The idea of having godparents was first applied around the 2nd century AD. Despite being an ancient Christian practice, both Christians and non-Christians still choose godparents—also referred to as sponsors—for their children to this day. In most religions, godparents are mainly chosen to sponsor the christening and spiritual upbringing of a baby.
However, their responsibilities go beyond the baptism day. Traditionally, godparents were entrusted with the responsibility of raising the child, if anything happened to the parents. It was actually considered to be a legal position during the Middle ages, but this is no longer the case.
The relationship between a child and its godparents is still revered today, especially in Catholic and Orthodox families. It goes without saying that the role comes with special responsibilities and obligations. This guide will help you choose the right godparents for your child.
A godparent can be a close friend or even a family member, provided they are a perfect match for the position. Although some societies may differ on this, godparents do not need to be married or a couple for that matter. Choose a person who meets the requirements set by your denomination or society.
Additionally, consider their personality, reliability, and proximity to your home
Read on to learn what to expect from your child’s godparents and the various considerations you need to make while choosing a godparent.
What are the Responsibilities of a Godparent?
In Christianity, a godparent is someone who has been chosen by the parent(s) to bear witness to a child’s christening. Additionally, a godparent is required to help in the child’s catechesis and spiritual upbringing.
In the olden days, the role of a godparent also carried some legal obligations, but only in some countries. Since the child is too young to talk or understand, the godparent is required to fulfill the commitments for the child during the baptism. In some cultures, the godparent is required to name the child as well.
The godparent is also required to serve as a role model to the child and be present on important occasions like birthdays.
Should Godparents Be Family Or Friends?
You can choose a godparent for your child from among your friends and family. However, this is not a requirement. In the case of family members, the godparent needs to understand that they are taking on responsibilities greater than their typical family role requires.
If choosing a family member to be your child’s godparent, you need to consider how your decision will impact the other family members. In either case, you need to select a person(s) of sound character as they will also be a role model for your child throughout his/her life.
Whether you decide to have a family member or friend as a godparent to your child, get someone who will be a great example to the child.
How Many Godparents Should a Child Have?
The appropriate number of godparents per child varies from one society and denomination to another. In the early church, one godparent per child seems to have been the case. This changed to two sponsors per child in the early Middle Ages and is still applicable in Orthodox Christianity.
For the Lutheran church, baptized members can only have one godchild each. This may be attributed to the responsibility that comes with the role in this church. During the 14th-century Spain, parents were allowed to choose up to 20 godparents for each child.
According to the Synod of Worcester (1240), three godparents are allowed per child—two of the same sex and one of the opposite. The Church of England still upholds this norm. As for the Catholics, church law requires each child to have one godparent, but the tradition has been to have two per child.
Do Godparents Have To Be a Couple?
In modern society, it is not a requirement for godparents to be married or even a couple. For instance, you can choose just one of the spouses in a marriage to be your child’s godparent. Similarly, you can choose a single person to be a godparent for your child.
This is entirely a matter of preference, although some denominations may have specific requirements in this regard.
Can My Parents Be My Child’s Godparents?
Yes, you can choose one or both of your parent(s) to be a godparent for your child. However, you need to defer the difference between a godparent and a guardian. While the institution of godparenthood is mostly religious, guardians have a legal obligation to take care of the child if anything happens to you.
How to Choose a Godparent for Your Child
Godparents do not have any legal obligation towards your child unless you have specified such in your will. Even so, they play a vital role in your child’s life. This is why you need to choose them carefully. To help you make the right choice, here are some of the considerations you should take:
Nowadays, even non-Christians choose godparents for their children. However, godparents are—to a large extent—chosen to bear witness to a child’s christening. Different churches and denominations have laws in place stipulating who can be a godparent as well as their roles, and obligations.
If you are looking for the right godparent for your child, you first need to check the guidelines set in place by your church. Here are some of the requirements to get you started:
The Roman Catholic Church
For Catholics, anyone above 16 years of age who faithfully believes and practices the Catholic faith may be chosen to be a godparent. Again, the church requires godparents to be baptized and confirmed Catholics who receive the Eucharist, and not under any canonical penalty.
People from other denominations cannot be chosen as godparents for a Catholic child baptism but may be witnesses, alongside a Catholic sponsor. The sponsor in the Catholic Church does not seem to have any special religious role recognized by the church.
In 2015, the Vatican announced that transgender Catholics cannot be chosen as godparents for a Catholic child baptism.
Lutherans follow a set of grandparenthood guidelines similar to those used by Roman Catholics. Lutheran godparents are required to assist in the spiritual upbringing of the child, especially after the parents’ demise.
