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What is Christening?
The word “christen” comes from English culture and isn’t properly defined in the modern day.  It obviously derives from the word “Christ”, and means “to bring to Christ”.  It is usually used about infants rather than adults.   The following article answers some of the commonly asked questions.

Is a child properly named before his/her christening?  Yes.  Names are given by parents and registered on the birth certificate.  The church has no power to affect this, although of course the child’s name is reinforced by its use in public in church. 

Can my child be married in church if he/she is not christened?  Yes: in England everyone has the legal right to be married in the parish church of the parish in which they live (and in the district Register Office of their district).  This right is irrespective of any religious views and any christening ceremonies.  However, there is no automatic right to marriage in any other church, and again this is irrespective of any christening. 

Can my child have a Christian cremation/burial if he/she is not christened?  Yes: again this is not affected by any christening.  

Will a child go to heaven if he/she dies before being christened?  Yes — on the basis that Jesus said “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14), the Christian church believes that he/she will.  The Greek word “toioutos” (“such as”) means “these and others like them”.  The church does not believe that the child’s ultimate salvation depends on whether a child has been christened or which christening service has been used.  

What Christening services are there?  There are basically three sorts of Christening services:

·         Services of Blessing, which are based what Jesus did when children were brought to him: “he took the children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16).  These are about receiving God’s unconditional love.  The service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child in the Church of England’s Common Worship book (p337) is an example of this.

·         Services of Dedication, which are about the parents making promises about the upbringing of their children.  These services are common in Baptist churches.

·         Services of Infant Baptism, which declare the child to be a follower of Jesus Christ (but, of course, the service can’t make someone a follower of Jesus because that is their own personal decision.)

To some extent the different emphases above overlap in some cases, and an atmosphere of thanksgiving to the child’s birth and life is common to all three. 

What are godparents?  When an infant is baptised he/she can’t answer the questions for him/herself, so someone needs to answer on his/her behalf.  Godparents (also called sponsors or proxies) were originally introduced into the baptism service for this reason.  In the history of the church godparents also promised to bring the child up in the Christian faith, and took responsibility for this.

At infant baptism, parents may be godparents to their own children, and the parents of the child are required to make these statements together with the godparents.  The role of godparent has become that of a “supporting friend” who assists the parents and takes a special interest in the child, but does not stand in for the parents or make up for any lacks in their care.

In the case of a baptism, godparents must be committed Christian believers within the family of the church, and they must be sufficiently well-connected to the family of the child to be able to exercise the responsibilities they undertake in the service.  They must be baptised and confirmed (unless they are members of a church which doesn’t have confirmation).

In the case of a Thanksgiving and Blessing service, the godparents promise support of the parents in bringing up the child as well as support of the child. 

Are godparents also commissioned as guardians?  No.  The church has no power to appoint guardians.  Parental responsibility is defined in the Children Act 1988, and parents wishing to appoint guardians in the event of their deaths should specify this in their wills. 

Does christening make my child a Christian?  No, because it is up to your child to decide whether or not to follow Jesus Christ, and no church service has the power to force a child to make a particular choice.  The best way of ensuring that your child does become a follower of Jesus is to attend church regularly as a family, so that you can all grow as part of the community which follows Jesus. 

Is christening a sacrament?  A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, ordained by Christ (Book of Common Prayer p294 in the Catechism).  This definition was carefully concocted in the 17th century as a way of ensuring that there would be only two sacraments in the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion), and it probably tells us more about 17th century history than it does about theology!  If you mean “does christening automatically make a Christian?” the answer is no (see previous question).  If you mean “does christening bring my child to God?” the answer is yes (see first question in this section). 

Where do I get my baby christened?  In the Church of England your first enquiry should be to your local parish church (i.e. where you live).  If you have previous connections with another Church of England church you will find that they have to refer you back to your local one, so that is the best place to start. 

At what times are christening services held?  In the Church of England there is a legal obligation for baptism to be held in the main Sunday service: this is because the service is one of promises, and the local congregation must witness these promises.  There are no such restrictions for services of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child.  Your local church will be able to give more details.
For other commonly asked Questions click here 
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