11 August 2009

Sponsors at baptism

The conversation about baptism started by Pr. Cwirla below brought back to my mind the long struggle I've had with sponsors at baptism. The ins and outs will be familiar to all pastors of some experience: do we "allow" non-Lutherans to be sponsors, or shall they be just witnesses? And if witnesses only, are folks supposed to have Lutherans besides? Is a lousy Lutheran a better sponsor than a faithful Presbyterian? What gets recorded in the baptismal record? And is this headache worth it at all?

My current practice has just been to pretty much ignore godparents/witnesses/sponsors altogether to avoid these questions. (This has been facilitated by the LSB rite which does not include the swearing in of sponsors during the baptismal liturgy as it was in LW.) I have the parents and the whole congregation answer the questions on behalf of the child candidate. However, this stands in contradiction to the rubrics in Luther's Little Baptism Book and our Agenda, both of which call for the sponsors to do this.

Thus, the rubrics do indeed seem to require sponsors - at least for the baptism of infants. I suppose I could argue that I am, de facto, forcing the parents to be the sponsors - but that is obviously not what the rubrics intend.

So I'm not satisfied with my practice and I would like to aim for something better. But then there are all those questions above. . .

Therefore, I present the following proposed policy for baptismal sponsors to the Blackbirds for advice and revision. I'm a big fan of written policies for things like this - I take them to my board of elders and use it as a way to teach them. It's been very helpful, as well, in other ways: once the elders are sold on the policy, it becomes much easier to lead and teach the rest of the congregation, it's harder for nay-sayers to nay-say, etc.

At any rate - here's what I've got typed up. Any and all constructive suggestions, similar policies, etc. are welcome.


Proposed Baptismal Sponsorship Policy

The practice of appointing sponsors for people to be baptized is an ancient custom in the Church. It is not a biblical mandate and throughout the years the practice of sponsorship has varied.

According to the rubrics of Lutheran Service Book: Agenda baptismal sponsors are “to confess the faith expressed in the Apostles' Creed and taught in the Small Catechism. They are, whenever possible, to witness the Baptism of those they sponsor. They are to pray for them, support them in their ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith, and encourage them toward the faithful reception of the Lord's Supper. They are at all times to be examples to them of the holy life of faith in Christ and love for the neighbor.”

Baptismal sponsors are therefore different than what are generally called “godparents.” The custom of godparents is a faint cultural remembrance of the Christian custom of baptismal sponsors. Godparents are often friends or relations who live far away from the child and will have only limited contact with the life of the congregation. The cultural custom of godparents is certainly not in contradiction to the Scriptures and parents are free to bestow the title on any Christian they wish. However, the custom of “godparents” does not duplicate or replace the Church's use of baptismal sponsors.

Baptismal sponsors are to be a link to reinforce the child's connection to the local congregation into which the child is baptized. Therefore, the policy of Trinity Lutheran Church in regard to baptismal sponsors is as follows:

  • While parents may select any number of “godparents” from among their Christian friends and family to witness the baptism of their child, such “godparent/witnesses” are not recorded in the congregation's official Baptismal Record. The Pastor will give counsel to the parents that anyone they wish to consider a godparent should be a baptized and faithful Christian.

  • Each child baptized at Trinity will have at least one, preferably two, baptismal sponsors, each of whom shall

    • be a baptized and confirmed member of Trinity.

    • have communed regularly over the course of the last year before the baptism.

    • have previously attended or shall promise to attend the next regularly scheduled Baptismal Sponsor class.

  • If the parents are new to the congregation or are otherwise unfamiliar with people who meet the criteria for baptismal sponsorship, the Pastor shall suggest people from the congregation who would be willing to serve in this capacity.


jWinters said...

Excellent. Having the expectation that every child baptized has "in community" Baptismal sponsors is certainly an affirmation that the community that one worships in is a part of their family and their vocation/life. Great thoughts, thanks.

in Christ,

Anonymous said...

In my family, godparent has always meant baptismal sponsor. I had three of them at my baptism, and all were confirmed members of ours or sister congregations.

Susan said...

You don't want to write a policy where the assumption is that the parents are NOT the sponsors. It will come back to bite you in the end. You can allow for sponsors who aren't the parents. After all, it's what most people expect and want. But I think you need to make it clear that the child's sponsors are the parents. Adults who are being baptized are more in need of sponsors than are the babies who are brought by their parents.

Anonymous said...

>>My current practice has just been to pretty much ignore godparents/witnesses/sponsors altogether to avoid these questions. . . I have the parents and the whole congregation answer the questions on behalf of the child candidate.

Interesting that this is the same "solution" I came up with. I too am not fully satisfied but I feel better knowing that another brother is doing the same.