Alternative Pastoral Prayers


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This book is intended as a supplement to Common Worship Pastoral Services which provides liturgies for use in ministry to the sick – distribution of communion, emergency baptism, laying on of hands and anointing. Many hospital chaplains find their services are needed in other acute situations and often by people who have no church connection or knowledge of religious language. Here chaplains need to improvise. This practical volume draws on the experience of numerous clergy and chaplains and provides tried and tested liturgies in accessible language for a wider range of occasions.

Prayers are included for
- occasions surrounding birth: thanksgiving, baby blessing and naming, emergency baptism, prayers for a stillborn child
- healing rites: communion, anointing, laying on of hands, confession and reconciliation
- marriage in hospital, blessing of a civil union, affirmation of a relationship
- prayers for every stage of a hospital stay – on receiving a diagnosis, before an operation, when life support is withdrawn
- occasions surrounding the death of infants, children and adults



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Alternative Pastoral Prayers
Liturgies and Blessings for health and healing, and all of life’s
beginnings and endings
Tess WardCopyright information
© in this compilation Tess Ward 2011
First published in 2011 by Canterbury Press
Editorial office
13–17 Long Lane,
London, EC1A 9PN, UK
Canterbury Press is an imprint of Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd (a registered charity)
13a Hellesdon Park Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR6 5DR
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or
otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, Canterbury Press.
Scripture Quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version published by HarperCollins
Publishers © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches
of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.
Tess Ward has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be
identified as the Author of this Work
British Library Cataloguing in Publication data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 84825 120 5
Typeset by Regent Typesetting, London
Printed and bound by
CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham, WiltshireD e d i c a t i o n
For the patients and staff at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, the John Radcliffe
and Churchill Hospitals, and the chaplaincy team there.
For the patients and staff at Katharine House Hospice.
For the families of every ceremony or service I have been privileged to share.
Yours were the faces I saw when I wrote these words.
Thank you.Contents
1: Baby Ceremonies
1. Baby Blessing and Naming
2. Baby Blessing and Naming (Earth)
3. Baptism of Original Blessing
4. A Celtic Baptism
2: Ceremonies for Occasions where a Baby has Died or is Dying
5. Emergency Baptism
6. Baby Naming and Blessing after Death
7. Funeral of Babies at the Graveside
8. Funeral of a Baby (Conventional)
9. Funeral of a Baby (Earth)
10. Prayer for Grandparents
11. Liturgy for a Burial after Miscarriage (Earth)
3: Funeral of a Child
12. Funeral of a Child (Conventional)
13. Funeral of a Child (Earth)
4: Liturgies and Prayers of Healing and other Liturgies from the Hospital
14. A Service of Holy Communion for Use with the Sick
15. A Service of Holy Communion with Reserved Sacrament for Use with the Sick
16. A Celtic Communion for Use with the Sick
17. Liturgies of Anointing and Laying On of Hands
18. The Ministry of Reconciliation
19. A Hospital Psalter
20. Prayers for those with Mental Health Problems
21. Prayer in the Morning
22. Prayer at Night
23. Morning Prayer in Hospital
24. Midday Prayer in Hospital
25. Prayer at the Close of Day in Hospital
26. Liturgy for the Closing of a Ward
27. Liturgy for the Blessing of a Ward
5: Weddings, Blessings, Civil Partnerships and Separation Ceremonies
28. Wedding Blessing (Earth)
29. Blessing of a Civil Partnership (Christian)
30. Blessing of a Civil Partnership (Earth)
31. The Blessing of a Second Marriage
32. The Renewal of Wedding Vows
33. The Renewal of Wedding Vows as Reconciliation
34. Psalm for the Breakdown of a Relationship
35. Private Blessing for One after Separation
6: Blessings of Transition
36. Blessing for Coming of Age
37. Blessing for Moving to a New Area
38. Blessing for Retirement
39. Celtic Mezuzah Blessing
40. House Blessing Liturgy7: Liturgies of Death and Dying
41. Anointing at the End of Life and Prayers and Blessings for the Dying
42. Ministry at the Time of Dying (Conventional)
43. Ministry at the Time of Dying (Celtic)
44. Ministry at the Time of Dying (Earth)
45. Last Prayers (Conventional)
46. Last Prayers (Celtic)
47. Last Prayers (Earth)
48. Last Prayers in the Face of Tragic Death
49. Funeral (Conventional)
50. Funeral (Earth)
51. Funeral of a Young Adult (Conventional)
52. Funeral of a Young Adult (Earth)
53. Burial of Ashes (Conventional)
54. Burial of Ashes (Earth)
55. Scattering of Ashes on Water (Earth)
56. Two Prayers for Families in Grief
Commonly Used Bible ReadingsA c k n o w l e d g m e n t s
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England are copyright © The
Archbishops’ Council, 2000. Used by permission.
