Should confirmation be required?

Newark Bishop Mark M. Beckwith laying on hands during a confirmation service at Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral in Newark. Photo/Nina Nicholson

[Episcopal News Service] When the Rev. Canon Lee Alison Crawford told vestry members church canons required they be confirmed, an anguished junior warden resigned.

“As the (former) rector of a congregation whose average Sunday attendance was under 50, which gave me a core group of maybe 30 people, I usually found out by accident that somebody hadn’t been confirmed,” recalled Crawford, during a recent telephone interview.

She refused his resignation. “I said to him, you are one of the most faithful people I know. You already have a leadership position. You understand the church. In a small congregation I would say confirmation for leadership is an ideal but in theory and practice it doesn’t always happen,” said Crawford, a General Convention deputy from Vermont.

“With the change in theology in the 1979 prayer book, with baptism the root of everything we do, confirmation is a rite looking for a theology,” she added.

The confirmation requirement for leadership was the subject of intense conversation but not much consensus at the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis, said Deborah Stokes, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Ultimately, General Convention rejected or referred for further conversation several resolutions proposing removal (A042, A043) or review (A044) of confirmation as a requirement for church leadership.

“We felt very strongly this was just the beginning of the conversation,” said Stokes, co-chair of the legislative committee on education, which considered the resolutions. “I didn’t want to lose confirmation, and I think all of us feared losing it if it’s not a requirement for something.”

Rather than eliminate it the proposed changes intended “to free confirmation to be a response to baptism, a pastoral response that might occur in various ways in people’s lives,” said the Rev. Ruth Meyers. The Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, she consulted with the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation, (SCLCF) which authored the resolutions.

She was surprised by the reaction to the proposed changes. “People had the sense that, by taking it out of the canons, we were wanting to do away with confirmation. That’s absolutely not the case.”

Rather, the canonical changes were intended to offer options. “We could just say that baptism, with some instruction in the history and governance of the church, is really what you need for leadership” allowing confirmation to follow “as a response to baptism at a time that makes sense to you.”

Bishop Porter Taylor of Western North Carolina, SCLCF vice chair, said the changes would make the rite more a response to the movement of the Holy Spirit and less “a hoop that we have to jump through. We don’t see confirmation as part of our governance.”

“And this is not about saying I want to be a member of the Episcopal Church,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “This is about saying that God has been doing something in my life and I want to mark that by standing up in the midst of the congregation and having the bishop lay hands on me in order to mark the movement of the Holy Spirit.”

For Lillian Sauceda-Whitney, who was confirmed May 6 at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in San Juan Capistrano, California, confirmation felt like “I had finally found my home. It was like being baptized.”

Bishop Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church confirmed the 59-year-old preschool teacher and more than a dozen others on behalf of Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles.

“I had tears of joy,” Sauceda-Whitney recalled during an Aug. 23 telephone interview. “I really wanted to belong. I thought, it’s time for me to stand up and say I am an Episcopalian. I thought the only way to do that would be to join the church.”

Whether confirmation is required of church members in general and leaders in particular since it is no longer needed to receive communion, is a conversation that needs to happen organically, at all levels of the church, especially in the parish, said the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, a retired priest in the Diocese of Newark.

“It’s about belonging,” Kaeton said during a recent telephone interview. “I think we’re still not clear in our society and that’s reflected in our church, about what it means to belong. In the church we’re trying to figure out what it means to be an Episcopalian. We’re also struggling with what does it mean to have a public profession of faith.”

Rather than being tied to a rite of passage or an age, confirmation should be linked to a process of Christian formation,” she said. “It’s an exciting conversation. We’ve stopped talking about sex and now we’re talking about money and baptism and confirmation and marriage and these are important things.”

Another education committee member, the Rev. Charles Holt, rector of St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, in central Florida, said he was relieved and grateful that “none of the resolutions passed General Convention.

Had they passed, theoretically, “all one had to do to be an elected leader at the highest levels was to have taken communion three times over the course of last year” or be a communicant in good standing, he said. “Conceivably, they could not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and personal savior and be a leader in the Episcopal Church.”

The conversation about confirmation is essential and a healthy one because “it makes us recommit ourselves and come to clarity about our core beliefs and wrestle with our faith,” said Holt.

Holt also believes confirmation “is actually the one thing a bishop can do to help grow the Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal Church, it’s the bishop’s job to make sure that every single person who’s a member of our church has made a mature profession of faith in Jesus Christ” – a moment he believes every Christian should experience.

“If we do away with confirmation then we don’t have that moment for people,” he said.

