The Origins and History of Silver

silver-cross-bookmark-bb-c-bmf-ss800

The development of civilisation owes a great deal to the discovery and use of silver. It has found application in many places – from the ornamental to the highly practical. Silver is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity – in fact, it conducts the former better than any metal and the latter better than any other element on the periodic table – and so remains valuable to modern electronic manufacturers who use it extensively in electrical contacts and circuit boards. But for most of human history, silver along with gold served as a signifier of wealth.

What Do we Use Silver for?

Coins

For most of civilisation, silver was most often used in coinage. For thousands of years, it was the standard among systems of currency. Silver coins were used by civilisations in ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, (in the form of the Drachma, Denaraius and Dirham respectively), as well as in China.

But why did all of these peoples independently conclude that silver was a suitable material for money? The answer lies in the value of the metal. Like gold, the value of silver allowed merchants to easily transport large quantities of wealth and currency from place to place, in a way that iron currency would not be able to do.

Silver has a number of other qualities which make it a suitable form of currency. The value of silver is both stable and intrinsic. It does not decay and can be easily divided into smaller pieces and reformed again into larger ones. For these reasons, among others, silver remained a standard until the 20th century, when it was supplanted by centrally-issued currencies with negligible intrinsic value.

Silverware/Jewellery

Angel necklace made out of silver

Silver has also long been used in the creation of plates, cutlery and tableware – so much so, in fact, that such objects made from silver have their own special name – silverware. Silverware is, more often than not, made from Sterling Silver, which is an alloy comprised of over 90% silver, with the remainder made from copper.

This alloy will typically be covered with a fine coating of pure silver, which endows it with the shining lustre which typifies silverware. For this reason, silverware must be carefully polished by hand – too much abrasion will wear away this top layer, to reveal the comparatively dull material beneath.

The care of silverware would in large Victorian households, be entrusted to a specialist, such as a butler, who would ensure that each item was properly cared-for and displayed on the table. Today, this duty is typically only carried out on very special occasions hosted by organisations like the military.

As it is both expensive and difficult to properly maintain, silverware is not widely-used today. Instead, it is often presented as a gift. It has long been a tradition that a newly-christened baby, for example, be presented with a silver Quaich or another container. There exist a few artisan companies who are capable of providing specially-crafted silverware for such occasions; their work often comes engraved with initials or other markers in order to make it perfectly suited to a particular gift. Silver is also suited to jewellery. Not only does it look attractive, but it becomes easily malleable at relatively low temperatures and so can be spun into a variety of shapes by a skilled metalworker.

Coating glass

The surfaces of glass objects are also sometimes treated with silver. This is done for several reasons. In windows, it serves as an insulator. A layer of silver, only a few nanometres thick, can be applied to the surface of the window in order to create a glazing effect. As this coating is so thin, the cost of the silver itself is miniscule.

In mirrors, particularly those in telescopes – silver serves as a reflecting agent. In this application, it is preferable to aluminium, as it is better suited to reflect certain sorts of infrared radiation. It also emits a great deal less of this radiation itself – thereby reducing the amount of noise present on the image. In creating high-precision infrared images of the night sky, silver is therefore of enormous value.

Photography

In photography, silver – in the form of silver nitrate and halides – was used as a means of developing images. Since the introduction of the digital camera and its incorporation into the mobile phone, the use of silver in this environment has plunged – though this change has also heralded in an increase in the use of silver for batteries and electronics.

Batteries

Silver is rarely used in normal batteries, as other materials are far more economical. In certain applications, however, silver-oxide batteries are favoured. These might include smaller devices which require their own power source, such as hearing aids, where a silver-oxide battery’s longer life and superior energy-to-weight ratio lend it an advantage over other sorts of batteries.

How is Silver Made?

Now that we’ve seen what silver might be used for, let’s take a look at how it is created. Silver is typically found in the ore that contains other valuable metals, among them lead, copper, gold and zinc. These metals must first be extracted from one another if they are to have any application and value. The method through which this is done varies according to the metal; silver is rarely sought for its own sake and comes rather as a by-product of attempts to refine other precious metals.  Throughout history, there have been a myriad of ways in which silver has been extracted from its ore. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.

Smelting

smelting in action

As these metals have different properties, they can be extracted from one another by exposure to certain conditions. As some, for instance, have different weights and melting points, silver can be extracted by exposing the ore to varying levels of heat.

The earliest forms of extractive metallurgy involved smelting. Contrary to popular belief, smelting does not involve simply melting the metals of an ore and splitting them apart from one another. In an ore, many metals are fused together in a chemical compound, which can only be broken down into its constituent parts by performing a certain chemical reaction.

Parkes Process

In the case of zinc-bearing ores, the metals can be extracted by melting the ore and then allowing the liquid metal to solidify. At the top will form a crust of zinc and silver, which can then be extracted and separated into its constituent parts using a process of distillation.

Electrolysis

In the case of copper-containing ores, electrolysis can be employed. The ore is placed in a cell containing two conversely-charged electrodes: an anode and a cathode. As current passes through the ore, copper will be drawn to the cathode, while the remainder will be drawn to the anode. The remainder can then be smelted to remove any impurities and then subjected to another round of electrolysis, through which the silver can be extracted.

