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Godparents: Questions and Answers

12th March 2007 |By | 9 Comments

Traditionally, godparents were responsible for ensuring a child’s religious education and had the duty of looking after them if they were orphaned. Today it has come to mean an individual who is chosen by the parents to take a well-meaning interest in the overall development of their child.

Flower GirlsAbove: Rachael and Andrew’s Real Wedding By Chantal Lachance-Gibson Photography

What is a godparent?

The custom of choosing a godparent for a baptism originated in the Roman world and the original word for godparent was ‘patronus’, meaning a protector.  The idea came about as converts to the early Christian church were usually adults with non-Christian parents and a Christian mentor was provided to help them in their new faith. The godparent was a friend in faith who could be turned to in times of doubt, confusion or questioning. The role was then extended to infant christenings in which Christian adults supported the new parents to instruct their offspring about Christianity. The religious association of the role gradually diminished and it became less important than an honorary one.

Watch the video below for tips on how to choose a Godparent.

Who can be a Godparent

Roman Catholic: According to the Church legal system, in order to qualify as a godparent the candidates have to be:

  • 16 years of age
  • Appointed by the parents, guardians or parish priest
  • A Roman Catholic who has been confirmed and received Holy Communion
  • Free of church penalties
  • Not the biological father or mother of the child to be baptized

Church of England:

The godparent should be baptised, confirmed and be a practicing Christian in order to take on the role of a godparent.

Humanist and other beliefs:

Godparents are called ‘guide friends’, ‘mentors’, ‘supporting adults’ or ‘special friends’ and can be anyone who the parents wish to appoint for the role.

Is a godparent the same as a legal guardian?

No. Parental responsibility is defined in the Children’s Act of 1988, and parents wishing to appoint godparents as the legal guardians in the case of their deaths should specify this in their wills.

How many godparents should a child have?

Traditionally a Christian child has three godparents in total; girls have two godmothers and one godfather and boys have two godfathers and one godmother. Those that are not practicing Christians, can have as many or as few as they like, though it is customary to have at least one godfather and one godmother.

Can someone of a different faith be a godparent at a baby’s christening?

In the Roman Catholic Church those that belongs to another Christian denomination cannot offer the guarantees required to become a godparent. However they can still play the role of a helpful guide and are known as ‘Christian Witnesses’.  Non-Christians are not eligible for any formal role as dictated by the Church. Most Christian denominations now require that the parents and the godparents be regular churchgoers for the baptism to have true meaning.

What is the role of a godparent?

The Church indicates 5 duties for the godparent:

  1. Pray for the godchild regularly
  2. Set an example of Christian living
  3. Help the godchild in his or her faith
  4. Offer encouragement to follow Christ and to fight evil
  5. Help the child to look forward to confirmation

In addition, the godparent is generally expected to fill the role of a supportive adult that children can turn to for advice and help, particularly on occasions when it may not be possible for them to go to their parents. Most parents hope that the godparents will share an interest in the development of the child and that there will be a special bond between them and the child.

What does a godparent do during a christening?

Traditionally the role of godparents is to be the ‘sponsor’ at the baptism and to speak on the child’s behalf during the baptism service itself.  It involves a commitment to support the parents in bringing the child up as a Christian within the family of the Church, so that that they will confess the faith for themselves and come in due time to confirmation. It is also a promise of ‘being there’ at times of crisis and sickness. Often at Christenings, the godparent brings the infant to the font to be baptised and in countries such as Latvia, it is the godparents who also choose a name for the child.

Can godparents write their own promises of commitment?

The Christian commitment in a baptism is laid out clearly and will follow the directions of the Church.  However, if the ceremony is a non-religious one, it is a good idea to encourage godparents to write their own promises, since then they’re likely to carry a greater personal meaning.

Can a relative be a godparent?

It is quite acceptable for the aunt or uncle of the baby to also be a godparent as long as they are able to fulfil the other requirements laid out by the Church.

What if the godparent has other godchildren?

There is no maximum limit to the number of godchildren that an individual can have, as long as the parents and the godparent are in agreement.

Are there godparents in non-Christian religions and beliefs?

In the Jewish circumcision ceremony there are two roles which are sometimes considered similar to a godparent.  The first is that of the ‘Sandek’ who holds the baby boy while he is circumcised and the other is the ‘Kvater’ or ‘Kvaterin’ (among the Ashkenazi Jews) who is the person who takes the child from his mother and carries him into the room where the circumcision is to be performed. In some cultures, the word for ‘godparent of one’s child’ is also the same word used for close friends, like the Spanish compadre and comadre, the French commère and compère, and the archaic meaning of the English word godsib; ‘god-sibling’.Godparent is also used, in absence of a ‘religious reason’, as a stated person (be it family member or close friend) who is responsible for the child in the case of any unforeseen event. Most popular folktales around the world feature a fairy godmother, who acts as a guide or mentor to a main character.


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9 Replies to “Godparents: Questions and Answers”

  1. tiffany

    Does a child have to be baptised to have Godparents?

    Reply· May 10, 2017 3:30pm
    1. Kate Thompson
      Kate Thompson

      A baptism is usually the time that Godparents are chosen to help in the religious upbringing of the child. Non religious families may prefer to hold a naming ceremony rather than a baptism and choose close friends or family to help in the moral upbringing of the child.

      May 10, 2017 4:28pm
    2. jerome

      yes ,tiffany please help i need god parents

      May 16, 2017 10:00pm
  2. Pablo Yanez

    Can a godfather marry the godchild’s mother?

    Reply· Aug 18, 2017 10:12pm
    1. Kate Thompson

      Yes, there is no reason why they should not marry as long as they are not blood relatives etc.

      Sep 25, 2017 12:42pm
  3. Summer

    My classmate friend is not available on the day of my son’s wedding because she lives abroad and can not make it on the wedding day. Is it acceptable if i change her for another godmother? I want all the godparents to be there for my son’s wedding and not a proxy. Besides, it will be embarrasing to ask someone to stand as proxy on a wedding.

    Please advise.


    Reply· Sep 20, 2017 5:01am
    1. Kate Thompson
      Kate Thompson

      If you mean change her for another God parent on the day of the wedding then that’s the best option but if you mean ask another person to be a God parent instead of her then I’d suggest simply asking another God parent who can be there, not to replace her but to act as an additional God parent.

      Sep 25, 2017 12:55pm
  4. Brian Ogden

    This is my first time being a god parent. My niece told me and my god parent partner that it is our responsibility to provide a new dress for the baptism, and new shoes. We were happy to do this.
    Today I received an email that we are also responsible to provide a luncheon for all the guests?
    Is this right? We are not hosting the luncheon, the parents are hosting, and I am also baking a cake for the lunch.
    Am I being petty?

    Reply· Oct 31, 2017 10:08pm
    1. Kate Thompson
      Kate Thompson

      I don’t think you are being petty at all. You have been asked to do more than most and this is quite a lot to ask of you. Most parents of the child would buy the baptism outfit and host and provide the luncheon, it is unusual to ask the God parents to do so. You are very kind to have offered to bake a cake for the lunch. Perhaps there are other reasons you have been asked to do all this – whether financial or simply that the parents feel you are an amazing host and would do a better job than they would, particularly while they are struggling to adjust to having a new baby. Maybe there is some post-natal depression and they feel overwhelmed and have asked for your help. Whatever the reasons are, it might help you to discuss it with them so you can all come to a decision that suits everyone. Congratulations on becoming a God parent, it’s very special.

      Nov 1, 2017 2:37pm

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