On May 26th of this year, Bishop Hobby will come to All Saints for his final episcopal visit before releasing us into the Anglican Diocese of the South. During both services that Sunday he will confirm and receive people into the Anglican Church. The landscape in the Church has changed pretty dramatically since my own confirmation in December of 1985, and as a result the ACNA has had to relook at how and why we do confirmation and reception. Being an old school Anglican, I’ll admit I’m still trying to make sense of the changes, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain them, at least as best as I understand them to this point.
In the early years of the Church, baptism with water and the laying on of hands were both part of the same rite. However, as the Church grew, and as infant baptism became more and more common, the rite was divided into two separate parts, with the priests being primarily responsible for baptism with water while the laying on of hands became the purview of the bishops as a way to “confirm” the promises made for a child at his or her baptism. According to the ACNA Prayer Book, “In Confirmation, God, through the bishop’s prayer for daily increase in the Holy Spirit, strengthens the believer for Christian life in the service of Christ and his kingdom. Grace is God’s gift, and we pray that he will pour out his Holy Spirit on those who have already been made his children by adoption and grace in Baptism.”
When I was growing up, confirmation was seen primarily as an opportunity for individuals who had been baptized as infants or young children to make a mature and public affirmation of their faith. It also served as a rite of passage, similar to the Jewish bar mitzvah, symbolizing a young person’s move into adulthood in the eyes of the church. In concept, this was great. Especially in a church where we practice infant baptism, it is important for people to have an opportunity to make a public profession of their faith. Unfortunately, it became an expectation in many churches. When children hit 11 or 12 years old they were herded into a class, taught the basics of the church, and then confirmed by the bishop. Many of them had no idea what they were doing or why they were doing it, other than the fact that their parents told them to do it (and they sometimes got presents and a party).
Since the ACNA continues to embrace infant baptism (and rightly so), confirmation remains important. However, we need to make sure it is less about a young person turning a certain age and more about them making a true commitment to Christ. Sure, that may happen at 12 years old, but it may not happen until later in their lives. Regardless of when it happens, we need to be committed to making sure confirmation happens at the right time and for the right reasons.
Not only does confirmation give us an opportunity to “confirm” our baptism, it has also traditionally been understood as the rite by which we are made official members of the Anglican Communion. This is especially important for the ACNA since we have so many people coming to us from other Christian traditions. For people who have come to us from traditions that practice infant baptism (such as the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc.), confirmation makes sense.
But what about people who were baptized as teens or adults? It really doesn’t make sense to “confirm” such individuals since they have already made a public affirmation of their faith. When I was in the Episcopal Church, we would “receive” people who had been confirmed in the Catholic Church rather than re-confirm them (since we recognize that a confirmation has already occurred). Wisely, the ACNA has expanded the concept of “reception” to include all individuals who have publicly affirmed their faith. According to the Prayer Book, “At the direction of the Bishop, and after public reaffirmation of their baptismal promises, those having made adult professions of faith in other Christian traditions (including those confirmed in other traditions) are received into the Anglican Church with prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.”
Now, let’s get practical.
Who should be confirmed?
Anyone who is 11 years old or older, has been baptized as a child (10 years old or younger), but has not yet made a public and mature affirmation of his or her own faith and is ready to do so ought to be confirmed.
Who should be received?
Anyone who has previously made a public and mature affirmation of his or her faith (either confirmation in another tradition or believer baptism as a teen or adult) and is committed to following Christ in a uniquely Anglican way as a member of the Anglican Church ought to be received.
Do I need to be confirmed to be a member of All Saints?
No, you only need to be baptized to be a member of All Saints. However, you must be confirmed or received in the Anglican Church to vote at parish meetings, serve on the Vestry, or serve as a Lay Eucharistic Minister/Chalice Bearer.
What do I do if I want to be confirmed or received in May?
For starters, I would encourage you to attend our “Anglicanism 101” class if you haven’t done so already. This is a great introduction to the Anglican Church and how we are structured.
You will also need to submit a written testimony of your Christian faith to me. This statement can include how you came to faith in Christ, how you understand the Gospel, and how you are living out your Christian faith in the world. It is easier for me if you email your testimony to me in electronic form, but a hard copy will do if you do not have access to a email. Papers should be more than a paragraph but probably not much more than a page or so. All testimonies must be turned in to me no later than Sunday, May 12th and will be forwarded to the Bishop for his review.
Finally, I will be offering a 1.5 hour “confirmation class” on Saturday, April 27th from 10:30 a.m. until noon at the church. Attendance will not be mandatory. Instead, it will be a time for people who have questions or would like to discuss confirmation and reception in more detail. Please let me know if you plan to attend no later than Sunday, April 14th. And as always, please let me know if you have any additional questions that I can answer. You will all be in my prayers as your discern where God is calling you in your walk with him.
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The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.