Traditionally, parents chose to have their children christened because they wanted them to be brought up in the Christian faith. Although this is still the main and most valid reason, today a christening is also used as a time to celebrate a child’s life and is regarded as an ‘official’ ceremony to welcome them into the family and community. It’s an occasion for friends and family to come together for the child’s special day.
Of course there are also parents who wish to enrol their child into a good local school later on. Many church schools in the UK have a sound reputation for good education and have strict enrolment criteria, one of which is that children attending should be baptised in the school’s faith and that parents agree to follow the school’s ethos and mission statement.
Whatever reason you decide to have your child christened, you’ll need to know the process, especially if you aren’t a regular churchgoer.
If you’d like to get your child christened, but aren’t sure how it works, this helpful guide will explain what happens at a christening.
What Is a Christening?
A christening is a Christian ceremony held in a place of worship such as a church, in which a person is baptised with water and welcomed into the House of God.
Water is used during the ritual as a symbolic ‘cleansing’ of Original Sin, which the Christian church believes we are all born with. Baptism is the first passage of a number of sacraments a practising Christian takes on their journey through life.
Who Can Be Christened?
A christening is a free church service offered to all people who have a Christian faith. A person can be any age, but in the Church of England, the service is traditionally held at the beginning of a person’s life when they are a baby. Other fragments of Christian faiths such as Baptists or Christadelphians don’t baptise people until they come of age.
Long gone are the days when children who were christened needed to come from traditional family unit of married parents who attended church every Sunday.
You may still find the odd ‘old-school’ vicar who will insist that you are regular churchgoers, but, on the whole, the Church of England has adopted a more modern and relaxed approach to its congregation and openly welcomes all forms of families to be christened. It doesn’t matter if you’re married, co-habitants, single-sex couples, single parents or you only attend church at Christmas, you’ll still be welcomed into the church and can have your child baptised in the faith.
Parents don’t even need to be baptised themselves, although it is obligatory for godparents to be. All the church asks is that you have a degree of faith and are aware of the commitment you’re undertaking on your child’s behalf.
Your vicar may even suggest that you take the time to think about your faith and consider being christened yourselves.
What Happens Before?
Once you’ve decided you want your child to be christened, the first thing you’ll need to do is organise a meeting with the vicar in your parish and agree on a date. It’s usual for babies to be christened during the main Sunday service, and in most cases, several babies are christened at the same time. If you’d prefer, you can ask the vicar if it’s possible to hold a dedicated ceremony on another day.
The vicar will ask for the child’s name. Make sure they know how to pronounce it properly before the service! They will also need the name of the godparents and confirmation that the godparents are baptised. Depending on your vicar, you and the godparents may be asked to attend personal sessions with the vicar or, in some parishes, dedicated classes before the christening can take place. Other vicars are happy to have an informal one-to-one chat about your faith and your decision to have your child christened.
Choosing the Godparents
In the past, godparents were chosen for their strong Christian beliefs and their commitment to offer spiritual support and guidance throughout the child’s life. Today, godparents tend to be chosen because of their special bond with one or both of the parents and are usually a close friend or family member. However, it’s still considered a great honour and responsibility so you should choose your godparents wisely. Will you still expect to have a bond with them in the future? Are they willing to play a part in your child’s life? Even if they aren’t particularly religious, do they still have the morals and values that you respect?
It’s up to you to decide how many godparents you’d like, however, the Church of England traditionally asks for a minimum of:
- 2 godmothers and 1 godfather for a girl
- 2 godfathers and 1 godmother for a boy
All godparents must be baptised. Even the parents can be their child’s godparents as long as there is one more baptised godparent.
Becoming a godparent does not mean they have any legal rights to the child and they do not automatically become legal guardians if anything should happen to the child’s parents.
The Christening Gown
Much like a wedding dress, a christening gown is a fundamental feature of the ceremony and holds great meaning and sentimental value for the parents.
Traditionally, both girls and boys wear a long white, cream or ivory gown used specifically for the occasion. Many parents are happy to continue this tradition, especially if the gown has been passed down through the generations. Other parents wish to create their own family heirloom, so invest in a gown for their first child that can then be used for subsequent children and grandchildren.
It’s entirely up to you. You can buy a bespoke christening gown that you wish to preserve or you can simply buy a pretty outfit that’s suitable for a special occasion. Some parents may even wish to buy an outfit that can be used again.
