Holy Moly, is it time to think about religion already?
Before people think I’m about to start a debate on religion, I’m not. I wouldn’t be very well placed to do so, seeing as I’ve broken a few(!) rules in life and now sit on the man upstairs’ naughty list. This blog post is a brief guide and not exhaustive. I welcome insight into other cultures not mentioned.
My (not very) religious stance
I wasn’t Christened, but attended a Church of England Primary School and left there believing in God and with a Bible in hand. Off I trotted to Secondary School and I suspect my Bible then started combusting after some of my escapades, but nonetheless, I then went on to be married in an Anglican church. For those as miffed as I was about Anglican churches, they, in a nutshell, use a bit of Christian and Catholic religions in their practice and beliefs. My husband Andrew, who is half-French, is pretty religious and a confirmed Catholic, so we had a debate (not discussion) on how and where to be married and settled on an Anglican church. I refused to be Christened prior to our wedding when invited to, because I felt like a hypocrite. I had no plans to regularly attend church after our wedding and also, sorry to say this, I attended church so I could get married there (sorry God). I hope my honesty doesn't offend.
So it wasn’t an easy decision to make when it came to Flynn and the religion he follows, if any. To-date, we haven’t agreed on what to do in terms of a ceremony to recognise him and whether it will be religious or not! What was very apparent at the time, was that we didn’t have a clue about the types of religious and non-religious ceremonies we could choose from, the costs involved and the link to gaining a school place, which is a driver for many parents in this situation (said in the spirit of honesty). So I’ve provided a useful guide in the following section which covers off as many religious and non-religious ceremonies that I could find information on.
It only seems like yesterday that you gave birth and suddenly, you receive an invitation to a Baptism, naming ceremony, Bris or celebration of life party through the post. We all trot off to weddings and happily, or begrudgingly, attend the religious element because, you know, it’s all part of the wedding. However, it’s a big decision to then decide to formalise your child’s birth, name and/or chosen religion when they’re so young and then ask your friends with children to enter a religious building. I think parents forget the latter point and must remember not to be offended if people say no to an invitation because they don’t want their child to believe that a particular religion is the way to go. Sounds OTT, but part of me agrees as I’m pretty liberal and want Flynn to lead on religion and taking him into any religious building may influence him. However, the other side of me remembers that Flynn is still young and doesn’t have a clue where he is half of the time, unless there’s a soft-play area involved. Just be mindful of this parents when sending out your invites.
So the things to first consider
Firstly, parents need to sit down and define what religion does and doesn’t mean to them. Do it over a glass of wine, as I’ve often found that it’s a pretty contentious topic to talk about, because there is no right or wrong. Also, partners who were very chilled about religion when you married, may be the complete opposite when it comes to your child and the religion you choose for them.
- Are you looking to have your child ‘recognised’ in a religious way because you want to raise them in accordance with certain beliefs and values?
- Are you looking to do it because you want your child to have a non-biased guiding influence in their life?
- Are you doing it because everyone in your family has done so and it’s the ‘norm’?
- Are you doing it because of pressure from your partner, or wider family?
- Are you doing it because everyone else is in your friendship circle is?
- Are you doing it to strengthen your chances of getting your child into a school?
Whatever the reason/s, you need to pin them down and be really honest with yourselves whilst doing so. Why? Because if you do decide to recognise your child in, or out of a religious building, there will be commitments thereafter, such as attending Sunday school, the parents attending church (yep, you don’t get off lightly), choosing and recognising godparents or guide-parents and so on. And I think this is fair enough, i.e. if you want to be recognised in a religious or non-religious way, then there should be a continued input from the participants. We live in a quickie culture where we sometimes take only what we want from something and forgo the rest. Religion does have a commitment and not only from the child, but from the parents to instil certain values and beliefs and to use that religion in the best possible way. It’s as labour intensive at the start - when your child is young and needs accompanying to church, the synagogue, the temple and so on, as it is when they get older and can get distracted by sport, friends and schoolwork and need encouragement/nudging.
What if you as parents have different beliefs or religions?
If there are two religions involved and with pretty staunch views, I’d consider incorporating aspects of both religions into your child’s life. Whatever you do, do not argue over it! There is no deadline to recognise your child through religious or more humanist means, so take your time. In today’s world, I think it is possible to mix beliefs. Also, try to keep external views from older family members, or your local religious leader out of the picture. There will be a bit of natural bias and this may sway your mind.
The link to school
This may horrify some people, but here it is - a lot of parents go through the Christening/Baptism process in order to improve their chances of their child getting a place at a local Church of England school. It is never a guarantee just to add, and a word of warning - a lot of schools test out your commitment post-Christening or Baptism, by writing to the vicar/priest asking her/him to confirm your attendance levels. At Sunday services, it is not unusual for registers to be signed to provide evidence for school application forms. Attendance requirements of at least 45 Sundays per year is also not unusual. Also, be mindful that a lot of parents take this approach and so, religion does not automatically mean you’ve got the school place you’re hoping for.
