A Guide for Godparents – Everything You Need to Know

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!

Prayer

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.

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Royal christenings over the last century

Just over three months after his birth, Prince George, was christened. Tradition in the royal family has long held that christenings be held in Buckingham Palace’s Music Room. William and Kate elected to break from tradition, however and hold the ceremony in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace.

Not all traditions were dispensed with, however. The ceremony was conducted by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and maintained the royal custom of minimalism – a mere twenty-two guests were invited, with only senior royals and immediate family members gracing the guest list. The attendees spanned four generations of the royal family. Interestingly, the birth of George marks only the second time in history in which three generations of direct heirs to the throne have co-existed (the first being during the latter parts of the Victorian Era).

Having only a small ceremony is one of the many traditions acquired by royal christenings over the past few centuries. Another is the customary wearing of a family gown, first created for the christening of Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria).  Since its debut, the gown has been worn by more than sixty royal babies, including that of Queen Elizabeth II.

As one might expect, the condition of this gown has deteriorated a great deal since it was first conditioned. It needed to be especially treated; after every outing it was washed by hand in sterilised water before being stored in an air-tight vault in Buckingham Palace. It became clear that the robe would eventually fall to pieces, and so it was finally retired in 2004, after being worn at the baptism of Lady Louise Windsor and now resides in the Museum of London.

Shortly afterward, a replica was created by Angela Kelly, who has been the Queen’s personal assistant since 2002. This is the gown which has been used in every ceremony since, beginning with the 2008 christening of James Viscount Severn, Lady Louise’s younger brother.

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth’s baptism occurred when she was just over five weeks old – and passed without a great deal of public interest, as she was not expected to be Queen at the time. This is in sharp contrast to Prince Charles, who certainly was – though he is still waiting, sixty-six years after his ceremony! When Charles was born, Elizabeth was not yet queen. In attendance was her husband – the Duke of Edinburgh, along with her father and then then King George VI.

Prince William

William’s christening was conducted in 1982 and was one of the many which took place in the Music Room of Buckingham palace. The ceremony was performed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie. Dr. Runcie also presided over the christening of Prince Harry two years later, in 1984 – though that ceremony took place in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.

Most christenings in the Queen’s immediate family are conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury; there are, however, a few exceptions. Of these, the most notable recent memory is that of the christening of Princess Beatrice, whose ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of York and of Princess Eugenie, whose ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Norwich. The Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, was christened by the Dean of Windsor, as were his two children, James and Louise (though the office was held by different men, namely Robert Woods in the first instance and David Conner in the latter two.)

The more modern flavour introduced into Prince George’s christening reflects the fact that the bridge between royalty and the people has been strengthened through Kate and William. What the next royal christening has in store will likely be along similar lines as it will be Prince William’s and Princess Kate’s second child, due April 2015.

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The Importance of Christenings to the Christian Faith

Infant baptism is a Christian tradition spanning thousands of years. The reasons to perform the ceremony have changed slightly during that time. What motivates Christian families to get their children baptised and – perhaps more interestingly – what motivates families who are otherwise quite unreligious to do so?

Christians

In the Christian faith, the baptism of infants takes place for a number of reasons. Among Christians, there is furious debate – so what follows is by no means a definitive version of the faith, but rather a short exploration of what motivates a Christian to have their child baptised.

  1. 1.       Declaration of faith by the believer

With a few exceptions – such as Baptists – most Christian denominations practice infant baptism. Obviously an infant cannot declare their faith – which is why the confirmation ceremony was created. Instead, a christening inducts a new member into the church family and affirms that the child will receive proper spiritual guidance from the Godparents (who may or may not include the parents).

  1. 2.       Induction into a community

In a contemporary understanding of the ceremony, this is perhaps the most important rationale. The child will be welcomed into the wider family of the church and Christendom as a whole and finally into humanity.

  1. 3.       Wash away sin

For centuries, an idea has run through Christian thought: that all humankind is born with the stain of the original sin taken from the story of Adam and Eve. The trouble is that this idea is difficult to reconcile with the more figurative interpretation of Genesis advocated by most Christians. And so the washing away of sins becomes more of a metaphor.

Though, of course, where there is sin, there is…

  1. 4.       The threat of hell

The truth is that few modern Christians are motivated by fear of hell. While historically the idea of eternal hell has been crucial in enforcing religious observance, the modern Church of England is keen to downplay the significance of baptism in what may or may not happen after death. Critics of religion are often keen to point out that such an idea is morally unjustifiable and modern British Christians tend to agree (though their American counterparts, for the most part, do not). This makes sense; after all, it seems hardly likely that a loving god would inflict such a punishment on an innocent infant.

Not particularly religious

At the time of writing, most of the UK’s population consider themselves Christian – though it isn’t always clear what that means. The 2011 Census places the figure at 59%. However, another poll, conducted by IPSOS-MORI in 2012 found that 46% of Christians consider themselves Christians mainly on the grounds that they were baptised into the religion. This is in sharp contrast to the 18% who answered that they believe in the tenets of the religion. Interestingly, only 35% of those polled knew that the first book of the New Testament was Matthew.

