Discovering Prayer

It can be heartening and welcoming for Christian parents when their child begins to show an inclination toward. It is important, however, that such children receive instruction in exactly how and when to pray. If your child comes to regard prayer in the wrong way, then they will likely become disillusioned when the practice does not yield the expected results.

What is prayer?

As with most things, it is always best to begin from first principles when teaching a child about prayer.  Prayer is not only the act of addressing God. With practice prayer becomes a form of meditation, leading to greater self-awareness and a better understanding of others and the world around us.

Prayer comes in many forms. There are formal prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer; there are also informal prayers – private words in God’s ear which believers engage in periodically. Both require explanation.

If you take your child to church, where everyone recites the Lord’s Prayer in unison, they will become familiar with its words. But this is pointless without an appreciation of the meaning behind these words. The language of the bible is steeped in metaphor – not to mention myriad ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s – which a child will have difficulty deciphering. The Lord’s Prayer is no exception. Your child might conceivably have questions:

–          What exactly is “daily bread” and why isn’t it included in my packed lunch?

–          “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” What will be done? What does ‘thy’ mean?

–          What does ‘Amen’ mean?

If your child is particularly young, you might not be able to explain that the word ‘will’ can be a noun. For this reason, you might wish to buy your child a book of prayer written in more contemporary language. This will be far more forgiving and more easily understood. Eden and Scripture Union have a wide choice to choose from. There might be words and ideas that you can also use at home with your children. Your church might also have special activities to help.

Informal prayer also requires a degree of instruction – though it is far more intuitive and direct. Those that pray do so according to their own ideas of what God is and how He would prefer to be addressed. You don’t need to talk in sixteenth century English – you can, if you’d like – talk in much the same way that you’d talk to a friend or family member. Indeed, God will likely understand your meaning better than you do. After all, a God that didn’t wouldn’t be much of a God.

It is not sufficient, however, to say ‘talk to God about whatever you’d like’. Children must also be taught why they should be praying – and what for.

Why should I pray?

There are three main reasons why someone might wish to pray to God.

Please

The most common use of prayer is to make requests of God. Such requests, however, come with a number of conditions. A great many misguided prayers are rooted in selfishness. This is especially true of children. Needless to say, prayer is not a route to a lottery win, a promotion or a romantic liaison; neither is it a means by which your child will procure a videogame or sway the outcome of school sports day. To regard it as such is to invite disappointment.

Children might, on learning this, come to question the efficacy of prayer. It is important to treat these doubts honestly. There have been a myriad of empirical studies into the efficacy of prayer, all of them following much the same methodology. A large number of sufferers of a potentially fatal disease are polled to find out whether they pray. Those polled are divided into two groups – those that pray, and those that do not pray – and then the mortality rates between the two groups are compared. The hypothesis beings that, if prayer were ineffective, then those that pray will be far less likely to succumb to their illness. Of course, in all of these studies, those that pray are no less likely to die than those that don’t bother.

It is crucial to be honest with your child about this. The foundation of Christianity is faith in Jesus Christ. If a belief in God were to hinge on evidence, this faith would not be required. Whatever God is, He is not a magician who will swoop to the aid of his followers at every invitation.

Christians believe that God exists and that he knows everything and sees everything. If this is true, it follows that He will hear prayers – even if you don’t pray out loud. Of course, you might wish to pray out loud anyway – and this is fine, too. God will be able to discern everything you might possible want to say before you’ve even said it.

Thank you

As human beings, we have a great deal to be thankful for. We enjoy unprecedented access to food, shelter, as well as technological wonders like smartphones and the internet. Some things, however, require a thank you which is more spiritual in nature.

If your child has a particular affection toward the music of One Direction, then there are a number of people whom they might want to thank for its existence. Your child might want to write them some fan mail. If, on the other hand, your child is struck by the majesty of mountains, forests and the night sky; for their capacity to love and joy. This is a gratitude for which there is no obvious recipient. Prayer forms a conduit for that gratitude.

Sorry

Children, like adults, may feel guilty from time to time. Prayer may represent a worthwhile avenue for their contrition – though parents should also ensure that their children feel comfortable confessing their most concrete crimes. If your child feels envious from time to time, then they might take that up with God. If your child has inadvertently fed the dog anti-freeze, you will want them to tell you about it.

When should I pray?

