Why have a christening?
If you would like your child to be brought up as a Christian, then a christening is the first step.
However, these days, faith is not always the only motivation. A christening is also a great way to get the whole family together to celebrate your new arrival. Being a member of a church could also help your child get a place at the excellent local church school further down the line!
While some clergy are quite relaxed about the parents' own church attendance, others will expect to see you and your child on a regular basis before and after the christening.
Says Ruby Hardwell, a mother of three girls, living in Derbyshire: "Although we are not regular churchgoers, we wanted to welcome our children into the church and the Christian community. We recently moved to a small village and talked to the vicar about the christening of our youngest, Sisley. He said as long as we made it to church twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, he'd be happy!"
Is there an alternative?
A christening calls for your child to believe in Jesus and to repent any sins. However, an increasing number of parents - and clergy themselves - question how a baby can possibly understand and, therefore, commit to this. As an alternative, your little one can be blessed and thanks can be given for his safe arrival into the world, without you making any promises on his behalf. A christening can then be held when your child is older and more able to understand what baptism involves.
If you are unsure what to do, talk to friends who have gone down either route and seek advice from your local church.
Booking the service
Once you have decided to have a christening, the first step is to talk to your local vicar. You will need to find out whether a special service needs to be arranged or whether the christening will be part of a main Sunday service. Some churches may ask few questions apart from which day you'd like the ceremony on and the names of the godparents, while others will want more details about your own faith, baptism and those of the godparents.
Traditionally, godparents were chosen for their own strong Christian beliefs, so that they could help guide the growing child in his faith. While this is still preferable in the eyes of the church, in reality, these days godparents are chosen more because they are close friends of the parents or are family members. However, for the sake of your child, it is worth taking time to choose a godparent carefully. If you are choosing friends, think about what role you would like them to play in your child's life. Are they likely to still be friends of yours in 10 years time? Are they going to offer you and your child support if needed?
"On the whole, we chose godparents who we felt would nurture the girls in different ways and each has one godparent who has a strong Christian faith. However, I have to admit that I felt obliged to choose a couple of them because they chose me to be a godparent to their child. Not the right motive I know, but it put me in a tricky position."
It is traditional for girls to have two godmothers and one godfather and boys to have two godfathers and one godmother, although it is up to you how many you have.
The christening gown
Both girls and boys traditionally wear a long white or cream christening gown. It's wonderful if you have a family gown that has been passed down through the generations. If you don't, you could either try to find one in a shop that sells vintage or antique clothing or buy one new. Many large department stores will sell appropriate clothes for christenings. Alternatively, try one of the many websites that sell everything related to christenings, from clothes to invitations and paper plates. Just key 'christening uk' into your search engine and check out what's available.
If the christening is being held especially for you rather than as part of a main service, ask everybody to turn up at least 10 minutes before it's due to begin. Yours may not be the only event at the church that day and the vicar will need to keep to schedule. Everyone will gather around the font, with the parents and godparents at the front. A service sheet will be handed out with the words the godparents need to say usually printed in bold. The whole christening should only take 20-30 minutes.
Remember that even in summer churches can be pretty cold, so make sure your baby is warmly dressed. It may also be wise to take a spare set of clothes in case of an accident.
After the service
You might want a small tea reception of sandwiches and cakes after the service. However, if friends and family are coming from far afield, it might be a good idea to offer something more substantial. Plan your menu so that most things can be cooked in advance and just heated up at the right time. Or, if you can splash out, consider caterers so that you don't have to worry.
Don't forget to invite the vicar as a way of saying thank you for the service!