Confirmation - child rite?
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The vexed subject of Christian confirmation was thrust into the spotlight by a report suggesting the Anglican Church should completely review its stance on the rite.   The following relatively aged article gives a starting point!

Two senior churchmen are recommending that teenage confirmation is discouraged, and that it ceases to be regarded as a childhood ceremony leading to communion.

The service should instead be promoted as an adult ceremony of commitment, which the authors claim will revitalise an increasingly undervalued ceremony and inject vigour into the Church as a whole.

"The Church of England is likely to build a stronger future for itself by reasserting confirmation as an adult rite of Christian commitment, rather than as a childhood rite of admission to communion," said the Rev Prof Leslie Francis and David Lankshear, of the National Society.

The main implication is that people should be allowed to take communion before being confirmed - a subject that divided the General Synod in 1991, when most bishops registered their disapproval while most clergy and laity were for the idea.

The study also unearthed evidence that reducing the age of confirmation, a suggestion favoured by many bishops, is likely to be counterproductive and damage church growth.

It highlights two separate theologies about baptism, which one side believes is incomplete without confirmation, and which the other believes is a full initiation into Christian life.

The Francis-Lankshear study looked into the current slump in numbers of confirmands - a problem being experienced in many Christian churches of all denominations. Both the Methodist and Catholic churches are also looking into the problem at the moment.

A detailed analysis of confirmation numbers over nine years in the diocese of Chelmsford revealed two related trends.

* The number of candidates for confirmation is rapidly declining - by I5 per cent in one three-year period - as fewer teenagers than ever before come forward to reaffirm their baptism vows.

"lf confirmation remains targeted as a teenage rite of passage, it seems inevitable that the number of candidates will continue to fall," the report says.

* And an increasing proportion of candidates asking to be confirmed are adults. Instead of being aimed at under 20-year-olds, most of the resources available should now be targeted at grown-ups, they say.

Most importantly, congregation numbers tend to rise in churches where mainly adults are being confirmed. Large numbers of young confirmands tend to be detrimental to church life, and ultimately lead to smaller congregation numbers, the figures show.

The report summarises this bizarre conclusion: "The benefices which present a number of pre-teenagers for confirmation can expect smaller average congregations, fewer participants in youth groups and less overall income than comparable benefices which do not present young candidates for confirmation."

As originally conceived, the catechism enabled members of the Church of England to know what their church believed and how it differed from other churches.

In the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 the rubrics enjoined that: "The curate of every parish shall diligently upon Sundays and Holy-days after the second less of evening prayer, openly in the church instruct and examine so many children of his parish sent unto him as he shall think convenient, in some part of the catechism.

While the 1928 proposed revision of the prayer book planned no modification to either the catechism or the rubric, by the late 1950s the Church of England was sensing the need for some revision to take place. As a consequence the revised Catechism was drawn up and commended for use by the Convocation of Canterbury and York in 1962.


While the Alternative Service Book 1980 makes no specific reference to a catechism, the task once fulfilled by liturgical rubrics is now secured by the canons. Canon B27 'Of confirmation' continues to give prominence to the catechism by requiring that: the minister shall present none to the bishop but such as come to years of discretion and can say the creed, the Lord's prayer and the ten commandments, and can also render an account of their faith according to the said catechism.

Although according to the canons the catechism remains an important touchstone of Anglican identity, its referencing in materials produced for Sunday schools or church schools has significantly diminished during the past four decades. This change has come about as a consequence of shifts both in education theory and theological understanding.

The British Council of Churches' report, The Child in the Church, published in 1976 summarises both of these shifts and highlights their implications.

On the education front this report draws attention to: the tension between Christian faith as a tradition given to us from the past, and the educational ideal of the child-centred approach.
On the theological front this report points to the way in which the churches now tend to see the Christian faith: less in terms of fixed doctrinal statements and more in terms of personal relations and the investigation of various patterns of Christian meaning in life.


There are, therefore, some apparent contradictions between the underlying requirements of canon law and the changing emphases in catechetical theory and the churches' self-understanding.

When the working party responsible for Children in the Way set up its research project into work among children and young people, one of the questions it asked concerned the use of the Revised Catechism. The findings from this part of the research based on data from 7129 churches have just been published in the British Journal of Religious Education.

The key conclusion is that the Revised Catechism varies very much from one situation to another. Seven main factors help to account for this variation:

Community Variation The Revised Catechism is most likely to be used in suburban churches, and least likely to be used in village or urban churches.

Primary School Provision The Revised Catechism is most likely to be used in parishes where there is a Church of England voluntary controlled school.


Church Traditions Some 22.5 per cent of churches which describe themselves as catholic report use of the Revised Catechism compared with 10.4 per cent of churches which describe themselves as evangelical. Occupying the middle territory, 17.6 per cent of churches which describe themselves as middle of the road report use of the Revised Catechism.

Clergy Age Those churches within the care of older clergy are more likely to use the Revised Catechism. Thus 11.7 per cent of the churches where the priest is under 40 report its use, compared with 16.4 per cent where the priest is in his 40s, 19.7 per cent where he is in his 50s and 20.4 per cent where the priest is 60 or over.

Provision for Children's Work In parishes where there is a Sunday School 19.6 per cent report use of the Revised Catechism and where no Sunday School exists 14 per cent of churches who responded use it.

There is also a relationship between use of the Revised Catechism and the educational philosophy of individual churches, as reflected in their choice of Sunday School material. Thus 26 per cent of the churches which use material published by Church of England imprints use the Revised Catechism, compared with 17 per cent of those who choose material published by other imprints.

Confirmation Candidates In parishes where there were confirmands under the age of 18 during the past year, 22 per cent use the Revised Catechism. Where there were no confimands under the age of 18, the proportion is 14 per cent.

Diocesan Variation The proportion of churches which report use of the Revised Catechism also varies considerably from diocese to diocese. For example, three out of every 10 churches report its use in the Blackburn diocese, compared with fewer than one in every 10 on the Isle of Wight.

These data suggest that the majority of Church of England parishes now prefer to develop their catechetical work in the absence of recourse to the Revised Catechism. Nevertheless a significant minority of parishes continue to find the Revised Catechism serviceable in their programme of Christian nurture and development.

With at least 3000 Anglican churches committed to using the present Revised Catechism, it seems that the House of Bishops was wise in offering a further revision at the beginning of the 1990s. In so doing they may well be providing these churches an important tool with which to enter the Decade of Evangelism.

Full details of this research, in The British
Journal of Religious Education, Vol l3,
pp 95-100, 1991.

At the time of this research, David Lankshear was Deputy Secretary of the
National Society and Schools Officer for the
Church of England's Board of Education.
The Rev Dr Leslie Francis was Mansel Jones
Fellow at Trinity College Carmarthen.  

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