Etiquette for Being a Godparent

by Pamela Martin
Traditionally, godparents serve as spiritual mentors to children and adult converts.

Traditionally, godparents serve as spiritual mentors to children and adult converts.

The role of godparent began in the early days of the Christian church, when believers faced persecution and violence for membership. New converts seeking to unite with the newly-formed group were required to have a sponsor who would verify the candidate's sincerity and who would then serve as a mentor to train the new convert in the Christian lifestyle. Today, while most godparents serve a spiritual role in a child's life, people without religious connections are also choosing godparents for their children. While the details of the role may change in those cases, the etiquette remains the same.

Accepting the Job

While it sometimes seems that a godparent is no more than a gift source, the role is much more than that. As a godparent, you agree to take an active role in a child's spiritual development. If you aren't comfortable with that responsibility, you should politely decline the honor. If you feel that the only reasons for asking you to serve are your financial status or your business connections, it is perfectly appropriate to turn down the request. When your beliefs differ greatly from those of the child's parents, be sure that they are aware of this before you agree to be a godparent. Part of taking that active role is being a positive role model for the child. For those accepting a religious mentorship, that includes regular church attendance and living by the precepts of your church. For secularly-focused godparents, it means modeling ethical and moral behavior.

Participating in the Christening or Baptism

When attending the rite as a godparent, you should dress conservatively for a special event. A nice pantsuit, business suit or dress is appropriate for women, while men should wear dress slacks and shirt, preferably with a necktie. Both godparents should wear dress shoes. Traditionally, the godmother carries the infant to the altar, following the clergyman, if there is a procession. She stands facing the officiant, with the godfather standing beside her, and hands the child to the priest or pastor at the appropriate time.

Building a Relationship With the Child

Since part of the responsibility of being a godparent is to support the child as a mentor, either in faith or in life choices, being a "missing in action" godparent is, at best, impolite and disrespectful. Once you accept the job, etiquette demands that you do your best to fulfill its obligations. Spending time with your godchild is the best way to develop the bond that will allow you to support him through rough times in life. Whenever possible, attend school, church or community activities with your godchild or plan special times to share. If you don't live close enough to the child to be physically present, call, write or email regularly. Ask him about what he is learning in catechism or Sunday school and discuss those points with him.

Supporting the Parents

Sometimes, the role of godparent shifts to listening and supporting parents when they are uncertain about how to handle situations in the home. It is not rude or inappropriate to broach concerns with the parents when you disagree with the values they may be teaching. After all, you agreed to help with the child's spiritual development. However, you must be careful to avoid undermining parental authority. Discuss your concerns with the parents, in private, rather than placing the child between the adults in her life. You can also help support your godchild's parents by reinforcing the religious teachings of their home. During holidays, help emphasize the spiritual parts of the celebration. Let your godchild know that you pray for her regularly, and offer to pray with her, as well. If you aren't the spiritual godparent, support the rules of the home by enforcing them when you are together, rather than allowing the child to circumvent them.

Giving Gifts

While the primary purpose of godparents should never be gifts, it is a part of the job. At the least, you provide a gift at the time of the child's baptism or christening, and most etiquette experts would agree that you should give holiday and birthday gifts, as well. A card or email at the start of each church season is a nice touch, too. Traditionally, christening gifts were silver mugs, porringers or tableware sets that were engraved with the child's and the godparent's names. Today, there is wider latitude, as long as you remember that the gift should be a keepsake to remind your godchild of that day and of your relationship for life. Picture frames or photo albums are appropriate non-religious gifts, while a silver cross or a personalized Bible work well for spiritual presents. You might also choose to start a collection for the child, adding to it on each special occasion. A charm bracelet is especially appropriate for a girl, and some traditionalists add a bottle of wine to a collection each year.

About the Author

Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.

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