Why is this the case? Well, the respondents are not lying to the census-takers; nor are they, as some might suggest, wrong to profess to be Christian. A more plausible explanation lies in the diversity of conviction among nominal Christians, among whom many variously doubt that Jesus was the son of God, or that he was crucified, or that he returned from the dead, or that he even existed.

One might expect to see these trends reflected in a decline in christenings. But while church attendance is dwindling, christenings remain constant. In an increasingly secular society, with increasingly secular values, it seems counterintuitive that christenings should prove so resilient. There are several possible explanations for this.

  1. 1.       The pressure of tradition

Tradition and cultural identity undoubtedly play a role; if umpteen generations which preceded you have been baptised, there is an expectation that you, too, should be. In Christian families, it is overwhelmingly likely that everyone present at a christening would have been christened themselves. It would be a bold move indeed to part company with a custom spanning thousands of years. Of course, familial expectations also undoubtedly play a role. Few would defy a devout grandparent in order to score an academic point. There is also the thought that parents do this to get their children into a good school where being christened into the family of God is a requirement.

  1. 2.       Doubt

In matters religious, most people have yet to make up their mind. Even the most committed believers still suffer from doubts on occasion. The same is assuredly true of those who don’t consider themselves religious, in spite of a strong belief in something. Perhaps, to them, the metaphysical claims of the Old Testament seem a little implausible – perhaps the idea of sin seems a little far-out. And yet, they believe that there is something more – they are simply hesitant to assign it a label. In this respect, infant baptism seems to have received the benefit of theistic doubt.

  1. 3.       Why not?

Among believers, christening is a way of inducting a new member into a broader community. I suspect that a similar motivation lies behind more secular couples electing to have their offspring christened.

To have no ceremony at all would be something which very few would countenance. The prospect of a secular ‘baby naming ceremony’ – empty of all tradition and shaped only by the whims of the parents – would give pause to even the most fervent atheist. It seems entirely appropriate that an occasion such as a birth should be marked with a ceremony of some sort where all the family comes together to celebrate – a christening seems as good an opportunity as any.

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Christenings: Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective parents and in particular those from Christian backgrounds, may be considering whether or not to get their child baptised and the significance of doing so. Confusion is understandable; the intricacies of the ceremony can appear daunting, especially to parents who aren’t particularly religious themselves. What follows are a few answers to questions commonly asked about the ceremonies. We will deal here principally with practices common in the Church of England; other denominations of Christianity may have their own various idiosyncrasies.

Family Christening Portrait

What is a Christening?

The term ‘christen’ means to admit someone as a Christian. This is almost universally done through baptism – or immersion in water. The two terms are used interchangeably – some churches may announce that they are to hold a ‘baptism’; others may announce that they are to hold a ‘christening’.  There is no substantive difference between the two.

From where do Christenings originate?

In Christianity, the ceremony’s origins date back to Jesus’s baptism by John in the river Jordan, but baptism had long been practiced before then. The crucial difference between Christian baptism and its forebears is that it is open to everyone, rather than just those of a certain lineage. It holds significance for a number of reasons, not least of which is the washing away of our original sin.

What actually happens in the ceremony?

The specifics of the modern ceremony are fairly constant throughout the Church of England. The priest will bless some water and pour it over the baby’s head and then make the sign of the cross over them using a special oil. Promises will be made, by both parents and godparents (more on them later), on behalf of the baby. Finally, the church may also present the parents with a gift – usually a candle. The ceremony will invariably include some hymns and readings – the parents will be able to choose which. In the case of infant baptism, the immersion is only partial – for the obvious reasons of safety and practicality. Baptisms involving adults involve full immersion in water.

When do Christenings take place?

Christenings take place as part of the Sunday service, though they can be scheduled for other times if the parish allows it.  If you would like to arrange a christening at a different time, then speak to your local priest or vicar.

Am I allowed to have my baby christened?

In the Church of England at least, the answer is almost always yes. The Church welcomes families of every shape and size. You do not have to be married, you do not have to attend church regularly, and you don’t have to have been christened yourself. In this sense, the church is remarkably accommodating.

Does the Christening give my baby a name?

While the priest will use the baby’s name in the ceremony, christenings do not give baby’s names.  This is given when the birth is registered and then in confirmation when they are teenagers (if they wish to go through with this).

When can I have my child christened?

While most ceremonies take place shortly after a child’s birth, the truth is that a child of any age can be christened. While there is no upper age limit, once a child is older than seven they will generally be expected to make the promises themselves, rather than having their parents do it on their behalf.

What exactly is a Godparent?

A godparent is someone who aids a child’s parents in religious upbringing, though in secular households the role of godparent might be broadened to include ethical training as well. A godparent will help a child think about big concepts which might otherwise escape them. Parents should therefore select godparents they judge to be of excellent moral character.

When it comes to godparents, the Church of England is a little less flexible than it is when it comes to the parents. Godparents must themselves have been christened and they must also be of sufficient age to make promises on a child’s behalf.

