Making a Commitment to My Faith
Confirmation or Reception in the Episcopal Church
Though over 46% of Episcopalians did not grow up in an Episcopal church, many of us who grew up in another (or no) tradition have felt we’ve found our spiritual home in the ancient liturgies and open minded theology of the Anglican tradition. Becoming a member, or “communicant,” of an Episcopal church is really easy. All you need to do is show up and participate in worship and communion three times a year. To be a “communicant in good standing,” you need to show up regularly, and contribute actively to the ministry of the parish through the giving of your time and your resources, including a yearly pledge to the church. Communicants in good standing are welcome to vote at church annual meetings. A few times per year, we ask newcomers if they’d like to formally become members of St. James, and if there is a group that does, we’ll invite them up to the front of the church during the welcome some Sunday and say a special prayer of welcome. They we’ll celebrate our new members at coffee hour, and put their names officially in the St. James ledger book.
However, sometimes when people ask how they can become members of the church, they are asking about more than just the nuts and bolts. Sometimes, what they are really asking is how to make a more spiritual commitment to their life of faith and their Anglican identity - to really become Episcopalians. Happily, in our tradition, there is a liturgical rite for this very thing. It is called confirmation for those who have not yet been confirmed by a bishop, and it is called reception for those who have alreadybeen confirmed by a bishop of a different denomination. During the service, the bishop lays hands on each confirmand and prays a special blessing.
Confirmation/reception at James is someone’s active and willing “yes” to choosing to live life in the way of Jesus - as a Christian in the Episcopal fold. Confirmands (the name given to those who are considering confirmation) take preparation time to study and explore the Episcopal tradition in a group with the priest, and they are also each are paired with a faith companion who’s been a practicing Episcopalian for a while, who will serve as their sponsor at the confirmation liturgy. It is hoped that these pairs will develop a long term and mutually supportive spiritual friendship.
In the not so recent past, people were often confirmed at a very young age in Episcopal churches and have also often admitted it didn’t mean much to them at the time. For this reason, the confirmation service can also include re-affirmation, for those who would like to consciously re-affirm their baptismal vows. This part of the liturgy is for people who have already been baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church, but have felt a new and deeper call to their faith and would like to affirm their identity as disciples afresh with the bishop. Those wishing to re-affirm their baptism also to take part in the confirmand’s group and will be paired with a companion.
Any baptized person (baptized in any Christian tradition) age 15 or older are welcome to prepare for confirmation if they personally feel called to do so. Unlike baptism, which can be initiated by parents on behalf of their children, confirmation is meant to spring from inspiration within the confirmand. It is an adult rite, and there is no reason to “get it done” by a certain age, nor is it ever too late to be confirmed. Confirmation is a joyful personal choice and a powerful experience for those who feel called to it, no matter what age they are. Elsa encourages people to wait for confirmation until they feel personally drawn to it themselves. Parents may well encourage their teenagers to take part in the confirmand’s preparation group but must be willing to allow their teen decide whether or not they are personally ready to be confirmed after completing it. All the confirmands, including any teen confirmands, will naturally be expected to participate in the life of the church as communicants in good standing to the best of their ability while confirmands and beyond, either at St. James or at another Episcopal church, because making a commitment to life long Christian practice is the point of confirmation.
Bishop Rob will be among us during Holy Week in 2019, and could perform confirmations and receptions at the Easter vigil. If there are people interested in taking part in confirmation or reception, we can begin meeting to prepare for the big day. Our process last year was an ongoing discussion group that met periodically after church for brunch together to talk about making an intentional commitment to Christian practice and about the specific flavor of being a Christian in the Episcopalian tradition. The specifics of the gatherings will be determined by the availability of the interested group, so trust that if you feel called to take part, it will work for you.
If you think you might be interested, or have any further questions, contact Elsa.