A Guide to Christenings
The following article has been written by the experts at Born Gifted to provide information on Christenings in the UK. If you are in the process of organizing a Christening for your child, or have been asked to attend one, then this guide should be helpful.
A Christening is a religious ceremony. If you are not religious and do not want your child to be associated with the church, there is another option (discussed below). Religion aside, the common theme is love and support from the child's family and friends, and celebration of the child’s birth and life ahead.
A Christening is basically the child's initiation into the church and also a great excuse to get the friends and family together to celebrate. In addition, many parents rightly or wrongly take advantage of the system to increase the chances of getting their child into a better school. Obviously most clergy would want to see the parents and child attend church prior to, and after they have been Christened. In reality they often settle for the obligatory twice yearly participation (Christmas and Easter)!
Children are usually christened in their first year although it is not uncommon for parents to wait until the child is older.
A Church of England Christening usually takes place as part of the normal Sunday service and therefore is witnessed by the entire congregation. The baby is sprinkled with holy water from the font and the parents and Godparents promise to bring the child up in the Christian faith.
Catholic Christenings (Baptisms) are usually held as a separate service for one or more child. Again the child is baptized with holy water and parents and Godparents make their vows. A candle is also lit to signify Jesus as the light of the world and then presented to the parents. A Catholic priest may require that parents attend preparation classes prior to the ceremony in order for them to fully understand the significance of the Baptism. The service has no hymns and lasts approximately 30 minutes.
If you decide to have your child Christened you need to speak to the vicar/priest at your local church. They will provide more in-depth information and they may ask questions about your faith and that of the child's Godparents. You will then be able to book a date.
Make sure you tell invitees to arrive at least 10 minutes before your allocated time, as some churches have very busy Christening schedules.
On the Day:
Traditionally the child (boy and girl) is dressed in a white Christening gown or family heirloom garment. If you are going to be part of the congregation then it is appropriate to dress smartly. However women are not expected to wear hats and for men, ties are not mandatory.
Generally, photography is welcome but it is customary to wait until the person presiding invites the congregation to take photographs at specific points during the ceremony.
Following the ceremony a buffet is usually held at the parent’s house and an official cake is cut. It is normal for Christening gifts to be presented to the child (and opened after the event) Don’t forget to invite the vicar to the party, they will probably decline but it is courteous nonetheless.
Role of the Godparents:
Traditionally, there are three Godparents - two Godmothers and one Godfather for a girl; and two Godfathers and one Godmother for a boy. Historically the role of the Godparent harks back to the days when Christian converts were adults whose parents were not Christian. Therefore the Godparent provided a Christian mentor.
It is not true that a Godparent commits to become a 'legal guardian' should the child ever be orphaned. Such an arrangement would need to be written into a will with the permission of the Godparents themselves.
Godparents are supposed to be chosen based on their own Christian beliefs and they are usually very close friends or family of the parents. The Godparents are expected to offer spiritual support and guidance for the child if required. It is customary to present the Godparents with a small gift following the ceremony.
Alternatives to a Christening:
According to the Church, a Christening calls for your child to believe in Jesus. Nowadays many people question the ability of a baby to repent their sins! Therefore you don’t need to have your child fully baptized; instead you can opt for a blessing or thanksgiving. This means you don’t have to make any promises on their behalf and they can be formally baptized at a later date when they can make an informed choice. Godparents are optional for this type of event.
There are a range of secular celebrations to choose from, the most popular of which is a Baby-Naming Ceremony. This is completely free of any commitment to the Christian faith. You can opt to have the celebration organized in conjunction with the British Humanist Association where a licensed person can provide advice and preside over the event. The format is very informal and you can choose your own readings or music as long as they have no religious references. Naming Day ceremonies last on average 20-30 minutes, which is about the same as a Christening. Instead of a Godparent, parents usually choose a mentor who will support the child throughout life.