The church stipulates that a child should have ‘no fewer than three godparents and at least two of the same sex as the child’. Since parents can be godparents, this means that a baptised couple need only have one additional godparent – though in many instances, it may be better to have more than one.

Where does a Christening take place?

In the vast majority of cases, christenings will take place in the parish local to the family. In some instances, however, the parents may desire that the ceremony be held at another parish – perhaps one which holds significance for the family. Look out for a directory of suitable Christening venues coming to the site in the New Year.

Are Christening’s free?

Church of England parishes will perform the ceremony for free; it is common, however, for families to make donations to the parish. There are costs associated with the ceremony, such as that of the robes your child might wear and the family party which almost always accompanies the ceremony.

I wasn’t baptised as a child. Can I get baptised now?

The answer to this question is invariably yes. It is far rarer for adults to get baptised but arrangements can definitely be made. If you would like to become baptised, then speak to your local parish priest.

I was baptised as a child.  Can I do anything further?

The main criticism of infant baptism is that a child has no say in the matter. There is undoubtedly merit in this objection; after all, you can hardly be expected to hold to a promise made when you were only a few months old. In many cases, the child does not grow to have any strong religious conviction. In some cases, however, the faith of a baptised child becomes particularly important as an adult.

Many Christians seek to reaffirm these promises later in life, in a ceremony known as a confirmation.  In this ceremony, the bishop will ask the candidate a series of questions, such as whether you have decided to turn away from evil and turn instead toward Christ. These promises will be made in front of the congregation, who will in turn promise to help you to keep them by offering their support wherever possible.

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What are the origins of Infant Baptism?

Baptism and the FontInfant baptism was not practiced at the time that Jesus was around and instead arose a few centuries later. There is no mention in the New Testament of an infant being sprinkled with water it was only really in later life that this was done, nor was there any suggestion that it would be a good idea. However, there is no explicit instruction that only adults should be baptised, either. This is one of many instances where the bible is open to interpretation.

That said, few would dispute that infant baptism (or christenings) was not practiced at the time of Jesus. And yet in the modern world, Christians routinely baptise children. Which poses the question: where did this new trend originate from and why?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these questions are contentious and much debated among historians – and among wider Christian circles. There are many competing theories as to the origins of infant baptism.

One of the earlier mentions of the practice is by Carthaginian thinker Tertullian, who also puts forward the idea of a godparent who might aid in overseeing the child’s spiritual development.

Christianity spreads across the Empire

One school of thought views the prevalence of infant baptism as a by-product of a broader change in Christianity. The religion became more and more closely wedded to the state, as it spread across the Roman Empire under Constantine. Eventually, Theodosius I would make Christianity the empire’s official religion– but the religion would take root among the roman population long before that.

The focus of baptism thereby shifted. Whereas before, individuals would come willingly to Christianity, it was now possible to be born into it. Baptism was no longer a matter of personal choice; if you were a child of Christian parents, it followed that you were a Christian and would be baptised as such. This could be for many different reasons such as to remove ‘original sin’ or in the unfortunate case of infant death the belief that it will help send them on to heaven rather than being stuck in purgatory.

One consequence of Christianity becoming so wedded with the Roman Empire is that the emperor became endowed with authority in religious matters. This meant that the emperor was able to pass ordinances which fundamentally altered the way in which the religion was practiced. Some of these ordinances endorsed infant baptism and so the practice became more widespread and common.

Many of these practices concerned original sin.

The washing away of original sin

Washing away of original sinOne factor that cannot be underestimated is that of ‘original sin’ – that which was committed by the first woman, Eve, in the book of Genesis, when she tasted the forbidden fruit. The bible holds that that all human beings bear responsibility for this infraction. The power of sanctified water to ‘wash away’ this sin is one of the purposes of a baptism.

While many modern Christians view both the account put forward in Genesis in more metaphorical terms, there was a time in which sin was taken very literally indeed. It was a matter of grave concern to Christian parents, for whom the prospect of hell was very real and persuasive.

One popular idea was that baptism washed away all sins committed beforehand – but not those committed afterward. People would therefore elect to wait until they were literally on their deathbed before being baptised. Constantine himself was one famous adherent of this practice.

Of course, this tactic was dangerous, in that it posed the not inconsiderable risk that sudden death might rob you of the chance to be baptised. This risk made infant baptism all the more appealing.

Child Death

During the first millennium, child mortality rates were far higher than they are today. For every child born, there was a likelihood that some would die – mostly through causes completely unknown to the parents – infections, viruses and genetic disorders would take lives seemingly at random.

During this time, child death was a fact of life. That said, it was undoubtedly a cause of great stress to the parents of such children. In the face of conflicting views surrounding the efficacy of infant baptism, it seems likely that parents would elect to baptise their child, in order that they be sent to heaven – however remote the contrary possibility might be. After all, faith can be a powerful comfort and healer.