Common Worship: Daily Prayer © The Archbishops’ Council 2005. Used by permission of The
Archbishops’ Council.
Common Worship: Pastoral Services © The Archbishops’ Council 2008. Used by permission
of The Archbishops’ Council.
Common Worship Christian Initiation © The Archbishops Council 2006. Used by permission of
The Archbishops’ Council.
The Lord’s Prayer and the Nunc dimities as they appear in Common Worship: Services and
Prayers for the Church of England (Church House Publishing, 2000) is copyright © The
English Language Liturgical Consultation, 1988.
Funeral Prayer by Janet Morley taken from All Desires Known, SPCK copyright © Janet
Morley 1992. Used by permission of SPCK.Introduction
The need for a book of alternative prayers
This book is intended to be a companion to denominational pastoral service books but I will
refer to Common Worship as I am ordained into the Church of England. There is a need
because of the gap often experienced between the provision of Common Worship and the
practice of chaplains and parish clergy. Even though people come to the Church for a
Christian service, much of the language may be hard to understand for those without faith,
and it could be argued that in places it is not always helpful to those with faith.
The prayers in this book are written through my experience of being a part-time hospital
chaplain. In the rest of my professional time, I write, lead retreats, and am invited to celebrate
people’s rites of passage, most commonly funerals but also weddings, baby blessings and
others if chosen. People say they invite me because they respect the Church that I stand for –
and are clearly attracted by the tradition and the expression of spirituality – but they find that a
traditional church service does not express their spirituality and often is too impersonal. They
know that a humanist ceremony is an option but they want a ‘spiritual’ ceremony. As our
culture is historically Christian this makes it trustworthy for some. With the growing popularity
of choosing an independent celebrant for the occasional offices (ceremonies around births,
marriages and deaths), a gap has opened up in what has become a market. Those of us who
are clergy could fill this gap if we were prepared to be a little more flexible when listening to
the needs of the family in front of us. Both sides of my work appear in these pages. I also
draw on my full-time experience in a parish which shaped the work I currently do.
Common Worship is designed to be supplemented and used with additional material, and
many clergy use it in this way. This is a collection of prayers that I have written to add to or
adapt a particular liturgy. In some cases, depending on the pastoral need, I have created a
completely new liturgy or prayer. Common Worship is a mixed bag. The flexibility of it is to be
greatly welcomed and some of the prayers in Pastoral Services are good, sensitive prayers
that I have used throughout my 11 years in ministry. Our Common Worship books should be
scrawled over with pencil, the spines should be broken from alternative prayers on bits of
paper stuffed into them. That is how they were intended. The liturgies and prayers are there
to be chosen judiciously and appropriately to the context. However, although liturgy means
‘the work of the people’, the authorized liturgies often contain doctrinal statements that are
beyond many people in a hospital, prison or place of education. Where we are ministering to
unchurched people, theological language can cut across what should be our primary concern
in those situations, which is pastoral.
In the hospital where I used to work in Oxford, the chaplaincy team was agreed that people
experiencing the acute shock and grief that chaplains are called in for, do not properly hear
the words we use. What people remember is how we speak them and how we were with the
family. Even so, it is important to find the right words – and the wrong words do have a
potential to make a negative impact. The words are almost like music that we come in and
play. People will not remember the notes or phrases but they will know if they liked the tune,
and so getting the notes and phrases as good as we can will help the tune to be the right one
for the moment.
A particularly problematic prayer in Common Worship – and I have never yet met a hospital
chaplain who has used it – is in the emergency baptism service. We are meant to approach
the incubator with a tiny scrap of a baby, perhaps in its last hours of life, surrounded by a
weeping family, and utter the words, ‘Jesus says: I have come that you may have life and
have it in all its fullness.’ This book aims to offer some words that chaplains have found that
they can use in such circumstances.
At the sublime end of the spectrum, Common Worship uses several times this funeral
prayer by Janet Morley:
 O God, who brought us to birth, and in whose arms we die,
 in our grief and shock
 contain and comfort us;
 embrace us with your love,
 give us hope in our confusion
 and grace to let go into new life;
 through Jesus Christ. Amen.
(CWPS, p. 355)
This is about as perfect as a prayer can get. It is short: Morley’s economy of language here is
enviable. It opens with an image that is not only extremely comforting but echoes Psalm 139
which is the most popular psalm.
 For it was you who formed my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (v. 13)
The next two lines ask that comforting God to hold us while we can barely contain our grief. It
lets those who grieve know that the person praying the prayer, and, if we are ordained,
representing the Church, understands the process of grief. It then offers hope, but it is not an
easy hope. It acknowledges that we will need grace to move on from where we are now. This
is how grief feels. We do not know how we will get through it because the pain feels
bottomless, but we also know on some level that how we are now cannot be permanent. The
phrase ‘new life’ is clever. If we are religious it renews the meaning of resurrection, but if we
are not, it is a rich phrase that means ‘there will be a time where it will not feel so unbearable’.
