Why are people sometimes in tears during a baptism? The combining of an important event with promises, ritual, awe, reflection, can exert a powerful emotional force. This striking picture of a Coptic church baptism raises many issues about the meaning and purpose of life, ceremonies, religion and society.
Rituals What important events are marked by rituals and ceremonies (birth; rites of passage from one age to another, such as the Jewish bar mitzvah ceremony on a boy's thirteenth birthday, or someone's retirement from a job; marriage; anniversaries; death)? What do people do (wear special clothes, follow customs, sing, make promises, give speeches)? Have you been to any of these, and what did you think of them?
Religious practices Can you think of ceremonies from different religions you know about? What happens? How important are people's religions to them and what aspects lead to public ceremonies (marking events in the religious calendar, worship, asserting beliefs, meeting regularly to share experiences)? What are the sacraments (symbols or signs for transmitting divine or sacred powers, such as baptism, anointing or extreme unction, matrimony)? Why do you think religion is sometimes a public, rather than a private matter?
Water and symbolism Why is water used in a baptism ceremony (St Paul's belief was that it was washing away sin; some types of baptism require total immersion)? What is water a symbol of (life itself, fertility an growth, revitalising something dried out; purity and cleansing, as it dissolves dirt; the powerful forces of nature, such as floods; water so important, many societies believed in water gods)?
Writing (a) You are the sister or brother of this baby, so how do you feel - excited, jealous, worried, unconcerned, protective, confused? (b) A new baby born in the year 2000 - what can it look forward to?
Ted's talking points
Ceremonial occasions often appeal to younger and older people, but may fail to impress teenagers and young adults. Do we need them?
For People need to recognise publicly important events in their lives: the birth of a baby, getting married, qualifying or graduating, the death of someone. Without ceremonies there is incompleteness. A funeral allows grief to be expressed. Merely recording a birth or a marriage in a register office ledger is "official" and boring. Christenings and weddings bring people together and allow them to make promises among friends. Also they are good fun.
Against Ceremonies are just an excuse to dress up, eat and drink too much. Money is wasted on special clothes (no one wears a wedding dress again), catering, travel, photographs. Many people can't afford it but don't want to appear mean. Empty promises are made, then broken, such as rarely going to church after promising to be religious. Ceremonies are mainly for older people. Children become bored during them and get told off.