Matthew Swires-Hennessy


I am currently Associate Minister at large evangelical Anglican church in Hampshire.  My research flows from a desire to explore possible futures for the ministry of the Church of England, and an enthusiasm to engage in liturgical study.

PhD Studies


Baptising the English: liturgical and ecclesial tensions in belonging to the established church
in a post-Christian culture.

Supervisors and Advisers

Prof. dr. E.A.J.G. Van der Borght, Dr. D. Hewlett, Revd Mark Earey.

Research Topic

My research will seek to bring together the voices of liturgy, theology, praxis, and experience; to explore themes of initiation, belonging and identity.

The Church of England has for generations provided baptism for the children of everyone who lives in a geographical parish, whether or not the parents already ‘belong’ to the local congregation themselves. This was reflected in the liturgy and praxis of the Church, which essentially was based on a Christendom model, in which England was seen as a ‘Christian’ nation, and its citizens assumed to be ‘Christian’ unless they specifically indicated otherwise.

There is an issue now, a point of tension, between the prevailing culture of the nation and the model of ‘nation and faith’ that is seen in the Church of England’s approach to the baptism of infants.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has recently reflected that: “the country has moved from a sense of inherited faith to faith by choice, and that is a smaller group of people” (Today, Radio 4, 14 December 2017).  Callum Brown’s Death of Christian Britain (2001), Steve Bruce ‘Christianity in Britain, R.I.P. (2001) and others have examined the decline of Christian observance and faith.  The 2011 Population Census in the UK reported 26% of the population claiming to have “No Religion”.  Is there a connection today between identifying with the nation of England and the Church of England?  I will argue that England is post-Christian, by which I mean individuals are generally deemed to be non-religious unless they specifically indicate a particular faith commitment.  At present it is entirely possible to be baptised, and to some degree own the name ‘Christian’, without any sense of spiritual growth or discipleship.

In this new situation there is a dissonance between the Church of England’s obligation to baptise, the theologies of baptismal belonging articulated in its texts and practices, and the understandings of baptism in wider society. Many churches face similar issues, but the Church of England’s position as the Established church in England brings a particular focus and challenge to adaption and response to changing culture.  

There is a need, therefore, to make sense of baptism in this new context, and to seek to address the dissonance with a fitting and informed theological rationale.

Research Activity

Research Interests

Initiation, Belonging, Liturgical Praxis and Liturgical Theology

Conference Papers

“Creating Memories: Sung Worship at a Christian Youth Festival” at Society for Liturgical Studies Conference, Mirfield, 2018.


Connecting Worship and Vision, Grove Books Limited, Cambridge, 2013. 

Contributor to Reimaginging Worship (Renewing Worship in a Changing Church) Edited De Lange, Lloyd, Stratford and Tarrant, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2017.

    Connect with us