Once you have impressed on your child what prayer is and why it is done, there is the more practical business of finding the time and space in which to do it. There are many occasions in which your child may wish to pray. Prayer requires seclusion. As such, the best opportunities usually occur immediately before bed, or immediately upon waking. Prayer might seem most necessary during times of great stress – in children, this may be before starting at a new school, or immediately before exams, or during minor bouts of depression.

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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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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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The Scottish Quaich and its Christening Connections

What is a Quaich?

A Quaich is a large, shallow cup with a long handle (or lug) on either side. It has been used in Scotland for centuries as a symbol of friendship and trust. The precise origins of the quaich are unclear, as it has no obvious antecedents in Europe. One popular theory holds that the vessel is descended from a scallop shell, from which ancient highlanders would drink whisky; another holds that it played an important role in druidic blood sacrifice.

While the origins of the quaich are disputed, most agree that quaich is a uniquely Scottish invention.  It was predominantly used to drink spirits, such as whisky and brandy – though larger forms of the quaich were also used to drink ale.

They were also carried by travellers, since they could be easily hung from a saddle or belt. It could be used to drink from streams, as well as in taverns and inns along the road. Over time, the quaich became a standard means of measurement, with one finger being the rough equivalent of one contemporary dram.

The Quaichs social function

The quaich was a social drinking vessel which came into being during a time when no-one drank out of someone else’s cup. The quaich thereby came to symbolise friendship; one person would present another with the quaich, using both hands – which would render them incapable of holding a secret weapon. In this way trust was fostered between warring clans.

It also became a traditional gift at important gatherings and ceremonies such as weddings and christenings. A newlywed couple might drink from the same quaich in order to indicate that they trusted one another, while at christenings the quaich might be passed between attendees, who would then drink from it to indicate that they were all good friends.

What is a Quaich made from?

Earlier forms of the quaich were made from a variety of materials (including bone) but the most popular was wood, since wood was widely available.  A quaich could either be hewn from a single body of wood, or spun from individual staves. Of the latter sort, the most elaborate were made from many different sorts of wood, in shades both light and dark, which were interwoven in complicated patterns and bound together with withies (strips of willow) or bands of silver if you were rich.

In the centre of the basin usually lay a large coin or medallion, which would seal the area where the wooden strands met. These coins would usually then be engraved with one of any number of different ways: with a coat of arms, a set of initials, a motto, or a toast:  ‘cheers!’

The evolution of the Quaich

Since the quaich was so often offered as a gift at special occasions, there arose a demand for more impressive versions of the vessel. This meant that the skills of those that could make such items became more sought-after. Quaich-makers came to be regarded as artisans and the best Quaichs were regarded as masterpieces; that were prized not only in Scotland, but in England, too.

By the late seventeenth century, the quaich had become a highly sought after item. It had to be altered to suit the needs of aristocracy. Some of the early Quaichs were very large, cumbersome devices – not entirely suitable for a refined lord or lady.

Fortunately, this rise in popularity coincided with the increased availability of lighter materials, such as silver. As quaich-makers began to make use of these materials, their products became progressively better and easy to make.

As a by-product of this, skilled quaich-makers could then use metalworking to create patterns of great complexity and artistic value; and from then on more decorated Quaichs became widely available than ever before. The lugs of the quaich, while functional, are also a source of the vessel’s aesthetic appeal and served as a canvas for elaborate engravings.

Later on came glass-bottomed variants of the quaich, which – in slight contradiction with the Quaichs traditional background – allowed the drinker to keep an eye on their companions, even whilst drinking. Other variants placed two panes of glass at the bottom, so that a keepsake (such as a lock of hair) could be preserved at the bottom of the glass. In 1589, King James of Scotland presented his wife, Anne of Norway, with one such quaich as a wedding gift.

Though wooden Quaichs are still widely available, modern Quaichs are typically made from metal, since this allows for cheaper manufacture; pewter, in particular, is very popular. They remain an ever popular gift at weddings and christenings.

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Planning a Christening

Planning a Christening and preparing for the party afterwards can seem a bit daunting. We have outlined below a few ideas we have picked up over the years that may make the whole experience less overwhelming and far more fun.

