Wetting the baby’s head will have two distinct meanings as customers in a north Herefordshire pub will be discovering this summer.
The ‘Vicar who’s also a Magician’, Mark Townsend is to conduct his first christening as a member of the Open Episcopal Church in the Ducking Stool at Leominster in June.
Mark, a former Anglican vicar of Leominster, said he felt a pub setting was particularly apt. “We, the church, should break down every barrier of religiosity,” said Mark.
“Jesus always went where the people were, and I believe you go where people are rather than expect them to jump through hoops.”
Mark also noted the parallel between the ducking stool and a baptismal font.
“The ducking stool was a vile instrument of a lynch mob culture, constructed to publically shame a person, and the baptismal font is almost exactly the opposite.”
In joining the OEC – the first church in Britain to ordain a woman bishop and to perform religious ceremonies for gay couples – Mark emphasised his hope to work alongside all other denominations,especially the Church of England which he said he would always hold in his heart with a special love.
The baby’s mother, Chloe Pilliner said she liked the choice of venue for Katie-Jayne’s christening and thought it was different.
A close relative said she was happy for Mark to conduct Katie-Jayne’s baptism ceremony in the Ducking Stool.
“Not everyone wants to go to church; it will be different,” she said. “I think it’s a nice idea, whether it’s on the side of a hill or down by the river.”
Recognising Mark’s place as a Christian priest with a special connection to the natural world, his new parish will be dedicated to St Francis and Mother Earth, and he will be conducting weddings, christenings and funerals.
“If a family wishes to have a baby christened in a local forest, or their own home or even in a pub I will be more than happy to oblige,” he said.
“I have always believed that we clergy should embrace people as they are and never try to push our own agenda.”
Landlady at the Ducking Stool, Jan Morris said she was comfortable with the baptism plans. “Sometimes it’s nice to have something that fits around you, not just the church. Mark will be qualified to christen the baby so he will be doing the same things but without the pomp and glory.”
Shortly before Katie-Jayne’s christening, Open Episcopalian Archbishop, the Rt Rev Jonathan Blake, who officiated at the wedding and funeral of Jade Goody, will be coming to Leominster to launch Mark’s new ministry as an OEC priest.
“I will be transferring my orders to another denomination,” said Mark.