BIG changes have been introduced into baptism services in the North-East in a bid to give parents more choice.

Parents and godparents who do not wish to make religious promises will be given the chance to omit these vows.

The Reverend Bill Broad, vicar of St Clare's Church in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, said: "I want people to bring children to church.

"I want people to feel that God cares for them, but I don't want to push them to make a statement they don't want to make."

The vicars of four churches in Aycliffe - St Clare's, St Andrew's, St Francis' and St Elizabeth's - have spent three years developing a way of splitting the service.

Mr Broad said: "In the first half the child is welcomed by name.

"But at that service there are no binding promises of future faith - everything is there except the vows and the washing with water.

"Anyone who wants their child washed with water can receive a visit by a church official who will explain the promises."

Last month saw the country's first civil naming ceremony, held in North Yorkshire. A county council spokesman said there had seen a lot of interest in the secular alternative to baptism.