As you may have read in the Little Log a few weeks ago, our Bishop, the Right Rev. Dorsey W. M. McConnell, will be visiting St. Brendan’s on Palm Sunday. St. Brendan’s is currently hosting a confirmation and reception class for those who wish to be confirmed or received at this visit.
What does it mean to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church? According to the Book of Common Prayer (p. 860), confirmation is the sacramental rite in which candidates “express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop” (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/confirmation).
For those baptized as infants or young children, whose parents and godparents made baptismal vows on their behalf, confirmation is a chance to renew their commitment to Christ for themselves. In fact, the two services are very similar, as the chart below shows. In both services, the candidates are asked if they renounce evil and promise to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord; the congregation is asked to support the candidates in their lives in Christ; and then the congregation and the candidates recite the Baptismal Covenant.
Comparison of the Services for Baptism and Confirmation
“Keeping the Promise” by Andrew D. Parker, 1994, pg. 15
Confirmation differs from baptism in several significant ways. First, you must have been baptized to be confirmed (although adults may be baptized and confirmed at the same time if they choose). Second, confirmation requires a mature and informed commitment—meaning it is a decision that must be made by the person who is being confirmed, usually a teenager or an adult, rather than a parent or godparent on behalf of a child. And third, confirmation involves the laying on of hands by a bishop, which baptism does not require. Baptisms may be carried out by a priest.
The Episcopal Church recognizes the baptisms of all “baptized with water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/documents/confirmation.pdf). Thus, those who were baptized in another denomination are welcome to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Those who were confirmed in another Church may choose to be reconfirmed or to be received into the Episcopal Church. Reception, similar to confirmation, is a “public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their baptism in the presence of a bishop” (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/reception-christian-commitment).
Another similar service is that of reaffirmation, which is when persons choose to reaffirm their baptismal vows and be re-blessed by the Bishop, perhaps because they left the church for a long period of time or simply because they have “entered a new level of spiritual life” (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/reaffirmation-baptismal-vows). We, as a congregation, renew our baptismal vows every time we celebrate a baptism or confirmation at St Brendan’s as we recite the Baptismal Covenant. And we reaffirm our commitment to Christ each Sunday when we say the Nicene Creed and when we celebrate the Eucharist together.
I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church when I was sixteen. Though I went through this process with several other members of my youth group, we were each individually paired with a confirmation mentor. Together, each mentor and young person worked through a workbook called “Keeping the Promise,” which covered the basics about Christianity and the Episcopal Church. I still have the workbook and had a bit of a laugh looking back through it at some of my responses. In the first section we had to read through different passages of scripture and reflect on them. One of the questions was: “If you had been one of the people of Israel, how would you have felt after passing through the Red Sea?” My answer? “Wet.” (I imagine I was picturing a misty, humid crossing…) Most of my answers, however, were a bit more thoughtful. In particular, I enjoyed breaking down the Apostles Creed and other traditions and taking the time to think and reflect more about their meaning. Nevertheless, what I remember most about my confirmation process was not answering questions in a workbook but rather having a chance to have meaningful conversations with my mentor Carol about faith, Christianity, and the Church. I enjoyed getting to hear her thoughts and experiences and share my own. As someone who has always liked knowing the right answer, it was important for me to learn that I didn’t have to know all the answers—or even all the questions—to be confirmed. I understood, at least as much as I could as a teenager, that confirmation was a serious and personal commitment, but also one that could grow with me.
I have fond memories of my confirmation and celebrating with my fellow youth group members, my parents, my aunt, and my grandmother. I was given several special books on my confirmation (see image below): a book of “Prayers for Children” that my Grandmother was presented at her own confirmation, a beautifully inscribed Book of Common Prayer from my church, a Bible from my mother, and, from my mentor, “O Ye Jigs and Juleps!," a collection of short essays by a 10-year old girl attending an Episcopal school in 1904, which is an enjoyable read that I highly recommend.
St. Brendan member Chris Botti was also confirmed as a young person in the Episcopal Church in 1969. I asked her to share her reflections:
"As I look back on my own confirmation in the Episcopal Church, I think of it as a kind of a rite of passage. I was confirmed in a local, inner-city Episcopal church as a twelve-year-old. The whole process made me feel a bit more grown up. Classes were led by our priest, not one of the Sunday School teachers. I thought that this must really be some important stuff if Rev. Shields was the only one who could teach it! The biggest thrill in all of this though was that it meant that I could finally take communion. Back then, one could only receive the sacrament after Confirmation. My friend, Suzanne, was confirmed the year before, and I asked her why she always made a face after drinking wine from the large silver chalice. Could the blood of Christ really taste that bad? How did those little wafers, the body of Christ, taste? She would just giggle and reply that the wine was just kind of sour and the wafers tasted a bit like stale crackers. I wanted to find out for myself though and it was finally my time! How exciting and how grown up I felt when Bishop Appleyard put his hands on my head and confirmed me, and then I finally got to take communion. Being able to finally receive the sacrament really did make me feel, even as a twelve-year-old, like I was taking the next step in my spiritual journey. It reaffirmed my connection as part of my church community and began to establish my understanding of what it means to be part of the Body that represents Christ. Confirmation was a step, a step toward a lifetime commitment as an Episcopalian, and I am grateful for and blessed by the journey."
The theology of confirmation continues to evolve. At one point in the Episcopal Church’s history, as Chris describes, one had to be confirmed to receive communion. Today, however, confirmation is no longer considered the completion of Christian initiation or a pre-requisite for communion. Rather, baptism is the “full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church” (BCP, p. 298).
This Palm Sunday, Mike and Nate will re-affirm their baptismal promises and be confirmed at St. Brendan’s. Here are their thoughts on why they have chosen to be confirmed:
“I am excited to be confirmed into St. Brendan's and feel that I will finally be an ‘official’ part of the St. Brendan's family—like I belong.” –Mike
“I have always been very involved in the church. I acolyte and am involved with many aspects of St. Brendan’s. To be confirmed is to make it official, to show that you really enjoy being a part of the church and confirm your commitment to God.” –Nate (age 13)
Confirmation is a personal re-affirmation of your commitment to Christ and it will not mean the same thing to everyone who chooses to be confirmed. The meaning of that commitment may also change as we continue to mature and grow spiritually. I know that my faith has certainly continued to evolve since I was sixteen.
As Father Regis writes, “Notice the word is ‘Confirmation,’ not ‘Conformation.’ Maturing as a Christian means that if you believe something, the church needs to hear it. Mature Christians are thinking and reflecting members of the faith community, complete with questions and opinions. Episcopal confirmation supports and builds honest, faithful, engaged, empowered people who are going to change the world while finding relevance and meaning within the Episcopal Church. Confirmation helps Christians to commit to a spiritual journey and along the way, find their voice. As confirmation calls the Holy Spirit in a special way upon the Christian receiving this sacrament, special gifts of the Holy Spirt, like words of wisdom, words of knowledge, gifts of healing, and deepening faith, become more and more realized as the re-committed one journeys forward.”
Unlike at baptisms, we do not welcome the newly-confirmed as part of the confirmation service because they are already part of household of God and part of our community. When Mike and Nate confirm their commitments to Christ this Palm Sunday, we will commit to support them in their lives in Christ—to walk with them along their spiritual journeys wherever Christ may lead them.
Grace and peace,
A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for future blog posts, please email me at email@example.com.