The differences between adult and child baptism

It is tempting to think of adult baptism as having transformed into child baptism, since the two ceremonies both involve immersion in water and the pledging of vows. But the two are, in actuality, wholly distinct acts. When an adult is baptised, he (or she) is expected to verbally renounce Satan and to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour. A child, by contrast, can make no such renunciations and declarations. These pledges are instead made by the parents and godparents. Child baptism is therefore a conditional act, contingent on the child receiving religious instruction as it grows older. Later in life, a baptised child may wish the make the same pledges spoken in an adult baptism. The ceremony of confirmation was therefore introduced in order to afford such children the chance to do so and carry on their faith of their own volition.

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Understanding Christian Denomination

Christianity began life as an apparently harmless sect within a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. It spread with a speed and tenacity which few anticipated. The idea that a God could have a human son wasn’t new among Romans – Roman emperors had been making that precise claim for a long time. And the concept of an afterlife in the Elysian Fields or in the depths of Hades were well entrenched, but Christianity arrived at just the right time, when Romans were experimenting with numerous other cults (Zoroaster and Mithras for example) and were responsive to new ideas. Droves of Romans abandoned Jupiter, Venus and the other old Gods for the new religion and Christianity spread throughout Europe.

For a thousand years or so after those early years, Christianity proceeded– with a few refinements here and there – as one homogenous, indivisible block. You either believed that Jesus was the Son of God or you didn’t.

But now, there are many, many different denominations. The differences between them are sometimes subtle. So, where did they all come from?

To attempt to summarise a faith with anything approaching concision is to invite the scorn of its adherents. It is, after all, almost impossible to distil Catholicism into only a few paragraphs. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief journey through Christian thought – so that perhaps, the next time you are introduced to a seventh-day Adventist, you’ll at least have the vaguest notion of what that means. A short summary is preferable to ignorance of the rich tapestry of religious belief that exists in our modern society.

Although there were many divisions and secessions in the early church, such as the creation of the Egyptian Coptic church, the first and most significant divergence in Christian history occurred in the 11th century, during a period modern historians refer to as the Great Schism. During this period, Western Catholicism broke away from Eastern Orthodoxy – a geographical separation which endures to this day. It is best to examine these two categories first.

Catholicism

The Catholic Church is an organisation with an extremely rich and varied history with the largest membership at around 1.2 billion people. Its laws and doctrines are hugely convoluted – to attempt to describe them in detail would be foolhardy; it is sufficient to say that it is generally more authoritarian and socially conservative than its cousins. It does, however, hold several key features which distinguish it from other faiths:

Apolistic Succession

Catholic doctrine holds that, when founding his church, Christ appointed St. Peter as its head. Today, the bishop of Rome – or, as he’s more commonly referred to, The Pope – is viewed as St. Peter’s successor. The structure of the church is therefore hugely hierarchical: The Pope sits at the head, and beneath him sit a handful of cardinals and beneath them sit archbishops, deacons, bishops and priests. Unlike those of other Christian denominations, the catholic priesthood is composed entirely of celibate men – largely because Jesus was a celibate man.

Transubstantiation

This is the belief held by Catholics that, when a bishop repeats the words attributed to Jesus at the last supper, bread and wine can literally transform into the flesh and blood of Christ – though without exhibiting any outward change in appearance. Catholics would certainly hesitate to term this effect as ‘magical’.

Opposition to Contraception

The Catholic Church opposes artificial methods of contraception, such as condoms. This is in order to prevent sex being solely a means of pleasure – which is viewed as inherently sinful.

Opposition to Abortion

The Catholic Church also vehemently opposes abortion. They consider human life sacred from the moment of conception. Catholic opposition to Stem Cell research is based on the same reasoning.

Orthodoxy

Unlike Catholics, Orthodox Christians do not hold St. Peter to be foremost among the apostles. They believe that that the scriptures have been misinterpreted on this point and that Jesus was not talking specifically about Peter, but rather every one of the disciples.

This seemingly minor change has profound impacts of the way a church is organised. While the Catholic Church conforms to an extremely rigid hierarchy, Orthodox churches are instead ruled separately – through a series of national institutions. However, unlike protestant churches, they are all closely bound together and virtually all of them share the same communion.

Baptists

Baptists, unlike most other Christians, believe that only professing believers should be baptised, rather than unwitting infants. They therefore only baptise willing adults. They do not, however, consider baptism a sacrament (something which is necessary to get into heaven). Baptists believe in religious freedom, as they believe that religion should be between the believer and God. The Baptist Church and associated congregations boast over 100 million members worldwide.

Protestants

During the 16th century came a series of events which utterly transformed Christian thought in Europe. This change became known as the Protestant Reformation. Unlike Catholics, Protestants defer to no central authority – other than scripture, and, by extension, God. This freedom has led, as one might expect, to the growth of many different branches within Protestant Christianity – more so than any other religion.

Lutherans

Martin Luther was a German friar and theologian who, among others, prompted the protestant reformation. Luther had a number of problems with the Vatican’s modus operandi – among them its practice of selling salvation in the form of ‘indulgences’, with which any sins could be disregarded and the indulgent permitted to heaven.

