This is a fascinating commentary about the disconnect between traditional religion and those in the community who are post-modern and post-religious, as it finds itself played out in religious rituals.

I think within my own tradition that this conversation plays out [one side of it, anyway] with infant baptism. The church often makes judgements about why people outside the church want to baptise their children – often assuming it’s because of nostalgia or because of family / society pressure. While that assumption may sometimes be right, I think that often there’s a much deeper longing or motivation, which is not done justice by the alternative offer of a thanksgiving or dedication – the desire for ritual is more mysterious, more ‘beyond’ than these. Even if this is not the meaning the church invests the sacrament with, the baptismal water means something to people, it matters to them that they are participating in an act that’s echoed through history.

The question alluded to in the article is whether the church can offer its rituals as a gift, not as a transaction [where participation is welcomed in return for right meaning], or whether the ritual only holds integrity when it’s grounded and held within the tradition’s meaning… The question for me is if there is no space within the church’s rituals for an alternative investment of meaning [and i’m not saying there should be], how do those of us who know how to make ritual happen help new rituals form that those who aren’t part of the church’s faith can participate in; that will make real the same connection with humankind through history, and with a mystery that is beyond our articulation and reason. Will the church let us borrow theirs and reshape them? Must bread and wine always and only tell the church’s story of communion?

and i wonder if, at its essence, this all comes back to the tables we find ourselves sitting at


  1. thanks for this – you’ve got me realising that the place I’ve been about baptism is not consistent with what else I reckon … mmm …

  2. great questions – thanks for posting. i especially found …whether the church can offer its rituals as a git, not as a transaction [where participation is welcomed in return for right meaning]… thought-provoking. peace to you.

  3. Well yes – at one of our alternative events we offered communion as an unconditional gift, to be taken and interpreted as the partaker saw fit. Everyone stated they found meaning in it, and even a Buddhist happily partook.

    Why not? It just seems the natural thing to do. Far from diminishing the act, it seems to amplify its meaning as everyone communes not just with God (or their interpretation of him/her/it/them) but with each other, drawn together in a common need and without the barriers of religious control. Free to commune in a meaningful way, the shared experience creates a sense of genuine “community” involving God not just directly, but perhaps more imortantly through the experiences of others.

  4. as i said, i don’t think communion is the issue in the uniting church. i think most churches / people would want the table to be open, and specifically name it as such…. i think baptism is our hangup.

  5. There may be pockets of resistance of course, but my experience is that most UCA ministers are happy to bend or break the rules to accomodate infant baptisms, re-baptisms and the like. Perhaps the problem is that not enough of them are willing to push the point at synod level? In any case, I think there’s room for optimism?

  6. i suspect it depends on which minister you talk to, graham…

    conversations about baptism rarely if ever happen at synod level – baptism would, however, be one of the few areas of doctrine that almost every minister would come out of training sure of [whichever angle they take!]. and in the uca they do largely follow their own instinct to determine practise.

    but my point’s not about that. i’m not writing this to slag off ministers – i’ve obviously not written it very clearly! my point is about honouring the alternative investment of meaning, not doing baptisms in spite of it – not making people pretend stuff they don’t believe, in order to participate in the stuff they do.

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