Do stay for tea and coffee: Praying godparents
You get all sorts in churches. They’ll let anyone in – thank God. And we do thank God, for that freedom, though we do that thanking in a variety of ways – sitting, kneeling, standing arms raised. You never know who will do what. That is, I’m sure, a good thing.
You can tell when your church has guests, because the minister tells them they’re ‘almost welcome’ (or it might be ‘all most welcome’ – it’s not always clear.) I love it when we’re joined by different shapes and shades of any faith background, or none, or nuns. Yes, it might mean people stand and sit at different times, but that’s just a nice reminder that we’re all moving at different speeds on different paths, rather than being just one giant amorphous congregation. Although that’s nice too.
Mostly, visitors have a relatively passive role (proviso: all church worship is of course active – I just mean that most attendees don’t get to alter the worship style per se. High Anglicans may try and smuggle in Latin though, like ‘proviso’ and ‘per se’.) Sometimes, guests are granted a more active role. Oh yes, I’m talking about The Praying Godparents.
It was a christening. You could tell from the influx of suits and smart dresses, and the lack of parking spaces. The godparents and regular (non-god)parents gathered around the font, and the child was baptised. We all erupted into applause for this new tiny member of the church. It’s like birth, except with more witnesses, without the surprise announcement of gender, or an obsession with the baby’s size (although ironically, the water displacement could help answer this).
This church has a post-baptism custom whereby godparents offer prayers for their new godchild. So, four godparents stood centre-chancel, around the baby girl. We all bowed our heads, or knelt, or pressed hands together, depending on background.
The godparents on the groom’s side were old school, bringing liturgy and corduroy in equally bountiful measure. With a rustle of parchment, a centuries-old prayer was spoken: ‘We beseech thee, O God. Shape your servant after the pattern of your own divine beauty. May it be clear that she belongs to You, O Creator of the Universe.’ Their high and lofty prayers – presumably from a high church background – were pretty epic for the little life in front of them.
The microphone was passed to the other couple, presumably friends of the bride. My eyes were closed but I recalled them with less corduroy, more beard and blonde dreadlocks. They brought no paper. Their prayer wasn’t centuries or even seconds old but vocalised as they felt moved. More like, you know: ‘Like, God, you know, I mean you know this child. Like, you know her right to her bones, and then some into, like, her cells. Would you just, like, really care and protect, and just help her prosper, and really just feel your love, in her very core, like, all her days.’
I may be exaggerating. Equally I may not be. Either way, I don’t mean to sound disparaging – because I love that these two very different sets of Christians have been thrown together by this child. This child was brought into the world by their mutual friends, then brought into God’s family here today. We only got a tiny snapshot of the godparental differences. Liturgical meets spirit-led. Lofty, epic, divine creator meets up-close, bone-growing, heart-knowing protector. A bit of both. A foot in both camps. That’s my God.
I know it’s a massive over simplification. Mr and Mrs Corduroy probably cut loose far more than my glimpse implied. The beard ‘n’ dreads duo might harbour a love of Latin, bells and smells that I didn’t catch onto. But it doesn’t matter. This new baptisee will benefit from their differences, God willing, gaining valuable mentors in her toddle through life.
Life in all its variance means seven billion different humans have seven billion different potential mouthpieces with which to worship God, if we choose to. And if that new addition chooses to, we can make that seven billion and one (again, a massive over simplification in terms of numbers.)
May church be a place where all are welcome, whatever language we speak, and however we choose to use that language, or that corduroy. God knows what we’re trying to say. Because, O God, we beseech thee, well, like, You know.
Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and broadcaster
This article was published in the October 2018 edition of Reform