I was confirmed last Sunday – I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years and a full-time youth minister in the church of England for nearly 14 years and responsible for preparing young people and others for baptism and confirmation for many of those years. So it’s a bit strange not to have been confirmed myself – and that in itself may have stopped me from doing it before – not only was it a public confession of my faith but it felt like I was confessing a sin of omission!
So why now after all this time?
I believe in the power and importance of confirmation. In fact I’ve spent many hours thinking about, discussing and researching how it all works and especially how we can redeem this ancient practice as a relevant and spiritually significant event that can serve as a rite of passage into the church community (rather than the graduation or ‘passing out parade’ it often is for young people).
As an advocate for confirmation I have worked to make it a central event in the lives of young (and older) disciples as a key marker in their journey of faith. It is a public declaration of faith and commitment to Christ as well as a formal entry point into the church. As someone who came out of the baptist tradition, this is done most dramatically through adult baptism but for those baptised as children this rite is not open to them. Confirmation is the equivalent rite for them and we therefore need to make it as significant and dramatic.
The great thing is that the Anglican liturgy for confirmation has plenty of symbolism, ritual and drama built in – including water, anointing with oil, laying on hands, moving around the church, and with a little creativity thrown in around the use of music and prayers, it can be (and was) an immensely powerful experience.
So why now? In part it was an issue of integrity – how could I teach and lead others when I had not committed to it myself? But more than that it was an act of commitment to the church that I have belonged to for 14 years – recognising its importance in my life and even to our society and world – this is the church that I am part of and pleased to be involved with despite its failings, its inadequacies and disappointments and even because of them – because that is how I am and the church community has stood by me and will continue to support me through the good times and the rough patches.
It was an act of humility as I knelt before the Bishop and before the congregation, knowing some of them would not understand; an act of humility before God, recognising my need of Him and of his Holy Spirit power to live my life in his service.
It was also an act of thanksgiving – for the faith that has endured since my baptism at 17; for the role of the church in supporting my faith and most importantly, the grace of God that has sustained me, energised me and empowered me to live in the fullness of life that Christ brings to us.
It was of course an act of confirmation and affirmation – confirmation of my faith, of the faith of the church in the past, present and future and confirmation that God is good and calls us to serve him in the world. It is incredibly affirming to be prayed for and to be part of a group of people all sharing the same experience, all wanting the best for each other and all joining together in making a commitment that will hold for the rest of our lives.
So confirmation does not just look back to confirm the baptismal vows, nor just focus on the present commitment to Christ and Christian community, it also looks forward – it is an answering of the call of Jesus to ‘follow me’. The final part of the confirmation service is the Commission and all of us are reminded of our calling to go out to the world and serve God; to live lives that are different, the life of a disciple of Christ – committed to the apostles teaching, to prayer, to repentance, to proclaiming the good news, to seeking peace and justice … and even when we’ve been in the church for a long time we can all do with a reminder and a chance to confirm our faith.