Q: What is the difference between a christening and a thanksgiving service in the Church of England? A: This service was initiated in 1999 by the Church of England as…
Written by Paula Jones Last updated: March 12, 2007
Obviously, babies are unable to make a personal commitment to Christianity, so the Christian parents or parent, helped by ‘God-Parents’, make the promises on their behalf. The parents and godparents promise to bring the baby up in a Christian home, to take part in Christian worship on a regular basis and when the child is old enough, to bring him or her to the Bishop so that the child can ‘confirm’ for him or her self the promises of personal Christian commitment that were made on his or her behalf at baptism.
There are two basic types of baptisms in the Church of England. In addition to the services that follow the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, there are those that follow the orders of Common Worship. These new form of services, authorised since 1998, use more contemporary language and are most commonly used today. The reason for these different forms of baptism is because the service varies according to the context in which it is taking place. For instance in the case of an adult baptism or whether baptism is going to be followed immediately by confirmation.
At a Christening the baby is taken to a font (a vessel which holds water), in the church building and sprinkled with water on the head three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (which represents the Trinity). The child’s parents and god-parents also make promises to God that they will bring their child up in accordance with the Christian faith.
Who can and can’t be a godparent, is written down in Church law. A godparent should ideally have been baptised and confirmed, but your vicar can use their discretion to allow a godparent to stand if he or she has not been confirmed (as long as they have been baptised). For every child to be baptised there not fewer than three godparents, of whom at least two are of the same sex as the child and of whom at least one is of the opposite sex. The godparents should be persons who will faithfully fulfil their responsibilities both by their care for the children committed to their charge and by the example of their own godly living.
Baptisms should normally take place in the parish church or cathedral where the parents live, since this represents their local Christian family. Parents should make direct contact with the Church of England minister of that parish. The telephone number of the minister can be found in the phone book listed under CHURCHES and the name of the town or village. The minister may wish the parents to undertake a period of instruction before baptism. Different parishes have different times for Baptism, and this is a matter for discussion between the minister and the family. For more information, contact your parish vicar.
The christening itself takes place in the church, but afterwards guests are customarily invited to the parents’ home or a nearby hotel for a meal, which is often a buffet or summer tea kind of affair. As christenings have often been held on Sundays the revelry tends to be low key, but obviously a get together of family and friends on a Saturday should be given the latitude it deserves. A marquee is a great way to extend your home to include more guests and entertainment.
If there are grandparents they will want to come, and its always a good idea to check whether key guests – such as the godparents – will be available for the big day before confirming any bookings or ordering the invitations. Children are almost always honoured guests at Christenings.
The baby is the star of the show at a Christening, with both sexes often wearing a family gown that is traditionally long, white or cream and intricately embroidered (not unlike a wedding dress!). The baby is also often wrapped in a white shawl. The parents, godparents and guests should take their cue from the occasion and venue – a more formal service and church will demand more formal wear, whereas more informal attire can be worn at a more relaxed church service.