Making confirmation a powerful and personal moment is of utmost importance for Bishop Dorsey Henderson, who retired from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina in 2009. He now assists on behalf of Bishop Gregory Brewer of Central Florida at confirmations.

Henderson confirmed about 18 people at St. Peter’s Church on May 17, including eighth grader Grant Williams, 13, who believes “confirmation is very necessary.

“It felt like I was coming closer to God, like I was getting to know him better and confirming my faith in him by showing that I truly believed in him and wanted to follow him,” he said.

Henderson said he adds the names of each confirmand to a personal notebook he has kept over 15 years of the episcopacy. “I assure them that I will pray for them regularly by name and I ask them for their prayers.”

While confirmation “is not essential to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion … it provides a kind of spiritual boost” especially to those baptized as infants and those converting from other traditions, he said during a recent telephone interview.

Bishop Dan Martins of the Diocese of Springfield, said confirmation evolved the way it did because of practical necessity—because dioceses grew and “bishops could not multi-locate.”

What began as one service including baptism followed with laying on of hands by the bishop and a prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit over time “was separated and priests were authorized to celebrate at the water portion, with the understanding that at some point they would bring the newly baptized to the bishop for the laying on of hands. “Eventually it took on a life of its own as a separate event and acquired the name confirmation,” he said during a recent telephone interview.

The rite may evolve, but bishops remain a symbol “of the wider church, our organic connection to church through time and space,” he added. “The prayer may change, the name we use is in flux, but … as the sacramental sign of ministry, then it’s important that everybody come under the hands of the bishop at some point in their public profession of Christian faith and discipleship.”

The Rev. Tom Woodward, a retired priest residing in New Mexico and a long-time General Convention deputy, believes baptism and confirmation should both be delayed, to about 16 and 26 respectively, to allow for more mature professions of faith.

“A child in middle school or high school who’s being baptized—his or her friends would come to that service and it’s a powerful witness of the decision to be baptized,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “Confirmation class would include a discernment of ministry and gifts, Then, when the bishop comes to invoke the Holy Spirit it would be very similar to the ordination process, adding to the dignity and power of commission of lay ministry in the world.”

Timing had everything to do with confirmation for Karen Lander, 45, and Henry Lutz, 14, also confirmed May 6 at St. Margaret’s in San Juan Capistrano by Sauls.

“I decided since I was sending my eight-year-old to her first communion classes, it was time for me to do my confirmation as well,” Lander said during a recent telephone interview. “I have to be an example to her. I needed to learn more about the church instead of just going to church.”
For Lutz, who is entering the ninth grade this year it was a communal experience. “The bishop put his hands on me, and the priests and my family did the same.

“I gained a wisdom through the whole experience. I understand what I’m doing with the Bible, what I can interpret from God and so many parts of the Episcopal Church. I interpreted it as a sign of how I’m taking my faith to a different path now, knowing that I’m getting a stronger faith and ready to do more.”

— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.


  1. Andy Hook says:

    Let’s get rid of the requirement of confirmation for leadership!
    Let’s get rid of the requirement of baptism for communion!
    Let’s get rid of the requirement of Jesus to be a priest!
    Let’s get rid of the name church since we want to do whatever feels good all in the name of ultra-inclusion!

  2. Frank and Dog Jeffrey. says:

    Confirmation is such a grand mass. I’d say, let the worshipers make the choice.
    However, it is in the 1979 BCP. and it’s a wonderful service. and a chance to meet the Bishop.

    Also, the Blessings of our Pets. they are also put on the Earth to give us Love and Affection.

  3. Russ Post says:

    I have heard from my friends outside the Episcopal Church that their impression of the ECUSA is that it is a club buffet – select what beliefs you want, nobody cares. Very sad.

  4. There is no national canonical requirement that vestry members be confirmed. That is left up to diocesan canons.

    • Mark Fraizer says:

      I’m glad you pointed this out, Bp. Epting, it is just what I was thinking as I read the article!

    • I was about to ask where the notion came from that Vestry member must be confirmed! I grew up in a parish that had a Warden who wasn’t even a member of the Episcopal Church. I think that was quite common at one time and derived from the notion that community leaders should take responsibility for the church in their community and that the church benefited from the insights and leadership of community leaders whether they were members or not. Doesn’t that fit better with the notion of a catholic church rather than the narrowness of a sect?

  5. Frank and Dog Jeffrey. says:

    Andy., why don’t you just leave the Episcopal Church. We are losing loyal members and the last thing that I need is to read is your personal wise cracks. therefore, this is not the site for this kind of Attitude debate.

