Friday, November 27, 2009
Recently on the Associated Parishes email list for the council list we got into a discussion of Confirmation that began because Ruth Meyers discovered an Executive Council Resolution calling for the development of competancies for Confirmation.
The idea that Confirmation is in any way required for full inclusion in the life of the church is antithetical to what we stand for, and "competancies" seem to imply that one is not a full member until the confirmation box is checked. Yet, some of us wondered if the best way to attack that implication might not include a recognition that the drive for "competancies" may come from a valuable goal of ensuring the quality of Christian Formation programs in local churches - which logically flows from taking the Baptismal vows seriously.
How can "Confirmation" be understood and practiced in such a way that Baptismal theology is not undermined? Though the BCP seems clear to us, Confirmation is misunderstood on the ground in many places. Is it too misunderstood to be salvaged as a practice or should the practice of "Confirmation" as it is now, be ended so that it will be clear to all that the chrismation at the end of the baptism seals the individual and completes the Baptism? Our long discussion has included varying viewpoints on whether teens can be thought of as "mature" enough to be expected to make the commitment of Confirmation, among other things.
Ruth rightly noted yesterday that as we had moved into a general conversation about Confirmation we ought to move the conversation over to the ap members list and the APLM blog. So I'm attempting to do that and offer the things that are beginning to crystalize for me... (sorry this is long but...)
Remembering an earlier conversation on this listserv I pondered the various reasons and meanings that others had given to the presence of the bishop at Confirmation. The presence of the bishop seems to be a key issue/problem in this whole debate. I began to connect that with my current situation in my parish.
I am currently involved in leading a YAC group (the final portion of the Journey to Adulthood program in which Confirmation is often expected to occur) and so the question of Confirmation, - its rationale, its theology, etc, are hitting me where I live. I do not think that the group I am working with has recieved all that they should have formationally and educationally for me to believe it is appropriate to present them for Confirmation and am doubtful that we can accomplish this by the scheduled date for our "Durham area" Confirmation (note this is not a parish event) in April.
Particularly, while they have learned many good things through J2A about getting along and serving the less fortunate, they do not demonstrate the slightest ability to connect the tradition (liturgy or scripture or any theolgical concept or any spiritual practice) with their lives or their ethical views about helping others.
While I realize that many adults also can not do this, I have seen 10 and 11 year olds demonstrate better theological and liturgical literacy. The parish I was in from 1996 until a year ago has led me to believe that a pretty high level of theological competance can be developed by the teenage years in many children if we aim high. I suggested that perhaps the competancies for confirmation, if developed and carefully worded, could actually reflect more on the parish and its program of formation, and thus be used to reinforce Baptismal theology and the liturgical "We will" that is part of the rite.
If I decide to refuse to present the youth for Confirmation my reason will be that "WE are not ready" - we, the parish, have not completed what we ought to have formed in these kids by this point in their lives. I am beginning to form the following position: Whether the parish is marking a period of preparation that coincides with the time when a child is entering the wider world (indicated by things that teens are usually doing: driving, working, preparing for college or the military) or marking a moment when an adult who was baptised as an infant, has come formward expressing a desire to make an adult commitment to the baptismal vows, it seems to me that the bishop's presence can be understood in a way that some have recently expressed.
The bishop signifies the connection to the wider church and the world - appropriate for times when a person is either about to venture out, is currently in a typically more transient time of life or has settled into a parish after a time of normal transience (college, etc). And the bishop's presence, if understood in this way, could also signify his or her validation of the parish's work in preparing individuals for a mature (though admittedly varying levels of "mature") profession of faith, which, in my view, includes the understanding that the baptismal call is not limited to life between the parish walls. In other words, the parish has attended to the "we will" of the baptism.
In the case of teens, they send the youth out knowing they have done what was in their power to support the child in their life in Christ. OR in the case of adults they are owning the "we will" that others made in an earlier time and usually in a different space. In no way would Confirmation be confused as a requirement for life in the church; it would merely mark a time of intentional preparation and reflection on one's baptismal call that is the result of participation in the church. Whew - that's a lot, but there was a LOT more over the last few days... we should have moved this over sooner!
I'm sure the other council members will now summarize what they feel is at the fore of this issue... and I'm excited about hearing many voices on these issues- especially those who will disagree with me!