It is stimulating when guests grace our presence at St John's. Currently, we breakfast with the Bishop of Kenya who is staying for three weeks. The new Bishop of the diocese joined us for lunch and curates and priests who are already 'out there' join the community every few weeks for 'In-service study weeks'. As students, lunchtime conversation often seems to verge on the surreal, perhaps resulting from the theological reflection, which I think sometimes loosens our grip on reality. Either that or we are discussing our lack of sleep, appalling lack of exercise or pressing deadlines for assignments.
So when you are sat next to someone doing the job for real, it is something of a relief. Today I sat with a really chatty curate, ten years a Christian and in his second year of curacy. He had found Jesus in the RAF, not literally but you know what I mean!
He explained how he had entertained his lunch companions the day before with a discussion about infant baptism, which had rather divided the people whose minds had not been changed by the end of it.
I think I probably hold a very uncontroversial opinion on this one and I wonder if it might be supported by the theology of Richard Hooker.
If I make it, (hey, I am living a day at a time, there ain't no guarantees, who knows what they'll put on my "Bishops' Report"?!), I will gladly baptise members of the community who desire this, even if they do not yet come to church.
I believe that it is a chance for God's grace to win victories and for lives to be won for Christ and how could it be for me to declare otherwise. Richard Hooker talks about the church visible and the church invisible and I quite like his thinking here.
For Hooker inclusion in the visible church requires baptism and a minimal profession of Christian belief.
The invisible church is that ‘church which is his [Christ's] mystical body' because that body 'consisteth of none but only true Israelites, true sons of Abrabam, true servants and saints of God'. For Hooker the church invisible can only be seen by God and not by us. 'They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not object unto our sense: only unto God who seeth their hearts and understandeth all their secret cogitations unto him they are clear and manifest.’
The curate I was speaking with warned me that our opinions can change once we are actually in the very practical business of ministry to a community, so I am prepared for this to happen. However, I am also aware that Church of England ministers are not actually allowed to withhold baptism from a family desiring the christening of their child, so in some ways I am relieved that I feel as I do.
To return to Richard Hooker, I am rather enjoying his generous orthodoxy and that charity 'which hopeth all things, prayeth also for all men (people).'