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Material on confirmation.

Mark Earey, now Tutor in Liturgy and Worship at the Queen's Foundation. Birminigham  wrote the following.  We are grateful for his permission to reproduce this on our website and in Update 43.

Of particular interest are his suggestions that the delegation of confirmation to presbyters, and an end to confirmation for those baptized as adults might be a challenge from BI.

If you are looking for sources of inspiration and up-to-date thinking on Confirmation and related matters, then THE place to look is “On the Way” (CHP 1995) which reveals a lot of the background thinking behind the CW initiation services. The whole report is worth a read, but in particular it has interesting things to say about confirmation on p63-69, p90-96 and chapter 7.
See also the paragraphs on confirmation in the commentary at the back of the 1998 green “CW Initiation Services” book, p202.

The other place to look is the papers of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation in Toronto in 1991 (published as “Growing in Newness of Life” ed. David Holeton, Anglican Book Centre, Toronto 1993 ISBN 1-55126-045-X). This contains an article by Colin Buchanan, and also mentions his Grove Liturgical Study No. 48 (which is also typically lucid and challenging).

May I offer some reflections?

1. In CW, confirmation is no longer about the ‘sacramental giving of the Spirit’. The CW services make this clear (in a subtle way) by including, immediately after the baptism itself, a prayer for the Spirit’s daily ‘anointing’ of the candidate (e.g. p357 of the black CW Sunday book). This is in contrast to the ASB format, where the prayer for the sevenfold Spirit (p233) is part of the Confirmation (p256) and not part of the Infant Baptism (it’s missing from p248). Confirmation no longer has this particular Acts 8 feature.

2. The question about communion before confirmation is a very important and live one. The admission of children to communion is a practice which will almost inevitably spread now that it has started in some places, because once admitted to communion, children may not be “excommunicated” when they move to a church which does not practice it. Baptismal Integrity needs to engage constructively in this debate, and be careful not to make assumptions about what is “right” or “biblical” in this complex issue.

3. The ‘initiatory’ / ‘pastoral’ question is very important. You ask to what extent confirmation is ‘initiatory’ in that it supplies the personal confession of belief missing in infant baptism, and to what extent it is ‘pastoral’ if baptism is complete sacramental initiation? I think that the way the CW services handle this is to see confirmation as one part of the complex and lifelong outworking of initiation. In other words, it doesn’t “complete” the process (as if baptism of an infant was only half-baptism; with the theological impocation that children can therefore only be seen and treated as half-Christians), but it does “fill” the baptism as the person grows and “fills out” in other ways.

Perhaps an analogy would be a balloon: baptism starts the balloon inflating. The balloon can never be described as half-full, but the balloon can and should continue to be inflated throughout one’s life; and a key stage in that inflation would be an “adult” profession of faith at a stage when that is appropriate for the person. Infant baptism, therefore, does not start off incomplete (it is as complete as it can be for a baby), but it can become incomplete if it does not “expand” with the growth of the person to include, when appropriate, communion, profession of faith, etc..

Personally, I think that the usefulness of confirmation is not just about people saying they believe (children can do that in different ways and at different stages from as soon as they can communicate), but rather about a person committing himself or herself to that belief for the future. I think this is the key change between childhood and adulthood: the ability to make commitments about future action as well as present states.

For Baptismal Integrity, I would think that two key issues for us to wrestle with and to campaign for are:

a) the delegation of confirmation to presbyters, just as baptism is delegated to presbyters. This follows from the “new understanding” that confirmation no longer about the gift of the Spirit. In our Porvoo partners we are now in communion with churches which practice this.

b) an end to confirmation for those baptised as adults. This might involve an “unpicking” of confirmation so that the different elements can be associated with different rites (one for praying for adolescents; one for adult commitment; one for full adult membership of the Church of England; one for a newly baptised adult to “relate to” the bishop; etc..). Not all of these would be essential for every person.

We already have the beginnings of this in the provision of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith and the Reception into the Church of England in the CW initiation package, and the various rites being devised on a diocesan basis (of various levels of “significance” and at various ages) for “first communion”, as communion before confirmation begins to take hold.

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