He elucidated these complaints in 1517, in a writing called ‘the ninety-five theses’ – which he nailed to the front of his local church and disseminated copies, which spread quickly throughout Europe. This incident is now regarded by most historians as the beginning of the protestant reformation.

Luther held that scripture was the sole basis for Christian faith and that no huge church was necessary. The Catholic Church took exception to this and responded by banning his work throughout the Holy Roman Empire and threatening him with excommunication if he did not recant his beliefs.

Luther was placed under arrest and ultimately forced into hiding. He would make good use of the time, however. Up until that point, the Bible had only been made available in Greek and Latin – languages which hardly anyone spoke. Luther translated the Bible into German so that everyone could read it. Luther’s Bible quickly spread throughout Europe and the result is modern Lutheranism.

Anglicans

Christianity arrived in England following the Roman occupation. Although culturally it had absorbed some local Celtic custom, the church in England adopted the Catholic faith controlled by Rome following Augustine’s mission in the 6th Century. The break from Rome came nearly 1,000 years later in 1534 when Henry VIII declared himself supreme leader of the Church of England – an act that enabled him to divorce his wife and appropriate the church’s great wealth.

The Anglican Communion represents over 85 million Christians worldwide – some see it as offering egalitarian Protestantism, for others it provides non-papal Catholicism – a diverse group.

Presbyterians

Presbyterianism is heavily influenced by the work of John Calvin, a French theologian. In Presbyterianism, churches are run in a democratic manner, with elected elders holding authority alongside ordained ministers. The movement can, for the most part, trace its origins back to Scotland during the reformation.

Presbyterian beliefs are similar to those of other groups within the protestant movement: that God is sovereign over everything, that scripture is his word, in the power of faith and in the priesthood of all believers.

Pentecostal

The First Pentecost is described in the New Testament, in the book of Acts. The account holds that the Apostles were attending a gathering in celebration of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, when the Holy Spirit descended and entered the body of everyone present, causing them to speak in other languages – or at least, that was the explanation proffered by St. Peter.

Pentecostal Christians believe the Holy Spirit acts largely as it did then and can enter the body at any time. They also believe that Jesus:

  • Can save people from hell.
  • Baptises you from the Holy Spirit.
  • Can heal wounds.
  • Will one day return.

Pentecostalism is an evangelical tradition, or one whose adherents actively try to persuade nonbelievers to join them.

Methodists

Methodism was created much later than other protestant movements. It was founded in the eighteenth century by John Wesley and later curated by his brother Charles. Methodists believe that everyone can be saved and – more distinctly – that everyone must be saved. The religion’s emphasis lies largely with helping others, especially the poor and needy, which explains the prevalence of schools and hospitals said to be Methodist.

Quakers

Quakers (or ‘friends’) are a family of different movements who each believe in a ‘priesthood of all believers’. They believe that God’s revelation is ongoing and that believers need only liaise with Him directly to experience it. Quaker gatherings are, relative to those of other faiths, hugely informal – emphasis is placed on caring for one another and sharing goals for the world.

Church of Latter-Day Saints

The denominations thus far discussed have been broadly similar – but the Church of Latter Day Saints is certainly unique. While the supernatural origins of Christianity are shrouded in mystery a great deal is known about the origins of Mormonism. It was founded in 1820 by Joseph Smith, who, with the help of the angel Moroni, found and translated some golden plates which describe Jesus’s visit to North America.

Mormons believe, contrary to most of Christian tradition, that there was no ‘creation’ at the beginning of everything and that God and human beings are essentially similar – though at different stages of development.

The term ‘Mormon’ stems from one of the sect’s holy books, The Book of Mormon and was initially employed as a pejorative – though Mormons are now, generally speaking, happy to accept the label.

Non-denominational

Non-denominational Christians are, as one might expect, those who do not associate themselves with any particular group, this makes up around 2.5 million people.

These are just a few of the vast amount of Denominations around the world, do you belong to any of these or one that has not been described, or something completely different?

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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Christening

Planning a Christening and preparing for the party afterwards can seem a bit daunting. In this infographic we have outlined a few ideas we have picked up over the years that may make the whole experience less overwhelming and far more fun. This resource has also been created as a downloadable pdf providing you with everything you need to know for ‘Planning a Christening‘ complete with checklists so you can keep a track of what you have achieved.

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Christening

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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Christening

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Choosing the Perfect Christening Hymn

The majority of vicars will let you choose a hymn or two to sing at your baby’s christening. It can sometimes be hard to choose something appropriate and often parents go with the two or three that they know well. This is actually a good idea as people attending the Christening are more likely to sing along to something they are familiar with.

Let’s see how many hymns you remember from school and broaden your knowledge of suitable hymns for a christening. We have listed all the hymns we feel would be good at a christening below and then included the full lyrics to aid you in making your decision.