‘Through Jesus Christ’ is far simpler than more complex formulas which can get repetitive and
meaningless when overused.
How to use this book
In Common Worship, between these two extremes, there are some good usable prayers and
phrases that might inspire a prayer that I write. I would encourage the prayers in this book to
be used in the same way, while acknowledging copyright. Borrow a phrase or word and write
around it for the context in which you are working. I am a liturgical magpie and borrow bits
from here and there, or delete bits to create the right words for a particular setting. Some of
the prayers are called ‘Conventional’. These are Christian prayers or liturgies, drawing on
official words already provided but intended to be slightly more user-friendly. The prayers that
are called ‘Earth’ provide the same function but are not full of religious iconography and can
be used in wider settings. The prayers that are called ‘Celtic’ refer to Christian Celtic prayers
and draw on the Carmina Gadelica, a book of hymns and incantations collected in Scotland in
the nineteenth century by Alexander Carmichael. They enjoy the theology of Celtic Christianity
which has less of an emphasis on the Church as separate from the world and as the exclusive
location of Christ’s revelation. It is surprising how strong this theology is in official fare. Rather,
all the world and living things within it including the Church, are full of good and evil and Christ
is everywhere.
The most commonly used Bible passages in this book can be found at the back so that
they are not repeated throughout. They are in the NRSV version. The modern versions of the
Lord’s Prayer and the Nunc Dimittis can also be found there, as the traditional versions
appear in the liturgies. The Common Worship material used is copyright © The Archbishops’
Council, though acknowledgement for other copyright is given where needed. CW refers to
Common Worship Services and Prayers for the Church of England; CWPS refers to CommonWorship Pastoral Services and CWCI refers to Common Worship Christian Initiation.
The difficulty of names for God
All the spirituality and theology in this book is Christian but not all of it points to Christ
explicitly. Outside the hospital, whenever I work with people who are not Christians, we have a
discussion in the first meeting about what language they like to use for the Divine and I write
prayers that honour that. For example, at a wedding the groom said that he thinks of God as
the ‘Great Mystery’. At a woman’s funeral, the word God had negative connotations for her
and was too masculine but she requested that ‘Spirit’ was used throughout. Some prayers
from this side of my work appear here. The word for God is an abiding problem. I try not to
use male pronouns or names for God except for the word ‘God’. It is not technically male but
of course everyone thinks of it as such because it has been used as meaning male for over
two thousand years. It is difficult to find an alternative. In my first book, The Celtic Wheel of
the Year (O-Books, 2007), I used generic names like ‘O Divine One’, ‘Sacred Spirit’, ‘Maker of
all’, ‘Spirit of love’, ‘Living One’ and I turned adjectives into nouns or picked up on the theme of
the prayer, for example, ‘Still point at the centre’, ‘Spirit Weaver’, ‘Bearer of the World’, ‘Love
Bringer’, ‘Freedom Giver’, ‘Still Small Voice’, ‘O Oneness’, ‘Gracious One’, ‘Ground of my
being’. In the hospital, there is no time to work in this way so the prayers and liturgies to be
used in a hospital setting use more recognizably Christian language.
You may wish to adapt some of the names for God or the Divine in these prayers. There is
a simple way of doing this. ‘May Christ bless you’ can be changed to ‘May Spirit bless you’, or
even ‘May you be blessed’. Equally, if you prefer some of the Earth prayers, it is simple to add
or change the names to Christ or language that feels more familiar.
Why do good prayers work?
To begin with, we will take a closer look at why good prayers work, which will explain some of
the assumptions behind the prayers in this book and I hope will help us when we are
considering which prayers to use for a pastoral situation.
1. Natural metaphors
For many Christians and non-religious people alike, the words of psalms or particular prayers
or even song lyrics work because of natural metaphors. This is as old as the hills. The four
elements are a common way of thinking about ourselves in the universe for many cultures.
This imagery appears in the iconography of Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese, ancient classical,
medieval, Celtic, Native American, Greek, Hindu and Buddhist cultures. It is central to the
chakras and to our scientific understanding. For many of these cultures there is a fifth
element. It is often called Ether, Space, Void, Sky or Heaven. In Celtic spirituality, it is Spirit –
Spirit is around and within everything and the source of the other four elements. There seems
something primitive about the way the four/five elements speak to people across different
cultures and in different times. It is not for nothing that the old Irish blessing, which contains all
five elements, is found on many walls and in many hearts:
 May the road rise up to meet you.
 May the wind be ever at your back.
 May the sun shine warm upon your face.
