The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. 1997) article on “Godparents” states:
“Godparents, also sponsors. Witnesses, in person or by proxy, to a Christian baptism, who take on themselves special responsibilities for the Christian upbringing of the newly baptised. These responsibilities are most serious in the case of infant baptism at which the godparents also make the promises of renunciation, faith and obedience in the child’s name. The number of godparents required varies. In the RC church one is sufficient, though there may be one of each sex. Traditionally the Anglican formularies have stated that each child should have three godparents, of whom two are to be of the same sex as the child, but modern rites tend to be less specific. In most Anglican Churches parents may stand, usually provided there is one other sponsor. Parents are barred in the RC Church and in some Protestant communions”.
Generally speaking godparents are chosen for their interest and ability to nurture the Christian life and faith of the child/adult whom they sponsor.
The Rev. Paul Gibson, former Liturgical Officer at the National Office of the Anglican Church of Canada, wrote a short memo/note on the history and role of godparents in 1997 which also has some interesting information. In it he says:
“As far as I can see godparents have had a dual role, a community role related to the event of baptism, and a personal role related to the ongoing life of the baptized person. I think the community role rises from the fact that in a classical Christian understanding of these things faith is a corporate matter and not only a private and personal decision and response. A child is inextricably involved in the corporate life of his/her family, and if the family is inextricably involved in the corporate vision and commitment of the Christian community it is appropriate that the child become part of that community too. As far as I can see, infant baptism can be justified on no other ground. Godparents represent the community of faith and respond on behalf of the child to the challenge of faith, standing between the natural family (of which the child is part) and the faith family (of which the natural family is part). There is an element of cohesion and interpretation (what Charles Williams called `coinherence’) in all of this that is foreign to our individualism”.
The Rev. Herbert O’Driscoll, a retired Anglican priest, has written a series of small booklets (4 inches by 6 inches), one of which “Baptism: saying yes to being a Christian”. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1995. 53 p. This booklet concentrates on the words and actions of the service of baptism but also talks about the role of godparents. In the short introduction O’Driscoll says:
“Long ago, Christian life developed a tradition called ‘Anam-cara’. In Gaelic, the word ‘anam’ means ‘soul’ and the word ‘cara’ means ‘friend’. Early Christians considered it very important to have a soul friend on the journey through life. That is what we become when we stand beside a friend or relative at their baptism, or when we stand as Godparents at a child’s baptism. We promise to become that person’s soul friend. When or if we offer ourselves for baptism in our adult years, we too need someone to be an ‘Anam-cara’ to us, a Christian friend to accompany us on our eternal journey through life and beyond”.
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