For Christians, to be asked to be a Godparent is a great honour. It can also, however, be a daunting request. Prospective Godparents should therefore acquaint themselves with exactly what will be asked of them and prepare themselves for the task.
What exactly is a Godparent?
A godparent is a person who aids in a child’s spiritual education and development. Such an undertaking will comprise many different aspects.
Teach Christian values
One of the most crucial roles of the godparent is to impress upon the child the importance of Christian values and if possible, the scriptural justification for these values. Among these values are respect for the sanctity of life, compassion and tolerance. If you do this, then the bulk of your work as Godparent is already done; all of the other roles stem from this.
Teach Christian philosophy
When the child is old enough, you might wish to talk to them (or they may wish to talk to you) about how these values can inform ethical questions such as those surrounding divisive topics like abortion and euthanasia. In such questions, these values sometimes find themselves at odds with one another – as do the Christians who hold them.
You should encourage free thought and challenge the child to reach their own conclusions rather than prescribing yours. Their way of looking at things may be entirely at odds with yours. It may be that you learn as much from them as they do from you!
Children can often pose questions that no adult would – out of some sense of pragmatism. It may be that you come to realise that you aren’t as sure about what you believe as you had previously thought.
Here are a few classic questions:
“Why is there so much suffering in the world?”
“Why do good things happen to bad people?”
“How did God come to be?”
“What if we’re praying to the wrong God?”
These questions have puzzled the most brilliant Christian thinkers for centuries, so do not feel dispirited if you find yourself unable to answer to them. They are difficult and will probably never be answered definitively! If you are about to become a Godparent, it would perhaps be wise to devote some thought to them yourself. You might be fielding them sooner than you think!
Part of your role as Godparent is to instruct the child as to exactly how and why Christians pray. This should include both an explanation of the language of formal prayer and instruction as to exactly which prayers are spoken when.
As well as providing instruction in prayer for the child, you will also be expected to pray on their behalf. If you are already in the habit of praying, then this is not a difficult task – indeed, it might be one you had planned on doing in any case.
Teach through example
The ideal godparent should lead through example in all things spiritual. If you tell your spiritual charge to do one thing and then do precisely the opposite, then the message is highly unlikely to be taken seriously.
Be able to cite scripture
As well as the more general points thus far addressed, a Godparent should also have pretty decent knowledge of the holy book from which all of this teaching is derived. If a small child doesn’t understand part of a sermon or picks up some more extravagant ideas and teachings, a good knowledge of the scriptures will help you give better advice and direction.
The Christening itself
During a child’s christening, prospective Godparents, along with the parents, will be asked to make a number of promises. The content of these promises is, in Anglican ceremonies, largely the same. The conducting priest will ask two questions:
“Will you pray for them, draw them by your example into the community of faith and walk with them in the way of Christ?”
“Will you care for them, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?”
To both of these questions, both parents and Godparents must reply: “With the help of God we will.”
The priest will then ask the child questions and it will fall to you to answer them on behalf of the child. These will include renouncing Satan (in modern ceremonies Satan has come to be synonymous with everything bad; as such he may not be referred to by name) and affirming Christ as the child’s Lord and saviour.
If you do not feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the child, then you might wish to discuss this with the priest and the parents before the ceremony takes place. Later in life, many Christians baptised into the religion as children reaffirm these vows at a ceremony known as a confirmation.
It is important that you appreciate the gravity of these promises before you make them. A great many secular couples ask friends to become Godparents, without taking the religion that seriously themselves. It is important that you discuss your role with the parents.
If you do not feel that you will be able to provide the necessary scriptural guidance, or you feel that you simply aren’t the wise, thoughtful person they obviously imagine you to be, then you should probably let them know about it before you make a vow before God.
What do I need to buy?
Like most of those invited, Godparents are in most cases expected to buy gifts for the christening. The most frequently bought gifts, as one might expect, are bibles and prayer books – though these gifts are often given for their sentimental value more than anything else.