 May the rain fall soft upon your fields
 and until we meet again,
 may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
For many, the earth stands as a universal embrace in which we live out our lives and to which
our bodily remains will return. With the decline of Christianity and the rise of ecology, its
potency has been strengthened. The earth is a living metaphor of something constant and
ancient, its uncertain future only making us more aware of how precious it is. It is older than
ourselves and will outlive us. Even though many of the people I meet in my work would not
consciously describe their beliefs in this way, they would describe their relationship with nature
as spiritual. For some with a more intentional spiritual focus, the land is a key element through
which they experience the Oneness of all things. For Christians, it is consonant with a
Trinitarian understanding. Through creation metaphors we can feel, on an intuitive level, our
dependency on God our Maker, our bodily kinship with all living things which we believe to be
blessed by Christ’s walking the earth, dwelling among us, dying and rising again, and the Spirit
sustaining throughout all.
Natural images have inspired artists since the beginning of time and have particular
resonances around death and threshold moments because they remind us on a daily basis
that we are all caught up in the rhythm of life–death–new life.
 Support us, O Lord
 all the day long of this troublous life,
 until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,
 the busy world is hushed,
 the fever of life is over
 and our work is done.
 Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us safe lodging,
 a holy rest, and peace at the last.
(CWPS, p. 272)
This, one of our best-loved prayers by John Henry Newman, which we say at funerals, works
so well primarily through the image of the day and night, a natural image which we all share.
The feeling of coming home after a long day is also known and familiar to us. As with all
poetry, the beauty and universality of images can take each listener to a place where their
personal story can fill in the detail. Paradoxically the universal is conjured up through
particularity, not through naming the universal. Newman does not use the word ‘death’, which
may not have been as effective as drawing us into an image where we can bring our
experience and yet know that we share that with others; it is universal.
Most liturgical prayers employ the same idea for spiritual ends: that is, we are pointed to
Jesus so that the detail of Christ will open out to the universal and feel personal because we
can fill in our own stories. This does not always work, though. For example, this is the Prayer
over the Water in the baptism service:
 We thank you, almighty God, for the gift of water
 to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.
 Over water the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.
 Through water you led the children of Israel
 from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. In water your Son Jesus received the baptism of John
 and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ,
 to lead us from the death of sin to newness of life.
 We thank you, Father, for the water of baptism.
 In it we are buried with Christ in his death.
 By it we share in his resurrection.
 Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
 Therefore, in joyful obedience to your Son,
 we baptize into his fellowship those who come to him in faith.
 Now sanctify this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit,
 they may be cleansed from sin and born again.
 Renewed in your image, may they walk by the light of faith
 and continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord;
 to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
 be all honour and glory, now and for ever.
(CWCI, p. 355)
This prayer is too long and is just at the climax of the service which everyone has been waiting
for. I suspect nobody ‘hears’ these words. It employs natural imagery primarily around water
and also light, and starts well – drawing our attention to the water in front of us and describing
its properties. It became clear to me in parish ministry where I did many infant baptisms that
whatever we thought we were doing when we baptized babies, the water was the star of the
show. I always offered thanksgivings as an option, but the reply was often the same: ‘No,
thank you, we’d like the water.’ I understand this and think we have such a sacred resource in
baptism; an option would be to make more of the water and use less words. The rest of the
prayer assumes knowledge of the story of creation, Moses and of Christ’s resurrection, as
well as the doctrine that is woven throughout all of it. When we are most often working with
unchurched people, this does not work because it is not a shared language that we point
people to. There is not a universal experience there from which to colour in our personal detail
and so give meaning.
The earth and her cycles can provide a shared point of reference around which to gather.
This is why Jesus, the psalmist and many writers of the Bible used natural images. Because
God is intangible we must necessarily employ metaphor to speak of God. The earth grounds
us while also pointing to that which we cannot speak of. People who have lost their loved ones
understand this. The bluebells will always remind people who lost someone in May, the
snowdrops in February, and so on. Life carries on and life is still beautiful; somehow that
beauty can stand for something, which we would call God, beyond us, bigger than us, giving
us hope, even when our heart is breaking. The fragility of the bluebell or the snowdrop
becomes a metaphor of the life we once enjoyed and hope to again. As Isaiah spoke: ‘The
wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and
blossom as the rose’ (35.1).
2. Story and human metaphorMany of the prayers in Common Worship rely on conceptual language. Collects are the worst
offenders. Here is one from the Celebration of Wholeness and Healing:
 Heavenly Father,
 you anointed your Son Jesus Christ
 with the Holy Spirit and with power
 to bring to us the blessings of your kingdom.
 Anoint your Church with the same Holy Spirit,
 that we who share in his suffering and victory
 may bear witness to the gospel of salvation;
 through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord,
 who is alive and reigns with you
 in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
 one God, now and for ever.
(CWPS, p. 15)
It is not that it is meaningless – it clearly has meaning, but it takes huge concentration to
grasp it and it only affects the intellect. It does not touch our hearts on first ‘hit’. While it is true
that ideas and concepts can be a containing framework for some people, especially at times
of chaos, most do not find meaning through them, and certainly not in the early throes of loss.
