Yesterday I became a godmother for the fifth time. That’s ten parents who for some baffling reason have thought I’d be the perfect person to guide their offspring’s spiritual growth.
The first two babies are my much younger cousins, and being their godmother when I was only a teenager was a lovely gesture from two aunts who I was very close to, but hasn’t really worked in the long term, about which I feel bad. The third is a good friend’s little girl, who now lives on the other side of the world so although I think of her often, it’s going to be a challenge to really get to know her as she grows up. The fourth is my gorgeous nephew, who I see every week and is only 12 days younger than my son – a very special bond reinforced by being his godmother. The newbie to this motley crew is the adorable son of one of my very best friends, who I met while we were both doing NCT classes while she was pregnant with his older sister (my DD’s best friend). Again, a special relationship that feels even stronger now.
I am extremely proud to be a godmother. It was a real honour to be asked, and a very emotional moment each time. And yet when my own children were born, we chose not to baptise them. Me and DH were both christened and confirmed in the Church of England, spent much of our youth in church choirs or as servers during Sunday services and Evensong, and got married in church. As we’ve got older, our feelings about all organised religion are changing and evolving, and though I’m yet to fully articulate my current beliefs, baptising my babies and officially stating they are a member of any religious group not through their own choosing just didn’t feel right.
Instead, we had rather spiritual, though entirely non-religious, Naming Day ceremonies, with a script written by me, adapted from the Civil Ceremonies guide. They were led by celebrants, and included promises from me and DH to our children, and the family and close friends we asked to be their ‘godparents’. The word ‘god’ still feels perfect to me, as what it means to me is far broader than the man with the white beard. For me, being a godparent is about spirit, rather than religion.
We asked DS’s godparents, for example, to make the following promises: ‘We promise to love, respect and treasure you always. We promise to share our talents, interests and experiences with you to broaden your understanding and appreciation of life. We promise to watch over the development of your spirit, encouraging you to use your heart and your head in decision-making, and to be true to yourself and your values. We promise to always be ready to advise, encourage and comfort you in all your endeavours as a child and an adult.’ I still well up when I read those words, echoed in our own promises to our children, because they feel completely right.
The first Naming Day was a village hall party followed by champagne and a lunch buffet, and the second was an afternoon tea party. Both were memorable and special occasions as we named and welcomed our babies. I tried to avoid too much hippyishness, although we did light a ‘Baby Blessings’ candle each time, there were a few mentions of nature, and for the first one we suggested the guests might like to plant trees in DD’s name. (By the time DS’s Naming Day came around, I was too knackered to continue being quite such an eco-zealot. I didn’t even make my own organic purees – so shoot me).
I’m also not a massive fan of the exact language of the baptism service – the parents and godparents are asked to state some quite hardcore stuff, as the Church of England website makes clear: ‘When you bring your child for baptism, you will be asked to declare publicly on behalf of your child that you believe in God and that you will bring your child up to follow Jesus. You will be asked to answer, on your child’s behalf, that you have decided to turn away from everything which is evil or sinful and instead to turn towards Christ.’
So am I a hypocrite to love being a godmother and yet not really subscribe to the doctrine within which that title was awarded to me?