Presbyterian ‘Baptismal Sponsors’
The Directory for Worship says: “The congregation as a whole, on behalf of the Church universal, assumes responsibility for nurturing the baptized person in the Christian life. In exercising this ministry, the session may designate certain members of the congregation as representatives of the church charged with special responsibility for nurture. For any person who is being baptized, sponsor(s) may be appointed by the session in consultation with those desiring Baptism for themselves or for their children and given the specific role of nurturing the baptized person” (W-2.3013).
The term “godparent” is not used in our Directory for Worship. Instead, we speak of baptismal “sponsors.” While “godparents” are often understood to assume a special role in the life of a baptized child on behalf of the child’s parents, baptismal “sponsors” serve the one being baptized, whether child or adult, on behalf of the entire congregation. Baptismal sponsors are appointed by the church session on behalf of the entire church. When presenting their children for baptism, parents may request specific sponsors, whom the session then endorses for service in this capacity. Sponsors act on behalf of the church to assure that the baptized are indeed nurtured by the community in the Christian faith.
Some churches choose to designate all members of the congregation as “sponsors” in their services of baptism. Whether certain individuals from the congregation serve especially as sponsors or not, the entire community makes a solemn promise to support and nurture the baptized in the Christian faith, and all members of the church are responsible to fulfill that promise.
When children are being baptized, the baptismal sponsors may join the parents at the font, thus signifying their special responsibility for the nurture of the child being baptized. In some cases the language of “godparents” is used by Presbyterians to refer to this practice, since it appears on the surface quite similar to the godparent role. However, it is helpful to avoid that language, since many people interpret it quite differently from the Presbyterian understanding of the proper function of baptismal sponsors.