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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