Recently I was asked a question about confirmation and thought the beginning of the year was a good time to talk about it and gauge the interest so that I can plan for classes and talk to the bishop’s office about timing options, if there is an interest.
Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments in the Anglican Church. Sacrament is the fancy word for the visible sign of the invisible grace of God. In other words, they are the outward things that we see and do that remind or point us to God’s grace. An example is the bread and wine in Communion being the physical reminders of God’s grace, God’s love and forgiveness. In confirmation, the laying on of the bishop’s hands in prayer, is the outward sign of God’s grace being extended to those who have chosen to publicly affirm their faith and commitment to following Jesus.
So what is confirmation? We need to go back in history to the early church. First, that being a Christian was extremely dangerous, and if discovered could lead to torture and death and second, baptism was primarily for adults, but sometimes included whole households. One understanding is that confirmation grew out of the need for bishops to confirm baptisms that had taken place between their visits, as originally only bishops had the authority to baptize. As the church grew they could not personally attend to every baptism and may only be in a particular area once or twice a year, and so local leadership was given authority to conditionally baptize. When the bishop next visited he would confirm what had been done and that the person fully understood the faith and life they had committed to which, given the danger, was particularly important. As well, most baptisms were adult converts who could speak for themselves. So, in the earliest days, baptism and confirmation happened fairly close in time, usually when the bishop was next present.
As time passed, the time between baptism and confirmation seems to have increased. This was in part due to the rise in infant and child baptism, the children born to baptized parents who then wished to have their children baptized into the faith. This was especially important with the high infant and child mortality rates, coupled with the belief that only the baptized would receive eternal life. Parents wanted to ensure their children would go to heaven instead of the alternative. With more infant and child baptisms it became important for them to make the promises of baptism for themselves when they were old enough to speak for themselves, so confirmation came to be viewed as the completion of the baptism.
When the Church of England was being established it retained many of the Roman Catholic traditions, including the option of infant baptism with confirmation. As it was still seen as the completion of baptism for many centuries this also meant that full membership in the church and thus participation in communion was reserved for after confirmation. It has only been in much more recent years that we have come to believe that baptism is complete in itself. That baptism makes us full members of the church, and thus able to receive communion immediately rather than having to wait until after confirmation. It is now a parents’, and then the individual’s choice whether to receive communion if they are baptized.
Confirmation then has become less about completing something begun in baptism and more a publicly proclamation of faith and commitment to following Jesus. There is no right age for a person to be confirmed. Anyone may be confirmed who has been baptized and is old enough to answer responsibly for themselves. As each person is different, so is the age at which they can and want to claim their Christian faith for themselves. As a rule it has been suggested that Grade 7 or age 12 might be a good minimum, but the right time for you might be at any age – you could be in your teens or in your nineties!
The only requirement is being able to and wanting to answer the affirmations of baptism for oneself. It is important that the person wants confirmation for themselves rather than fulfilling someone else’s expectations. I have had great admiration for a couple of teens I worked with in confirmation classes who at the end made the decision to wait, that they did not feel ready to make these promises for themselves. The Anglican Church doesn’t have a formal membership in that sense – anyone is welcome to come along to church, worship and be a part of the church community.
Confirmation, as a public proclamation of faith does require preparation. My approach has been to use the baptismal covenant as the framework for our sessions, as it outlines what we believe and how we live out our faith. It is typically 4-5 sessions or meetings. So, if you are interested or would like more information about confirmation please speak to me as soon as possible so we can begin the planning for classes and the service in 2020.
Blessings, Rev. Dana