Chosen as a Baptism Sponsor
Baptism is the sacrament of God within the Christian Community in which a person is incorporated into the body of Christ and connected with a local church community. During the baptism the person is called by name. This is the sign of personal family relationship between God — who is the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the Church — and the one baptized. Baptism is both personal and corporate.
Baptism takes place within a local Christian congregation. It is a public ceremony administered within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast day (BCP 298 — all page numbers in this guide refer to the Book Common Prayer.) The baptismal party includes the candidate (the one who is to be baptized), the candidates parents (if the candidate is an infant or small child), and one or more baptismal sponsors. Sponsors of infants and young children are commonly known as Godparents.
What Qualifies a Person to Serve as a Sponsor?
The sponsor should be a baptized person. Only a Christian can, in good conscience make the required baptismal renunciations and promises on behalf of the candidate. Non-Christian family members are welcome to participate in the ceremony and make what promises they can, but we cannot expect any person to make promises they know they cannot keep.
Sponsors should actively participate in the Christian congregation of their choice for their own spiritual growth and strengthening. It is within the worshiping community that the sponsor has direct contact with the foundations of Christian belief and life. The foundations are the Holy Scriptures, the traditions of the Church, and the exercise of human mind and heart. In the Episcopal Church, we call these three pillars of faith: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
Sponsors are persons who commit themselves to a long-term relationship with their candidate. The particulars of this relationship should be developed and adapted as needed. The important point is that the candidate and sponsor maintain a continuous relationship, however it is lived out. This guide contains some suggestions to help in this regard.
Sponsors are asked by the candidate or the family to perform this role, which is an expression of confidence in the person’s ability to be a worthy sponsor. While it is a serious undertaking, discovering with someone else the treasures of Christian life is a growing, fulfilling experience. Becoming a sponsor serves as a reminder of one’s own relationship with God through baptism. and is a way to live into the promises made at the rime of the sponsor’s own baptism.
What Is Expected of the Sponsor?
It is expected that the sponsor will:
- Establish a special relationship with the candidate.
- Represent Christ and the Church to the baptized person and vice versa (for example, standing with the candidate at the time of baptism and assisting the candidate to live into the baptismal promises).
- Set an example of Christian life for the candidate.
- Support the baptized person through prayer.
– Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany:
Where Did the Practice of Baptismal Sponsors Come From?
The root of the word sponsor is spondere. It means “to promise” and is also the root of espouse and spouse. In the early days of the Church, when the threat of persecution was often a reality for Christians and there was a fear about spies, sponsors vouched for the candidates to the baptizing community by presenting them and guaranteeing that they were who they said they were. The sponsor stood as a witness to the Christian community that the person seeking baptism was truly desirous of following Christ and of serving and loving God and God’s creation. In addition, sponsors joined their candidates during the days of baptismal preparation. This walking together included praying for the candidates, instructing candidates in the faith, helping candidates understand what they ,ere turning from and toward, and preparing candidates for Christian living in the world. The sponsor has a vital role in helping the candidate and family accept their full participation in the Christian community and the world. With God’s help, the relationship between the newly baptized and the sponsor is enduring and fruitful.
How Can a Sponsor Prepare?
Ways to prepare to serve as a sponsor include:
- Read this guide.
- Read the baptismal service on pages 299-308 of the Book of Common Prayer (available at St. Nicholas Church or another Episcopal Church or the Parish Online Amazon Bookstore).
- Attend baptism preparation sessions with the parents, prior to, the baptism, if possible.
- Be willing to explore questions, issues, and expectations around baptism with the person to be baptized, a member of the clergy, and/or the family.
- Pray for the members of the baptismal party, especially the candidate, that they might approach the sacrament with reverence and thanksgiving.
– For those about to be Baptized or to renew their Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 819)
- Delve into some of the resources about baptism listed below. These provide historical information about the sacrament and excellent explanations of its meaning.
How Can Sponsors Be Involved with Their Baptized Persons?
- Remembering anniversary of the baptism through a card, letter, phone call or visit.
- Noting other life events in a Christian manner, for example, birthdays, graduations, marriage, birth of children, illness, bereavement.
- Attending worship services with the baptized person, when possible.
- Expressing an interest in what the baptized person is learning and experiencing in Sunday School or in other settings of religious education.
- Helping the person learn the basics of Christian worship and practice, such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the Ten Commandments, and the promises of the Baptismal Covenant.
- Reading and talking with the baptized person about stories from the Bible so the person develops a knowledge and understanding.
- Talking about how God continually interacts with God’s creation and God’s people.
- Sharing one’s own spiritual journey and experiences with the baptized person.
- Being with the baptized person when he or she makes a mature affirmation of faith in the presence of a bishop at some future time. This affirmation includes a public profession of faith by the candidate and a mature acceptance of Christian responsibilities. The Episcopal Church calls this Confirmation.
– Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter (BCP, p. 224)
Many variables will influence how sponsors carry out their distinctive role. Agreement about the nature of the role, especially with regard to its particular aspects which will need to be carefully tailored to the specific situation, should be reached by the sponsor and the baptized person, or their parents in the case of infants and young children. This process should begin at the time that the sponsor accepts the invitation to serve. The clergy and people of St. Nicholas Church hope that this guide will serve as a starting paint for such discussion.
The relationship will be shaped by several factors as time goes on. One major influence is how close the baptized person and the sponsor live to each other. Naturally, if the sponsors live far away, they may not be able to be physically present for special events in the baptized person’s life. Compensation can be made, however, through letters, phone calls, and cards that reflect the spiritual support and commitment of the sponsors. The nature of the sponsors’ involvement will change over time and all members of the baptismal family should strive to adapt to such changes and yet maintain ties with one another. Such is the challenge that is laid before participants in baptism. Christians are strengthened through participation in the Church, the Body of Christ, and through caring deeply about God and one another.
Baptism is the moment of new birth into Christ and his Church, moving from darkness toward God’s light, of choosing life instead of death. Baptism is a gift to be remembered with joy and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God that you are part of this gift. Enjoy and rejoice in it!
For Further Study
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer
Baptismal Themes in the Bible
Old Testament Passages
- Creation (Genesis 1 & 2)
- Deliverance and promise to Noah (Genesis 5:32-9:19), to Abraham (Genesis 17:1- 8), and in the Exodus (Exodus 13:17-14:3)
- The people’s covenant relationship with God (Exodus 19:16-20:17)
- Promise of the land and an inheritance (Deuteronomy 34:1-8)
New Testament Passages
- The baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:1-12. Luke 3, John 1:19-34).
- The Christian understanding of baptism explored in Romans 6:4, Ephesians 4:5, Colossians 2:12, and 1 Peter 3:21.
- Read the New Testament through baptismal eyes and see what happens to your understanding of God and Christian life.
Many excellent books about baptism are available through your local bookstore or from the St. Nicholas Parish Online Amazon Store. Here are a couple of recommendations:
- Christ’s Own Forever: Episcopal Baptism for Infants and Young Children.
- A User’s Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: Baptism and Confirmation.
We wish to thank St. Columba’s Church in Washington, DC for permission to adapt from their book Chosen As A Baptism Sponsor.