Godparents - What Should They Do? Anna Ford And Martin Amis At Loggerheads

Posted at 20:23pm on 26th February 2010

Godparents - what are they and what is expected from them? In times of falling church numbers, it may seem almost anachronistic to be asking. However, it appears to be a hot topic!


I arrived home from holiday today and, within ten minutes of stepping through the front door, received a phone call from the producers of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’. Had I, they asked, read of the row between the former BBC presenter Anna Ford, and distinguished British author Martin Amis? I hadn't, but it appears that the former has published an open letter in the Guardian accusing the latter of (among other things) failing in his duties as Godfather to her daughter.

Having, previously, spoken on the topic of Godparents on BBC Radio 5 Live, I was asked if I would be prepared to speak again about their role, both traditionally and in modern times. How, for instance, I was asked, did I see the role: in spiritual terms, or secular? The clue, I suggested, lay in the name itself *GOD* parent. But I conceded that, in modern times, a Godparent was probably more of a Mentor than a Spiritual adviser: someone to whom a child might turn for advice if, say, there were issues they’d rather not discuss with parents.


“What about the traditional fiver in an envelope? Did that have any significance in today’s society?” asked the BBC contact.

Well, yes! I replied. If a Godparent is to have any role to play in a Godchild’s life, there must be a relationship between them. Remembering birthdays, Christmases and other important dates, such as exams, driving tests and so on, is key to establishing and maintaining links.


And this, it appears, is what prompted Anna Ford’s wrath and, ultimately, Martin Amis’ contrition. His Godchild, Ford’s daughter, Claire, had no idea when she began studying his work whilst reading English at university that he had any part in her life. Because, clearly, he hadn’t! And having described himself as a useless Godfather to Claire, Amis has admitted as much.

Which makes me think that it’s all very well blaming the Godparent when no contact is maintained, but what about the parents’ role? Obviously, the child has no say in who should become Godparents, but the parents – biological or adoptive – have made that choice and, therefore, should take some responsibility in ensuring that a relationship is established. As I wrote in my blog, What Is The Role Of Godparents: Are They Really Relevant Today? The modern Anglican service of Baptism requires that the parents take on the same responsibilities, and make the same promises, as the Godparents.


The show was to air less than an hour after my arrival home which would have meant my turning around, instantly, to go to the studio. Consequently, a change of plan was instigated, and a London Vicar, the Revd. Nick Papadopoulos was asked to speak in my stead.

Jo Bryant, of DeBretts, kicked off by suggesting that the role of Godparent was about mentoring and responsibility – much as I’ve said above. As might be expected, Revd. Papadopoulos spoke of the Godparent’s traditional role, which is to demonstrate to the Godchild that he or she is not simply a child of earthly parents, but also a Child of God.


But what was really significant, in my view, was that he spoke of the role of time – precious time spent in prayer on behalf of a Godchild; precious time spent in the company of a Godchild. The responsibility of a Godparent, he suggested, was to introduce a Godchild to the beauty and wonder of the world that God has created: through theatre, football, nature and the arts. In other words, to spend time with the child, doing whatever comes naturally.

And this, I think, encapsulates the role of Godparents better, perhaps, than any other argument I’ve heard. To give of oneself. To give of one’s time. But above all, to lift the horizons of life to a new level – to Someone, somewhere, beyond ourselves. In other words, to bring back the relevance of God via the role of Godparents.

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Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. Book her here for your event.

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