If anything, we have to measure our experience at those times against an idea that does not
work: ‘How can a God of love allow suffering?’ It is not wrong for us to try and provide
frameworks for these questions at such critical times, but, again, it is the pastoral need that
must take priority. An image from the human story impacts us in an instinctive and
nonrational way before we might understand it with our mind. People often find more meaning
through story. The poet William Carlos Williams had a famous dictum: ‘No ideas but in things.’
There are many inspired prayers in Common Worship and I notice that of the ones I favour,
there are often things in them as well as ideas. It is trusting that the thing or metaphor will do
the job without having to explain.
It may also be the case that the natural and human metaphors work better for those with
faith too. It is important to consider that the psalms are for many their favourite part of the
Bible. The stories of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are some of the most popular
parables. Two of the best-loved parts of the Communion service are ‘He opened wide his
arms on the cross’, from the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Post-Communion Prayer,
 Father of all,
 we give you thanks and praise,
 that when we were still far off
 you met us in your Son and brought us home.
(CW, p. 182)
All these prayers and texts tell of God’s love for us through the light and the shadows in our
life. Whatever befalls us, we are held in God’s embrace and by God’s mercy. In the prayers
that follow in this book you will find no more sophisticated theology than this. Usually in apastoral situation this is all that needs to be said. It is the stories of the human heart that will
speak to people about the story of God’s heart, as well as the way we tell those stories in our
3. Liturgy as prayer
When I used to teach all the new staff in the hospital about the chaplaincy as part of their
induction, I was saddened that people recognized Christianity as religion but not as spirituality.
This might be because our public worship when gathered does not necessarily reflect the
mystical experience of the praying individual. It is not obvious that we are one of the
contemplative traditions. Some of the prayers in the occasional office liturgies in this collection
are longer than a normal prayer so that they can be used in a more meditational way and with
silence around them. This is particularly true of the gathering and penultimate prayers here
where the prayers are meant to be settling people into the ceremonial space or preparing to
leave it after the ritual moment. They build on a theme so that the listener can rest in the
theme for a short while. This is slightly different to our traditional liturgy, which we tend to read
and is more functional than prayed. In a hospital setting, the sense of prayer can be
particularly conveyed if we pray for the family extemporarily. However, I have included set
prayers for the family in the healing rites.
4. Honouring our inherited treasures
In the Church, we have such a great heritage of classic prayers that have never been
bettered. So, in this book if we have a classic prayer and it ain’t broke, I have not attempted to
fix it by writing an alternative Christian one. The Commendation is one of our great treasures:
 N, Go forth from this world:
 in the love of God the Father who created you.
 In the mercy of Jesus Christ who redeemed you,
 in the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens you.
 May the heavenly host sustain you
 And the company of heaven enfold you.
 In communion with all the faithful,
 may you dwell this day in peace.
(CWPS, p. 376)
This is an excellent rewriting of the original version which begins, ‘Go forth upon your journey
from this world’. Despite some other good Commendations in Common Worship, there is no
need to use another one when we have this one. In this prayer, the Trinitarian formula serves
the meaning beautifully. We are created in love, in need of mercy and sustained, especially
before the mystery that is death. The image of leaving our earthly company supported by the
heavenly company is not only a comfort but communicates the belief that heaven and earth
are one and that we will be following at some point. Although the funeral service is not strictly
a sacrament because the soul has already flown, these commendatory words have a strong
sacramental impact. We are gathered around a body to say goodbye to the enfleshed
presence of a life that we have loved and touched here on earth and to wish them well on
their journey to heaven, where we trust they will be held by God in peace. The moment in
church where we say the Commendation or shortly before we say the Committal and the
curtains start moving round the coffin in the crematorium is the farewell moment, and we have
been given the right words to say. It is often the only moment where the priest is addressing
the person in the coffin, but doing it on behalf of the congregation. It is worth giving it fulldrama: touching the coffin, announcing it rather than speaking it, even sprinkling holy water
round the coffin while saying it. It is a supremely sacramental moment where the outward
visible sign of addressing the coffin and the body in it is a sign of the mystery that God has
taken this soul now and we are parted from him or her and all shall be well.
In the Funeral (Earth) there is an alternative Commendation which I have used several
times for people who do not want Christian language. I have therefore borrowed the form and
the richness of our tradition and imbued it with language that is more appropriate to the
pastoral situation. With this particular example, Christians will recognize that what I have done
is used another of our inherited treasures, St Patrick’s Breastplate, and made it into a
Commendation. As I said, I am a magpie!
Some of our biblical verses can be woven into alternative liturgies, especially the more
poetic ones. Psalm 121 is particularly lovely for funerals, even for those without Christian faith,
although the masculine pronouns are hard to avoid:
Psalm 121
 I lift up my eyes to the hills –
 from where will my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
 who made heaven and earth.
 He will not let your foot be moved;
 he who keeps you will not slumber . . .
 The Lord is your keeper;
 the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
 The sun shall not strike you by day,
 nor the moon by night.
 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
 he will keep your life.