Heap Leach

Mercury amalgamation came to be widely-used in the sixteenth century, when the ‘patio process’ was invented in Mexico. It involves the use of mercury to draw the silver from an ore and comes in many different forms – the most widespread of these is the heap leach.

The heap leach is a way of processing low-grade ores cheaply and for this reason it is used extensively today. It employs a series of chemical reactions designed to draw the silver from the ore, and its principle ingredient is cyanide.

And that is how you make silver!

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Answering Questions About Easter

Why are baptisms more common in Easter?

One would expect that the amount of christenings that take place in a given period of time would be strongly correlated with the birth rate. However, whilst it’s undoubtedly true that birth rates vary over the course of the year, the majority of the births occur during the summer, after the festival has taken place. Why then, do we see such high number of christenings during this time? To what should we attribute this trend?

The question can be answered in terms of both practicality and religion. Obviously, the weather is slightly better than it is during the winter and so many couples are tempted to delay the event by a month or two in order that the day itself run smoothly. This practice is not a recent development; historically, many children of Christian parentage have been baptised during the Easter Sunday service itself. For this reason, many Christians choose to confirm their baptismal vows alongside the new intake and judge Easter Sunday to be the best time to do it.

Easter bunny and egg

Why is Easter in spring?

Christians associate the events of Christ’s life with significant days on their calendar. Just as Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, Easter demarks his death and resurrection. Theses dates have nothing to do with the events of history and almost everything to do with the pagan calendar from which the Christian calendar emerged.

One need only look outside the window in order to see why spring came to be so closely bound to Easter. The world, having been a cold and dark place, is returning again to life; birds are singing, leaves are re-emerging on the once-bare branches of trees and once absent animals are emerging from hibernation. These themes are common to all spring festivals and the Christian story of the resurrection is rife with them. This should come as no surprise; these are, after all, themes which predate Christianity by thousands – if not hundreds of thousands of years.

Whilst it’s easy to fathom why spring should be so closely linked in our minds to birth and rebirth, it’s not so easy to wrap ones head around the precise formula by which the date of Easter Sunday is calculated.

To put it simply, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. If that is a struggle, then don’t despair – you can always look it up if you’re planning something! All you need to know is that the day is calculated using a rigid set of rules – it’s not as arbitrary as it might appear.

Just what does the Easter bunny have to do with anything?

Perhaps the most frequently asked questions surrounding Easter concern the relationship between rabbits, eggs, Jesus and chocolate. At first glance, this seems something of a hodgepodge of utterly random influences. But each of them borrows from different elements of pagan folklore, theology and modern consumerism – and the result is the festival we recognise today.

The practice of incorporating pagan rituals into the Christian calendar was vitally important to the early popularity of the church. For example, the pagan festival of Saturnalia, during which the Ancient Romans would toast the god Saturn and get hideously drunk, was transformed into Christmas. The practice of baptism itself is derived from Jewish, Norse and Pagan traditions.

The same is true of Easter, which draws its name from a pagan goddess, Eostre. Her mythology is closely wedded to that of the march Hare, who was thought to possess the ability to lay eggs during Easter – remember that this was during a time when very little was known about biology.

black and white painted eggs

The symbolism of the egg is obvious. The egg represents birth, arguably in such a way that no other object possibly could. Why are Easter eggs made from chocolate? The answer can be thus surmised: At one time, eggs were consumed during Easter. But then chocolate manufacturers realised that, by creating chocolate eggs, they could sell a great deal more chocolate. Thus, to the chagrin of dentists across the land, was born the now-ubiquitous chocolate egg.

As a by-product of the annual fixation with eggs, one of the most popular christening gifts is the egg cup – most frequently one made from silver. This is a more recent tradition, developing during the Victorian era when advances in manufacturing allowed silverware to be created more easily and so become rapidly adopted by a growing middle-class. Silver egg cups and spoons remain popular christening gifts today.

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Discovering Prayer

It can be heartening and welcoming for Christian parents when their child begins to show an inclination toward. It is important, however, that such children receive instruction in exactly how and when to pray. If your child comes to regard prayer in the wrong way, then they will likely become disillusioned when the practice does not yield the expected results.

What is prayer?

As with most things, it is always best to begin from first principles when teaching a child about prayer.  Prayer is not only the act of addressing God. With practice prayer becomes a form of meditation, leading to greater self-awareness and a better understanding of others and the world around us.

Prayer comes in many forms. There are formal prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer; there are also informal prayers – private words in God’s ear which believers engage in periodically. Both require explanation.

If you take your child to church, where everyone recites the Lord’s Prayer in unison, they will become familiar with its words. But this is pointless without an appreciation of the meaning behind these words. The language of the bible is steeped in metaphor – not to mention myriad ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s – which a child will have difficulty deciphering. The Lord’s Prayer is no exception. Your child might conceivably have questions:

–          What exactly is “daily bread” and why isn’t it included in my packed lunch?

–          “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” What will be done? What does ‘thy’ mean?

–          What does ‘Amen’ mean?

If your child is particularly young, you might not be able to explain that the word ‘will’ can be a noun. For this reason, you might wish to buy your child a book of prayer written in more contemporary language. This will be far more forgiving and more easily understood. Eden and Scripture Union have a wide choice to choose from. There might be words and ideas that you can also use at home with your children. Your church might also have special activities to help.

