“Already the savour of bliss is upon you, who have come to be enlightened; you have begun to pluck spiritual flowers with which to weave heavenly crowns. Already you are redolent of the fragrance of the Holy Spirit. You have reached the royal vestibule. O may the King himself conduct you within.” Cyril of Jerusalem, to those about to be baptized at Easter, c. 350
The words of Cyril our ancestor sound the Christians’ deep reverence for baptism as initiation into the royal lineage of Jesus…a royal priesthood of believers anointed by the very Spirit who anointed Jesus himself. Nothing less is at stake in baptism, and nothing less flows from it than the call to become, by divine grace, who we are.
And who are we? Through baptism, we find ourselves beloved and redeemed; yet the powers of death persist for now, and so we turn toward the world, beloved too by God, to join ourselves to God’s mission at work anywhere that mercy, justice, and healing is underway.
To consent to this mission, to be strengthened for participation in it, confessing our failings and returning to it again and again as it gets into our bones – this is the ongoing work of Christian formation, and it belongs to every stage of Christian life. But it is rooted in baptism, and in every stage it is to the call of discipleship and the grace to perform it given fully in baptism, nourished at the Eucharistic table, to which we return.
I am delighted at the development of robust “best practices” for formation of young adults, and the contributors to this issue offer fine reflections and resources to that end. We must, however, be crystal clear that this is one piece of the ongoing baptismal formation that the 1979 prayer book supports: a process of formation so fulsome and life-long that it might lead us any time, not just at young adulthood, to reaffirm our faith before a bishop who is not one charged with the completion of baptism (as if something is lacking there), but who presides over the ongoing life of the baptismal-eucharistic community at every stage of its growth.
With the energy for best practices around confirmation described in this issue must come with as much energy, or more, for the process of evangelism, the catechumenate in preparing adults for baptism; forming sponsors of children and preparing them for their children’s baptism in something more than a two-hour session on a Saturday; preparing the baptized, from ages 1 to 101, in well-crafted formational efforts over the long arc and in short intensives for the regular renewal of baptismal vows at principal feasts; and more.
Without this, the turn toward strong practices around confirmation may simply return us to a context in which confirmation is asked to bear too much; baptism to weigh too little; our capacity to imagine the ministry shared by every baptized person (even infants!) is made weak; and bishops envision their contact with parishes primarily through dispensing a particular sacramental rite reserved to them.
An emphasis on confirmation over all other formational stages and rituals would take us backward, and backward is not where we need to go. So, strength and blessing to those who work at the strong practices around confirmation for our young adults like those reflected in this issue. And may the same energy be put toward initial formation for baptism and the life-long formation of the baptized at every turn of life, to become who we are and take up our roles in the transforming mission of God.
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Winter 2017, Special Issue – Youth Confirmation, Vol. 29, No. 2, page 22