godmother holding jackson

 

This past weekend for Pentecost Sunday, Jackson and I got to renew our baptismal vows while spending the weekend down in Illinois with my goddaughter Teresa and her family (Evan was in DC with his students). That is one of many wonderful things about the sacrament of baptism — several times a year as we welcome babies and adults into God’s family, we reenact our own death and redemption by water and the spirit. And at only 5 months, Jackson got to renew his baptismal vows from his own January baptism.

 

baptism two

 

Each time we return to baptismal vows, the promises and the renunciations can take on new meanings.

 

Q. Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
A. I renounce them.
Q. Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
A. I do.

 

jackson with godparents

 

As we grow, our relationship with our godchildren grows, and vice versa. Now my goddaughter is four and godson is five, and their parents ask me to pray that they would know God and His love and grace and would push out shame and fear. These days that looks like not completely shutting down when mom corrects a mistake on a piano song, or says that a 40 degree rainy day isn’t a day for wearing a sleeveless sundress, or not being afraid of going back to the park because there were loud boys goofing around in gorilla masks that scared him silly last time.

 

godsister

 

Over time, the shame and the fears will change into adult ones, but God’s grace and love will grow with them. So eventually I will be praying for my godchildren, like my own godmother for me, for job applications and bids on houses and safe delivery of babies.

 

amy and godmother

 

Q. Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
A. I will, with God’s help.

 

parents and godparents at baptism

 

Already we get to see Jackson have a growing relationship with his godparents. They were some of the very first people we told about our poppy seed-sized baby. We wanted them to pray for him even if his life only lasted a few heart beats. We called them a few hours after Jackson was born right along with our parents, to tell them that we had a son, and they had a godson. They came out in the dead of winter, heavy snow stranding them even longer in Milwaukee, to stand up with us and make those extravagant vows to care for Jackson’s soul.

 

baptism 4

 

Q. Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
A. I will, with God’s help.

 

peeking

 

Godparents are family. In the medieval church, becoming a godparent had legal ramifications. For centuries, you couldn’t marry a god-sibling or godparent, because they were considered a real and close relation. And just like Sirius Black in Harry Potter, godparents had legal rights and responsibilities to care for godchildren if they became orphaned. Often it was the godparents themselves who would name the child, either officially naming them at the service or doing that and actually picking out the name.

 

Q. Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
A. I will, with God’s help.

 

priest and baby at baptism

 

In my graduate work, I looked at a lot of 16th century catechisms, and most of them began with asking the child his or her name and who gave them their name (A. My godfather and godmother at my baptism.). I read and reread dozens of catechisms that began this way. They were often the first formal (and often the only) lessons English children would learn. I love that some of the best parts of my graduate work and my love of the early modern church got to be played out as Jackson’s godmother Brittany held him and that we along with Jackson’s godfather Daniel named and pronounced that he belonged to God as we presented him for baptism and made vows for him.

 

godparents and parents at baptism

 

Q. Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
A. I do.
Q. Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
A. I do.

 

The vows are extravagant and wild. Like marriage vows, they are beyond what we can do on our own, whether we make them as adults coming to baptism confessing faith ourselves, or we make the vows on behalf of babies who grow into them, confirming them when they come of age.

 

baby jackson with mom and dad

 

Q. Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
A. I renounce them.
Q. Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
A. I renounce them.

 

baptsim 3

 

That is why we get a chance to say them again and again, for ourselves and then later for those in our care. Because we need to return again and again to what is most true.

Q. Do you believe in God the Father?
A. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Q. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
A. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…

 

baby jackson at baptism
Parenting is a pretty extravagant and wild gig. The other day I had a hymnal out and as I was singing a song to Jackson, I thought about how in order for Jackson to do this, someday he was going to have to learn the alphabet and then to read words, and then learn notes and then to read music, and learn theology …and that I was going to have to teach him!

 

kisses

 

But of course, you can learn a hymn just by having your mother sing it to you. Faith is simple at the same time infinitely complex. Also, it is likely Jackson’s grandmother will teach him to read music, just as she taught me, and that he will learn to read because grandfathers and godmothers and great grandmothers will send books and read stories to him. Faith is an individual choice and at the same time a grace that is bestowed via community and family, sung over you like a lullaby.

 

baptism 5

 

The sacrament of baptism captures all of that. It captures how we are entrusted to our parents, and families, how those families are beyond just blood.  God’s family includes  dear friends who sponsor and pray and stand up for our babies along with the whole of the congregation who vows to care for this child and to welcome him into the big family of God.

Let us welcome the newly baptized.
We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.

 

handing baby back

 

For beyond just family and the close friends of godparents, we have our whole local congregation who made and renewed the vows. Through the weekly services, Sunday schooling and communion, confession and fellowship, Jackson will learn how to be a part of God’s family.

 

Evan and baby Jackson

 

It will be messy, filled with opportunities to forgive and be forgiven. But we will return again and again to make the same vows year in and year out, to say the same creeds week in and week out. Already Jackson has gotten to renew his vows and be a part of welcoming a dear friend’s baby into god’s family by loudly squawking in the quiet parts of last week’s Pentecost service. I’m sure that it roughly translated to that final baptismal collect-

 

May the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom. Amen.

 

baptismal blessing

A special thank you to my wonderful dad and dear friend Bliss for capturing Jackson’s baptism in photos!

 

2 Responses to Godparents and Baptism: Joining God’s Great Family

  1. Julie Crull says:

    Love this Amy. You have some truly insightful thoughts that will be percolating in my brain this week. Bless you sweet friend!

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks sweet Julie! I love how dedicated you and Brett are to pray for your (many!) godchildren. So wonderful to get to pop down to Wheaton and see you guys so often these days 🙂

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