Informal prayer also requires a degree of instruction – though it is far more intuitive and direct. Those that pray do so according to their own ideas of what God is and how He would prefer to be addressed. You don’t need to talk in sixteenth century English – you can, if you’d like – talk in much the same way that you’d talk to a friend or family member. Indeed, God will likely understand your meaning better than you do. After all, a God that didn’t wouldn’t be much of a God.

It is not sufficient, however, to say ‘talk to God about whatever you’d like’. Children must also be taught why they should be praying – and what for.

Why should I pray?

There are three main reasons why someone might wish to pray to God.

Please

The most common use of prayer is to make requests of God. Such requests, however, come with a number of conditions. A great many misguided prayers are rooted in selfishness. This is especially true of children. Needless to say, prayer is not a route to a lottery win, a promotion or a romantic liaison; neither is it a means by which your child will procure a videogame or sway the outcome of school sports day. To regard it as such is to invite disappointment.

Children might, on learning this, come to question the efficacy of prayer. It is important to treat these doubts honestly. There have been a myriad of empirical studies into the efficacy of prayer, all of them following much the same methodology. A large number of sufferers of a potentially fatal disease are polled to find out whether they pray. Those polled are divided into two groups – those that pray, and those that do not pray – and then the mortality rates between the two groups are compared. The hypothesis beings that, if prayer were ineffective, then those that pray will be far less likely to succumb to their illness. Of course, in all of these studies, those that pray are no less likely to die than those that don’t bother.

It is crucial to be honest with your child about this. The foundation of Christianity is faith in Jesus Christ. If a belief in God were to hinge on evidence, this faith would not be required. Whatever God is, He is not a magician who will swoop to the aid of his followers at every invitation.

Christians believe that God exists and that he knows everything and sees everything. If this is true, it follows that He will hear prayers – even if you don’t pray out loud. Of course, you might wish to pray out loud anyway – and this is fine, too. God will be able to discern everything you might possible want to say before you’ve even said it.

Thank you

As human beings, we have a great deal to be thankful for. We enjoy unprecedented access to food, shelter, as well as technological wonders like smartphones and the internet. Some things, however, require a thank you which is more spiritual in nature.

If your child has a particular affection toward the music of One Direction, then there are a number of people whom they might want to thank for its existence. Your child might want to write them some fan mail. If, on the other hand, your child is struck by the majesty of mountains, forests and the night sky; for their capacity to love and joy. This is a gratitude for which there is no obvious recipient. Prayer forms a conduit for that gratitude.

Sorry

Children, like adults, may feel guilty from time to time. Prayer may represent a worthwhile avenue for their contrition – though parents should also ensure that their children feel comfortable confessing their most concrete crimes. If your child feels envious from time to time, then they might take that up with God. If your child has inadvertently fed the dog anti-freeze, you will want them to tell you about it.

When should I pray?

Once you have impressed on your child what prayer is and why it is done, there is the more practical business of finding the time and space in which to do it. There are many occasions in which your child may wish to pray. Prayer requires seclusion. As such, the best opportunities usually occur immediately before bed, or immediately upon waking. Prayer might seem most necessary during times of great stress – in children, this may be before starting at a new school, or immediately before exams, or during minor bouts of depression.

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A Guide for Godparents – Everything You Need to Know

For Christians, to be asked to be a Godparent is a great honour. It can also, however, be a daunting request. Prospective Godparents should therefore acquaint themselves with exactly what will be asked of them and prepare themselves for the task.

What exactly is a Godparent?

A godparent is a person who aids in a child’s spiritual education and development. Such an undertaking will comprise many different aspects.

Teach Christian values

One of the most crucial roles of the godparent is to impress upon the child the importance of Christian values and if possible, the scriptural justification for these values. Among these values are respect for the sanctity of life, compassion and tolerance. If you do this, then the bulk of your work as Godparent is already done; all of the other roles stem from this.

Teach Christian philosophy

When the child is old enough, you might wish to talk to them (or they may wish to talk to you) about how these values can inform ethical questions such as those surrounding divisive topics like abortion and euthanasia. In such questions, these values sometimes find themselves at odds with one another – as do the Christians who hold them.

You should encourage free thought and challenge the child to reach their own conclusions rather than prescribing yours. Their way of looking at things may be entirely at odds with yours. It may be that you learn as much from them as they do from you!

Children can often pose questions that no adult would – out of some sense of pragmatism. It may be that you come to realise that you aren’t as sure about what you believe as you had previously thought.

Here are a few classic questions:

“Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

“Why do good things happen to bad people?”

“How did God come to be?”

“What if we’re praying to the wrong God?”

These questions have puzzled the most brilliant Christian thinkers for centuries, so do not feel dispirited if you find yourself unable to answer to them. They are difficult and will probably never be answered definitively! If you are about to become a Godparent, it would perhaps be wise to devote some thought to them yourself. You might be fielding them sooner than you think!

Prayer

Part of your role as Godparent is to instruct the child as to exactly how and why Christians pray. This should include both an explanation of the language of formal prayer and instruction as to exactly which prayers are spoken when.

As well as providing instruction in prayer for the child, you will also be expected to pray on their behalf. If you are already in the habit of praying, then this is not a difficult task – indeed, it might be one you had planned on doing in any case.

