“No other liturgical act of the Church has provoked more theological controversies than this second sacrament of initiation; none has received a greater variety of interpretations.”Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox theologian
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Intro to Confirmation
What is Confirmation All About?
If there is anything that creates more conversation and passion in church circles with parents, clergy, Christian educators, youth ministers, and even bishops it’s the topic of confirmation. A multitude of curricula has been written across the denominational spectrum, resolutions put forth at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention over the decades, and dioceses attempting to develop standards and guidelines. For some it is muddy, for others it is something not to be messed with. But where are we (the Episcopal Church) in our understanding, preparation of youth, practice, and forming of disciples in this (what some still say is) “rite in search of a meaning”?
What impact does a healthy confirmation process have on a congregation? What does the adolescent practice of reaffirmation of baptism really look like? How does the Episcopal Church need to fully live into confirmation in our congregations in today’s world and reality? Such provocative questions brought a diverse group of Christian formation leaders representing all orders of ministry together at Virginia Theological Seminary in early March 2019. One purpose of the gathering was to review the research and findings of “The Confirmation Project” (a “Christian Youth: Learning and Living the Faith” grant provided by Lilly Endowment Inc), and develop a meaningful response of that study to the Episcopal Church.
The results were eye-opening, offering much for the Episcopal Church to build upon in strengthening how local communities support adolescents in their faith journeys. The research showed there was no unified focus in the Episcopal Church. However, it was discovered that confirmation can be a unique opportunity for young people to strengthen their understanding of the Christian faith, deepen their experience of Christian community, and discern their call to join God’s mission in the world.
Having studied the research and its outcomes, the newly formed Confirmation Collaborative of the Episcopal Church released a statement:
“We believe, and the research confirms, that confirmation is the claiming of baptism and an invitation to a life of deeper discipleship lived in community. When confirmation preparation is done intentionally and done well on the local and diocesan level as baptismal affirmation, it has an impact on the spiritual lives of youth as part of a lifelong call to discipleship. It can transform ourselves, each other, and the entire Church.”
In its press release, Lisa Kimball shared, “The Collaborative will be sharing resources, best practices, rites of passage liturgies, and models for baptismal affirmation in partnership with Virginia Seminary’s Baptized for Life initiative, funded through a grant provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.” Read more about the initial desires and who the founders of the Confirmation Project are here.
More than a year later, the Confirmation Collaborative has grown to include anyone who has a passion for confirmation and youth ministry. A generative “think tank,” these webpages are a collection of the wisdom that continues to be created and shared. For example, “Ideas & Resources for Lament and Thanksgiving” was created by members of the Collaborative in the spring of 2020 as in-person high school commencements and confirmation rites were cancelled due to COVID-19 and there was a desire to create liturgies for these special milestones in the lives of youth. It is through these pages that you will find the most comprehensive listing of best practices and resources regarding confirmation in the Episcopal Church.
To join in conversation with the Confirmation Collaborative please contact Lisa Kimball or Sharon Ely Pearson.
For information on Spanish resources, please contact the Office of Latino Ministries of the Episcopal Church.
Webinar with Lisa Kimball and the Confirmation Project
Get the Facts about Confirmation
History of Confirmation in the Episcopal Church
Confirmation vs. Reception With Bishop Thomas Breidenthal
Members of the Confirmation Collaborative share their enthusiasm:
“Those who think we can hold fast to yesteryear and confirmation as a sort of rite of adolescent rite of passage are in denial. Those who think we should simply rush it to a quick and ready grave are in danger of disposing of something of immense value. For confirmation can and should be the sacramental rite of the middle."
Rt. Rev. James Mathes, “A Liturgy for the Messy Middle" in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century (Morehouse Publishing, 2014), 58.