What Is the Role of Godparents in an Episcopal Church?

Godparents stand beside a child and her parents at the baptism ceremony.
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Godparents, or sponsors, play a key role in the preparation for and baptism of infants and children in the Episcopal Church. Their role also extends beyond the baptism to the ensuing years as the child grows in the Christian faith. Godparents maintain a relationship with the child to encourage her to continue in the Christian faith, to pray for the child to deepen her relationship with God and to be a resource for the child's parents.

1 History

Historically, the role of Godparents arose during a time when the members of the early Christian church were faced with the threat of persecution by persons who spied on church members. Sponsors, or Godparents, vouched for the sincerity of the candidates for church membership and their desire to follow Christ. The word sponsor is derived from the term 'spondere,' which means to promise; in this case, the Godparent promised to accompany the candidate for church membership in her baptism and throughout her new life in Christ.

2 Traditional Expectations

Certain traditions have grown up around the role of Godparents; most notable was the expectation that a Godparent would take charge of a child in case of the death of the parents. The Godparents -- traditionally numbering three, one of the same gender as the child being baptized and one of the opposite sex -- would be expected to rear the orphaned child into adulthood; accordingly, close relatives were traditionally sought to fulfill the role of Godparent. This tradition was replaced by a tendency to view Godparents as guests of honor at a baptism; today, the Episcopal church seeks to give the role of Godparents more substantive content.

3 Baptism

Currently, Godparents are generally chosen in preparation for a child's baptism into the Episcopal Church; therefore, Godparents are present at the baptism and take special vows regarding their relationship with the child. For example, the Godparents will be asked to affirm that they will "continue in the apostles’ teaching, persevere in resisting evil, proclaim the Good News, love your neighbor as yourself, strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all." The Godparent will help the child and her parents to fully participate in the life of the parish.

4 Christian Growth

After the baptism, Godparents take an active role in the spiritual growth of the child and maintain a relationship with the child and parents while simultaneously deepening their own faith. Godparents call or email the child, send birthday cards, remember the anniversary of the baptism and visit the child and her parents. Godparents also support and guide the child by assisting the child in learning basic Bible texts and creeds such as the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds and the Ten Commandments.

Trudie Longren began writing in 2008 for legal publications, including the "American Journal of Criminal Law." She has served as a classroom teacher and legal writing professor. Longren holds a bachelor's degree in international politics, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in human rights. She also speaks Spanish and French.