In the Fourth Nocturn

Review: On the Day You Were Baptized

I bought this book as a gift for a friend’s child after seeing the very positive review by Wesley Walker in The North American Anglican. Unfortunately, the number of presumptions the author made, and did not advertise, about the circumstances of the baptism of the child who reads the book, made it unusable for my purposes.

For a start, the first page of the book is a fill-in certificate showing that the book was given to the child on the day of their baptism. I bought the book intending not to give it to a child on their baptism, but rather to a child who was baptized several years ago and is now starting to get old enough to be able to understand it.

It gets trickier on the second page of the actual story, which reads: ‘Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa, your Aunties and Uncles were all there too’. The Americanism ‘Mommy’ I can live with in this case, especially since I bought it for an American family — but not all children will have had their grandparents and aunts and uncles present at their baptisms. For one thing, not all baptized children have living grandparents, aunts and uncles — or, for that matter, living parents, in some tragic cases.1 Even if they have living grandparents, they may not have been able to attend the christening, as I believe was the case for the child to whom I hoped to give this book, because they live along way away, are house-bound or have dementia.

These are only two of numerous assumptions about the reader’s baptism service throughout the book which do not apply to every child: that the font in the church was at the front, and not next to the door; that the child wore a chrisom for their baptism; that baptism was by triple suffusion, and not by single suffusion, or by immersion (this renders the book unusable by Orthodox Christians, for example); that the child was chrismated (rare in the Church of England, at least); that the child received a baptismal candle (not part of classic Anglican baptismal liturgies from before the later 20th century liturgical movement), and that that candle will be relighted each year by the parents; that both the child’s parents are Christians (it may be that only one is).

By the time I had checked over the book, the number of things I had noted where the parents of the prospective recipient of this gift would have had to stop and explain ‘no, actually, when you were baptized, it was different …’ while reading were such that I felt the book would be more confusing than helpful for the child in question. I therefore elected to return the book disappointed.

The disappointment is especially bitter inasmuch as it does live up very well to its subtitle — A Sacramental Explanation of Baptism for Children. The explanation of baptism is more detailed than I suspect most grown lay Anglican churchgoers could give, and yet the sacrament described so simply and beautifully. But unless the child you intend to give this book to is definitely being baptized in circumstances where most or all of the assumptions I listed above are true, I cannot recommend this book. I realize that accommodating all possible liturgical variations of baptism, either in a single book or in a series of variant volumes (there are already two versions, one using the word ‘priest’ to describe the baptizer, one using ‘pastor’2) is hard work — but in some cases this book’s assumptions smack purely of failure to consider that not all churches are the same and not all families are the same. A Rogersization would significantly improve any subsequent edition of the book.

Howell, Sarah. On the Day You Were Baptized: A Sacramental Explanation of Baptism for Children (2019). No address: no publisher. ISBN 978-1-07-295919-9.

  1. Meanwhile, most curiously, the book neglects to mention godparents at all, although I’m not sure they are used in all church traditions.

  2. Though again, even this may be inaccurate since some children may have been baptized by deacons. But this, and emergency baptism by a lay person, are sufficiently rare that they can probably be ignored.