As some of you know, this past weekend was our diocesan synod. It was the 79th Synod of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle. That’s a long history (I’m not sure how often they were held originally, but they’ve been every second year in the recent past), and it creates realities that we deal with (you’ll remember that the diocese faced real financial trouble re: Residential Schools, a dozen or so years ago), challenges that we work with (our own Sandra Hill has been working on updating the language of the diocesan canons), and opportunities that we embrace.
At this past synod there was a report given by a working group, put together at the previous synod, regarding Confirmation in the church. The task of this group was to explore standards around the sacrament of Confirmation. Too often we’ve heard the stories of people whose clergy read them the 39 Articles, or who were off-handedly given a book on Christian faith to read, or who were taught to declare the catechism by rote (or, in more recent days, given a couple of movie nights with pizza attached). In all of these cases, Confirmation was treated almost more as a hoop to be jumped through than a means of God’s grace.
The report given to synod recommended a two-year disciple-making format for preparation for Confirmation in the diocese, and recommended a number of curricula for use in diocesan parishes. There were two observations made about the approach that’s been taken in the past.
On the first hand, and tied to the former practise of confirmation being a requirement for reception of Holy Communion, Confirmation was seen as the greatest end for the average church-goer. It was seen as the graduation: there were no other rites of passage (until the wedding, but marriage preparation was undertaken outside of the Sunday liturgy – and weddings solemnized outside of it – and so the connection hasn’t been immediately obvious). With the separation of these two sacraments, their distinct significances are more and more an object of concern. We need to properly prepare people for each separately. In the end, the result of this view of Confirmation has been that many people, after being confirmed, have distanced themselves from the life of the Church.
On the other hand, though closely related to the first, because Confirmation is the final rite of passage into acceptance as a responsible adult in the Church (for most), there has been an assumption attached that the work of Christian formation has been completed by the time a person is Confirmed. This has meant that for a number of people, even if they wouldn’t admit it, there has been an assumption that they’re not half-baked Christians, but fully baked: they’ve learned all that they ever need to know, and they’ve drawn as close to Jesus as they ever need to. The work of ongoing Christian formation and discipleship is ignored, or the need for it is denied.
What we are emphasizing in our diocese, however, is that Confirmation should be seen as the rite of passage into a life (read: lifestyle of lifetime) discipleship. Which will mean that those of us who were Confirmed under the old model (which I don’t think was the way that it was intentionally, but simply through inattention to follow-up), those of us who have been a part of the way things were – we’ll need to reconsider our assumptions, to review the health of our personal walks with the Lord, to be renewed in our own commitment to personal discipleship. In doing so, we can start to change the prevalent culture in our congregations, and open the path for more meaningful Confirmations for people in the future.