I recently stood in the chapel of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in West Yorkshire. The Community of the Resurrection is a high church Anglican community. It has produced fascinating theological writers such as Harry Williams and dynamic missionary bishops like Trevor Huddleston.
The Community chapel has recently been re-ordered and as you enter the first thing you see is a beautiful circular marble baptistry. There is a metal trough in the top of the baptistry into which water is constantly running, with the powerful symbolism of the living water. However, more noticeable is the fact that the shallow metal tray lifts out to reveal a full scale plunge pool for submersion/immersion – and it is used! So, here is a high Anglican infant baptizing tradition making a positive affirmation about the baptism of believers with a very visible baptistry.
I contrast that with most of the Baptist churches in my home city in Yorkshire where the baptistry well and truly hidden under floor boards often covered with the Communion table. I have preached in churches in eastern Europe where a baptistry is visible, though often out of reach of the congregation behind the pulpit and communion table.
The one church building I had a hand in designing and developing was at Barnoldswick Baptist in the north of England were we did incorporate a baptistry at the entrance to the worship room.
In north America there is a tendency to have a visible baptismal tank, often high up on the wall behind the pulpit, but such a remote positioning seems to argue for baptism as something of a spectacle, rather than a participatory liturgical action involving the whole congregation.
So, here is a plea to open up the baptistry, make it more central to our gathering, intentional, missional communities. Let’s have baptism as a more visible focus of the believing community because we claim that baptism is important to us and let’s make sure the event involves not only the candidate and the baptizers, but the whole community of faith.