The Godfather

The role of godparent gets pretty short shrift in the church as I’ve experienced it today.

I’ll allow you a  moment to Google shrift, or short shrift, before we continue.
What do you mean you can’t be bothered to Google it?  Do you know what it means?  Oh good grief, here’s the link – you can at least click on a link, can’t you?  Here’s another one.  Or is your finger that tired already?  I’ll shrive you for your shiftless shriftage.  I’ll assume that you’ve shriven or shrove before we continue.  Sheesh.
I’m not sure how or why the role of godparent fell into such relative obscurity.  Granted, it’s likely that originally it was the parents themselves who acted as godparents on behalf of their infants being baptized.  But still, for a tradition of the church that can be traced roughly back to pre-Christian Judaism, you’d think we’d treat it a bit more seriously.  But heck, with all the rest of church tradition and practice that’s being tossed out the window (or already has been), I suppose it’s not surprising that this practice is going the way of the dodo – practically speaking – as well.
Traditionally, the godparent assumes responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the child.  This has come to mean that they would perform this duty if for some reason the parents were unwilling or unable to do it for themselves (which should seem odd, since you’d think that if they weren’t willing, they wouldn’t bother choosing godparents – or even baptizing the child for that matter.  But people are funny, ya know?).  
I find that nowadays people don’t really give a lot of thought to what they’re actually doing in choosing godparents, or in agreeing to be godparents.  It has become some sort of obligation thing.  I need to make this person the godparent of junior, since I’m the godparent for their child.  Or, we don’t have anyone else easily available.  Or, we like so-and-so, so we want them to be the godparents.  Or, since the role is pretty much ornamental anymore, we’ll just pick so-and-so, who’s a practicing Muslim/Jew/Atheist/Scientologist/what-have-you.  My practice is to help guide parents in choosing godparents, by at least requiring that the people they ask be Christian.  Kind of radical, I know.
On the flip side, many godparents seem confused at best as to what their role is.  Yes, you need to be at the baptism if at all possible.  Yes, you should be in the baptismal photos – or at least some of them!  But that’s not where it ends.  You’ve accepted a duty, a responsibility.  And while maybe you know for a fact that the parents are providing a Christian upbringing for Jr., that hardly means that you get to coast for the rest of your life.  You can be contributing.  You should be contributing, at least on the anniversary of the child’s baptism.  Send a card that indicates you remember their baptism and are praying for them.  Preferably, send this card because you do pray for them, don’t just say you do!  Consider sending a small gift.  Again, nothing extravagant.  A child’s picture-bible when they’re young.  Perhaps an age-appropriate devotional book when they begin to get older.  Something that will be relevant to where that child is in their growth and development both as a human being and as a child of God.  Do it on alternating years, with a card on the between years.  If you live in the same area as the child, perhaps coordinating a special dinner or get together with the family would be nice.  Something to mark the occasion.
The fact that you take the time to remember the responsibility that you pledged yourself to with that child will help reinforce with the child just what a precious and important thing baptism is.  It will hopefully encourage them to think about their baptism often, and the amazing thing that God did in that moment with just a bit of water and His Word.  In the process, it will hopefully encourage you to be taking proactive steps of discipline in terms of prayer and study of the Word.  It will hopefully remind you of your baptism.  The same with the child’s parents. The benefits seem incredibly pervasive and beautiful, for such little effort.
My wife and I are the godparents for close to half-a-dozen kids.  We haven’t been the most faithful in performing the duties we pledged to in becoming godparents, and I apologize for that to any of you reading this.  I do want us to get better, and I pray that you’ll help to keep us accountable towards that end!  

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