Hymn choices include:

  • Morning has broken
  • All things bright and beautiful
  • The Lord of the Dance
  • Sing Hosanna
  • Lord of all hopefulness
  • O Jesus I have promised
  • One more step along the world I go
  • Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
  • For all the Saints
  • Living Lord
  • Be Still for the Presence of the Lord
  • He’s got the whole world in his hands

The hymns to avoid because they are typically sung at funerals are:

  • Abide with Me
  • The Lord’s My Shepherd
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is

Every church has a different organist and assistant organist setup. It is sometimes easier to get the number of the organist from the vicar so you can contact them directly. Finding out which hymns are possible first will avoid disappointment and organists are also a wealth of information in this area, as you can imagine. You can always ask the vicar who will in turn ask the organist if they can play the hymn that you want for the christening. They may also have their own list of possible choices for you to select yours from.

Most people are very familiar with ‘Morning has broken’, ‘All things bright and beautiful’, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’, and ‘Sing Hosanna’ as these used to be regulars in school assemblies. It is possible that you know others besides these and just need to see the lyrics to jog your memory. So here you go and whatever you choose have a wonderful day.

 

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Refrain:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flow’r that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

The purple-headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

The Lord of the Dance

I danced in the morning
When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heave
And I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance, then,wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all,
wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all
in the Dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn’t follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John –
They came with me
And the Dance went on.

I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.

I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black –
It’s hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.

They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you
If you’ll live in me –
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.

Sing Hosanna

Give me joy in my heart
keep me praising
give me joy in my heart, I pray
give me joy in my heart
keep me praising
keep me praising till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
sing hosanna to the King of kings.
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
sing hosanna to the King.

Give me peace in my heart
keep me resting
give me peace in my heart, I pray
give me peace in my heart
keep me resting
keep me resting till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
sing hosanna to the King of kings.
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
sing hosanna to the King.

Give me love in my heart
keep me serving
give me love in heart, I pray
give me love in my heart
keep me serving
keep me serving till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
sing hosanna to the King of kings.
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna
sing hosanna to the King.

 

Oh Jesus I have promised

O Jesus, I have promised
To serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me,
My Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle
If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If Thou wilt be my Guide.

Oh, let me feel Thee near me;
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin.

Oh, let me hear Thee speaking,
In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
The murmurs of self-will;
Oh, speak to reassure me,
To hasten, or control;
Oh, speak, and make me listen,
Thou Guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, Thou hast promised
To all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory
There shall Thy servant be;
And Jesus, I have promised
To serve Thee to the end;
Oh, give me grace to follow,
My Master and my Friend.

Oh, let me see Thy footmarks,
And in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly
Is in Thy strength alone.
Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
Uphold me to the end;
And then to rest receive me,
My Savior and my Friend.

One More Step along the World I Go

One more step along the world I go,
One more step along the world I go;
From the old things to the new,
Keep me travelling along with you:
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

Round the corners of the world I turn,
More and more about the world I learn;
All the new things that I see
You’ll be looking at along with me.
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

As I travel through the bad and good,
Keep me travelling the way I should.
Where I see no way to go,
You’ll be telling me the way, I know.
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

Give me courage when the world is rough,
Keep me loving though the world is tough;
Leap and sing in all I do,
Keep me travelling along with you:
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

You are older than the world can be,
You are younger than the life in me;
Ever old and ever new,
Keep me travelling along with you:
And it’s from the old I travel to the new;
Keep me travelling along with you.

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
beside the Syrian sea,
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word,
rise up and follow thee.

O sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

Be Still for the Presence of The Lord

Be still for the presence of the Lord,
The Holy One is here;
Come bow before Him now
With reverence and fear.
In Him no sin is found,
We stand on holy ground;
Be still, for the presence of the Lord,
The Holy One is here.

Be still, for the glory of the Lord
Is shining all around;
He burns with holy fire,
With splendour He is crowned.
How awesome is the sight,
Our radiant King of light!
Be still, for the glory of the Lord
Is shining all around.

Be still, for the power of the Lord
Is moving in this place;
He comes to cleanse and heal,
To minister His grace.
No work too hard for Him,
In faith receive from Him;
Be still, for the power of the Lord
Is moving in this place.

He’s got the Whole World in his hands

He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.

He’s got the tiny little baby in his hands.
He’s got the tiny little baby in his hands.
He’s got the tiny little baby in his hands.
He’s got the baby in his hands.

He’s got you and my brother in his hands.
He’s got you and my brother in his hands.
He’s got you and my brother in his hands.
He’s got you and my in his hands.

He’s got the son and his father in his hands.
He’s got the son and his father in his hands.
He’s got the son and his father in his hands.
He’s got son and father in his hands.

He’s got the mother and her daughter in his hands.
He’s got the mother and her daughter in his hands.
He’s got the mother and her daughter in his hands.
He’s got mother and daughter in his hands.

He’s got everybody here in his hands.
He’s got everybody here in his hands.
He’s got everybody here in his hands.
He’s got everybody in his hands.

He’s got the sun and the moon in his hands.
He’s got the sun and the moon in his hands.
He’s got the sun and the moon in his hands.
He’s got sun and moon in his hands.

