With religion losing popularity, where does that leave godparenting?

Godparents are a support for children as they grow up.

Godparents have traditionally been chosen to offer spiritual guidance to a child, and aid their religious education.

But as attending church and practicing religion has become less popular, has the ‘God’ in godparents diminished too? And what does that mean for their role in a child’s life in today’s society?

Polls have revealed that fewer children are baptised now, and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of people who say they have “no religion” has risen over the past few years. While the figure stood at 19 per cent in 2006, it had risen to 30 per cent in 2016. 

But the popularity of appointing a godparent or two appears unchanged, with the chosen adults often playing a part in the baby-naming ceremonies that have replaced baptism for many. Even those who don’t opt for a ceremony often informally appoint godparents, without involving the church. 

So, if godparents are largely no longer involved in giving a child spiritual and religious guidance, what responsibilities does that leave them with?

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Some, but not all, parents expect that the godparent would raise their child should they be left parentless. Responding to a question on the role of godparents on online forum Mumsnet, one user commented that the role was “to teach the godchild values, advice and generally guide them through there life”. 

“It used to be if something happened to parents, godparents would take over from parents, but I think in this modern day is doesn’t happen much unfortunately,” they added.

Another user said they had chosen their child’s godparents to be guardians, but it was done separately, and not just due to tradition.

“As it happens our children’s godparents are our chosen guardians, because they are close friends of ours with children the same age, but that was arranged by will and totally separately,” the Mumsnet user explained. “We have other godparents who aren’t guardians and are not guardians for some of our godchildren.”

Even if there’s no longer a religious element, and no assumption of a duty of care should the worst occur, some parents see godparents as people who can offer support to a child without the ‘baggage’ that comes with being a close family member – to give birthday and Christmas gifts, be a friendly. loving ear to listen to a child’s troubles, a fun and reliable alternative to the child’s parents when it comes to new interests and passions, and a great example of how to be a good human.

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Do that, and any godchild is likely to be thankful, regardless of their spiritual persuasion. As pop singer Miley Cyrus says of what she’s learned her even-more-famous godmother Dolly Parton: “Watching the way she treats people with love and respect [is] always a reminder to me and my family of what is important”.

Do you think godparents have a role now? Do you think they’re as important as ever?

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