 The Lord will keep
 your going out and your coming in
 from this time on and for evermore.
And the Song of Solomon is particularly lovely for weddings:
For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a
raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. (Song of
Solomon 8.6–7)
The natural metaphors and human story images are working here and have broad appeal.
They are so wonderfully written that they feel as if they were carved on stone in the mists of
time before the writer wrote them down. Pauline passages need to be used more judiciously!
5. Emotional literacy
I often hear non-churchgoing people talking about the vicar after they have attended an
occasional office in church, impressed that he or she made the service personal to the peopleinvolved and communicated well. Clearly they do not expect to understand much of what
happens and are surprised when the vicar seems human. When we are providing pastoral
services, it seems important to allow people to glimpse that in our faith we do have wisdom
and psychological insight, especially if we can do it lightly, almost without being noticed. To
return to the musical image at the beginning, we want people to feel that they like the tune
even if they could not precisely say why.
In the funeral service, one of the intercessory prayers catches well where some people
may be, particularly those who only go to church for weddings and funerals and might be
finding sitting in a church or crematorium a difficult, powerful and humbling experience.
 You are tender towards your children
 and your mercy is over all your works.
 Heal the memories of hurt and failure.
 Give us the wisdom and grace to use aright
 the time that is left to us here on earth.
(CWPS, p. 265)
This prayer acknowledges that saying goodbye to people with whom we had a difficult
relationship can leave the mourner feeling guilty and sorry. Death often puts things in
perspective and this prayer acknowledges that, from now on, we may decide to live our lives
differently, and says it well in so few words. It is important that any alternative to Pastoral
Services declares even more strongly that insight and wisdom are part of our tradition and
that we can honour the person and the occasion. The less this comes as a surprise, the more
people may return to hear that God made us and loves us and is merciful to us through every
step of our journeys, and will be there at the end.
This is a book of liturgies and prayers that seeks to offer material rooted in the Christian
tradition in its widest sense. As each year goes by, there are more independent celebrants for
people’s ceremonies, in which the British Humanist Association leads in the most organized
way. More and more people are choosing to find an independent celebrant or to do it
themselves. I welcome this, but I also believe that if we widen our offerings a little, we can
enrich and renew the strong heritage that is our tradition.
I hope you will find prayers that speak, prayers to treasure and prayers to use along the
way as we gather with people to share in the ceremonies of their stages of life. I even dare
hope some of it may be of use to independent celebrants who are open to spiritual language.
No words or rituals can truly express what we mark, but it is our job to try and find the right
ones. I write this with the prayer that my endeavour may serve some of you to serve others
as we try to speak the words for the very many who cannot do it for themselves at that
particular moment.1. BABY CEREMONIES
1. Baby Blessing and Naming
2. Baby Blessing and Naming (Earth)
3. Baptism of Original Blessing
4. A Celtic Baptism
The gift of bringing a baby into the world is one of the most awe-inspiring moments of a life. It
is often the first time we feel we have participated in a miracle. We become extremely aware
of how precarious life is and of the mercy in which we are held. For many people, it is problem
free and families down the ages have had ceremonies of thanksgiving, blessing, initiation and
naming to welcome the new baby into the world, into a faith and into a family. For some, their
worst fears are realized and they are launched into the terrible series of events that surrounds
trying to save a baby either within the womb or once born. For others, their baby in the womb
dies away from the hospital and often without warning. The first set of liturgies in this section
are ceremonies of initiation; the second set are ceremonies for families who must face the
ordeal of death in the midst of all the hopes for new life.
Ceremonies of Initiation
For many priests and ministers, infant baptisms are the most problematic of the occasional
offices. We have been handed a difficult liturgy to use and there is the widest gap between
what people want us to do and what we think we are doing. With weddings and funerals, we
are at least singing from the same song sheet. In my experience as a parish priest, people
wanted the water, they wanted some sense of thanksgiving and celebration that their baby
had arrived safely into the world, they wanted a family party and they wanted a link with the
Church. For some, that translated into churchgoing or belonging to the church toddler group,
but for the majority it did not. The phrase that kept emerging when I asked people why they
wanted their baby baptized was ‘it seems the right thing to do’. Folk religion gets a bad press
but it serves a great purpose in helping people to celebrate life transitions in a secular culture.
Unchurched people tell me at least once or twice a week that they value the presence of the
Church. However, the baptism liturgy is a proper Christian initiation service and therefore does
not serve the purposes of folk religion quite as well.
Meanwhile, creating personal naming ceremonies for children becomes more popular by
the year. Some people would never darken the door of a church, and appropriately so as they
do not subscribe to Christian faith, so it makes no sense to initiate their child into it. There are
others who would like the Church to bless their child, though they might not want to sign up
officially. It is this group of people that we could serve better with a more flexible and creative
approach. So here are a series of services to cover different pastoral needs.