 

 

 

 

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Royal Christenings Traditions Pomp and Ceremony

Royal Souvenir First Tooth PotWith the royal family having recently announced that the Duchess of Cambridge is carrying a second child, the nation’s attention and indeed that of the world, is affixed once more on all things regal. In sharp contrast to royal weddings, funerals, and coronations (which are necessarily grand ceremonies of state) royal christenings tend to be private affairs, with just a few close relatives present.

Consequently, royal christenings throughout history are not as well documented as the other occasions mentioned. Though we know enough about them to know that some were not quite so modest. The christening of Elizabeth I featured heralds and ringing trumpets.

Many of the late Georgian and Victorian christenings were overblown affairs, with increasingly elaborate props and guests from all over the world. Intimacy, then, is a feature only really present in the christenings of more recent monarchs. Elizabeth II was attended by nine people, that of Queen Victoria herself by just seven.

What actually happens?

The ceremony is usually – though not always – conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and proceedings transpire in a particular order, in a time usually a little under half-an-hour. The ceremony commences with a selection of hymns, before the infant is brought into the room by the Head Nurse, accompanied by the mother’s lady-in-waiting. The child is then handed to the godparent and then to the archbishop. The Archbishop then asks for a name, before proceeding to pour holy water from the font over the child’s head while declaring ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’.

Another hymn is then sung and those present leave the room in the same order that they entered, and are ushered into another room where the register is signed.  A reception then follows, in which everyone enjoys light refreshments and cake.

Royal christenings are distinct in that they feature three special items, which have been present in almost every royal christening since that of Princess Victoria in 1841.

The Honiton Lace Robe

The gown first worn by Princess Victoria was directly inspired by her mother’s wedding dress from the preceding year. When Victoria the elder needed a gown for her daughter’s christening, she turned to a lace-maker from Honiton, East Devon – though the precise identity of this lace-maker is disputed.

It has been used by more than sixty individuals since its debut 173 years ago and the colour of the satin has now faded from white to cream and the linen has now worn out.  As one might imagine, this costume is delicate and requires extremely careful maintenance along with occasional reparative work. Following every outing, the outfit is hand-washed in sterilised water.  It is then dried, wrapped in black tissue paper and stored in an airtight container in Buckingham Palace.

The Lily Font

Even by royal standards, this is a breathtakingly opulent font. It is made from gold-gilded silver and is around seventeen inches wide and seventeen inches tall. Its border is comprised of elaborate lilies, while seated cherubim flank its base. Victoria commissioned the font in 1840, allegedly on the sole grounds that an illegitimate child had been christened in an earlier one. In 1960, the font was moved from Windsor Castle to the Tower of London, where it now resides.

The Holy Water

While having a priest bless the water has long been within the means of most families, the royals have traditionally gone a step further and had their water taken from the river Jordan, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ was baptised by John.

Victoria

Victoria’s christening took place in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace at around three o’clock in the afternoon of June 24th, 1819. The ceremony was unusual, not only in that it was sparsely attended, but in that no-one present knew what the baby’s name would be.

While Victoria’s parents had come up with a shortlist of names, the decision ultimately rested with Victoria’s father’s brother: the Prince Regent, George IV. George despised his brother and flatly rejected all four of the names put forward, declaring that the child should not be given any name currently used by the royal family. When the Archbishop came to ask George for a name, he replied with ‘Alexandrina’, after the Russian Emperor Alexander I.

And so Victoria was christened ‘Alexandrina Victoria’. Though the name ‘Drina’ persisted throughout her childhood, but she always preferred to be called by her second name and after she became queen, she often got her way.

Venues

Throughout history, British monarchs have built and used a variety of venues for the occasion. The last royal christening (that of Prince George in October last year) was carried out in the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace.

For the house of Windsor, the music room in Buckingham palace has long been a favoured venue for the ceremony and four royal babies have been christened there:  Charles, Anne, Andrew and William. In each instance, the ceremony was performed by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury.

The current monarch was officially welcomed into the world on 29th May, 1926 – around five weeks after her birth. According to historian and royal biographer Sarah Bradford, the queen cried so much that “her nurse dosed her with dill water, an old-fashioned remedy, to the amusement of her uncle, the Prince of Wales.”

Cakes

No overview of royal christenings would be complete without at least a brief mention of the various christening cakes that have been created for the occasion, the most ostentatious of which seems to be that presented to Edward VII, which The Times compared to a ‘coliseum of sugar’ and reported as being around two-and-a-half feet wide and over four feet tall.

In keeping with tradition, most royal christening cakes are made from the top layer of the parents’ wedding cake. William’s was one such, though the fact that the top layer alone was sufficient to feed 182 veterans of the Falklands war should give some indication of the enormousness of Charles and Diana’s wedding cake.

 

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Patron Saints – Who was St. Christopher?

Contemporary St Christopher NecklaceSt. Christopher was a Christian martyr who reputedly lived and died under the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius. Though he was martyred in the third century, St. Christopher was not widely-venerated until almost a thousand years later.