The things to understand
So there are a number of ways to recognise your child in a religious and non-religious way. I’ve covered what I consider to be the main ones based on my audience and also added my thoughts on the ones I am privy to.
Christening /Baptism (the term used in Catholic churches but in a nutshell, the two are the same)
At the heart of a Christening, is the child being blessed with water. The ceremony takes place in a church, readings are given from the Bible, the parents and any godparents make a series of promises and the water is then poured over the child’s head. Prayers are then said. Usually, a gathering takes place afterwards with food and refreshments provided. The child can be any age. Typically, parents will choose a church that they married in and/or they live near to and ideally, the church will be near a state school that they would like their child to attend. Make sure you meet the vicar/priest to chat informally before booking a date and ask her/him lots of questions. Usually, vicars/priests are pretty flexible if you have any special requests, or a desire to amend the service and this maybe a way to make the whole thing a little less formal. There is no cost for the church service.
Confirmation (a Catholic ceremony)
A Confirmation is carried out by anointing and laying on of the hands, as well as prayer.It is carried out either immediately after a Baptism, or later in life when adults are baptised, or when the child reaches early adolescence.
Naming Ceremony (Humanist)
Humanist means ‘of no-religion’, but the birth and naming of a child is still formalised and during a bespoke service. Things usually covered include: a reading or poem, information given about the child – their arrival, personality and interests so far, words about the importance and responsibility of parenting, parental promises to the child, emphasis on the importance of wider family, appointment of guide-parents (like godparents) and reasons for the choice of name followed by the announcement of the name. Naming ceremonies are a good option for parents who aren’t attached to a particular religion, but want to celebrate their child’s arrival in a more formal way. There are no rules with this approach, including where you hold it, and you can be as creative and personal as you like. You will need to pay a ‘Naming Celebrant’ to conduct the service and this can cost between £150 - £300. The ceremony isn’t recognised legally however.
In effect, this is a ceremony which sees an 8-day-old baby boy undergo circumcision. The ceremony is about more than just the circumcision however. In traditional communities, the Rabbi recites a blessing for fulfilling the commandment to bring one’s son into Abraham’s covenant. In liberal communities, both parents recite this blessing. The Mohel (the circumciser) then takes a cup of wine and recites over it a special prayer that announces the baby’s Hebrew name. After the naming, a drop or two of the wine is placed in the baby’s mouth, the parents drink some of the wine, and the ceremony is over. Food is then typically served afterwards. There is a cost for the Rabbi leading the service and the Mohel who conducts the circumcision and the total cost can be up to £1500.
The Muslim call to prayer, or adhaan, are the first words a newborn Muslim baby should hear. They are whispered into the right ear of the child by his or her father.
The baby's first taste should be something sweet, so parents may chew a piece of date and rub the juice along the baby's gums. There are a number of events that take place on or after the seventh day. After seven days, the baby's head is shaved. This is to show that the child is the servant of Allah. Muslims then weigh the hair and give the equivalent weight in silver to charity.
Ideally, Muslim baby boys are circumcised when they are seven days old, although it can take place any time before puberty. It is also tradition to choose a name for the baby on the seventh day. The aqeeqah is also traditionally carried out on the seventh day which is a celebration which involves the slaughter of sheep.
Namakarna – naming ceremony (Hindu)
The Hindu practice of welcoming a child actually starts when the mother is pregnant and from month 3. There are a number of rituals which take place as part of the Hindu religion. Once the child enters the world, Jatakarma is performed to welcome the child into the family, by putting some honey in the child's mouth and whispering the name of God in the child's ear. Other rituals include a naming ceremony (Namakarna), the Nishkarmana (the child's first trip out) and the Annaprasana, (the child's first taste of solid food). The ear-piercing ceremony (Karnavedha) and first haircut (Mundan) ceremonies are also considered highly significant. When the child reaches school-going age, the Upanayana (sacred thread) ceremony is performed.
When the baby is born, the words of the Mool Mantar (a prayer) are whispered into the ears of the child and a drop of honey is placed inside the mouth. It is also customary to visit the temple as soon as it is physically possible after giving birth.
Once inside the Gurdwara, the Guru Granth Sahib is randomly opened by the Granthi (priest) and a passage is read out aloud. The family will then choose a name by using the first letter of the hymn on the page opened. The baby's name is announced to the congregation, the Granthi will also add Singh (lion) as a surname if the baby is a boy, and Kaur (princess) if the child is a girl. To celebrate, Karah Parshad (a sweet dish) is distributed amongst the congregation.
REMEMBER PARENTS, religion can be a guiding or restricting influence. Not because of the content OR BELIEFS, but because of how YOU choose to use it. The same applies with your child. It's ok to just be and without an official religion, or to follow your own religion. GOOD LUCK!