When Bishop Marc celebrates our 150th anniversary with us on November 5th, he will confirm several adults and teens and receive several adults into the fellowship of the Episcopal Church. Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation are sacramental rites marked by a public affirmation of faith. So when and why are these rites celebrated, and who is eligible to participate?
Confirmation has a complicated history. In the early Church, adults converting to Christianity were baptized by a bishop. Baptism was characterized by immersion in water, anointing with oil, and the laying on of hands. Over time, as more children were born to Christian parents, infant baptism became the norm. Since the local bishop was unable to be present as often as needed, baptism was delegated to parish priests. However, the laying on of hands remained a ritual action reserved to bishops alone, so those baptized by a priest had to present themselves to a bishop at a later time. The sacramental rite of Confirmation emerged out of this development. In the 1979 Prayerbook, we find this introduction to the rite: “…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.” (p. 412) Those baptized as children are usually confirmed during adolescence to publicly affirm for themselves the baptismal vows made for them by parents and godparents. If it does not taken place then, Confirmation can be celebrated anytime after that. The traditional focus on the Holy Spirit in Confirmation may seem a little confusing: isn’t the Holy Spirit received at baptism? The short answer is, “Yes, and.” In Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s death and resurrection and receive the Holy Spirit, while Confirmation sends us forth into the world in the power of that Spirit to love and serve God and others. Older Episcopalians may remember Confirmation as a requirement before receiving communion, but this was changed in the 1979 revision of the Prayerbook.
Reception refers to the rite by which a baptized Christian, confirmed by a bishop, is welcomed into the fellowship of the Episcopal Church. It too, is a public affirmation; like those being confirmed, candidates for reception also make a profession of faith and renew the Baptismal Covenant. Since they are already confirmed, the bishop does not lay hands on them. Candidates who have previously been confirmed, but not by a bishop, receive the laying on of hands along with others being confirmed.
Lastly, the rite of reaffirmation is celebrated with a confirmed Episcopalian who, for personal reasons, wishes to again to publicly reaffirm their baptismal vows to the bishop and the community. It is comparable to a married couple publicly reaffirming their vows at significant times in their marriage. In both reception and reaffirmation, we pray that the Holy Spirit continue to transform and deepen the candidates’ faith.
Preparation has already begun for the potential candidates of St. James’. Some already feel sure of their path, while others are still discerning God’s call at this time. As the date nears, we will make their names known to our faith community and begin praying for them in the Prayers of the People each Sunday. Please remember them in your personal prayers at this special time; their sincerity and dedication are truly beautiful to witness. —
~The Rev. Anna Horen