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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Confirmation: A Step on the Journey

This past week, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by Bishop William Stokes of the Diocese of New Jersey at an outdoor service. My journey to the Episcopal Church has been a long and varied one and is not without its share of present challenges. Yet, I decided to commit to it as a way of aligning myself with the Anglican legacy of saying "yes" to the full-breadth of the Christian tradition. Maybe one day I will tell some of that story and some of the reasons for my decision here, but for now, I want to reflect on the actual experience of Confirmation.

For those unfamiliar with what Confirmation is, the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer defines it as "the rite in which we express a mature

commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop." At the service, Bishop Stokes summarized, "It is an outward expression of the inward work of the Holy Spirit in our lives."

Going in, I thought it was important to commit myself to a particular expression of Christianity. It is by no means the first time I had done so in my life. I had made vows of membership at a small Presbyterian church. I thought this would feel much the same, important, but largely unemotional or dramatic. Yet I was wrong. I found this service to be a powerful experience of God's work in my life.

It all began with the bishop's sermon. Bishop Stokes preached without notes, an oddity in my Anglican experience. He also talked at length about Civil Rights history, and I will confess, I was antsy he would ever get to a point about Jesus or the Scripture readings for the day. Yet when he did, he addressed the confirmands directly, holding eye contact with us at length.

One point, speaking to us by name, stood out to me: "God is redeeming you, calling you, saving you from a world that's trying to pull you in 25,000 directions. The purpose of God is love and His purpose for you is love and it's contained in these promises. We say about the God in whom we believe, 'we believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.' We believe in this God who is love. We believe in this God who loves. And then we say how we are going to live out that love in imitation of Jesus." I do not always find it easy to believe that God loves me. Yet during this sermon, Bishop Stokes highlighted that Confirmation is another step in living in God's love for me and those around me. Confirmation would not be another service or commitment. It was an invitation for me to embrace the love of Jesus more tightly and to listen more closely to the Holy Spirit's work in my life. These words struck me and caused me to listen more attentively to what Confirmation had to offer.

Due to COVID precautions, we stood up by our seats to answer the bishop's examination questions: "Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?" I thought of the many ways I fail this every day: I am selfish with my time, prioritize my schedule over the people around me, ways I fail to trust God to provide, the ways I proudly boast about my reading and all the things I know about the Bible and Christian faith while struggling to attend to God in prayer. I responded, "I do," clearly and decisively. It is not the first time I renounced sin, nor would it be the last. It was clear to me on that day, however, that my walk with Christ could not be about mastering content but being present to Him.

"Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?" I have been thinking about that particular topic recently. Living post-seminary and pre-ordination, I have often wondered what following Jesus should look like right now. For me, it currently revolves around three practices: study, prayer, and hospitality. "I do, and with God's grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord." I know I cannot do this alone without His help. I can only live the Christian life by the power of God. There have been many times I have tried to commit myself, work hard, and follow Him with all my ability and failed. I cannot do this without Him.

Then the bishop addressed the congregation: "Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?" As those gathered responded, "we will," my girlfriend, Anna, squeezed my hand. Over our time dating, she has already provided an image of someone seeking God in their daily lives outside of an academic discipline or a vocational role. She has been an inspiration to seek God more in prayer in Scripture than I had before and less as an academic discipline I needed to master. She started fulfilling her promise long before she made it that day.

After the congregation renewed our baptismal vows together, the congregation prayed for us, as did the bishop. "Almighty God, we thank you that by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ you have overcome sin and brought us to yourself, and that by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service. Renew in these your servants the covenant you have made with them at their Baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

It was then my turn to receive Confirmation. The bishop laid his hands on my head and prayed, "Strengthen, O Lord, your servant Scott with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life. Amen." He then made the sign of the cross on my forehead before I returned to my seat. My family is broadly Pentecostal. While raised in that environment, I could never quite make sense of it and, as such, have not always thought about the Holy Spirit in my Christian life. Yet at that moment, I felt powerfully that the Holy Spirit was present, not just for one service, but in my day-to-day life. I wrote out the bishop's prayer on a notecard to set on my desk at school as a reminder of the Spirit's presence, even as I teach.

For much of my life as a Christian, I have desired to see God's presence in my life but have rarely found it. Too often, I turn God into a task I must master, a set of theological principles for me to memorize, ancient texts I must decode. In recent years, my faith journey has slowly uncovered the reality of His presence in the public reading of Scripture and in the celebration of the Eucharist. I have slowly turned my attention to the life of prayer, for which the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican tradition have been a great gift. During my Confirmation, I felt in a way that I had never before that the presence of God is not locked away in prayer practices, books, and the right services. God is always present through the Holy Spirit, ready to express Himself through my life. Confirmation solidified the way the Holy Spirit has been leading me over the past several years. It also served as something to live out, a goal to attain in my Christian life, and a sure promise of the Spirit's continued presence in my life.

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