January 27, 2008
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart - Inclusive
Come and worship with us!
All are welcome!
To serve the
To grow the
proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation….
These are the opening words of our Collect of the Day, this morning, setting the stage for
our lessons, and particularly our Gospel reading, focusing on the call to reach out with the
Gospel to those who need to hear the Word preached. They’re good lessons – and a good
prayer – for what I have to say, today.
A few weeks ago I told you that over the next few months I would speak to you about some
of the things that I do that you may not have been used to when I came to be with you, some
of the things I don’t do, and the way I do some things, because I want you, now, to
I prefer, actually, to let actions speak, and I’ve found that doing things this way is often more
effective than “explaining” what we’re doing before we do it. That is, “we learn best by
doing,” and even in the Church, even in the Liturgy, even in our life together, I find it’s
often best just to go ahead and do what we need to be doing – and if we do things right, the
meaning and the need behind what we do will inevitably follow!
But there comes a time, eventually, when the reasons need to be made explicit.
What I have to say, this morning, is not in any way a sermon. It is, rather, a different kind of
teaching and sharing that I think is important, so I ask you to bear with me.
And what I want to focus on, today, is not something we’ve been doing but something we’ve
not been doing – at least not very much!
The focus, this morning, is on Confirmation!
And to do that, we have to begin with history! I know that some people in our congregation
don’t much like it when I dwell on history, but that, itself, is unfortunate, because history is
really so vitally important. History is about who we were and how we came to be who we are;
and history sets the stage for who we are becoming!
There was a time, in the early history of the Church, when each new community of Christians
in the world was led by one person, or in some cases, a very small group – perhaps 2 or 3.
Over time, one position of leadership emerged as primary evangelists – responsible for
preaching the word – and chief liturgical officers – celebrators of the Sacraments. And then,
as more time passed, as congregations in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire grew
larger, there developed another division – a separation, if you will, between two levels of
ministry: first, the central leader in an area, and second, the leaders of the smaller
congregations around the area, under direction of the first. So developed in a much more
drawn out and complicated fashion than I can describe, here, the orders of Bishop and
And as those two orders developed out of one, so did a third sacrament develop out of one
of the original two: out of Baptism came Confirmation. As the Church spread, and
congregations became both larger and more numerous, the chief liturgical officers – the
emerging Bishops – could no longer perform all the Baptisms. But to maintain the clarity of
position of the Bishops, part of the Baptismal rite became separated from the act – the
anointing with oil at the conclusion of the rite – and reserved to the Bishop at a later time,
so when he visited a local congregation, he would “complete” the rite for all those who had
been Baptized since his last visit.
That “reserved” anointing eventually became Confirmation, and a new “mini-theology” soon
developed around it! That theology suggested that without the anointing, the Baptism was
somehow incomplete, and the Christianity of the Baptized person was incomplete!
That understanding manifested itself most fully, I think, in the Anglican tradition, where
young Christians were required to wait until their baptism was “completed” in confirmation
before being admitted to Communion!
But that understanding was wrong! It was always wrong, no matter how many centuries the
Church labored under it, because it implied too levels of “being Christian,” and it denied the
Sacrament of Holy Communion to members of Christ’s Body!
Unlike the two great sacraments, confirmation was never more than an accident of history!
Baptism and Eucharistic sharing were established and commanded by Christ!
By the 1950’s we were beginning to struggle with our understanding – beginning to see that
we’d been wrong! We didn’t quite know what to do about it, but we knew we had to do
We knew that Baptism was COMPLETE initiation into the Church, complete adoption into the
Body of Christ. At the same time, we felt – almost intuitively – that confirmation was
important, but we weren’t sure why. As my Liturgics instructor said, “Confirmation (was) a
sacrament in search of a theology!”
Today, after 50 years and more of trying to figure these things out, we still don’t have any
full answers. At the moment, Confirmation remains in a kind of limbo. On the one hand, the
Canons of the Church tell us:
“It is expected that all adult members of this Church, after appropriate instruction, will have
made a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of
their Baptism and will have been confirmed of received by the laying on of hands by a
Bishop of this Church or by a Bishop in communion with this Church.” (Canon 1.17.1(a)
Yet having said that, there is very little a non-confirmed, baptized adult cannot do in this
Church. That is, they cannot administer the Chalice or be Home Eucharistic Ministers; they
cannot conduct worship on a regular basis, in the absence of a Priest, and they cannot
preach; they can’t teach a confirmation class; and they can’t serve as pastoral counselors or
consultants. And that’s about it – just these few, rather narrow activities! Everything else in
the life of the Church is open to all non-confirmed, Baptized members.
But Confirmation is – or should be – about much, much more than those things.
Jesus didn’t call us to him just so that we could gather once a week, pray and receive a
piece of bread and a sip of wine. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could get together
on a fairly regular basis and share in Parish Suppers.
Jesus called us to two things: he called us to preach the Gospel to all Nations, and he called
us to serve those in need!
The smallest infant is capable of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ – and, indeed, has
both a need and a right to receive Communion! But it takes someone more mature, and it
takes a mature commitment, truly and fully to commit to spreading the Gospel and to caring
for those in need!
As early as 1958 the Encyclical Letter that came out of the Lambeth Conference, announced
this new, emerging understanding when it said, “Confirmation is commissioning for lay
And at that same time, Bishop Burt of Ohio summed up the new understanding when he
wrote: “Baptism takes us into the Church; confirmation sends us out.”
It’s a job not ordinarily meant for the average 12 year old! And our Church was in error both
when it restricted the membership of Baptized persons and when it made Confirmation a
more-or-less-automatic rite of passage into adolescence!
That age, itself, was arbitrary – it had no real meaning or reason behind it. In the backs of
the minds of many parents, I know from experience, was the notion that we needed to get
our kids confirmed while we still had them in Church! And a more absurd reason I can’t
imagine, because being confirmed certainly never kept any kid IN Church, and what possible
good can Confirmation do for a Church drop-out?
(I speak from experience. My father was raised and confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I
didn’t know that, nor did he even feel it worth mentioning when Mary and I left the Roman
Church in which we’d been raised and joined the Episcopal Church in our early twenties,
nor when we decided to enter the Priesthood. Rather I was ½ way through seminary when I
found all that out. Nevertheless it made my heart glad to know that the second time in his
life my father received Holy Communion was from my hands at my ordination! Yet he was a
Confirmed Episcopalian – technically.)
What we are trying to do, today, is to begin to carry out the intention of the Lambeth
Conference of 1958, by turning the new Sacrament of Confirmation into a true
commissioning for ministry! We aren’t trying to send all of our kids off to foreign missions,
like the Mormons, certainly. But we do want to help them to understand that their
confirmation is an entry into a life of ministry; a life as active, responsible Christians.
And we want them to understand that, they mustn’t do this thing just because they’ve
reached a certain age! If we have 15 year olds that aren’t interested in or ready for that kind
of commitment, they need to feel free to decline with the full assurance that they are full
Christians, full members of the Church – and that the door to the next stage of Christian life
will always be open for them to step through at whatever age they decide they’re ready!
Bishop Bartlett will be here in a couple of months. We are preparing a small group of young
people, not to be Confirmed, but to make a decision as to whether they wish to be
Confirmed or not – a decision I will not ask them to make, finally, until the week before he
I ask you to support our efforts – and to support them in your prayers and, as appropriate, in
your conversation. It’s an important moment in their lives in Christ, and an important
decision they’re considering.
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.