June 2015

 

Strength in numbers

 

Aficionados of the From the Registers section – and I imagine that there might just be some – will note a welcome addition to the customary menu this month, for on top of the usual categories, there are this time the names of two people who were confirmed.by the Bishop of Ludlow in Clodock on May 16th: and a very moving occasion it was.

 

We are all familiar with the other titles in that section: marriages and funerals are self-explanatory. Baptism is the rite by which new members are introduced into Christ’s church. It is sometimes called Christening. Technically, there s a difference between the two: Baptism refers to the sprinkling of water; Christening refers to anointing with holy oil. In that at such services here we do both, I imagine both terms are equally applicable. It is the normal practice that people are baptised when infants. This is all the fault of St Augustine who said that anyone who died unbaptised would go to hell. This is something which is known in theological terms as drivel, and certainly something for which there is no biblical justification and it certainly sits unhappily with any notion of a loving God. Anyway, that is what normally happens, and it means that , for most people, the promises made at their baptism are made by other people on their behalf. Confirmation provides the opportunity for baptised people to affirm their faith themselves.

 

‘Confirmation’ is, however, in normal speak, a rather odd word, referring, as it does, both to the action of stating that something is true (He issued a confirmation that the cheque was in the post) or the state of being confirmed (We await confirmation of the arrival of the delivery). And just as the word has both active and passive meanings, so does the church rite of confirmation. Anyone who comes to confirmation will be stating publicly what he or she believes. (Personally, I am happy if such a person is happy to state what he or she wants to believe, believing as I do that God will convert that wish to believe into belief itself – but I had better not broadcast that too widely.) At the same time, however, anyone coming to confirmation finds that not only are they doing something, but something is being done to the, And what that something is takes us to the root of the word ‘confirmation’: for the ‘-firmation’ bit means ‘being made strong’, while the ‘con-’ prefix means ‘together’. 

 

Confirmation is not just stating your belief, but it is also your faith being strengthened by being part of a community which shares that belief. And everyone of faith needs that strengthening. The church has always been a community moving forward on a pilgrimage of faith together – a pilgrimage which all Christians take, but which no Christian can manage on his or her own. It is a community of people who all can have doubts, insecurities and stumblings, just as much as they can have moments of joy, strength and revelation. It is a community of people who can both strengthen and be strengthened. 

 

Just as, when it comes to marriages, the important thing ultimately is not getting married but being married – an important truth I occasionally have to point out to couples who are so involved with the preparations for the former that they give little thought to the latter – so with confirmation, the important thing is not getting confirmed but being confirmed – being part of a community of people who are as much supporting as supported. 

 

There is a Confirmation Service within our Deanery at least once a year, but I am more than happy at any time – and not just when such a service is in the offing – to talk with anyone about being part of such a community which grows together as it finds strength together.