The ceremonies
We have a wonderful book called the Carmina Gadelica. It is a book of hymns and
incantations from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland collected in the nineteenth century by
Alexander Carmichael. It is true even now that anyone can baptize, but in these remote
places where it could take a long time for a priest to arrive, a baby had two baptisms before
then, one by the midwife or bathing woman as soon as the baby entered the world and was
bathed. Then there was a second by a ‘knee-woman’, with the watching women saying
‘Amen’. This sense of being a knee-woman seems to combine the otherness of priest with the
tenderness associated with babies and this feel affects the language and style in both these
ceremonies, whether or not the celebrant holds the child on her or his lap or remains standing.
The blessing with water and the final blessing are adapted from the Carmina Gadelica.
In a Hindu naming ceremony, the father whispers the child’s name to her or him on a leaf,
so this has been included. It could of course be done without the leaf and more than just thefather could whisper it. In non-religious services the naming is the climax of the ceremony, so
more is made of the naming than we currently do in both thanksgivings and baptisms, but the
high point of the services here is reserved for the blessing as befits a baby blessing from our
tradition. In the first service, it still includes the giving of a Gospel. This may be appropriate in
the second, too, depending on the family.
The ceremony could take place in a church, church hall, a home or outside, depending on
the family’s preference. There are several options within the ceremony, for example planting a
tree for the child, especially if it is done outside. Inside, a popular option is to have a book for
the gathered community to write their blessings afterwards for the baby to keep. Each family
could bring a flower and these could be gathered into vases and used to decorate the church
or hall. Within the ceremony other options are included. The family may have ideas of their
1. Baby Blessing and Naming
The Baby Blessing and Naming is a service of thanksgiving, naming and blessing. It welcomes
the baby into the world with thanksgiving and offers him or her to God’s blessing. Theologically
it is much more creation-centred, less the grand salvific purpose and has no notion of joining
the club, which is essential to a baptism service. Rather, the baby, by virtue of his or her
presence, is already part of God’s creation, part of all that lives, and that is cause enough for
thanksgiving. All the elements including water are part of the blessing. They are linked to the
persons of the Trinity: Creator to Earth, Christ to Fire and Spirit to Air. However, water is
given the honour of standing for all three as it is a universal symbol of life and part of many
different kinds of initiation ceremonies including our own. It is meant to be a stand-alone
ceremony and not part of a Sunday morning service. It requires a lot more work and individual
tailoring than the current thanksgiving service, so it would be reasonable to charge for it.
2. Baby Blessing and Naming (Earth)
This ceremony uses less specific names for God and is designed for those who seek God’s
blessing but have difficulty with organized religion. Offering them a ceremony may stay with
them as a generous act of the Church long after their baby has been blessed and may be
remembered in times of loss and difficulty. They may return rather than having their views of
organized religion vindicated if the only thing we have to offer them is a rather formal and
unimaginative service.
Baptism services
There is no doubt that as the Church today we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Many people want the Church to be there but do not particularly want to attend services. This
is especially true of many families who come for baptism. Church as heritage is therefore still
highly valued in our culture. The buildings, music, schools and perceived moral code will take
much longer to die than Sunday morning attendance. So when families come to us for
baptism, we have a pastoral dilemma. In the Church of England, the liturgy we currently use
might work as church as heritage and may be perceived to do so by the generally unchurched
families that we baptize because they are prepared to enter a different world for a morning.
The baptism service honours some of the old texts, but where this works in the marriage
service because the vows still describe the challenges presented by marriage, and it adds
much to be saying the same vows that couples have said for centuries, it does not work so
well pastorally for baptism. Many of us, long in the tooth with faith, struggle to understand the
language of baptism, yet we stand there while we ask people who are not churchgoers to
assent to beliefs in language that many of us could not subscribe to. This is particularly true of
talking about the devil and using the word ‘submit’ which sounds vaguely abusive and does not
seem a seller of a word to describe faith as it is experienced.
So the dilemma for liturgy in a much changed world is how far we stay with the history –
church as heritage – or take the opportunity to try and communicate in the world we now livein, while respecting that people have been baptized since before Jesus and that its tradition is
part of its joy. There are different views on this but here are two other baptism services.
3. Baptism of Original Blessing
In the Church of England baptism liturgy there is an emphasis on original sin running all the
way through it. While many Christians believe in God’s grace and would accept that all people
sin, it would seem a particularly strange emphasis to an unchurched person who would not
perceive their baby to be sinful. So this is a Baptism of Original Blessing where human beings
are seen as divine and capable of sinful and evil choices. God as Creator and the creation are
not removed from Christ and his salvation but part of his humanity and ours also. The
transformative work of the Spirit therefore takes up the whole of who we are in baptism. This
seems particularly appropriate for infant baptism when a baby is not capable of choices at all.