Christopher is one of many Christian proselytisers alleged to have been executed by the Roman Empire for religious reasons.  Perhaps the most famous of his near-contemporaries was St. Pancras of Rome – a saint well-known in Britain as the patron saint of children. His name is carried by many churches, a hospital and a major London train station.  Like Christopher, Pancras was a Christian martyr of the period, executed for spreading Christianity. Pancras, however was martyred aged only 14 – which could possibly explain why he is widely considered the patron saint of children.

Christopher’s patronage, by contrast, is very broad; he is revered by a variety of people, including bookbinders, archers, bachelors, mariners, and surfers.  Among his many patrons, Christopher is most commonly held as the patron saint of travellers and his image is most often worn by (or placed in the vehicles of) travelling Christians.

Legends surrounding St. Christopher

Many legends surround St. Christopher’s life.  He was a Canaanite and a servant of the king of Canaan (a region in the Middle East comprising much of modern-day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.) Some versions of the legend portray him the son of the King, who was conceived only after lengthy prayer to the Virgin Mary. In every version of the legend, he is possessed of immense strength and therefore of particular use to his master in tasks requiring great physical prowess.  Accounts variously describe him as having a fearsome, ugly face and as being between seven and eighteen feet tall.

His route toward Christianity was similarly unusual. According to the story, Christopher one day determined that, since his talents were great they should be used in service of the greatest power he could find. He was therefore happy to serve the King of Canaan, who was indeed a very powerful man, until one day he saw his master cross himself on hearing the name of the Devil.

Christopher resolved therefore to serve the Devil, reasoning that anyone whom his master feared must surely be more powerful than his master. He searched long and hard for the Devil and eventually found him, working as one of a gang of bandits. It was not long, however, before Christopher noted that even the Devil was frightened by something: a roadside cross. Christopher then followed his earlier reasoning to the conclusion that Christ was more powerful than the Devil, and so resolved to serve Christ.

After receiving instruction in Christianity from a roadside hermit, Christopher became a devout evangelical. He travelled from place to place, spreading the Christian message. He abstained from traditional acts of devotion, such as fasting or praying, (one might guess that his considerable stature excluded him from them), but he found he could serve Christ using his physical strength.

The Story of the River

Christopher did this by ferrying travellers across a raging river, over which there was no other safe form of passage. It is here that the most widely-known legend begins. For a long while, Christopher spent his days carrying travellers across the river, until he was one day charged with carrying across a small boy – a task complicated by the fact that, when he reached the centre of the river, Christopher found that the apparently small child had become very heavy indeed.

Undeterred, Christopher delivered his charge to the opposite shore. It was then that the child revealed himself to be Christ and explained that his tremendous weight was due to the fact that he was carrying the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. Christopher, as one might expect, demanded proof and the child obliged by transforming Christopher’s staff into a fruit-bearing palm tree.

On hearing of this miracle, many of the locals rejoiced and converted immediately to Christianity. The local authorities, however, took a rather more dim view of the incident and ordered that Christopher be imprisoned, tortured and beheaded.

This tale explains the etymological roots of St. Christopher’s name, which stems from the Greek ‘Christophoros’, or ‘Christ bearer’. A similar legend exists for the Egyptian martyr St. Menas, leading many scholars to conclude that the two are one and the same. Both versions of the tale are derived from an ancient Greek legend in which Jason carries an old woman across the river Anauros, unaware that the old woman is in fact Hera, Queen of the Gods, in disguise.

Christopher in Catholicism

Prior to the 15th century, the Catholic Church had no formal process of canonisation with which to determine which individuals were worthy of the title ‘saint’. During this time, there existed no central authority charged with the task; it was simply a matter of popular consensus. To put it another way, individuals were awarded sainthood on the basis that they were referred to as saints, rather being referred to as saints because they had been awarded sainthood.

As a consequence, a lot of supposed ‘saints’ were not canonical figures, or even Christian figures at all; many were based on legends from other cultures and religions. There was even one account which held that the Buddha once travelled west to convert to Christianity and had thereby attained sainthood.

Half a millennium later, in 1969, the Vatican decided that their Universal Calendar was in need of reform. This process would establish which of these historical ‘saints’ were really worthy of the title and exclude those that remained from the calendar.

There were many casualties. Some saints were considered so legendary that their cults were repressed, such as that of St. Ursula. Christopher was determined to be undeserving of such a severe measure, but still sufficiently dubious to be culled from the universal calendar, but his name can still be found on some local calendars.

Modern Perspectives on St. Christopher

St. Christopher has come to be widely associated with safety and stewardship, which could explain why his name is so often invoked – prayers are usually to him made by those seeking assurance against possible hardship. This includes travellers in the literal sense, but also of those in a figurative sense:  those embarking on a new career or lifestyle might appeal to him, as might those embarking on a new enterprise, or welcoming a new addition to a group of like-minded individuals, or a family.  His name is therefore associated with important events such as funerals, weddings, and of course christenings.

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