Godparents and baptisms - a confusing other world for most people, whether church members or not. Below we tackle some of your questions and offer answers which may have either a religious (Christian) perspective, or a secular perspective, or both depending on the question.
Along with the parents, godparents make promises to God and in front of the Church on behalf of the child. The promises are about themselves and how they will live their lives; and then about the child, that they will help them in their faith and getting to know God.Non-religious view
The relationship with the child will depend on the parents, but in most cases the godparent is another significant adult in the lives of the godchild. Their role is a mixture of mentor and benevolent uncle / aunt.
Yes. You do not need to be baptised to be named. Parents choose names, and they are registered on the birth certificate, it is a civil ceremony which has nothing to do with baptism. Registration welcomes the child into the world, baptism welcomes the child into the church.
Some serious promises are made to God, the godparent needs to think these through before making them.Non-religious view
There may be differences around the world, but for the UK: there is no legal position for a godparent - you are not guardian to the child if anything happens to the parents (unless written into the will) and you have no rights regarding the child, and the child has no rights over you.
This varies by Church. In England there is a legal right to be married in the parish church of the parish in which they live. There are exceptions (divorce and same sex couples are examples of that), but lack of baptism is not a block to marriage within the Church of England. Other churches may vary, but equally there is no automatic right of marriage in any other church.
You turn up at the baptism service and make your promises. You agree to support the child in their faith until such time as they take ownership of it for themselves, often with Confirmation. You pray for the child regularly and help support them in learning more about the Christian Faith as they grow up.Non-religious view
Nothing formally, but expectations from the parents may vary - it might be a present at birthday and Christmas, or it could include everything from mentoring to work-experience, taking the child out for the day to introducing them to hobbies and sports.
Yes, cremation or burial is not affected by whether or not you are baptised.
A child takes ownership of their own faith with Confirmation - when they publicly declare their faith and after which point they can take communion. A child will not be confirmed until they are considered old enough to be making the decision themselves. At this point the godparent can be considered to have fulfilled their initial promises.Non-religious view
There is no formal end-point to the role of godparent, though the child's coming of age at 18 or 21 might be considered to be the normal end. However most godchildren / godparents will continue their relationship into adulthood - it is a life-long relationship, though perhaps presents stop at 21!
Yes according to the Church. This is based on Mark 10:14 ("the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these") the Church doesn't believe that baptism is required for salvation / going to heaven.
A godparent should be baptised and confirmed within the relevant Church, though there are options where this is not the case, such as being a Christian Witness, or sponsor. It is normal for the godparent to be an adult, but not a requirement, in the Roman Catholic Church they will generally need to be over 16 and this is likely to be the expectation in other Churches. The Roman Catholic Church requires the godparent(s) to be practicising Catholics and to attend Church regularly; in the Anglican Church, while theoretically the same, the reality varies far more according to the local parish and priest. Parents and spouses are excluded from being godparent, everyone else is allowed.Non-religious view
No qualifications are required, if the parents are happy to make the choice, and the godparent to accept, then that is fine. You need no experience with children, there is no formal set of things to do, so you can make it up as you go along - all you need to do is develop a relationship with the child which complements and supports their relationship with their parents and family.
Yes. The bible is clear that going to heaven is based on accepting Jesus Christ as saviour, confessing your sins to Him, and then choosing to follow Him. None of that requires baptism first. There are many adults who have become Christians later in life, and who were never baptised. Baptism is a statement of your personal faith, so is encouraged in adults who become Christians, but it is not a 'pass' that gets you into heaven.
In the Roman Catholic Church you can either have one (M / F) or two (1xM / 1xF) no more. In the Anglican Church the expectation since the 13th Century is 3 godparents (2 of the same sex as the godchild and one of the opposite sex), however it is not at all unusual to have more.Non-religious view
The trend currently is to have an increased number of godparents, perhaps even 6 or 7. Many parents will choose one or two from their family (e.g. brothers / sisters) and then a couple of friends.
There are several types of baptism service:
- Service of Blessing - Used for those who don't wish to make strong Christian promises about how they intend to raise their children, this is an opportunity to say thank you for the child. The Church of England has a service called: Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child.
- Service of Baptism - For adults who have chosen to become Christians, they make a public declaration of their faith and promises about their future.
- Service of Infant Baptism - For children whose parents want them to be brought up in the Christian faith. Promises are made on behalf of the children by the parent and Godparents about how they will help to raise that child. This service doesn't 'make the child a Christian' it is a welcome to the Church and a set of promises on behalf of the child - the child can then make their own promises or declaration of faith in the Confirmation service. This is the 'traditional' baptism service.
- Service of Dedication - Most commonly seen in the Baptist Church where they believe that Baptism has to include the person being baptised making promises for themselves, the service of dedication is an opportunity to welcome the child to the Church and make promises on their behalf. It is very similar to the service of infant baptism, but doesn't actually have a moment where the child is baptised. The Church of England also offers a service of dedication.
Yes, at the heart of the concept is that you are a GODparent - i.e. someone who will help the child grow to have a personal faith and relationship with God. Exactly what this means will vary from church to church, but there is an expectation in the baptismal service that you are a christian and will help your godchild grow in faith.Non-religious view
Not really - yes, the concept comes from the church, but in reality it is a word that has been adopted into mainstream society as well. There is no legal undertaking in becoming a godparent, so it can be whatever you and the parents agree. Think of it as being a way of recognising that you will have a role in their child's life, and then build that relationship in whatever way is most suitable.
No. A baptism has no relevance outside the Church, it is a sign of faith, but has no legal significance. The Church doesn't have the power to appoint guardians, and parents who whish to do that must use their wills (or a similar document) to make that decision. Legislation for guardians is found in the 1988 Children Act (41|1|5).
No. For many people there is a secular understanding of being a Christian (which is often seen as not being of another religion), however the bible defines being a Christian as someone who chooses to follow Jesus and makes that choice for themselves. No parent, Church or service can force a child to make a decision for themselves, they will grow up to choose whether or not they wish to become a Christian.
The definition of a sacrament is based in the 17th century and defined as An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, ordained by Christ. There are therefore two sacraments in the Church, baptism and communion. It is possibly now seen as mainly a historical discussion and relevant to study of the 17th century as much as anything else. Baptism doesn't change anything (make someone a Christian), it is though a public statement of belief and an opportunity to bring a child before God and make promises regarding how they will be brought up.
In the Church of England you start with a discussion with your parish church. Even if you go to another Church of England church elsewhere, you need to have the initial conversation with your local parish. For other churches, just speak to the person who runs it - they will go under one of a number of titles (priest / vicar / pastor / father / etc.).
In the Church of England there is a legal obligation for a baptism to be held during the main Sunday service. This is because there are promises being made before God and before the congregation, the congregation have a role to play in supporting the parents in those promises (and commit to this in the service), so need to be present. A service for thanksgiving has far fewer restrictions on timing. As with any similar service, start by talking to the vicar who runs the church.