One of the things I most enjoy as a bishop is taking confirmation services. Over the past 19 years I have led hundreds. Each is different because the people coming to be confirmed are different. Whether they are eight or 80 they see confirmation – a service where they can confirm the vows made by them or for them at baptism – as a significant point in their faith journey. It is a way they can say publicly they are a follower of Jesus Christ; they believe in God; and they want to live in ways that reflect his values through the life the Holy Spirit brings.
The experiences that bring people to confirmation vary. For some, though for increasingly few, it is seen as the right thing to do. For others it is much more a rite of passage as a person marks the transition from childhood to becoming an adult member of the church. For adults it is often linked to an awakening, or a reawakening, of faith or, and I have heard this so many times, it comes from a feeling of incompleteness. They missed being confirmed when they were younger, and they want to catch up.
Connected to that is the phrase I sometimes hear – ‘You know, Bishop, I was confirmed when I was too young.’ When I ask what they mean they usually say that they did not have the emotional, theological or intellectual ability to realise the implications of the promises they were making. At that point what I want to say – and sometimes do – is that it’s not unusual for us to make promises where we do not fully understand what we are promising to do but we make them to the best of our ability and understanding. An eight-year-old’s faith will be different from that of an adult, but both are valid. Equally, there are a few people I have confirmed with very limited speech or any articulated understanding of the faith. Their families and friends knew full well that confirmation mattered greatly to them. Taking those was a huge privilege.
When I meet people, who feel that they were too young when they were confirmed – or if they felt that they lacked understanding, I encourage them to think about renewing their vows. This can easily be done in the context of a confirmation service and is very meaningful.
Confessing Christ as our Lord is something that matters at each stage of our lives and confirmation is a key way in which we can do this. If you have not been confirmed can I encourage you to have a word with your vicar about it and see how things develop from there.
Words: The Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, the Bishop of Dorchester. Photo: Jo Duckles