CHOOSING THE CHURCH

For continuity in the future, it is a good idea to choose a local church. Not only will this be helpful logistically in the run up to the ceremony and on the day, this is also the church your children will get to know over the years – a welcoming, local second family. The Church of England has a useful site to help you locate and contact your local parish church at:

www.achurchnearyou.com

If you have connections with a parish church close to your original family home, the vicar would be happy to discuss holding the service there.

Contact the church and arrange to meet the vicar when you will be able to book a date for the ceremony and discuss any queries you may have. When choosing the day, bear in mind other events or family occasions – you don’t want to have a clash of dates. And book a date some time in advance to allow guests time to fit it in their diary. The weekends around Easter are always popular for Christenings, as are the Summer weekends when the weather is better for parties in the garden at home.

Visit the church – you will receive an warm welcome. Also, why not make a trip to the church toddler group when you will get to know some of the other parents you will probably meet at the service.

CHOOSING THE GODPARENTS

Most parents choose relatives or family friends. It is best to choose godparents who you expect to stay in contact with you and stay close to your family long into the future. Whoever you choose, you are asking them to make a life-long commitment to your child’s faith and emotional wellbeing. You need to consider:

  1. You must choose a minimum of three godparents, although you may have more.
  2. Two godparents should be of the same sex as your child, whilst one should be of the opposite sex.
  3. You and your spouse can be a godparent.
  4. Godparents should already be baptised.
  5. You are not asking godparents to make a legal commitment or become legal guardians. Their role is as guides and mentors in your child’s spiritual and religious journey throughout life.
  6. Consider whether your chosen godparents will be comfortable making the promises and commitments in the church service detailed below.

PREPARATION

Here are a few suggestions that may help you avoid one or two logistical hiccups:

  1. DON’T book the church or print the invitations until you have checked whether the future godparents are free on the day.
  2. Think carefully about the guest list and how it will affect the budget. How many children will be there and of what ages? If there are a lot of children, you may need to consider special food and entertainment.
  3. If you want one of the godparents to propose a toast at the party after the Christening, ask them well in advance so they have plenty of time to prepare.
  4. Photography: Don’t rely on somebody taking some good pictures by chance. Ask a guest who knows what they are doing to take responsibility for taking a few photos at key parts of the ceremony. Some people enjoy having a role and will take on the project with pleasure. Do check with the vicar that the church is happy for photographs to be taken during the service.
  5. Invitations, whether printed and posted or emailed, should include the date, time, location (of both the church and the party), directions, RSVP (include a date to RSVP by) and dress code (if there is one). If you don’t wish to receive presents, or would prefer gifts to charity, you can let guests know in the invitation.
  6. Do any of the godparents want to be involved in the preparation – they could be very helpful support. Would they like to meet the vicar or find out more about the service?
  7. Where to hold the party: The majority of families hold a small party at home after the ceremony, although a local restaurant, hotel or village hall may be preferable for larger numbers, so review your guest list before making a decision. Budget could also be a big consideration – set yourself a limit and stick to it.

THE CEREMONY

During the Christening ceremony, your child will be baptised with water and welcomed into the family of the church. The ceremony often takes place as part of an existing church service such as a Communion or a family service. Key parts of the service include:

  1. The Decision/Promises: Godparents and parents make declarations and promises
  2. Signing with the Cross: The sign of the cross is made on your child’s forehead – usually with a special oil
  3. The Baptism: As you gather round the font, the vicar pours blessed water over your child’s head. It is at this point the vicar will use your child’s name.
  4. Light in the world: A lighted Christening candle is often presented to the child during the service with the vicar saying: “Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God.”
  5. Prayers, Hymns & Readings: As with most church services, there will be a variety of prayers, hymns and readings during the ceremony.
  6. You may find it useful to review the complete service at: www.churchofengland.org/media/1190836/holy%20baptism.pdf
  7. Baby’s gown: You may like to dress your child in a traditional Christening gown, especially if it is a gown that has been used by other family members in the past. In some families it is customary for the godmother to provide a gown or an item of clothing. There is however no obligation to use a gown and many parents choose something smart that the child is used to wearing. A comfortable, contented baby at a Christening can be far more relaxing for all concerned than a flustered, irritable little bundle, unaccustomed to a formal gown. The main thing to remember is … babies grow – a piece of clothing that fits when you start planning the Christening may be rather snug on the day.
  8. Dress Code: There is no formal dress code for the adults, but many families like to dress up for the occasion. Suits or jackets for the men and elegant outfits for the ladies. Imagine a relaxed informal wedding rather than “red carpet” glamour.

