You must be good Christians and ready to assist the baptized in his life as a Christian: That’s what the catechism says about godparents. So a significant task – is aspiring godparents aware of this?

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“You shall become a godfather.” Hardly anyone will reject this wish of young parents. For many chosen ones – whether from family or circle of friends – it is “honor thing” to take over the office. On the big day of the baptism , the godparents are then the main characters in addition to the baptism and parents: at the church ceremony, in the photos for the family album. And then? Send gifts on Christmas and birthday or create a savings account – and that was it? The church expects more from the godparents: they will have an important role to play in growing up the child. Do you know the budding godfather ? And if the church demands it, is it doing enough to prepare people for their godfatherhood?

The ministry is as old as the baptism itself: “Already in the early church, the catechumens, ie the adult baptism candidates, godparents were put aside,” says Tobias Wiegelmann, deacon and contact person for baptist pastoral in the Archbishopric of Cologne. They should be an example to the applicants in the faith and orientation for a Christian life. This has not changed in principle until today, so Wiegelmann. A look at church law confirms this: the godparent’s task is to “baptize the baptized person” together with the parents and also to help the baptized perform a Christian life that conforms to baptism and faithfully fulfills the duties associated with baptism “(CIC, p. Can., 872).

Together on the path of faith

Accordingly, there are two points of view: “The participation of godparents in the liturgy is one side of the coin,” says Wiegelmann. Together with their parents, they confess their faith in the baptismal celebration, representing the child and the whole church and rejecting evil. Godparents stand together with their parents in the front row at the baptismal font and can hold the baptismal candle and also the child with water when pouring it over. “The other side of the coin is the view of the life of the person to be baptized,” says Wiegelmann. “The godparents are to help the parents in their child grow up in the faith and be brought up Christian.” That they will do that, they confirm in the baptismal liturgy with the words “I am ready”. How exactly they should fulfill this important task, however, does not say church law and catechism.

It is provided that the godparents can participate in the baptismal talk, which the priest leads in advance with the parents . “But in the rarest cases, they are really there,” says Wiegelmann, who baptizes himself in a Cologne community, from experience. This is not least because the godparents often live in other cities.

Deacon Tobias Wiegelmann Picture: © www.p2-management.de

Deacon Tobias Wiegelmann is a speaker for catechesis and sacramental pastoral work with a focus on baptismal and first communion pastoral in the Archbishopric Vicariate of Cologne.

But the consequence of this is that important questions often remain unanswered: how does the baptismal liturgy work in detail? What role does one’s own faith play in the sponsorship? Is it life-long or is it a matter of being godfather when the godchild is of legal age? “These and other things are often unclear with budding sponsors,” says Georg Lingnau, speaker for community pastoral in the city of Dusseldorf. Therefore, there have been courses for godfathers in the state capital for some time, which should give answers.

The “right” accompaniment

“We have found that preparation for godparents is scarcely offered by the church,” says Lingnau. That’s why you invite people who soon become godfathers or have just become one. “So far, we have always met on a Saturday morning and talked about the godparchy at a brunch quite informally,” says Lingnau. In addition to theological and liturgical issues, the main focus of the meetings is on the question of the “right” accompaniment of the child. “I always emphasize that the godchilds first have the task of living their own faith before the child – that is, to be a role model.” But that will only succeed if both see each other regularly; the frequency of these meetings also depends on how far away the godparents live. “From the beginning, you should at least establish a good relationship with the child and maintain contact,” emphasizes Lingnau. “This is more important than bothering children with gifts.”

One possibility is that the godfather celebrates family celebrations. “Why not take the beautiful tradition of the name day as an opportunity that the godfather doing something with his godchild on this day – maybe attended a football game?” Asks Lingnau. “Or toddler services: There could occasionally the godparents instead of the parents go with the child and thus give a signal that they carry it.” In addition, one accompanies the child, of course, at the important stages of his faith life, such as First Communion and Confirmation. “At first this is just the purely religious component of the godparenthood,” says Lingnau. In addition, the mentors should always be available for questions and problems for their godchildren. “For children and adolescents, it is very important that they have another contact person in addition to the parents, whom you do not always want to ask.” Way companion in the faith and Wegbeleiter in the life: According to Lingnau one can not separate both in the godfather office from each other.

Georg Lingnau is Pastoral Referee and Speaker for Community Pastoral in the Catholic Association of Dusseldorf.

The courses also talked about various issues that might arise: “A difficult topic is when the parents split up,” says Lingnau. “If the godfather comes from the parent’s side, who subsequently has less contact with the child, then the sponsorship will automatically be affected.” The students would also report on their own experiences as godchildren: According to this, almost all assumed that the godparenthood ended at the latest with the completion of the 18th year of the godchild. “They always wonder when we tell them that the office is life-long – even if, of course, with the gifts at some point is over.” A question that arises every now and then: If something happens to the parents – for example, they die in a traffic accident – do sponsors have the duty to act as adoptive parents? “That can of course agree with parents and godparents,” says Lingnau, “but it’s not an automatism that would be legally regulated in any way.”

Mandatory preparation?

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Many questions. But nationwide offers to prepare for the godparenthood are not there on the part of the church. The target group could easily be described, according to Lingnau: “As sponsors, young adults, for example between mid-20s and late 30s, are selected – whether that be the brother or the best friend.” However, this is precisely the age group that the church generally has little in mind with its offers. “Anyone who switches to studying and does not actively seek out the university community is out of the question,” says Lingnau. Often only in the family phase, which begins today classically later, you get back to the church via the baptism of your own child and family worship. “In the intervening time it gets thin and you are left alone in your faith”, says Lingnau. Therefore, the church must generally think about offers to accompany young adults, of which sponsorship courses could be a building block.

Create more meeting rooms for adults, talk more about the topic of baptism in the entire community, also advocates Deacon Wiegelmann. But: As important as the godparent office is, there should not be any kind of commitment to preparatory courses, he emphasizes. “We have to be careful that our standards are not too high and that in the end we scare people off.” A special education of godparents would also contradict the purpose of the godparenthood. “It’s about being a baptized Christian to accompany another baptized Christian in life,” says Wiegelmann. And that is a question of inner attitude and confrontation with the personal faith, but not a question of education. In his work he had the experience that most sponsors are aware of their important office. “Even if they do not always have the classic ‘catechism-understanding’ of the godparenthood, they wish their godchild that his life will succeed,” said Wiegelmann, “and that’s a really Christian statement.”