Child of blessing, child of promise

Following on from yesterday’s reflection on our calling in Christ, which was the theme for the Sunday Bible readings as well, the hymn for today is a short one, intended to be sung at the baptism (christening) of a child. In the first verse s/he is named as a child of blessing and of promise, one who is claimed back by God who sent them. In the second, the child is reminded that s/he bears God’s image and is urged to listen to God’s call.

The tune chosen is one normally used for a setting of the Creed (the Christian statement of faith in the three-in-one God), “Firmly I believe and truly”, which is appropriate because the parents and godparents of a child being christened are expected to declare their own Christian faith, usually by reciting a set form of creed. The question of whether young children should be baptised before they can express any personal understanding of God is one that still divides the Church. Many books have been written on the subject but let’s summarise it like this:

One side of the argument is that only those old enough to make a lifelong decision for themselves should go through this initiation rite, and certainly people who are baptised as adults or teenagers say the experience stays with them as a foundation of their faith for a long time. Those who support infant baptism (often known as christening) stress the importance of recognising the whole family as being Christian and having a ceremony to mark an addition to the family and the gift of a child from God, adding that God’s call is not conditional on the person’s response. I see the strengths in both sides of the argument, but what seems inappropriate (to me) is christening the child of parents who are not church members themselves and who have chosen friends as godparents who have no Christian faith themselves either. “Getting the child done” becomes simply a cultural tradition with no real religious meaning. Having said that, it does happen from time to time that the christening ceremony, perhaps the first church service the parents have attended for a long time, can be the first step on a journey of faith for them as they consider what they really meant by joining in with the prayers and creed.

But back to this hymn. The last pair of lines reminds the child (if s/he hears it again later in life, perhaps) to “grow to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all”. That linking of laughter, song and worship is what’s behind my decision to sing through the hymn book in a year. As St Augustine put it, “he who sings prays twice.” Not all hymns help us to laugh, as they help us respond to all life’s events and emotions, the sad as well as the joyful, but if singing praise to God doesn’t sometimes make us laugh, have we really entered into worship at all?