AFTER THE CEREMONY

The party after the ceremony is a wonderful occasion of friends and family, where some of the most important people in your life and that of your child are gathered, so enjoy it. Don’t turn it into an emotional and physical assault course. Here are a few thoughts when planning the party.

Christening Gifts: For safety and security, plan where you will put any gifts that people bring to the party. A helpful niece or nephew might take responsibility for looking after the pressies. And remember, when you do get round to opening them, have a pen and pad of paper handy to note down who gave what … it’s easy to muddle things up.

Don’t forget to ask the vicar to the party. Vicars are very busy people and they probably won’t be able to make it, but it can be so easy to overlook them in all the whirl of planning and preparation – an invitation is often appreciated.

A small speech or toast at the party is traditional and often expected. Plan ahead and ask someone (usually a godparent) to propose a toast well BEFORE the event. If you spring it on them on the day, they will be ill-prepared and won’t thank you for it. If the budget is tight, you don’t have to splash out on Champagne for the toasts, a dry Cava or Prosecco works just as well and is often preferable.

The food, drink, theme and location of your party will depend on your budget and your guest list, so we’ve outlined a few thoughts below to help with your budgeting.

YOUR BUDGET

To help you plan ahead, here are a few things you may need to budget for. You may find there are more added costs to consider than you think:

  1. Dress: Apart from what your child will wear at the Christening, think about what you, your spouse and your other children will wear on the day
  2. The Church: Is there a fee? Do you want to make a charitable donation? Flowers and decorations?
  3. The Party doesn’t have to be expensive, but here are the main costs to consider:
    >  Invitations
    >  Food & Drink
    >  Fizz for the toast
    >  Balloons & Decorations
    >  Table Decorations and Napery
    >  Christening Cake
    >  Entertainment
    >  Venue Fee
  4. Presents: You may be planning to buy something substantial for your child like an engraved silver cup or some silver jewellery, but also consider a small thank you gift for the godparents and maybe the grandparents. A little memento for the other children at the party is also a nice idea.
  5. Unexpected additional costs can include: Professional photographs or video; Musicians & entertainers; Putting up guests and relatives overnight who have travelled a long way; Transport and parking … and of course, the holiday you will need when it’s all over.
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Your Christening Speech and Toast

Standing up at a Christening and making a speech or toast can be a bit unnerving, but, with a little preparation, you will find that the speech will almost write itself and there is really little to fear.

Start by thanking everybody, on behalf of the parents, for attending the service and supporting your godchild and the family. Don’t forget to thank the vicar or priest – if you are planning ahead, ask for their name and make a note of it … it is easy for the vicar to be forgotten or taken for granted. At this stage, if caterers have been used for the party, now is probably the best time to thank them for providing such delicious food and for their service.

You are not only talking on behalf of the parent’s you are probably also representing the other godparents, so find out who they are. You may be a close friend of the family, but it is amazing how often friends you don’t know from the parents’ past or relatives you have never met are asked to be a fellow godparent, so do your homework. If you are able to contact them beforehand it may be worth asking if they want you to say anything on their behalf.

Talk about the mother and father and how lucky your godchild is to have such loving parents. You can pick out some of their qualities or remember stories from their first months of parenthood. Although you should really avoid a speech full of endless “thank yous”, now is probably the best time to ask everyone to show their appreciation for all the hard work they have put in to preparing such a great party. If you have time before the Christening, it may be worth asking the parents if there’s anything they want you to say … there may be a special relative or someone who has travelled a long way for the celebration who they would like you to mention. It is a family affair, so consider grandparents, brothers and sisters.

Finally you can talk about the reason everybody is there – your godchild. Talk about everyone’s hope for their future and the sort of person they are likely to become. You can mention any traits or idiosyncrasies you have noticed, the support you and the other godparents will provide, plus the positive attributes they may inherit from their parents. Keep it light, and present the future as a wonderful world of opportunity and experience rather than a challenge or threat. Avoid clichés …. although the line that your goddaughter “will be blessed if she ends up with the good looks of her mother and the intelligence of … her mother” , still seems to be appreciated.

