially and for George to have a ceremony all to himself. That is not available so much anymore. People are required to lump the baptism into a Sunday service – not so special and not a chance for a ceremony in front of ones family and friends rather than a part of a job lot in front of unknown old ladies in the congregation.

    Equally, the real social purpose of God Parents was that they were expected to be guardians of the child in the event it was orphaned. Now it is more to signal and reinforce the network of inter-family friendships that strengthen our society. Which is more ‘godly’ – building strong social relationships across different faiths or encouraging religious purity at the expense of social segregation?

  • disqus_KdiRmsUO4U

    I am neither a Christian nor a monarchist but I was pleased to be told how George’s behaviour showed royal spirit. (words to that effect)

    George was the the very small royal in the yellow dress and having his arm waved By a butler I think.

    I do think the Royal ladies looked nice.
    I do think we are not here by accident.
    Ie some form of creation which transcends even Spectator bloggers understanding, has occurred.

    HRH Dickie Dorkins Bart Fart is stuck in a grossly simplistic groove.
    Like the other HRH’s come to think of it.

  • Ripple

    My mother didn’t have me christened in 1968 because a) she didn’t believe in God even though she had shortly before been married by the CofE — in church, of course; and b) she objected to the idea that I, as innocent as anything alive, had somehow already sinned. That was the beginning of my life as an atheist. However, I think that ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is one of the best policies ever invented.

    Apart from that, I find this article incredibly naive, if it is sincere. Aristocrats do what they do because it is the aristocratic thing to do. The aristocratic thing in Britain is to be church members in the manner of American politicians (ever find it odd that apparently no American politician is religiously unaffiliated? And do you believe that reflects the true state of affairs? Of course you don’t. American politicians are nominally ‘religious’ because it helps them to get elected, even if many of their voters know it’s just window-dressing.) Also, a christening is another way to glory in/show off Prince George. It requires no sacrifice but is a celebration of how wonderful it all is to be royal. I’m sure that it is so wonderful. Though why it should inspire the rest of us, leading far different and in many cases far less wonderfully privileged lives, I don’t know.

    • Iain Hill

      Christening is an abominable intrusion on the rights of a child. Ms Middleeton was of course right to wait until she could make an informed decision as an adult.

    • Tom Tom

      “she objected to the idea that I, as innocent as anything alive, had somehow already sinned”

      Her objection is as much an article of faith as her consent, funnily enough

      • Ripple

        Well, buying a particular story of the divine and humanity shows more faith than not buying it, surely? After all, where’s the evidence?

  • Marc de Salis

    Worry not. Any interest that this will generate in infant baptism will be swiftly undone by the multitude of tedious lefty vicars who are entirely contemptuous of the practice.

    • Flora Crane

      I can’t help but think putting an entirely oblivious baby who isn’t capable of choosing what he wears through a process of dedicating his life to a God he can’t yet believe in isn’t a wonderful practice to begin with, not to mention the lack of any, you know, Biblical support for it.

      • Ripple

        Yes, but it’s a great means of coercion, which is why is has been so long practised. Get ’em in when they have no say or understanding and then tell ’em they’re bound for life (and death) by the oaths sworn on their behalf. How do you think Christianity functioned so remorselessly for 1500 years? Not that I’m an enemy, mind you. The Enlightenment changed everything, and/yet there would be no Enlightenment without Christianity.

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