Updated: May 25
On Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023, we welcomed Bishop Ryan Reed to Christ Church for the liturgy of Confirmation. I want to offer some brief reflections on what Confirmation means for Anglican Christians. There are two basic aspects to what’s happening here.
First, in Confirmation we do something. As the Prayer Book’s preface to the liturgy explains, “The Anglican Church requires a public and personal profession of the Faith from every adult believer in Jesus Christ. Confirmation or Reception by a Bishop is its liturgical expression” (p. 174). For those who were baptized as infants or children—even if they were old enough to remember and play an active role—Confirmation provides an opportunity for a mature profession, claiming that commitment to Jesus as their own and reaffirming their promise to live according to this faith. It can also be particularly meaningful for adult converts or those who have wandered from active Christian practice and are returning. But every Confirmation allows the rest of the congregation to bear witness to the participants’ commitment to Christ and his Church.
In our own context, some folks see Confirmation as an expression of their desire to love and serve Jesus according to the “Anglican way.” For others, it is a specific act of commitment to the community of Christ Church, acknowledging that our life together as a congregation happens in relationship with the wider church and under the authority of a bishop. For still others, it is simply a choice to live more intentionally in holy obedience. All of these are good and godly desires!
At the same time, we must insist that what Confirmation “confirms” is not Anglicanism! We are confirmed as members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The vows of Confirmation are simply a reaffirmation of our Baptismal vows. The “public and personal profession” that the Anglican Church expects of confirmands is nothing more or less than the Christian faith. To be confirmed is to affirm what the old hymn puts so well: “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
That’s what we do in Confirmation. But that isn’t all that’s going to happen on Sunday.
Second, in Confirmation God does something. In the New Testament book of Acts, the apostles frequently lay hands on people in Jesus’ name. And every time, the Holy Spirit moves with power! When new believers are baptized and receive the laying on of hands, supernatural gifts are poured out (see Acts 19:5-6). When the church at Antioch discerns that God is calling Paul and Barnabas to mission, after additional fasting and prayer, they lay hands on these brothers before sending them out to share the good news (Acts 13:2-3). Saint Paul himself reminds Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6). This physical act is part of the biblical pattern for God accomplishing his purposes in and through his Church.
As Anglican Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to act in the world. All who have been baptized have been inaugurated into new life in the Holy Spirit… but that life must continue to grow, and flourish, and mature through the Spirit’s work. When a bishop, carrying on that apostolic ministry of overseeing the church and guarding the deposit of the faith, lays hands on the faithful and asks for the Holy Spirit to empower them, we should expect a response!
This doesn’t necessarily mean that confirmands will have some special feeling or experience in the moment (although they might!). What it means is that God is faithful “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12). Some have discovered that, in the weeks and months after Confirmation, the Lord begins leading them to new work in his name. Others find themselves strengthened for work they are already doing. Their lives are daily suffused more and more with the Lord’s own life and love.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, we become more fully what we are called to be: members of Christ’s body, empowered to serve one another and the world in his name. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we discover our true vocation, to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Please pray for our brothers and sisters who are preparing to make a public profession of faith and to accept the work of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation.