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Confirming A Trend

by Gerry Lynch last modified 18 May, 2017 05:29 PM

2017 starts out as a bumper year for confirmations

On a Monday night in Calne, seventeen people have gathered in historic St Mary’s Church to seal the covenant created at their baptism through being confirmed by the Bishop of Ramsbury. Seven of the group from across the Deanery of Calne are aged under 12, while the oldest is 79. Family and friends are present. The atmosphere is warm and intimate.

A few weeks later, in the grander setting of Salisbury Cathedral, a group of sixty undergoes the same rite. This is the maximum number that is practical to confirm in one service, and some people have had to move to June’s confirmation instead. Three bishops are involved in this service, but the age range is just as broad. The youngest confirmand is just nine years old, while the oldest, who was baptised on the same evening, is eighty-two.

There seems to be a something of a revival in Confirmation in the Diocese at present. Dismissed by some as a ‘graduation ceremony for young people about to leave the Church’, the number of Confirmations across the Church of England has been in a remorselessly steady decline for decades. That decline seems to have been stemmed here.

“In 2014”, explains the Bishop of Ramsbury, the Rt Revd Dr Edward Condry, “Bishop Nicholas asked me to develop a project exploring why the number of Confirmations had fallen and what could be done about it. We also recruited Neil Larkey to work with parishes and schools to see what could be done to encourage more young people to explore Confirmation. We wanted to see if it would be helpful to reawaken something that we perhaps had lost.

“I’m delighted this seems to be making real progress. After a period of decline, the number of confirmations stabilised last year, and the first months of 2017 have seen us taking many confirmations, some of them very large, in the Cathedral, in parishes and in schools.”

Neil Larkey, whose official title is the Diocese’s Young People’s Confirmation Project Officer, explains his job simply, “I help people to look at different ways of running their confirmation courses and make it a better experience for young people preparing for Confirmation.

“I am passionate about Confirmation because it can be such an important part of the whole discipleship journey.”

That sense of Confirmation as part of a journey is, Bishop Edward explains, one reason for its emerging revival.

“There is a rediscovery that this is a gift of the church”, he explains, “to mark people’s pilgrimage as disciples of Jesus Christ. More than that, it anchors the individual disciple in a Christian family from their own community and often beyond. The Church gathers together and celebrates with people being confirmed.”

Calne Confirmations.jpgThose celebrating with them can be as impacted by the service as the confirmands themselves. The Revd Bob Kenway, Team Rector of the Marden Vale Benefice which includes Calne, says, “One of the parents e-mailed me to say she’d had a really difficult day and was really uplifted by the service.

“It was an excellent atmosphere. Bishop Ed did really well and relaxed people.”

Bishop Edward believes confirmation is something for the whole Church of England, in all its diversity.

“Those being confirmed come from the full spectrum of church tradition”, he explains, “and from the full age range.

“Confirmation groups also reflect that, with a growing number involving both young people and adults. They have become an opportunity to explore faith, which many people of all ages are taking part in.

Neil Larkey says he’s always available to help those looking to establish new routes to Confirmation in their parish or benefice, or to rethink established ones.

“The commission always remains the same”, Neil concludes, “to create disciples of Christ, but the model of our engagement needs to evolve with the time. Part of my role is about changing the model of Confirmation and preparation.

“I am available to come alongside people and support them through the whole Confirmation cycle from organising the course through to how to follow up with young people after they’ve been confirmed. Please freed free to contact me on 07469 855 525 or neil.larkey@salisbury.anglican.org.”

Pewsey Confirmation.jpgNeil recently spent time with the Clergy Team in Pewsey Deanery to re-imagine their Confirmation programme. He helped planning the course with them, leading to a 6-week course with 10 young people from across the Deanery being confirmed.

The course each week involved delicious food for them each week and the group watched videos, lit candles, prayed together, read the Bible and asked lots of questions!

The Revd Mark Windsor, Team Vicar in the Vale of Pewsey, thanked Neil, saying“You have helped us think through our whole approach to confirmation. Your enthusiasm has undoubtedly contributed to us having 10 enthusiastic young people starting the course.”

Young people are supported after Confirmation by advice and support from Lizzie Whitbread, Diocesan Youth Advisor. 

In October, a day course entitled Re-thinking Confirmation will see Susie Mapledoram from the Diocese of Manchester talking about the Finnish model of Confirmation and more from her wealth of experience, with Heather Waldsax talking about Young Vocations. Non-Clergy bookings can be made here here.

Middle photo: The group at Calne after their confirmation. Credit: Steve Connor.

Lower photo: The group from Pewsey Deanery after their confirmation. Credit: Neil Larkey.

 

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