Teach through example

The ideal godparent should lead through example in all things spiritual. If you tell your spiritual charge to do one thing and then do precisely the opposite, then the message is highly unlikely to be taken seriously.

Be able to cite scripture

As well as the more general points thus far addressed, a Godparent should also have pretty decent knowledge of the holy book from which all of this teaching is derived. If a small child doesn’t understand part of a sermon or picks up some more extravagant ideas and teachings, a good knowledge of the scriptures will help you give better advice and direction.

The Christening itself

During a child’s christening, prospective Godparents, along with the parents, will be asked to make a number of promises. The content of these promises is, in Anglican ceremonies, largely the same. The conducting priest will ask two questions:

“Will you pray for them, draw them by your example into the community of faith and walk with them in the way of Christ?”

“Will you care for them, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?”

To both of these questions, both parents and Godparents must reply: “With the help of God we will.”

The priest will then ask the child questions and it will fall to you to answer them on behalf of the child. These will include renouncing Satan (in modern ceremonies Satan has come to be synonymous with everything bad; as such he may not be referred to by name) and affirming Christ as the child’s Lord and saviour.

If you do not feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the child, then you might wish to discuss this with the priest and the parents before the ceremony takes place. Later in life, many Christians baptised into the religion as children reaffirm these vows at a ceremony known as a confirmation.

It is important that you appreciate the gravity of these promises before you make them. A great many secular couples ask friends to become Godparents, without taking the religion that seriously themselves. It is important that you discuss your role with the parents.

If you do not feel that you will be able to provide the necessary scriptural guidance, or you feel that you simply aren’t the wise, thoughtful person they obviously imagine you to be, then you should probably let them know about it before you make a vow before God.

What do I need to buy?

Like most of those invited, Godparents are in most cases expected to buy gifts for the christening.  The most frequently bought gifts, as one might expect, are bibles and prayer books – though these gifts are often given for their sentimental value more than anything else.

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Royal christenings over the last century

Just over three months after his birth, Prince George, was christened. Tradition in the royal family has long held that christenings be held in Buckingham Palace’s Music Room. William and Kate elected to break from tradition, however and hold the ceremony in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace.

Not all traditions were dispensed with, however. The ceremony was conducted by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and maintained the royal custom of minimalism – a mere twenty-two guests were invited, with only senior royals and immediate family members gracing the guest list. The attendees spanned four generations of the royal family. Interestingly, the birth of George marks only the second time in history in which three generations of direct heirs to the throne have co-existed (the first being during the latter parts of the Victorian Era).

Having only a small ceremony is one of the many traditions acquired by royal christenings over the past few centuries. Another is the customary wearing of a family gown, first created for the christening of Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria).  Since its debut, the gown has been worn by more than sixty royal babies, including that of Queen Elizabeth II.

As one might expect, the condition of this gown has deteriorated a great deal since it was first conditioned. It needed to be especially treated; after every outing it was washed by hand in sterilised water before being stored in an air-tight vault in Buckingham Palace. It became clear that the robe would eventually fall to pieces, and so it was finally retired in 2004, after being worn at the baptism of Lady Louise Windsor and now resides in the Museum of London.

Shortly afterward, a replica was created by Angela Kelly, who has been the Queen’s personal assistant since 2002. This is the gown which has been used in every ceremony since, beginning with the 2008 christening of James Viscount Severn, Lady Louise’s younger brother.

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth’s baptism occurred when she was just over five weeks old – and passed without a great deal of public interest, as she was not expected to be Queen at the time. This is in sharp contrast to Prince Charles, who certainly was – though he is still waiting, sixty-six years after his ceremony! When Charles was born, Elizabeth was not yet queen. In attendance was her husband – the Duke of Edinburgh, along with her father and then then King George VI.

Prince William

William’s christening was conducted in 1982 and was one of the many which took place in the Music Room of Buckingham palace. The ceremony was performed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie. Dr. Runcie also presided over the christening of Prince Harry two years later, in 1984 – though that ceremony took place in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.

Most christenings in the Queen’s immediate family are conducted by the archbishop of Canterbury; there are, however, a few exceptions. Of these, the most notable recent memory is that of the christening of Princess Beatrice, whose ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of York and of Princess Eugenie, whose ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Norwich. The Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, was christened by the Dean of Windsor, as were his two children, James and Louise (though the office was held by different men, namely Robert Woods in the first instance and David Conner in the latter two.)

The more modern flavour introduced into Prince George’s christening reflects the fact that the bridge between royalty and the people has been strengthened through Kate and William. What the next royal christening has in store will likely be along similar lines as it will be Prince William’s and Princess Kate’s second child, due April 2015.

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The Importance of Christenings to the Christian Faith

Infant baptism is a Christian tradition spanning thousands of years. The reasons to perform the ceremony have changed slightly during that time. What motivates Christian families to get their children baptised and – perhaps more interestingly – what motivates families who are otherwise quite unreligious to do so?

Christians

In the Christian faith, the baptism of infants takes place for a number of reasons. Among Christians, there is furious debate – so what follows is by no means a definitive version of the faith, but rather a short exploration of what motivates a Christian to have their child baptised.

