Confirmation service: Deanery of Waterloo, April 2018, with Bishop Terry Dance
By Archbishop Linda Nicholls
One of the joys of episcopal ministry is presiding at the sacrament of confirmation.
Whether the confirmands are young or mature there is a profound joy in this moment when the promises of baptism are affirmed in the presence of a particular congregation and the bishop as a link with the whole Church through the ages. This confirmand – woman, man, boy or girl – proclaims their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and commits to following the way of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.
I particularly love the opportunity to meet the candidates before the service and hear something of their life and journey. What joys and personal gifts and passions will God use through the life of this Christian? Their moment of commitment is significant!
I remember my own confirmation. At that time confirmation was expected by church and family when you reached 11 or 12 years of age. It was a requirement before being able to receive Holy Communion.
However what I most remember was the importance of this decision. Each candidate met with the parish priest and although he gently warned us that lightning would not likely strike us when the Bishop laid hands on our heads I remember the solemnity of the decision. Years later when evangelical friends would ask when I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and wanted a time and date – I realized that, for me, that moment was my confirmation. It was the moment when I affirmed publicly the faith I had been taught and wanted to live.
Confirmation allows us the opportunity to dig deeper into our baptismal vows to ask what they mean in our lives today and how will we follow Christ in our daily life in whatever vocation to which we have been called.
During General Synod this past summer I had the joy of returning to the parish where I was confirmed on the day after I was elected Primate, remembering the commitment to God in my baptism now confirmed through the sign of the laying on of hands by the Bishop as a continuing lifelong commitment to serve as called by God.
Confirmation allows us the opportunity to dig deeper into our baptismal vows to ask what they mean in our lives today and how will we follow Christ in our daily life in whatever vocation to which we have been called. It is a moment of public witness of faith through the affirmation of baptismal vows. It is a moment of confirming with the outward sign of the laying on of hands, the inward continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the confirmand and the link of that confirmand with the whole Church through the Bishop.
When the Church affirmed that baptism is the primary sacrament of initiation through which one enters the community to receive the Eucharist many people no longer saw the need of confirmation. Yet it is a sacrament, not required of any, but important in marking our baptismal journey. Whether confirmation is chosen as a teenager or a senior citizen it is a powerful sacrament of our identity and Christian call. It may take place at any time in life. For young people it marks one of the first adult decisions made about the continuing direction of their lives. For adults it may occur at a moment when faith has become a living reality in daily life or after a time away from God now needing public witness of return.
Some people, confirmed at a young age, discover a desire to make a public reaffirmation at a time of life transition or renewed understanding of faith or recommitment. Although the laying on of hands is a once-only sacrament that reaffirmation may take place in a public service of worship in the presence of the Bishop at any time in one’s life. The full life of faith is especially seen in a service that includes baptism, confirmation and reaffirmation with young and old standing together in testimony to the rich variety in how God works in our lives!
It is my prayer that confirmation and reaffirmation will find renewed interest among the people of God. They are the gifts of our heritage as a sacramental church and are meant to be shared widely. I pray that every parish will engage in opportunities to deepen and renew faith with a service of public witness to that faith in confirmation or reaffirmation!
Archbishop Linda Nicholls is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.