    • Michael McCoy, M.Div. says:

      I hear you Frank and Jeffrey, but I am very cautious about inviting people to leave. I think we may need to hear more of Andy’s reasons for his feeling so strongly.

    • Joseph F Foster says:

      And why do you suppose you / we’re “losing loyal members”?

  6. Judith Wood says:

    Return Baptism to an adult rite and you won’t need confirmation. Confirmation is a reaffirmation of one’s baptismal vows and what two month old is going to remember what his parents, godparents and the church got him into. Confirmation, by the way, should probably also be an adult rite offered when a person is ready to make a commitment to Jesus and live and exercise the Christian life as best as he or she can. The problem with teenage confirmation is that he or she may have absolutely no understanding of it’s purpose as the whole experience goes in one ear and out the other.

  7. Harry W Shipps says:

    The positive observations above concerning Confirmation ring true. If Confirmation is no longer required for leadership but left only to those who want to make a ‘response’ to Baptism, it will quickly disappear.

  8. Jeff Sharp says:

    Realistically there is a difference between the baptism of a young person/adult and an infant. In the case of the baptism of an infant the promises and commitments in the Baptismal covenant are spoken on behalf of the child by the parents and grandparents. It only makes sense that if one really understands the nature of discipleship as outlined in the New Testament that there must come a time in a baptized infants life when he/she affirms those promises for him/herself. That happens to some extent when the Baptismal covenant is recited, but it also happens in a very powerful way at Confirmation. For me, the question one should ask is, Why does a person reject confirmation if they really have decided to follow Christ? We don’t make confirmation an expression of “holier than thou”, but a conscious, mature affirmation that one does indeed want to follow Christ as Savior and Lord. As for church leadership, one would expect someone who is mature in faith and conduct, knows or is willing to learn the position for which he/she is being chosen to lead, has demonstrated the gifts that are necessary for that position.

  9. Father John H. Shumaker says:

    Bishop Dan Martins is correct about the evolution and separation IN THE WESTERN CHURCH of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and Holy Confirmation. IN THE EASTERN CHURCH this never happened, and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation) are still celebrated within the same liturgical action. The Chrism used for Confirmation in the Eastern Churches is blessed by the Bishop with his deligated authority for the Priest to Baptize and Chrismate …..’Sealed by the Holy Spirit’ (Confirm) the individual within one Liturgical act. I think that our present Baptismal Liturgy hints at this with the use of Chrism and the words “Sealed by the Holy Spirit (in Baptism ) and marked as Christ’s own for ever”

    • Rich Friel says:

      The Roman Catholic Church added 5 sacraments as a response to the Reformation.
      I think we should return to our roots with Chrismation just a part of Baptism. I think it would be very meaningful for us to renew our Baptismal vows as adults if we are in line to accept leadership responsibilities.
      Let us not let ourselves be confused or diluted by what the Roman Catholic Church did merely to solidify it’s political control over it’s “members”, or rather “serfs” as they were in reality when all this as going on.

  10. Chuck Till says:

    Attempted takeovers of TEC congregations by dissidents make me believe that we need some kind of significant and explicit commitment to TEC’s polity from lay persons who aspire to serve on vestries. It may even be prudent to require such commitments from those who vote in vestry elections. My concern is not theological but practical. Confirmation has served as such a commitment, but it’s an imperfect one. As long as we devise and require a suitable commitment to TEC’s polity, we can drop Confrmation from the various diocesan canons.

    As for Confirmation itself, I believe the future is to understand and observe it as Reaffirmation, per the 1979 BCP. It won’t survive otherwise. There is a lesson to be learnt here: eliminating Confirmation as a requirement to receive Holy Communion effectively killed Confirmation. If we eliminate Baptism as a requirement to receive Holy Communion, we will effectively kill Baptism. Don’t kid yourself into believing otherwise.

    • Joseph F Foster says:

      People of course may discover they can do without Communion. Quite a number of Protestant denominations have it only occasionally and make no big deal about it. And there are groups of Russian descended Starovery ‘Old Believers’ who are bespopovtsy ‘without priests’ who with a lay leadership only have kept the Orthodox Faith since the 1600s.

      • Growing up in the church, every Sunday offered Morning Prayer at the main service, with Communion one time each month, unless, of course one went to the 7am service. Happily that is no longer the case, and Communion is now the central focus of every service. Although it MAY be time to re-think Confirmation, let it take several years to resolve, just like the blessing of same-sex unions is taking years of listening!