  1. 1.       Declaration of faith by the believer

With a few exceptions – such as Baptists – most Christian denominations practice infant baptism. Obviously an infant cannot declare their faith – which is why the confirmation ceremony was created. Instead, a christening inducts a new member into the church family and affirms that the child will receive proper spiritual guidance from the Godparents (who may or may not include the parents).

  1. 2.       Induction into a community

In a contemporary understanding of the ceremony, this is perhaps the most important rationale. The child will be welcomed into the wider family of the church and Christendom as a whole and finally into humanity.

  1. 3.       Wash away sin

For centuries, an idea has run through Christian thought: that all humankind is born with the stain of the original sin taken from the story of Adam and Eve. The trouble is that this idea is difficult to reconcile with the more figurative interpretation of Genesis advocated by most Christians. And so the washing away of sins becomes more of a metaphor.

Though, of course, where there is sin, there is…

  1. 4.       The threat of hell

The truth is that few modern Christians are motivated by fear of hell. While historically the idea of eternal hell has been crucial in enforcing religious observance, the modern Church of England is keen to downplay the significance of baptism in what may or may not happen after death. Critics of religion are often keen to point out that such an idea is morally unjustifiable and modern British Christians tend to agree (though their American counterparts, for the most part, do not). This makes sense; after all, it seems hardly likely that a loving god would inflict such a punishment on an innocent infant.

Not particularly religious

At the time of writing, most of the UK’s population consider themselves Christian – though it isn’t always clear what that means. The 2011 Census places the figure at 59%. However, another poll, conducted by IPSOS-MORI in 2012 found that 46% of Christians consider themselves Christians mainly on the grounds that they were baptised into the religion. This is in sharp contrast to the 18% who answered that they believe in the tenets of the religion. Interestingly, only 35% of those polled knew that the first book of the New Testament was Matthew.

Why is this the case? Well, the respondents are not lying to the census-takers; nor are they, as some might suggest, wrong to profess to be Christian. A more plausible explanation lies in the diversity of conviction among nominal Christians, among whom many variously doubt that Jesus was the son of God, or that he was crucified, or that he returned from the dead, or that he even existed.

One might expect to see these trends reflected in a decline in christenings. But while church attendance is dwindling, christenings remain constant. In an increasingly secular society, with increasingly secular values, it seems counterintuitive that christenings should prove so resilient. There are several possible explanations for this.

  1. 1.       The pressure of tradition

Tradition and cultural identity undoubtedly play a role; if umpteen generations which preceded you have been baptised, there is an expectation that you, too, should be. In Christian families, it is overwhelmingly likely that everyone present at a christening would have been christened themselves. It would be a bold move indeed to part company with a custom spanning thousands of years. Of course, familial expectations also undoubtedly play a role. Few would defy a devout grandparent in order to score an academic point. There is also the thought that parents do this to get their children into a good school where being christened into the family of God is a requirement.

  1. 2.       Doubt

In matters religious, most people have yet to make up their mind. Even the most committed believers still suffer from doubts on occasion. The same is assuredly true of those who don’t consider themselves religious, in spite of a strong belief in something. Perhaps, to them, the metaphysical claims of the Old Testament seem a little implausible – perhaps the idea of sin seems a little far-out. And yet, they believe that there is something more – they are simply hesitant to assign it a label. In this respect, infant baptism seems to have received the benefit of theistic doubt.

  1. 3.       Why not?

Among believers, christening is a way of inducting a new member into a broader community. I suspect that a similar motivation lies behind more secular couples electing to have their offspring christened.

To have no ceremony at all would be something which very few would countenance. The prospect of a secular ‘baby naming ceremony’ – empty of all tradition and shaped only by the whims of the parents – would give pause to even the most fervent atheist. It seems entirely appropriate that an occasion such as a birth should be marked with a ceremony of some sort where all the family comes together to celebrate – a christening seems as good an opportunity as any.

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Christenings: Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective parents and in particular those from Christian backgrounds, may be considering whether or not to get their child baptised and the significance of doing so. Confusion is understandable; the intricacies of the ceremony can appear daunting, especially to parents who aren’t particularly religious themselves. What follows are a few answers to questions commonly asked about the ceremonies. We will deal here principally with practices common in the Church of England; other denominations of Christianity may have their own various idiosyncrasies.

Family Christening Portrait

What is a Christening?

The term ‘christen’ means to admit someone as a Christian. This is almost universally done through baptism – or immersion in water. The two terms are used interchangeably – some churches may announce that they are to hold a ‘baptism’; others may announce that they are to hold a ‘christening’.  There is no substantive difference between the two.

From where do Christenings originate?

In Christianity, the ceremony’s origins date back to Jesus’s baptism by John in the river Jordan, but baptism had long been practiced before then. The crucial difference between Christian baptism and its forebears is that it is open to everyone, rather than just those of a certain lineage. It holds significance for a number of reasons, not least of which is the washing away of our original sin.

What actually happens in the ceremony?

The specifics of the modern ceremony are fairly constant throughout the Church of England. The priest will bless some water and pour it over the baby’s head and then make the sign of the cross over them using a special oil. Promises will be made, by both parents and godparents (more on them later), on behalf of the baby. Finally, the church may also present the parents with a gift – usually a candle. The ceremony will invariably include some hymns and readings – the parents will be able to choose which. In the case of infant baptism, the immersion is only partial – for the obvious reasons of safety and practicality. Baptisms involving adults involve full immersion in water.

