What is Christening?
The word "christen" comes from English culture and isn't properly defined in the modern day. It obviously derives from the word "Christ", and means "to bring to Christ". It is usually used about infants rather than adults.
The following answers some of the commonly asked questions.
Is a child properly named before his/her Christening? Yes. Names are given by parents and registered on the birth certificate. The church has no power to affect this, although of course the child's name is reinforced by its use in public in church.
Can my child be married in church if he/she is not christened? Yes: Everyone has the legal right to be married in the parish church of the parish in which they live. This right is irrespective of any religious views and any christening ceremonies. However, there is no automatic right to marriage in any other church, and again this is irrespective of any christening.
Can my child have a Christian cremation/burial if he/she is not christened? Yes: again this is not affected by any christening.
Will a child go to heaven if he/she dies before being christened? Yes on the basis that Jesus said "the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Mark 10:14), the Christian church believes that he/she will. The Greek word "toioutos" ("such as") means "these and others like them". The church does not believe that the child's ultimate salvation depends on whether a child has been christened or which christening service has been used.
What Christening services are there? There are basically three sorts of Christening services:
- Blessing - based on what Jesus did when children were brought to him: "he took the children in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:13-16). These are about receiving God's unconditional love. *See Below
- Baptism - the ceremony or sacrament of admitting a person into Christianity.
- Christening - the act or ceremony of baptizing and giving a name to an infant.
To some extent the different emphases above overlap in some cases, and an atmosphere of thanksgiving to the child's birth and life is common to all three.
*Is there an alternative?
A christening calls for the child to believe in Jesus and to repent the child's sins. However, an increasing number of parents - and clergy themselves - question how an infant can understand and, therefore, undertake this. As an alternative, a more simple blessing or thanksgiving can be given in which the child is blessed and thanks given for its safe arrival into the world, but no promises are made by the parents or on behalf of the child. The christening can be held when the child is older and more able to understand what baptism involves.
Does christening make my child a Christian? No, because it is up to your child to decide whether or not to follow Jesus Christ, and no church service has the power to force a child to make a particular choice. The best way of ensuring that your child does become a follower of Jesus is to attend church regularly as a family, so that you can all grow as part of the community which follows Jesus.
Is Christening a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, ordained by Christ. This definition was carefully concocted in the 17th century as a way of ensuring that there would be only two sacraments in the church: baptism and the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion), and it probably tells us more about 17th century history than it does about theology! If you mean "does christening automatically make a Christian?" the answer is no (see previous question). If you mean "does christening bring my child to God?" the answer is yes (see first question in this section).
Essentials of a Christening Ceremony:
Although each religious denomination is different, the essentials of a Christening ceremony are broadly similar. The child generally needs a Christening Gown or Christening outfit, usually white in colour and should have accompanying shoes and socks. Undershirts may have a symbolic cross embroidered upon them. A bib and blanket are possible additions to the ceremony and can be kept in the child's keepsake box. Other possible additions are a satin or eyelet covered bible that the minister of the ceremony could bless or a satin boutonniere or bracelet.
Appropriate Gifts to give for a Christening include:
- a monetary gift in the child's name
- a photograph album (perhaps monogrammed with the baby's name)
- an identification bracelet of gold or silver
- cross and heart necklaces
A lovely gift for the Godparents would be a customized picture frame with a picture of the baby to commemorate the ocassion.