    • Julia Langdon says:

      Chuck Till,
      Please tell me that I’m misreading — you want to replace the sacramental rite of Confirmation with some political affirmation of fealty to TEC? Would it become a requirement then and berets distributed?

      I’m beginning to wonder if I belong to a church or a quasi-communist group with liturgy and processions.

  11. Bruce Thomas says:

    Resolution A042 at General Convention this year went too far when it proposed removing confirmation as a requirement for the various types of lay ministries in Canon III.4.1 “Of Licensed Ministries.” Those are not positions of “governance” — most, if not all, of them should in my opinion require a “mature public affirmation of faith and commitment to the responsibilities of … baptism.” Those who drafted that resolution did what Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery did: they went “a bridge too far” when they included that portion of the canons to apply this blanket removal of confirmation as a requirement for various positions in the Church.

  12. Marylin Day says:

    Ultra-inclusion is exactly what Jesus wanted!

  13. Interesting coincidence that this should appear today. Here are my reflections:

  14. Richard Vanderlippe says:

    I would add my voice to those who consider “Life Long Learning” as the true measure of one’s commitment to a life in Christ. Confirmation as an individual practice in each parish or, more reasonably, in each diocese is a variable that is only one part of what should a a continuing process.
    Unfortunately my experience is more like “been there, done that, now there is no need to do anything further as a disciple. EfM taught me so much more than my “reaffirmation of faith” and was truly the most significant part of what has become, for me, a life long journey of faith and service.

    • Richard Vanderlippe says:

      I should have been a little more careful with my words. I should have said that it the preparation for confirmation that is a big variable.

  15. Fr. Steven A. Scarcia says:

    Confirmation is already required, in that, by historic accident, it was and presumably still is originally part of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism – at least that is what was taught in Seminary. Therefore the question should really be, should we return Confirmation to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism? Unfortunately, early on in the Church, the Bishops delegated the water portion of Baptism to the priests while they themselves retained the Chrismation (Anointing with Holy Oil) for the time when the Bishop would come and “complete” the Sacrament.
    In Church History, one could find a variety of numbers of “sacraments” that were observed in the ancient Church; for example 33 sacraments commemorating the age of Christ and I read once up to 44 sacraments were observed. It was finally settled upon 7 and even after the Reformation, the 2 Dominical Sacraments (Baptism & Eucharist) were always “required” of a Christian, while the “others” were seen throughout Anglican history with a rather jaundiced eye.
    So if Confirmation is the completion of the Sacrament of Baptism, perhaps it should be required. Why? For the those who observe infant Baptism, it would and could be the adult self-affirmation of the Baptismal questions, renunciations & vows which a person can make, with confidence and on their own before their family, Church, priest & chief pastor, the Bishop. On the other hand, if being Baptized with water and anointed with holy oil by the priest is sufficient for membership in Holy Mother Church and to also receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, does it not also make sense that this is only what is needed for leadership in the Church? Yet, for example in our Diocese, one could be a member of the Vestry and not be confirmed. However, to be a Warden, one must be Confirmed in the Church. Then too those who are seeking Ordination must also be Confirmed…so we’re stuck with the “haves” and the “have nots.”
    Now consider this…why is it necessary for a Bishop to Confirm? If license was given to a priest to Baptize and to Preside at Holy Communion, why couldn’t a priest also Confirm members of his/her Parish? The Orthodox Church both Baptizes and at the same time Confirms infants and adults. That means that Confirmation is done by an Orthodox priest – also meaning that Baptism & Confirmation are ONE Sacrament. One little known fact is the in some instances, Roman Catholic priests can Confirm members of their congregations and they’re not Bishops!
    So what shall we do as Anglicans, about this Confirmation “thing?” Sometimes it seems that the Church is more interested in the “speck” in the eyes of our traditions and teachings than in the “Log” which is causing blindness in the Episcopal Church. Instead of nurturing the teachings, faith and traditions of the Church, our Churches are becoming more and more empty, yet we’re still “trendier than thou,” ultra inclusive and always neither too hot or too cold in offending anyone’s sensibilities. It’s like we’re going out of our way in the Episcopal Church to make elbow room in a place without elbows. Does that make sense?
    If we teach that Holy Baptism & Confirmation are one Sacrament in 2 parts, linked by faith and tradition to each other, then I can’t see that we’re far from the kingdom. Baptism and Confirmation is and always had a “special relationship;” one that welcomes, one that grants membership into the Christian family, one that plants the seed of faith into our lives and one that, upon becoming an adult, can enable us to re-affirm all this means and therefore “Seal” it all with the love, gift and blessing of God’s Holy Spirit. Believing that then, the question of “leadership in the Church” becomes a rather mute point.

