What Is The Role Of Godparents?

Growing up, I was a little jealous of people who had godparents who were friends of their parents. My godparents were an aunt and uncle, so I didn’t get any additional gifts or attention. And that sums up my understanding of godparents.

Just kidding. Though, in this day and age, a present at Christmas and maybe a fun outing or two is the most anyone expects out of a godparent after the baptism happens.

The most important role of a godparent, traditionally, is to participate in a child’s baptism. They participate to act as the voice of the child, since infants and small children cannot speak. They generally promise to oversee the child’s spiritual upbringing as well. Usually, one godparent of each sex is chosen: a godmother and a godfather, but sometimes more are chosen. Among the aristocracy, it was very common to ask members of the royal family to be godparents to a) show respect b) hope they will be helpful in the child’s life. This still continues- Queen Elizabeth has 29 godchildren, Prince Charles has 28 (Camilla’s son…), and Prince William has 4 already.

Some religious denominations have rules- Episcopalians must have a baptized Christian as a godparent and Catholics are supposed to have a baptized Catholic in good standing as godparent. Catholics are also not supposed to serve as godparents to non-Catholics (ha- tell that to my Catholic godmother. I was baptized Episcopalian.)

Some other expectations of godparents in the Christian faith:

  • Participation in or recognition of the other sacraments (first communion, confirmation, marriage, etc)
  • Modeling good Christian life
  • Helping support the parents in religious education

So, theoretically, you should choose someone who will really do this, rather than just a friend or relative you are close to. Of course all of this is moot if you are baptizing your child for tradition’s sake and aren’t actually interested in raising them actively Christian. Then, you and the godparents can decide what kind of relationship you are all interested in having with the child.

Many people assume that the godparents are also those who will care for the child in the event of the parents’ deaths. This can sometimes be the case, but the parents must site the guardians in their will, it isn’t automatic (especially if you have multiple children with different godparents!)

Amy Vanderbilt says that “once asked to serve as a godparent, a friend is virtually bound to accept.” Though, I would update this to say if there was no religious (or anti-religious) reason preventing you from accepting. Then she says that the godparent should present the child with an heirloom-type gift that can be passed down- her example from one of her own children was “an engraved Sheffield hot-water plate, fine for keeping his baby food hot but also fine for the time he begins entertaining in his bachelor quarters. The plate will be excellent for hot hors d’oeuvres.”

Do you have godparents? Do you want your children to have godparents? Tell me more in the comments!


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