Who Can be a Godparent?
Church Law states that, 'No person shall be admitted to be a sponsor or godparent who has not been baptised and confirmed. Nevertheless, the minister shall have power to dispense with the requirement of confirmation in any case in which his judgement need so requires.' This gives the minister a certain amount of discretion about godparents who are not confirmed, but the requirement for godparents to have been baptised cannot be varied or dispensed with.
Parents may act as godparents to their own child, as long as there is at least one other godparent. If they do so, then the requirements about baptism and confirmation apply to them just as they would to any other godparent.
Nothing is said about a minimum age for someone to be a godparent, but 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.' This suggests that godparents need to be of an age to understand and fulfil their commitments, and the expectation that godparents are confirmed also suggests that a godparent should not be a young child.
What is a sponsor?
The Church of England also uses the term 'sponsor' in relation to rites of initiation. A sponsor is the equivalent of a godparent for an older candidate: 'When one who is of riper years is to be baptised, he shall choose three, or at least two, to be his sponsors, who shall be ready to present him at the font, and afterwards to put him in mind of his Christian profession and duties.' The law makes clear later that the same requirements (of baptism and, normally, of confirmation) apply to sponsors as to godparents.
The term "sponsor" is used for those who agree to support in the journey of faith candidates (of any age) for baptism, confirmation or affirmation of baptismal faith.
Sponsors may also be appointed, in addition to godparents, when a child is being baptised. In this case, they have the spiritual role of supporting the child's growth in faith, without the responsibility of the social role which is usually associated with godparents. So, for instance, sponsors might be found from within the church to supplement godparents chosen by the child's parents. Such sponsors might expect to have a role in encouraging the child's growth in faith and in church membership, but would not expect to have to buy them birthday presents!
Can my friend or family member who is not baptised be a godparent?
Sometimes the proposed godparent was not baptised as a child, and has no desire to be baptised now, but does have a strong desire to support the new parents and their child. Sometimes this is because the suggested godparent is a member of another faith community; sometimes the suggested godparent is agnostic, or possibly even hostile to faith, but has been chosen primarily for the social role of a godparent, or because they have already supported the parents.
Some possible solutions
Perhaps a good starting point is to recognise that in the service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child, the Church has already provided material which allows for parents to appoint, in a public service, those who are not godparents, but who will have a key role in supporting them as they bring up their children.
The service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child allows for the appointment of Supporting Friends, who make promises in the service which relate to their support of the family and the child, but which do not commit them to a particular form of support, or to a specific form of upbringing for the child.
From the service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child
Thanksgiving and Blessing
Where parents wish to recognise the role of supporting friends, it may be appropriate for them to stand with the parents at the thanksgiving. One of them may present the children to the minister, and informal words may be said.
The minister says:
Do you receive these children as a gift from God?
Do you wish to give thanks to God and seek his blessing?
Giving of the Gospel
A copy of a Gospel is presented, with these words
Receive this book.
It is the good news of God's love.
Take it as your guide.
The minister may address the supporting friends and say
Will you do all that you can to help and support N and N in the bringing up of N?
With the help of God, we will.
An option separate from the baptism service
The first thing to think about is whether parents wish to make use of a Thanksgiving service as something separate from baptism, which enables friends to play a significant part in the service.
The Thanksgiving service can be:
- an alternative to baptism, as part of the process of helping parents to discern which form of pastoral service most clearly reflects what they are seeking from God and the church.
- offered as a preparation for baptism. The Thanksgiving service takes place first, involving the Supporting Friends (who may include those who can also be godparents), followed by a baptism service at a later date, involving the qualifying godparents.
If this option is not appropriate, then the possibility of something extra within the baptism service will be considered, which acknowledges the support given by the Supporting Friends who cannot make dedications of faith.
Keeping things clear
Friends who make this public commitment are not recorded in the Baptism Register as godparents (though a marginal note in the register might acknowledge their role). The family will still need to choose a sufficient number of baptised persons as actual godparents. But, the friends could (like the godparents) be given a card to remind them of the undertaking they have made.