When do Christenings take place?

Christenings take place as part of the Sunday service, though they can be scheduled for other times if the parish allows it.  If you would like to arrange a christening at a different time, then speak to your local priest or vicar.

Am I allowed to have my baby christened?

In the Church of England at least, the answer is almost always yes. The Church welcomes families of every shape and size. You do not have to be married, you do not have to attend church regularly, and you don’t have to have been christened yourself. In this sense, the church is remarkably accommodating.

Does the Christening give my baby a name?

While the priest will use the baby’s name in the ceremony, christenings do not give baby’s names.  This is given when the birth is registered and then in confirmation when they are teenagers (if they wish to go through with this).

When can I have my child christened?

While most ceremonies take place shortly after a child’s birth, the truth is that a child of any age can be christened. While there is no upper age limit, once a child is older than seven they will generally be expected to make the promises themselves, rather than having their parents do it on their behalf.

What exactly is a Godparent?

A godparent is someone who aids a child’s parents in religious upbringing, though in secular households the role of godparent might be broadened to include ethical training as well. A godparent will help a child think about big concepts which might otherwise escape them. Parents should therefore select godparents they judge to be of excellent moral character.

When it comes to godparents, the Church of England is a little less flexible than it is when it comes to the parents. Godparents must themselves have been christened and they must also be of sufficient age to make promises on a child’s behalf.

The church stipulates that a child should have ‘no fewer than three godparents and at least two of the same sex as the child’. Since parents can be godparents, this means that a baptised couple need only have one additional godparent – though in many instances, it may be better to have more than one.

Where does a Christening take place?

In the vast majority of cases, christenings will take place in the parish local to the family. In some instances, however, the parents may desire that the ceremony be held at another parish – perhaps one which holds significance for the family. Look out for a directory of suitable Christening venues coming to the site in the New Year.

Are Christening’s free?

Church of England parishes will perform the ceremony for free; it is common, however, for families to make donations to the parish. There are costs associated with the ceremony, such as that of the robes your child might wear and the family party which almost always accompanies the ceremony.

I wasn’t baptised as a child. Can I get baptised now?

The answer to this question is invariably yes. It is far rarer for adults to get baptised but arrangements can definitely be made. If you would like to become baptised, then speak to your local parish priest.

I was baptised as a child.  Can I do anything further?

The main criticism of infant baptism is that a child has no say in the matter. There is undoubtedly merit in this objection; after all, you can hardly be expected to hold to a promise made when you were only a few months old. In many cases, the child does not grow to have any strong religious conviction. In some cases, however, the faith of a baptised child becomes particularly important as an adult.

Many Christians seek to reaffirm these promises later in life, in a ceremony known as a confirmation.  In this ceremony, the bishop will ask the candidate a series of questions, such as whether you have decided to turn away from evil and turn instead toward Christ. These promises will be made in front of the congregation, who will in turn promise to help you to keep them by offering their support wherever possible.

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What are the origins of Infant Baptism?

Baptism and the FontInfant baptism was not practiced at the time that Jesus was around and instead arose a few centuries later. There is no mention in the New Testament of an infant being sprinkled with water it was only really in later life that this was done, nor was there any suggestion that it would be a good idea. However, there is no explicit instruction that only adults should be baptised, either. This is one of many instances where the bible is open to interpretation.

That said, few would dispute that infant baptism (or christenings) was not practiced at the time of Jesus. And yet in the modern world, Christians routinely baptise children. Which poses the question: where did this new trend originate from and why?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these questions are contentious and much debated among historians – and among wider Christian circles. There are many competing theories as to the origins of infant baptism.

One of the earlier mentions of the practice is by Carthaginian thinker Tertullian, who also puts forward the idea of a godparent who might aid in overseeing the child’s spiritual development.

Christianity spreads across the Empire

One school of thought views the prevalence of infant baptism as a by-product of a broader change in Christianity. The religion became more and more closely wedded to the state, as it spread across the Roman Empire under Constantine. Eventually, Theodosius I would make Christianity the empire’s official religion– but the religion would take root among the roman population long before that.

The focus of baptism thereby shifted. Whereas before, individuals would come willingly to Christianity, it was now possible to be born into it. Baptism was no longer a matter of personal choice; if you were a child of Christian parents, it followed that you were a Christian and would be baptised as such. This could be for many different reasons such as to remove ‘original sin’ or in the unfortunate case of infant death the belief that it will help send them on to heaven rather than being stuck in purgatory.

One consequence of Christianity becoming so wedded with the Roman Empire is that the emperor became endowed with authority in religious matters. This meant that the emperor was able to pass ordinances which fundamentally altered the way in which the religion was practiced. Some of these ordinances endorsed infant baptism and so the practice became more widespread and common.

Many of these practices concerned original sin.

The washing away of original sin

Washing away of original sinOne factor that cannot be underestimated is that of ‘original sin’ – that which was committed by the first woman, Eve, in the book of Genesis, when she tasted the forbidden fruit. The bible holds that that all human beings bear responsibility for this infraction. The power of sanctified water to ‘wash away’ this sin is one of the purposes of a baptism.