It is a requirement by the church for godparents to be baptized and confirmed Lutherans. Just as is the case with Roman Catholics, a person or affiliated with the Lutheran denomination cannot be chosen as a godparent.
Throughout time, the Church of England—the mother Church of the Anglican Communion—retained the institution of god parenthood in child baptism. In 1540, church laws on godparenthood were amended to remove marriage barriers. However, the role and status of the godparents is still a controversial topic in the English Church.
The church allows relatives to play the role of godparents, but even then need to be baptized and confirmed. While church laws are not clear on whether a parent can be a godchild, they seldom are. As opposed to the Catholic church, the Anglicans are known to waiver the confirmation requirement from time to time.
Contemporary Anglican rites require the godparents to respond on behalf of the infant.
According to the Methodist Book of Discipline, it is the responsibility of the godparents to offer the child Christian training throughout their childhood. In his writing, John Wesley—founder of the Methodist Church—instructs that the godparents should call upon this godchild to hear summons as well as provide what is required for the child to learn the Lord’s Prayer, Creed, and the Ten Commandments.
The Book of Disciplines further stipulates that it is the role of the Methodist pastor to enlighten the godparents on the importance of Holy Baptism. It is also the role of the pastor to instruct the godparents regarding their Christian training responsibilities towards the child.
Methodist pastors are also charged with the responsibility of teaching the godparents how such obligations may be fulfilled.
The Orthodox church is more specific on this subject. In some Orthodox churches—especially Greek and Serbian—the bridesmaid or best man in a marriage becomes the godparent for the couple’s first, or even all children. In some cases, the godparent is even required to name the godchild.
Godparents are required to be in good standing with the church, including the orthodox church fillings on divorce. Godparents are also required to know the meaning and responsibilities that come with the role. Orthodox godparents cannot be parents of the child or minors, and at least one of the godparents needs to be Orthodox.
Several non-Christian societies across the globe are also known to have laws in place to govern the institution of god parenthood. Such laws vary from one society to another. In the Yoruba religion Santería, for instance, the godparents must have completed either Ifá or Santo training.
In Chinese tradition, some communities are known to match a child to either a family friend or relative to serve as its godmother.
The Godparent’s Lifestyle
One of the responsibilities of a godparent is to be a role model for the baby as they grow up. As such you need to choose someone whose life can be emulated. To do this, you should first try to understand and evaluate the lifestyle of your preferred candidates.
Check to ensure that no aspect of the godparents’ lifestyle can be detrimental to the baby’s well-being, either now or later in life. Are you comfortable with the person’s morals and the overall code of conduct? Although nobody is perfect, it is advisable to choose a person with outstanding conduct in society.
Since you would like for your child to be raised in a certain way, it helps to get a godparent who shares your values. This is important because the child is more likely to follow their lead rather than what they say.
The godparent does not need to interact with the child every other day, but they still need to be there from time to time. This is why you need to consider the distance between your home and where the godparent lives. You cannot just choose a person who lives on the other side of the country to be a godparent for your kid.
For the godparent to administer his/her spiritual and religious responsibilities to your child, they need to be near. If your preferred godparent does not live close by, ensure that they can make time and are willing to be with the child when they are needed.
Proximity will determine how regularly the godparent can interact with your baby. It helps to get a godparent from the family, if possible to establish a stronger godparent-to-godchild relationship. This closeness makes it easier for the godparent to impact leadership and guidance.
Personality is actually one of the most important considerations you need to make while choosing a godparent for your baby. Does the godparent love kids and are they willing to establish a relationship with your baby?
If your preferred candidate ever said or did something to suggest that they do not want kids of their own or don’t like children altogether, don’t choose them. Such a person may never relate to your kid or even establish a relationship with them.
Can you rely on the person to be there when they need to be? A godparent needs to show up for the baby’s special events like birthday parties, ballet recitals, and graduations. I’d the person rarely sticks to the plans they make with you, they probably are not the right choice.
Choose someone who is dependable—is there when they say they would. This explains why most people choose their close friends to be godparents for their babies. As a rule of thumb, choose someone with a relatively stable life and depicts a strong sense of responsibility.
Since the 2nd century AD, parents have been choosing godparents for their children for religious and legal purposes—in some communities. Different denominations and societies have varying requirements, with regards to the number and qualifications of a godparent.
In most cases, parents choose one or two godparents, but some societies allow for up to 20 godparents per child. As you have learned throughout this guide, different denominations and non-Christian communities have varying requirements and responsibilities for godparents
In addition to requirements by your faith, choose a godparent based on his/her proximity, personality, reliability, and character.