When Alice Warren was on maternity leave, pregnant with twins, she searched for a resource to give their future godparents. But she came away empty-handed.
Warren had enjoyed having a project during her first pregnancy, and decided to write a few pages as a godparenting guide. After she posted about it in a children’s ministry Facebook group, Youthworks Media reached out, wondering if Warren would write the guide as a book.
Asked by Eternity why she thought she was the right person to write the book, Warren replies, “It was a book that needed to be written, basically. No one else had written anything! On the days when I felt ‘imposter syndrome’, I’d remind myself, ‘There’s really no resources at the moment, so anything you produce will be a step up from having nothing.’”
So a few pages became a 57-page practical handbook, providing invaluable insights for nurturing a child’s lifelong faith in a refreshingly digestible format. In fact, Warren was extremely well-equipped to write A Godparent’s Handbook, having studied psychology and worked as a classroom teacher and children’s minister.
Warren is conscious that many readers will not be Anglican like her. The book is clearly structured, and the vast majority is not focused on baptism or the Anglican tradition. “I was hoping to empower and inspire more than to give strict instructions,” Warren explains.
She has succeeded in providing a ceaselessly practical handbook, explaining what a godparent is and does, and guiding parents and godparents in nurturing lifelong Christian faith.
What a godparent is (and isn’t!)
First, Warren explains what godparenting is not. Agreeing to be a godparent is not agreeing to become a child’s legal guardian in tragic circumstances. “That seems to be some sort of urban myth,” Warren explains. “It’s usually a separate thing.” Here and elsewhere, Warren emphasises the importance of godparents asking the parents’ expectations about guardianship.
She adds that being a good godparent is not ultimately about rule-following but relationship. Warren notes that godparenting can be associated with a sense of guilt, and says her goal is instead to encourage and equip.
Finally, she clarifies that godparents, despite playing a key role in nurturing faith, are not ultimately responsible for the child’s spiritual growth. Warren warns against trying to carry a burden that no one except God can bear.
“It’s God’s Spirit that works within us and within our godchildren,” she reminds. “We hope to draw them to him by his kindness, not beating ourselves up and putting something on ourselves that we can’t actually carry.”
Instead, Warren’s Anglican tradition highlights two clear responsibilities for every godparent: first, the spiritual nurture and instruction of the child; second, the example of the godparent’s own godly living.
Warren aims to help readers do both, providing three concrete ways for godparents to support parents in nurturing lifelong faith.
The first fundamental part of godparenting is prayer.
“Prayer can end up feeling like it’s on the guilt-inducing chore list for Christians,” Warren laments. “But God is at work in and through our prayer, and that’s really significant. So ways that you can embed prayer for your godchild into daily activities are really helpful.”
In A Godparent’s Handbook, Warren provides helpful methods of fostering regular prayer habits for your godchild and the parents. While the onus is on the parents here, since they simply see the child much more often, godparents can proactively support them by initiating the conversation. If in doubt, Warren suggests praying for the parents, the child’s development, the child’s relationships and that you would be Christlike as a godparent.
On the surface, this one doesn’t require much explanation.
“What kid doesn’t like presents?” Warren points out. “It’s a way to show that you care about them.”
She suspects many godparents feel obligated to buy explicitly ‘spiritual’ gifts. But she cautions, “You don’t want to communicate that you only care about them from a ‘spiritual development’ perspective.”
“Hopefully they’ll be able to see the ways that being a Christian shapes everything and the way that you enjoy good things, but don’t make them ultimate things.” – Alice Warren
Warren notes the contemporary Western tendency to separate the ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ from the rest of life – a distinction unique to our cultural milieu. She describes experiences in Christian communities that condemned the ‘non-spiritual’ as wasteful or materialistic.
Of course, Warren adds, explicitly Christian gifts are great too! The book provides a helpful guide to choosing the ideal children’s Bible.
But again, Warren emphasises the danger of separating the responsibilities of godparenting from genuine relationship. It is crucial, she says, to simply show interest in your godchild and in their interests. “Hopefully they’ll be able to see the ways that being a Christian shapes everything and the way that you enjoy good things, but don’t make them ultimate things,” she concludes.
As a children’s minister, Warren has noticed that many parents (naturally) reflect on how to nurture their children’s faith after they are of schooling age, because family routines, and especially sleep, become more manageable.
She explains that “a lot of kids’ foundational pillars of worldview and their concepts of who they are and who God is are developed earlier. It doesn’t mean that God by his grace can’t work. But that’s where you can do a lot of things that are really helpful.”
A Godparent’s Handbook provides a theory of faith development in children. Of course, Warren acknowledges, developmental theories merely paint a picture of what we can observe. But they are invaluable for nurturing faith, especially in young children.
This framework informs Warren’s third part of godparenting: simply being present in your godchild’s life.
“It’s really easy to forget that without certain influential people things could very easily have gone in a different direction.”
Without intentionality, godparents simply won’t see their godchildren. Warren, whose childhood church did ‘dedications’, recalls, “I’ve never seen the people who were my dedication sponsors again in my life … So even if you go ‘All right, for their birthday, Easter and Christmas we’ll do a video call or try to catch up physically, it means over the years you’ve stayed in touch enough for there to still be some connection.”
While physical presence is preferable, Warren notes that more than ever people are hyper-mobile, so for parents to have a trusted influence connected with their children is precious, regardless of proximity.
In this aspect too, Warren does not prescribe specific activities. “You can still be a beneficial impact in their life without having to do one-on-one park play time,” she reassures. Again, her emphasis is on nurturing godchildren relationally. From modelling attitudes to work and injustice in the world, to ‘spiritual disciplines’ and repentance, Warren insists that every facet of your life can help model Christian faith to your godchild.
What would it look like for you to be prayerful, generous and present in this child’s life?
“Sometimes we can overcomplicate it,” Warren explains. “We think it requires an advanced degree in theology to do it well. But kids just want people who care about them. I’m hopeful that this framework gives people the courage to go, ‘This is an achievable thing I’ve been asked to do.’”
Are you a godparent, a parent, a future parent or anyone seeking to help nurture lifelong faith in a child? What would it look like for you to be prayerful, generous and present in this child’s life?
“My hope,” Warren concludes, “is that if even a few godparents around Australia are encouraged to take on that role with confidence, that helps them to be a significant person in that child’s life. And that changes people’s whole lives.
“So many people filled that role in my life. It’s really easy to forget that without them things could very easily have gone in a different direction. God by his grace provided these people. To have people who care about you, who are praying for you and are invested in your wellbeing – that is a beautiful gift.”