    • David Yarbrough says:

      My understanding in ECUSA is that Confirmation is the formal acceptance and reception into the Church BY A BISHOP of a baptized person who is making a formal commitment (Baptism in other traditions being recognized as equivalnt to baptism in the Episcopal Church). It is generally observed in common with Reception of persons who have been confirmed BY A BISHOP IN APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION (i.e., Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or even dissenting Anglicans), recognizing their prior confirmation but receiving them into this communion. It would be up to General Convention to allow Bishops to delegate this authority, and up to Bishops to choose to delegate or not.

      The central point is not so much the symbolic application of Holy Chrism as the public expression of a believer’s mature commitment to Christ and His Church – appropriately the basic requirement for leadership. Vestrypersons, let alone wardens, who have not been confirmed really should not hold the office.

      Also, while I can’t speak for the entiriety of the Roman Catholic Church, I note that in the RC diocese of Charlotte confirmation is frequently performed by the Vicar General, a priest whose primary function is similar to our Canon to the Ordinary position. While he doesn’t hold the order of Bishop he is specifically delegated to perform this function – essentially functioning as an assisting Bishop – and the function is not delegated to parish priests as such.

  16. Alma T. Bell says:

    I cannot think of many groups or organizations which do not require that their leaders have an understanding of their purpose, rules of order, beliefs, history, etc. Why is what we believe, as Episcopalians, not important for those who wish to serve on vestries, be wardens, handle funds,etc? No one is required to take such roles but anyone who does should know how we express of beliefs and what it means to be Episcoplanian. Doing away with the requirement for confirmation means that we can choose leaders who do not really know what they are leading.

  17. Nancy Sjoholm says:

    As a longtime member and leader in the Presbyterian Church, I was received into the Episcopal Church in 1993. When Bishop Talton held my head in his strong hands and spoke to me, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in that sanctuary. The rite was meaningful and sacred and beautiful. I would hope that all lay leaders, especially Vestry members have the opportunity to experience that power. I can’t imagine why anyone would not want to be confirmed or received.

    Thank you, Pat, for a very clear article, and for all the interesting comments which it generated.

    • I was Baptised on the 9th TH September and felt so happy. I left the Catholic Church after 70 years and I love my NEW church and the wonderful Pastor Sally.I asked to be Confirmed as well and know that I have already been Baptised and Confirmed in the Catholic Church.But I am an Episcopal now and want to be part of that church all the way.I feel so peaceful in church.

  18. Why would someone who is active in the Church want to avoid confirmation?

  19. The Rev. Canon Nancy Platt says:

    OH My Let’s look at this more closely. The “new” 79 Prayer book allows 3 options: confirmation reception and reaffrimation of baptismal vows. Each is appropriate in a unique pastoral setting. however I do not believe that setting is membership on a vestry when baptism ( and of course commitment to a particular congregation in terms of presence and stewardship) should be sufficent. Having encounter resistence on the part of a prospective vestry member who had been baptized in the Episcopal church, I suggested he simply reaffirm his baptismal vows which made sense and was acceptable to him, to me and to the church, when his son was confirmed. let’s keep it simple.

    • David Yarbrough says:

      Why would an Episcopalian look for a workaround to Confirmation – especially when the workaround was being done during a Confirmation service?

      I would think that it would be a unique blessing for father and son to be confirmed together.

  20. I came from another denomination. Probably 2/3 on average of people in my congregation and most meetings I attend came from another denomination. Many people do not understand the polity or history of the church that they attend; they are only concerned with the doings of their parish, maybe dimly aware of the diocese and almost no interest beyond that except among sacristy rats like me. I believe Confirmation could serve — as it did for me — as a strong personal milestone when you commit to the church you’re in, and — if it has a reasonable educational program (maybe an online one that can be done at one’s own pace?) that covers the basics — is not too much to ask those in leadership roles. However, rather than a “hoop to jump through” it should be seen as a goal and — if done right — be a wonderful spiritual moment as Nancy described above. I know it was for me. For those whose previous church experience was negative, a rite of initiation feels like coming home.

    I understand that many parishes and even dioceses are struggling. But the answer is not to keep dropping our standards.

