I presided at both Baptism and Confirmation at St. Thomas’ Parish in St. John’s on Sunday past. One infant was baptized and six young people were confirmed. Despite the Santa Claus parade outside (and I reminded the churchgoers that St. Nicholas of Myra was a Christian saint) there was a large congregation in attendance. The service was joyful, and the combination of Baptism with Confirmation was a real “teachable moment” for it enabled me to connect the two sacraments in a very direct way. A lovely reception was held at the back of the church following the service and both the food and hospitality were superb.
Although I always use the Book of Alternative Services for Baptism and Confirmation, in my words to the young people I pointed out that the Sunday of their Confirmation was Sunday Next Before Advent in the Book of Common Prayer or The Last Sunday after Pentecost: The Reign of Christ in the Book of Alternative Services – in both cases the last Sunday of the Christian year. Next week will be the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year. I told them that the last Sunday of the Christian year is also known as “Stir-Up Sunday” because of the first words of the collect in the BCP. I quoted that collect to them:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I told my listeners that “Stir-Up Sunday” always coincided with the time in England when people made their Christmas puddings and Christmas fruitcakes and so the words “Stir-Up” had a double meaning. I told them that a good pudding or fruitcake will always have the fruit and raisins and good things distributed evenly throughout and so it must be stirred well before baking. I likened that to the relationship between Confirmation and Baptism when I told the young people that in their Confirmation all of the good things in their Baptism are being stirred up again in their lives. We believe that Baptism is the Christian rite of admission and adoption in which God’s grace comes in a special way to the person being baptized. In Confirmation that grace is stirred up for the rest of their journey. I share with you some words regarding Confirmation I wrote a few years ago to the Parish of St. Mark’s …
… [Since becoming Bishop] I have participated in many Celebrations of Confirmation across this vast church of ours. The smallest number of candidates in a service was 1(!) and the largest was 44! In every place there have been large crowds and I have also noted many family members and friends from across Newfoundland and Labrador. Gifts are given and many get-togethers happen with much food as part of the occasion. Almost all the persons I Confirm today are young, about 11 years of age or so.
I also note that there is often much emotion during the service, while I am speaking directly to the candidates as I always do, and then again as I lay my hands on their heads with the prayer: Defend O Lord, your servant N, with your heavenly grace, that they may continue yours forever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until they come to your everlasting kingdom.And then, renewed in faith, and empowered in a new way for Christian service, the newly Confirmed rise to their feet and return to their families. Confirmation is a wonderful sacrament, filled with meaning, and one of the best opportunities we have in the Church to do some serious teaching about the faith.
I generally feel quite good about Confirmations.
But not always.
You see, I do have a little problem with Confirmation in that it is seen as a graduation of sorts for some. It is not understood as one more step – albeit a very special one – along the road of one’s Christian journey, with many more steps to follow, but instead as a graduation from the Church. Some young people actually think that when they’re Confirmed, they have come of age and are ready to leave the church behind. Would you believe that I encounter adults who admit to me that the last time they remember being in church for anything memorable was when they were Confirmed? And there has been no real study of Holy Scripture or Christian life since. Imagine, knowing everything you will ever need to know about your faith by 11 years of age!
Confirmation is not the end of anything. It is, much rather, the beginning of something new in a young person’s life when they have hopefully made a mature profession of faith and begin to assume greater responsibilities as Christians. I often tell the young people I Confirm that this is the day their church treats them as young adults ... old enough to make promises for themselves. But not yet old enough to leave home.
In the future it is my prayer for all of us that when we look back on the day of our Confirmation we will remember it with a sense of thanksgiving and joy. In our Confirmations we both complete the first part of our journey as Christians while at the same time begin the next part of our journey as we move into adulthood.
In that sense, Confirmation is both an end anda beginning.
But the journey continues ...
With my every blessing, + Geoff
Image taken by Heather Rose Russell at St. Thomas' Church