When we look at a baby or a sunset the evidence of God’s life is there before our eyes, which
does not diminish our need of Christ’s mercy. The evidence of our own lives and the suffering
in the world is confirmation of that. It just means it is all of a piece. It is written in the style of
Common Worship and has retained liturgy that did not seem problematic so it can be used in
a Sunday morning service seamlessly.
4. A Celtic Baptism
In the Celtic Baptism, the language and theology are very strong and undiluted. For anyone
looking for church as heritage, here it is in another way and the older language and thought
forms are relished. So the source is not the early Christian texts, but the Carmina Gadelica,
the Lorica of St Patrick and other Celtic Christian prayers have been used or inspired the
service. Ironically, this is quite contemporary because the Celts saw creation as part of
salvation, not working against it. The theological emphasis is on the powers of good and evil
being about in the world, including ourselves, rather than on personal sin. There is a strong
emphasis on saving and salvation but the word sin does not occur. There is also no emphasis
on Church or a dark world that needs the light of the Church, because God is everywhere. So
the distinctions, which are strong in contemporary baptism services, are absent. The world
and all of us in it are open to darkness and light and need God’s protection and blessing. The
language is also appealing to contemporary spirituality because official liturgy can lose both
the poetry and intimacy that seems extremely appropriate when welcoming a newborn.1. Baby Blessing and Naming
Help the family to prepare an altar as a focal point around which the blessing will take place.
You will need:
symbols of the four elements: a stone, candle, feather and bowl of warmed water. A
spoon or scallop shell with the bowl if not using your hand. Include a small bottle for the
family to take away some of the water.
a Gospel.
a leaf if the father wants to whisper the name on the leaf.
The family will need to bring:
keepsakes, gifts, photos, flowers, candles, etc.
a photo of a grandparent if they are deceased.
a shawl.
a small blessing tree if the family want this ritual. If they do, the family needs to have
asked the guests on the invitation to bring a tiny gift or blessing. If a non-godparent or
family member wants to share a blessing aloud it may be better to know ahead of time.
Ensure the family and godparents are prepared with their blessings.
If you are tracing the family tree, make sure you know who the relevant relatives are.
For the naming part, ask the father if he wants to whisper the child’s name and/or use the
leaf. Ask the couple if they want to say why they have chosen the names for their child.
You may want to appoint someone to hold the script while you do the main blessing.
Blessed be God, Lightener of the Morning,
who has made us with delight and sets us on our course.
Blessed be Jesus who has trod the earth
and walks with us through shadows of light.
Blessed be Spirit, source of all that is made,
our cradling and our guiding star.
Opening Prayer
Thanks be to you, O God,
maker of bud and shoot and tightly furled leaf,
and all the small beginnings that speak of your generous care.
And most of all, in this holy place today,
we thank you for the wonder of this new face
given graciously to N and N (parents names).
S/he has come to live among us,
to share in our sorrows and joys,
to stir our tenderness and strength,
and to kindle our overwhelming gratitude
for your goodness and blessing. Amen.
There follow different options:
Song or Hymn (optional)Bible Reading and other Readings (optional)
Psalm 139.7–18 (knit together in mother’s womb)
Psalm 95.1–7 (a psalm of praise)
Matthew 18.1–5 or Mark 10.13–16 (Jesus and the children)
John 4.7–14 (the woman at the well)
John 3.1–8 (Jesus and Nicodemus)
1 Corinthians 13 (love)
Ephesians 3.14–21 (family taking God’s name, rooted in Christ)
1 John 4.7–12, 18–19 (God is love and those who love, love God)
Family Blessings (optional)
The family may want to offer their own blessings: for example, a song, poem, prayer, gift, a
bunch of wild flowers. They may also want to make pledges to their child.
Prayer for the Parents
O Christ, born into our nakedness,
Mary’s milky kindness,
and the shielding of Joseph’s hand;
thank you for preserving N and N through the risk of childbirth
and for the skill of all who cared for them.
Give this family the courage to trust their child
to grow into the fullness of all you have made her/him to be.
May love root strong and deep
and faith rise up with wings like eagles
as s/he walks into the wideness of the world,
in the abundant life of the Spirit
all the days of her/his journey. Amen.
Tracing N’s Family Tree (optional)
Name the baby’s parents, siblings, grandparents and any other significant family members.
Important deceased relatives can be honoured with a photograph or one of their belongings
which a family member can introduce.
Community Blessing (optional)
Invite guests to go and offer their blessing or tiny gift and tie it on to the tree.
This is a good opportunity to have some (preferably) live music or a song.
Another option is for the community to come and gently touch the baby and wish a silent
blessing or one-word/phrase blessing, for example, ‘joy and peace’.
Blessings shared aloud by a non-godparent or family member if desired.
Godparents’ Blessings
Invite the godparents to offer reading/song/art/artefact/prayer, etc. to the baby. They may
want to make pledges.
Prayer for N’s Family and Friends
N, we have met many of the significant people in your life now and I will say a prayer for us
Blessed be you, Spirit, weaver of all;
the earth is shot through with your radiance.