Post Author: Sarah Moore
This summer I became a godmother for the first time. Somehow it was both a complete surprise and yet no surprise at all when an old friend, also a minister, and her husband invited me to take on this special role in their daughter Kirsty’s life.
Becoming a godmother got me thinking: What kind of godparent was I going to be? When my friendasked me to be Kirsty’s godmother, she had almost laughingly commented, “Do you need me to lecture you on the duties of godparents?” I had laughed and said no, I thought I had it sorted having dealt with plenty of families who had approached churches I have served requesting baptism for their newest and most precious additions. I was struck that rarely do parents ask about the purpose of appointing godparents; that the concept that it takes a village to raise a child is sometimes forgotten.
According to Wikipedia, a godparent is an adult who sponsors someone’s baptism. The cultural received understanding is greater than that however, and is reflected by J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter stories where Harry’s godfather Sirius Black was chosen by Harry’s parents to take an interest in his godson’s upbringing and development and to take responsibility for their son in the event of their deaths.
Other cultural pointers for successful god parenting include being a purveyor of expensive gifts or the enabler of wishes Cinderella style fairy version.
None of these possibilities seem particularly helpful. The actual affirmation contained within the liturgy for baptism shed a little more light. “Do you promise to pray for Kirsty, and her home and family, and to support them as you are able as a minister of Christ’s love?” A catch all for rich benefactors, mysterious fairies and a more everyday model of god parenting.
I also found myself reflecting back on my relationship with my own godparents, two of whom are siblings of my parents and one who was a close friend to them at the time. Unfortunately, that friend who has become considerably less close and I have had no direct contact for many years. This got me thinking: How many godparents are chosen because they are a nice choice at the time but who gradually melt into the background? Should it be that way? And is the word ‘parent’ in the title a help or a hindrance? And where does faith fit into the whole equation? Even as an ordained minister, I struggle at times with the vagaries and practicalities of my own Reformed-meets-Quaker spirituality and I have a lot of questions about the strategies used by the Christian community that attempt to pass on the faith that often seem to blur spirituality with cultural expectations. about good behaviour.
So, what has emerged from this melee of questions? Picking up on the Reformed bit of my spirituality I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Luke 18:16) My responsibility as a godparent is firmly grounded in my own baptism; in my own life surrounded by God’s love and grace; my own knowledge of being wonderfully made in the image of God. This is what will help me enable Kirsty to learn to understand and claim for herself those same gifts and discern who she is and who she is called to be. Perhaps the clue is indeed in the title, that being a godparent is fundamentally about as far as humanly possible being a signpost for the child. Someone who points towards God’s love while doing one’s best to model the unconditional love that the Gospel teaches is God.
Stepping out of the pulpit, models of community become more helpful and particularly so for the 99.999% of godparents who are not also ordained ministers of word and sacrament! I have a hunch that for the moment keeping in supportive contact with mum and dad is all that is really required. Being a godparent to a baby is easy. Perhaps, the real work of god parenting for me is still to come. One website suggested that a key aspect of god parenting is to be one of the first adult friends that the child has; someone who will speak to and treat them as an equal, listen to them and take them seriously; who the child’s parents trust enough to give wise counsel when times are tough and life throws up questions that have no easy answers.
Perhaps, then, god parenting is a unique relationship because it is different to being a parent, or a teacher, or one of the many other adults who cross the path of any child. I have promised to stay the journey with Kirsty. I’m excited to walk with her, to see where those feet go, and held in God’s love I have every reason to hope and believe it will be somewhere amazing.
Image by: Author
Used with permission