While many modern Christians view both the account put forward in Genesis in more metaphorical terms, there was a time in which sin was taken very literally indeed. It was a matter of grave concern to Christian parents, for whom the prospect of hell was very real and persuasive.

One popular idea was that baptism washed away all sins committed beforehand – but not those committed afterward. People would therefore elect to wait until they were literally on their deathbed before being baptised. Constantine himself was one famous adherent of this practice.

Of course, this tactic was dangerous, in that it posed the not inconsiderable risk that sudden death might rob you of the chance to be baptised. This risk made infant baptism all the more appealing.

Child Death

During the first millennium, child mortality rates were far higher than they are today. For every child born, there was a likelihood that some would die – mostly through causes completely unknown to the parents – infections, viruses and genetic disorders would take lives seemingly at random.

During this time, child death was a fact of life. That said, it was undoubtedly a cause of great stress to the parents of such children. In the face of conflicting views surrounding the efficacy of infant baptism, it seems likely that parents would elect to baptise their child, in order that they be sent to heaven – however remote the contrary possibility might be. After all, faith can be a powerful comfort and healer.

The differences between adult and child baptism

It is tempting to think of adult baptism as having transformed into child baptism, since the two ceremonies both involve immersion in water and the pledging of vows. But the two are, in actuality, wholly distinct acts. When an adult is baptised, he (or she) is expected to verbally renounce Satan and to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour. A child, by contrast, can make no such renunciations and declarations. These pledges are instead made by the parents and godparents. Child baptism is therefore a conditional act, contingent on the child receiving religious instruction as it grows older. Later in life, a baptised child may wish the make the same pledges spoken in an adult baptism. The ceremony of confirmation was therefore introduced in order to afford such children the chance to do so and carry on their faith of their own volition.

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Understanding Christian Denomination

Christianity began life as an apparently harmless sect within a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. It spread with a speed and tenacity which few anticipated. The idea that a God could have a human son wasn’t new among Romans – Roman emperors had been making that precise claim for a long time. And the concept of an afterlife in the Elysian Fields or in the depths of Hades were well entrenched, but Christianity arrived at just the right time, when Romans were experimenting with numerous other cults (Zoroaster and Mithras for example) and were responsive to new ideas. Droves of Romans abandoned Jupiter, Venus and the other old Gods for the new religion and Christianity spread throughout Europe.

For a thousand years or so after those early years, Christianity proceeded– with a few refinements here and there – as one homogenous, indivisible block. You either believed that Jesus was the Son of God or you didn’t.

But now, there are many, many different denominations. The differences between them are sometimes subtle. So, where did they all come from?

To attempt to summarise a faith with anything approaching concision is to invite the scorn of its adherents. It is, after all, almost impossible to distil Catholicism into only a few paragraphs. Nevertheless, what follows is a brief journey through Christian thought – so that perhaps, the next time you are introduced to a seventh-day Adventist, you’ll at least have the vaguest notion of what that means. A short summary is preferable to ignorance of the rich tapestry of religious belief that exists in our modern society.

Although there were many divisions and secessions in the early church, such as the creation of the Egyptian Coptic church, the first and most significant divergence in Christian history occurred in the 11th century, during a period modern historians refer to as the Great Schism. During this period, Western Catholicism broke away from Eastern Orthodoxy – a geographical separation which endures to this day. It is best to examine these two categories first.

Catholicism

The Catholic Church is an organisation with an extremely rich and varied history with the largest membership at around 1.2 billion people. Its laws and doctrines are hugely convoluted – to attempt to describe them in detail would be foolhardy; it is sufficient to say that it is generally more authoritarian and socially conservative than its cousins. It does, however, hold several key features which distinguish it from other faiths:

Apolistic Succession

Catholic doctrine holds that, when founding his church, Christ appointed St. Peter as its head. Today, the bishop of Rome – or, as he’s more commonly referred to, The Pope – is viewed as St. Peter’s successor. The structure of the church is therefore hugely hierarchical: The Pope sits at the head, and beneath him sit a handful of cardinals and beneath them sit archbishops, deacons, bishops and priests. Unlike those of other Christian denominations, the catholic priesthood is composed entirely of celibate men – largely because Jesus was a celibate man.

Transubstantiation

This is the belief held by Catholics that, when a bishop repeats the words attributed to Jesus at the last supper, bread and wine can literally transform into the flesh and blood of Christ – though without exhibiting any outward change in appearance. Catholics would certainly hesitate to term this effect as ‘magical’.

Opposition to Contraception

The Catholic Church opposes artificial methods of contraception, such as condoms. This is in order to prevent sex being solely a means of pleasure – which is viewed as inherently sinful.

Opposition to Abortion

The Catholic Church also vehemently opposes abortion. They consider human life sacred from the moment of conception. Catholic opposition to Stem Cell research is based on the same reasoning.

Orthodoxy

Unlike Catholics, Orthodox Christians do not hold St. Peter to be foremost among the apostles. They believe that that the scriptures have been misinterpreted on this point and that Jesus was not talking specifically about Peter, but rather every one of the disciples.

This seemingly minor change has profound impacts of the way a church is organised. While the Catholic Church conforms to an extremely rigid hierarchy, Orthodox churches are instead ruled separately – through a series of national institutions. However, unlike protestant churches, they are all closely bound together and virtually all of them share the same communion.

