In the course of their Christian development, those baptized at an early age are expected, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop.
The Book of Common Prayer, p. 412
Confirmation— the rite by which one’s baptism is confirmed by a Bishop of the Church— is one of those churchy things that was pretty clear for people during the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, but now has become not so clear. Adding to the lack of clarity is our language that describes baptism and confirmation.
The Prayer Book the instruction for Holy Baptism (p. 298) says “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.” In the Catechism (p. 858) the Prayer Book says “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” (Consistency has not necessarily been an Anglican strong point, even if breadth and toleration have been.)
Perhaps a place that provides more clarity is the service of Baptism itself. What we do when we are baptized is respond to a series of questions about what we believe now and what we intend to do in the future. (See pages 301-305 in The Book of Common Prayer.) The first set of questions is conveyed in the present tense: Do you…? The second set of questions, collectively known as The Baptismal Covenant, continue the present standpoint and then shift into the future, emphasizing five verbs (well, five questions and six verbs): continue, persevere, proclaim, seek and serve, strive. They express what we intend to do as Christian persons.
~ The Baptismal Covenant includes the prayers in Baptism itself, expressing the relational nature of the commitment we are making: I commit, the Church commits, and God commits to this relationship. ~
For primarily historical reasons it is appropriate that a person, baptized as a child or baptized in another church tradition, present themselves to the Bishop, before whom they reaffirm (or confirm) their baptismal promises. Unlike the parish clergy, the Bishop represents the universal Church, thus witnessing that these persons are part of something much larger than just the local parish congregation. (Note also that until about 500 CE bishop’s were responsible for and in relationship to only one or a small collection of congregations. These days, a bishop cannot be everywhere at once, nor is it pastorally appropriate to do baptisms once a year or less.)
There is no way a person can be adequately prepared for baptism or confirmation. Neither can a person know enough of the faith and practice of the Church in order to be considered a worthwhile Christian. It was during the Protestant Reformation, along with the development of the printing press as well as books and articles available in a person’s own language, that the idea of intellectual preparation for Baptism became expected. Spiritual preparation was a hallmark of the Early Church, something that is slowly gaining in the modern day.
I have long felt, and believe, that if a person desires to be baptized or confirmed they should be, with the understanding that there should be a clear commitment following the sacrament to worship, study, and service. I therefore ask to continue to meet with people for several months, at least. It is one of the most enjoyable things that I do as a parish priest.
If you are interested in being Baptized or Confirmed please talk to one of the parish clergy, who will be happy to answer questions. Holy Baptism is offered at least four times a year; Confirmation is offered at the Bishop’s annual Visitation, which is November 6 this year and April 30 next year.
NEXT WEEK: What is the difference between a baptized member and a confirmed member of a congregation?