We can't choose our family, but we can choose our friends. Godparents are a combination of the two - friends entrusted with a role in a child's life and a part to play in the family. Get it right and it provides the benefits of both. So why is it one of the most scary questions we can be asked? Maybe you have no experience of children, or you are not sure if you are 'religious enough', or perhaps it is simply an uncertainty as to what it means...
Godparents and baptisms - a confusing other world for most people, whether church members or not. Below we tackle some of your questions and offer answers which may have either a religious (Christian) perspective, or a secular perspective, or both depending on the question.
Along with the parents, godparents make promises to God and in front of the Church on behalf of the child. The promises are about themselves and how they will live their lives; and then about the child, that they will help them in their faith and getting to know God.Non-religious view
The relationship with the child will depend on the parents, but in most cases the godparent is another significant adult in the lives of the godchild. Their role is a mixture of mentor and benevolent uncle / aunt.
Some serious promises are made to God, the godparent needs to think these through before making them.Non-religious view
There may be differences around the world, but for the UK: there is no legal position for a godparent - you are not guardian to the child if anything happens to the parents (unless written into the will) and you have no rights regarding the child, and the child has no rights over you.
You turn up at the baptism service and make your promises. You agree to support the child in their faith until such time as they take ownership of it for themselves, often with Confirmation. You pray for the child regularly and help support them in learning more about the Christian Faith as they grow up.Non-religious view
Nothing formally, but expectations from the parents may vary - it might be a present at birthday and Christmas, or it could include everything from mentoring to work-experience, taking the child out for the day to introducing them to hobbies and sports.
A child takes ownership of their own faith with Confirmation - when they publicly declare their faith and after which point they can take communion. A child will not be confirmed until they are considered old enough to be making the decision themselves. At this point the godparent can be considered to have fulfilled their initial promises.Non-religious view
There is no formal end-point to the role of godparent, though the child's coming of age at 18 or 21 might be considered to be the normal end. However most godchildren / godparents will continue their relationship into adulthood - it is a life-long relationship, though perhaps presents stop at 21!
A godparent should be baptised and confirmed within the relevant Church, though there are options where this is not the case, such as being a Christian Witness, or sponsor. It is normal for the godparent to be an adult, but not a requirement, in the Roman Catholic Church they will generally need to be over 16 and this is likely to be the expectation in other Churches. The Roman Catholic Church requires the godparent(s) to be practicising Catholics and to attend Church regularly; in the Anglican Church, while theoretically the same, the reality varies far more according to the local parish and priest. Parents and spouses are excluded from being godparent, everyone else is allowed.Non-religious view
No qualifications are required, if the parents are happy to make the choice, and the godparent to accept, then that is fine. You need no experience with children, there is no formal set of things to do, so you can make it up as you go along - all you need to do is develop a relationship with the child which complements and supports their relationship with their parents and family.
In the Roman Catholic Church you can either have one (M / F) or two (1xM / 1xF) no more. In the Anglican Church the expectation since the 13th Century is 3 godparents (2 of the same sex as the godchild and one of the opposite sex), however it is not at all unusual to have more.Non-religious view
The trend currently is to have an increased number of godparents, perhaps even 6 or 7. Many parents will choose one or two from their family (e.g. brothers / sisters) and then a couple of friends.
Yes, at the heart of the concept is that you are a GODparent - i.e. someone who will help the child grow to have a personal faith and relationship with God. Exactly what this means will vary from church to church, but there is an expectation in the baptismal service that you are a christian and will help your godchild grow in faith.Non-religious view
Not really - yes, the concept comes from the church, but in reality it is a word that has been adopted into mainstream society as well. There is no legal undertaking in becoming a godparent, so it can be whatever you and the parents agree. Think of it as being a way of recognising that you will have a role in their child's life, and then build that relationship in whatever way is most suitable.