Baptists

Baptists, unlike most other Christians, believe that only professing believers should be baptised, rather than unwitting infants. They therefore only baptise willing adults. They do not, however, consider baptism a sacrament (something which is necessary to get into heaven). Baptists believe in religious freedom, as they believe that religion should be between the believer and God. The Baptist Church and associated congregations boast over 100 million members worldwide.

Protestants

During the 16th century came a series of events which utterly transformed Christian thought in Europe. This change became known as the Protestant Reformation. Unlike Catholics, Protestants defer to no central authority – other than scripture, and, by extension, God. This freedom has led, as one might expect, to the growth of many different branches within Protestant Christianity – more so than any other religion.

Lutherans

Martin Luther was a German friar and theologian who, among others, prompted the protestant reformation. Luther had a number of problems with the Vatican’s modus operandi – among them its practice of selling salvation in the form of ‘indulgences’, with which any sins could be disregarded and the indulgent permitted to heaven.

He elucidated these complaints in 1517, in a writing called ‘the ninety-five theses’ – which he nailed to the front of his local church and disseminated copies, which spread quickly throughout Europe. This incident is now regarded by most historians as the beginning of the protestant reformation.

Luther held that scripture was the sole basis for Christian faith and that no huge church was necessary. The Catholic Church took exception to this and responded by banning his work throughout the Holy Roman Empire and threatening him with excommunication if he did not recant his beliefs.

Luther was placed under arrest and ultimately forced into hiding. He would make good use of the time, however. Up until that point, the Bible had only been made available in Greek and Latin – languages which hardly anyone spoke. Luther translated the Bible into German so that everyone could read it. Luther’s Bible quickly spread throughout Europe and the result is modern Lutheranism.

Anglicans

Christianity arrived in England following the Roman occupation. Although culturally it had absorbed some local Celtic custom, the church in England adopted the Catholic faith controlled by Rome following Augustine’s mission in the 6th Century. The break from Rome came nearly 1,000 years later in 1534 when Henry VIII declared himself supreme leader of the Church of England – an act that enabled him to divorce his wife and appropriate the church’s great wealth.

The Anglican Communion represents over 85 million Christians worldwide – some see it as offering egalitarian Protestantism, for others it provides non-papal Catholicism – a diverse group.

Presbyterians

Presbyterianism is heavily influenced by the work of John Calvin, a French theologian. In Presbyterianism, churches are run in a democratic manner, with elected elders holding authority alongside ordained ministers. The movement can, for the most part, trace its origins back to Scotland during the reformation.

Presbyterian beliefs are similar to those of other groups within the protestant movement: that God is sovereign over everything, that scripture is his word, in the power of faith and in the priesthood of all believers.

Pentecostal

The First Pentecost is described in the New Testament, in the book of Acts. The account holds that the Apostles were attending a gathering in celebration of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, when the Holy Spirit descended and entered the body of everyone present, causing them to speak in other languages – or at least, that was the explanation proffered by St. Peter.

Pentecostal Christians believe the Holy Spirit acts largely as it did then and can enter the body at any time. They also believe that Jesus:

  • Can save people from hell.
  • Baptises you from the Holy Spirit.
  • Can heal wounds.
  • Will one day return.

Pentecostalism is an evangelical tradition, or one whose adherents actively try to persuade nonbelievers to join them.

Methodists

Methodism was created much later than other protestant movements. It was founded in the eighteenth century by John Wesley and later curated by his brother Charles. Methodists believe that everyone can be saved and – more distinctly – that everyone must be saved. The religion’s emphasis lies largely with helping others, especially the poor and needy, which explains the prevalence of schools and hospitals said to be Methodist.

Quakers

Quakers (or ‘friends’) are a family of different movements who each believe in a ‘priesthood of all believers’. They believe that God’s revelation is ongoing and that believers need only liaise with Him directly to experience it. Quaker gatherings are, relative to those of other faiths, hugely informal – emphasis is placed on caring for one another and sharing goals for the world.

Church of Latter-Day Saints

The denominations thus far discussed have been broadly similar – but the Church of Latter Day Saints is certainly unique. While the supernatural origins of Christianity are shrouded in mystery a great deal is known about the origins of Mormonism. It was founded in 1820 by Joseph Smith, who, with the help of the angel Moroni, found and translated some golden plates which describe Jesus’s visit to North America.

Mormons believe, contrary to most of Christian tradition, that there was no ‘creation’ at the beginning of everything and that God and human beings are essentially similar – though at different stages of development.

The term ‘Mormon’ stems from one of the sect’s holy books, The Book of Mormon and was initially employed as a pejorative – though Mormons are now, generally speaking, happy to accept the label.

Non-denominational

Non-denominational Christians are, as one might expect, those who do not associate themselves with any particular group, this makes up around 2.5 million people.

These are just a few of the vast amount of Denominations around the world, do you belong to any of these or one that has not been described, or something completely different?

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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Christening

Planning a Christening and preparing for the party afterwards can seem a bit daunting. In this infographic we have outlined a few ideas we have picked up over the years that may make the whole experience less overwhelming and far more fun. This resource has also been created as a downloadable pdf providing you with everything you need to know for ‘Planning a Christening‘ complete with checklists so you can keep a track of what you have achieved.

Ultimate Guide to Planning a Christening

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The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Christening

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