It is traditional to end with a toast, asking everybody to raise their glasses. There are numerous possible toasts. Here are a few, ranging from the short and sweet, to the sweet and saccharin:

“Long Life & Happiness”

“Wealth, Health & Happiness”

“We wish Charlie good fortune, health and peace on his journey through life. May he find love and comfort when he is troubled, may he find true friendship as he grows and may he learn to be kind and considerate to everyone he meets over a long and happy life.”

“May the Lord cradle you in His hand, but never close His fist too tight.

May your pockets always be heavy and your heart always be light.”

“May you live as long as you want, and may you never want as long as you live.”

“Be loving with your family, selfless with your friends and generous to everyman.”

“For a head that will always be bright, a stomach that will always be full and a heart that will always be happy…”

When you do make the speech, avoid using sheets of closely written A4 and certainly don’t read it out, simply use a few index cards with just the bullet points of your speech as an aide memoir to guide you through. Above all, stick to the maxim “less is more” … keep it short and to the point.

Good Luck!

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Choosing Godparents

There are very few hard and fast rules about choosing godparents for your child, but there are probably three boxes you need to tick first:

1) The Church of England does ask that godparents have been Baptised. The Church also recommends that godparents are Confirmed, although this is not essential.

2) You will need a minimum of three godparents, two of the same sex as the child and one of the opposite sex. You and your husband/wife can be godparents, but there must be at least one additional godparent.

3) Godparents are not only making a personal commitment, they are also representing your child at the Christening, so the godparents have to be old enough to understand their role. It may seem attractive to ask a young cousin to become a godparent, but always consider whether they are mature enough to understand the promises they will be making.

Godparents are not taking on a legal obligation. They are not responsible in law for your child and are not obliged to care for your child should anything happen to you – You are not asking them to become a legal guardian. You are however asking them to make a lifelong commitment to your child’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

Remember, you are choosing someone who will be a spiritual and emotional guide for your child … It is easy to choose a godparent for the wrong reasons. Just because someone is wealthy, it doesn’t mean they will have the emotional maturity for the job or the commitment. Don’t choose somebody out of loyalty because they are an “old mate” or because you want to show them some recognition as a token of friendship. Also, just because someone has asked you to be the godparent of their child, it doesn’t mean you have to reciprocate and ask them to be a godparent in return. And, finally, think carefully before asking work colleagues, especially superiors, unless of course you are very close friends.

The bottom line: Choose a godparent for your child … not for you. You are choosing someone who you trust to provide encouragement in spiritual and church life and emotional support throughout childhood.

Try not to put your friends in a difficult position. Think about the character of the person you will be asking. If they are not churchgoers but are spiritually aware, they may be happy to make the declarations and commitments required at the Baptism. However if you are considering a friend who holds strong views about religion, or who would find the declarations at the service difficult to affirm, you may be placing them in the embarrassing dilemma of wanting to refuse, but not wanting to let you down at the same time.

Depending upon the church, the vicar and the service chosen, the godparents will be asked to answer a series of questions and make declarations on your child’s behalf … these vary according to recent changes in the service, but here is an example of the sort of responses you will be asking the godparents to say – will the godparents you are considering be happy to do this?:

Vicar: “Parents and godparents, the Church receives these children with joy. Today we are trusting God for their growth in faith. Will you pray for them, draw them by your example into the community of faith and walk with them in the way of Christ?”
Godparents: With the help of God, we will.

Vicar: “In baptism these children begin their journey in faith. You speak for them today. Will you care for them,and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?”
Godparents: With the help of God, we will.

Vicar: “In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him. Therefore I ask:

“Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?”
Godparents Response: I reject them.

“Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?”
Godparents Response: I renounce them.

“Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?”
Godparents Response: I repent of them.

“Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?”
Godparents Response: I turn to Christ.

“Do you submit to Christ as Lord?”
Godparents Response: I submit to Christ.

“Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?”
Godparents Response: I come to Christ.

It may be worth reading those declarations again and considering whether the godparents you have chosen will be comfortable making these declarations. Recent changes to the service may have toned down the wording, but the underlying meaning remains the same – ask your vicar for a copy of the service your church uses.

And finally … and I speak from experience … If you are going to ask one of the godparents to make a speech, do warn them in advance. Even the best raconteur needs a bit of time to gather their thoughts … The more time they have to prepare for a speech or toast the more meaningful it will be.

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