While the predominantly Catholic practice of appointing godparents dates to the second century, modern roles and responsibilities vary according to a family’s level of religious observance. Source: ABC News.
Protestant traditions and other religions have also taken the role of godparents on as an extra form of guidance for a child or as a way of honouring close non-familial relationships.
Joel Hodge, a senior lecturer in theology at the Australian Catholic University, includes his seven godchildren in his daily prayers.
“Day to day I would pray for them ... for their wellbeing, for their own lives, their journey in faith and the relationship with God,” he says.
Two of Dr Hodge’s godchildren live in Timor-Leste, one in America and the rest in Australia.
He describes his sense of responsibility as “being a role model, someone who takes the life of faith seriously”. He says he learned how to be a godparent from his aunt and uncle, who weren’t explicit in their religious influence but were involved in the local parish, “connected to the life of the church”.
The earliest reference to such a religious guide comes from the second-century Christian author Tertullian. In his book De Baptismo, Tertullian referenced a Christian sponsor who acted as a trusted link between a bishop and an outsider who wished to convert.
“Early on, it was quite a significant thing for people to have a sponsor — you needed it,” says Carole Cusack, a professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney.
The idea was that godparents would maintain a link between the Church and a child until he or she could be baptised and act as a religious or spiritual guide from then on.
In most traditions, godparents have long term responsibilities to guide and support their godchildren, but when families are increasingly mobile, this becomes much harder.
“In the past, if you were part of a very small Christian community, you’re not likely to stop knowing a person,” Professor Cusack says.
“People nowadays move countries and cities and change religions and values. And the person who is your intimate friend when you are 20, is not likely to be an intimate friend at 40.”