When choosing the gown and accessories, bear in mind your child’s age, the season and how warm or cold it will be in the church. If you choose a dedicated gown, ensure baby also has a comfortable outfit to change into afterwards.
One novel and lovely idea is to have your wedding dress converted into a christening gown. This makes it an even more symbolic and truly special keepsake.
As with a wedding, a christening ceremony is always followed by a celebration. Your christening party can be as large or small, formal or informal as you wish. Smaller christening parties are commonly held at the home of the parents. Others prefer to book a venue such as the local pub, hotel or even a marquee. Ensure you have the guest list, budget and catering sorted long before the christening date.
The Service, Step-by-Step
Ultimately, the most important part of the day is the service itself. The vicar will have explained how it will proceed and what parents and godparents should do. An individual service will take between 20–30 minutes, a Sunday family service takes around 35–45 minutes, and a mass with Holy Communion about an hour.
A typical Church of England christening service involves the following:
The vicar will stand at the entrance to the church and greet the congregation as they arrive. The parents, baby and godparents will sit together, usually in the front pews. As the vicar enters, a hymn is usually sung. The vicar will begin the service by officially welcoming the congregation, especially the children who are to be christened. They will then talk about what a christening means.
A member of the christening party, usually a family member, will read out a bible reading that’s relevant to baptism. Popular readings include:
- Mark 10:3-16
- Matt 18:1-5, 10-14
- Ephesians 4:1-6
The vicar will address the parents and godparents, and ask them to make promises:
- Will you pray for this child?
- Will you be an example to them?
- Will you walk with them in the way of Christ?
- Will you care for them and help them take their place in life?
One of the godparents will hold up a lighted candle and the parents and godparents will promise to reject the devil, renounce evil and repent of their sins.
Sign of the Cross
The vicar will make the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The parents and godparents will then be invited to do the same.
The vicar will invite the child, parents and godparents to gather around the baptismal font. At this point another hymn is usually sung. The child will be held over the font and the vicar will pour a small amount of water over their head, while saying:
I baptise you in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In some, but not all cases, the child will be covered in a white church robe while at the font, and the vicar will say:
You have been clothed with Christ. As many as are baptised into Christ have put on Christ.
If a church robe has been used, it will now be removed and the gathering will return to their seats. The vicar will welcome the child into the House of God and further prayers will be said.
If the service contains the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Holy Communion will be taken at this point. If not, the service will continue with suitable prayers and the service will finish with The Lord’s Prayer and a final blessing.
Towards the end of the service, the newly baptised child will be given a lighted candle. This symbolic gesture means that the child has received the Light of Christ and may continue their journey through life, walking in the Light.
The vicar will end the service with the words:
Go in the Light and Peace of Christ.
What Happens After
Just like a wedding, immediately after the service the christening party will gather outside the church for photographs. The celebrations can now begin!
Some christenings are large and formal events with similar budgets to a wedding. However, most christenings today are smaller, more intimate and less formal gatherings, often at the home of the parents. But no matter how large or small your christening party, the following are essential:
- A cake
- Decorations (even if it’s just balloons and bunting)
If you’re planning a party at home, a buffet is usually the best option. If you have booked a venue, catering can range from canapés to a full sit-down meal.
In the past, the last tier of the parents’ wedding cake was frozen, then re-iced for their first child’s christening, but as many modern wedding cakes are no longer heavy fruit cakes, this tradition is not usually followed through. Christening cakes are still the centrepiece of every christening party though, and can be elaborately decorated just as a wedding cake is.
Champagne is essential to ‘toast the baby’s life’ and is often accompanied by speeches from one of the parents or godparents.
Gifts and cards for the child are an important part of the christening. The godparents traditionally give religious-themed gifts such as a bible, prayer book, cross and chain or a charm bracelet with angels or doves.
Jewellery is also a very popular gift especially silver necklaces or bracelets. A christening gift is usually something a child will have as a keepsake for their special day.
Traditionally, silver items are given as gifts. Popular gifts are silver photograph frames, moneyboxes, first-tooth boxes and tankards engraved with the child’s name.
Although there is no pressure to commit to your local church, once the christening is over, your family are warmly invited to attend church and community events when you can. A christening is a wonderful way to feel part of your local parish and community.
If you’re looking for the perfect christening gown for your baby’s special day, visit the Little Doves website to see what we have available or contact us to discuss a special order.