Last night, we gathered in the Cathedral for Baptism and Confirmation. One of our Sunday’s group, the lovely Becky had opted for full immersion baptism. There were four adult confirmands also: Charmaine, Dave, Charlotte and Vicky – all young, vibrant and filled with the spirit. God has done some marvelous things with all of these people and it has been a privilege to share the journey with them, on Monday evenings filled with wine, coffee, bible and modern cinema (the Journey of Faith course wot I wrote) and of course, the Pizza, Twister and Eucharistically centred Sunday’s Youth Group. Such fun. Such a privilege.
The font in the Cathedral is deliberately coffin-like and the whole service is journey – from Nave to Baptistry to Altar, a journey of life. Here we die to our past. Becky was asked by the lovely Bishop Godfrey Ashby if this was her faith. She replied “yes” and climbed in to the font in her jeans and funky sweater. She was baptised and she rose from the water a new creation, dripping in water, soaked in the spirit. The sight of her (I was close by) was so moving; from death to life, life in all its fulness (yes, you know by now it’s John 10:10, isn’t it always John 10:10?). I was visibly caught in the emotion of it all.
A group from HMS Collingwood was then baptised, but just by sprinkling. Not as good, I thought, but joyous and no less special.
Thence to the altar, where we each brought our candidates in turn to kneel, have hands laid and annointed. I know they were nervous, but it all went without a hitch.
Prayers, baptism candles, and a procession out to applause. Very good. Very, very good. Lots of photos then, but I havn’t seen any yet. Maybe I can backload a few when people send them to me.
What made the evening especially lovely was seeing the group from Holy Spirit, led by Fr Phillip, my successor. Most of the young people being confirmed I knew really well, some from very small indeed. They flocked around me (one telling me off for leaving because the youth group at Holy Spirit had subsequently folded) and it was so rewarding to see many whom Lou and I had started Sunday School with now entering into the full life of the Church. Well done them. It was good to see Fr Philip and his wonderful (my) training incumbent, the Area Dean of Portsmouth. What I havn’t told Fr Michael yet is that in the chapter of the forthcoming book there is a footnote especially about him.
Canon Fr. Michael Lewis SSC, a deeply inspirational priest with the wisdom and conviction to simply let his curate get on with it unhindered. I remain forever in his debt.
I pray they don’t cut it out.
Confirmation is special because it is affirmation of faith by the confirmand and a response from God through the grace of annointing. The church says to the candidate “we value your faith”, especially to a young person. At S. Thomas, I am now deeply convinced that Confirmation is not the gateway to the sacraments, and that those desirous to participate should not be excluded from communion, whether baptised, confirmed or not. Most of these confirmands are therefore (but not universally) already communicants. This is not by whim or bloody-mindedness on my behalf, but a deep-seated theological conviction worked out with my Clergy colleague and my parish – our task is to administer God’s life-giving sacraments without hesitation and let God deal with that – let God do the healing and the reconciling through the power of the blessed sacraments. Jesus didn’t demand baptism certificates of the 5,000 on the mountain (Matthew 14:13-21) or the 4,000 on the plain Matthew 15:32-39. Even Judas shared the Last Supper.
This approach to administer the sacrament to all means that the role of Confirmation is changed: certainly not diminished, but re-emphasised as being about Commitment; a staging post on the journey, a sacramental act alongside their baptism, the eucharist and their growing reconciliation with God. I believe that this makes more pastoral sense, a better missionary opportunity and values the Confirmands as growing Christians, no longer secret initiates. I love what Confirmation stands for, and I am very, very, very proud of ‘my’ five and those from Holy Spirit I have journeyed with as well. Deo Gratias!