  21. Rev James Hodson says:

    I would agree with the description of Confirmation being a rite looking for a theology. Confirmation is so often presented as rite of commitment, where the baptized come and make an affirmation of the baptismal promises made on their behalf ment years before. The problem in my experience is that in most cases following confirmation we never see these people again. I believe the true sacrament of commitment is participation in the Eucharist. Some which can be done week after week as we recommit ourselves again and again to the life of the Church.

  22. David Yarbrough says:

    For churches like ECUSA which practice infant baptism, Confirmation is the only vehicle by which one makes a formal, mature profession of faith before the congregation (discounting those of us who are recovering Southern Baptists, and others who made a mature profession of faith at baptism). The extent to which it is “a rite looking for a theology” is a function of the extension of Holy Baptism to those who are not able to profess faith for themselves – which has been debated for centuries.

    This mature public profession of faith is the issue, not the theology of Confirmation or the “spiritual boost”. Church leaders should without exception have made such a public profession.

  23. Judy Elliott says:

    It has always been my understanding that Vestry members should always be Baptized, at the least, but Wardens had to be Confirmed also, I continue to support that. Why change that
    qualification for the leadership in our parishes? Confirmation demonstartes a mature profession of one’s faith in front of the congregation, and we experience a powerful feeling of the Holy Spirit when the Bishop’s hands are placed upon our heads. I will never forget that awesome feeling nearly 50 years ago.

  24. Adelaide Kent says:

    I had thought the main purpose of confirmation as opposed to baptism, which makes one a Christian, was to accept the baptized person as a member of the Episcopal Church.

    As a practical matter, it also gives the person who was baptized in infancy the opportunity to speak for him-or herself. I was confirmed at age 33, and it mattered a lot to me.

    As far as the matter of Vestry members being confirmed it would seem logical that they belong to the church they are going to help run. Besides it is no big deal to be confirmed if you have not already been confirmed at 13 or 14.

  25. Doug Desper says:

    Confirmation of one’s baptismal grace is a problem why? Isn’t it also the step that one takes to pledge loyalty – to be counted on as a responsible churchman/churchwoman: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…”? We should all have to answer that question for ourselves and be trained to take on a responsible role in the passing on/support of the faith.

  26. Joe Gilliland says:

    This brings me back to a letter I wrote to the late Episcopal Life publication when the subject came up in the letters to the editor section–Is confirmation necessary? I wrote that, since the church no longer made it the magic ticket for communion–and that baptism was considered a sufficient initiatory rite–confirmation seemed to me largely unnecessary. Now that people can be received into the Episcopal Church from churches without the so-called apostolic succession, there seems no reason for the rite to be retained in its present form. Of course the bishops have to have something to do, but one of these days we’ll realize what I have long believed, that bishops aren’t necessary either.

  27. The Rev. James C. Pappas III says:

    I think that confirmation (or whatever we might call it – I prefer reaffirmation) should come with the same teaching as sacramental confession: all may, some should, none must. Either baptism is full and complete membership in the body, or it isn’t. Bishop Barbara Harris is famously quoted as saying that you can’t treat someone as half-assed baptized. Our current requirements for confirmation do just that. We have restored chrismation as a part of the baptismal rite, just as they have it in the Orthodox churches. Therefore, there is no longer a theological justification for confirmation by the bishop as the “completion” of baptism. Baptism is full membership in the church, period. One might be able to make an argument in favor of needing to complete the rite for those who were baptized without chrismation (I think it might not convince me, but I’ll acknowledge the legitimacy of such an argument). But to state that confirmation must be required for true membership in the Episcopal church (i.e. – the ability to vote or hold any office – we do, after all, offer many of our sacraments to those who are not members) means that you affirm a state where people can be half-ass baptized. I just cannot acknowledge such a state. Either we are all in, or none of us are in.

    Many make the argument that a mature profession of faith is what is required. Well, after considerable experience at the altar rail distributing communion, don’t anyone tell me that an adult understands the faith any better than a small child. Small children seem to truly understand the sacrament of Holy Communion far more than any adult kneeling there. Yes, for many, even most of us, there are going to be times in our lives when we want to reaffirm the promises of our baptism in a significant way. Confirmation should fill that role as a repeatable rite that can be used as significant ages are achieved, as faith crises are overcome, as persons move from one communion to another or return to church after long absences, etc. With strong teaching, confirmation as reaffirmation will continue to be important in our church and will continue to exist precisely because people will be looking for a sacramental rite to acknowledge these significant moments in their faith journeys. Will all avail themselves of the rite? No. But I think it better that people go through the rite at times that seem significant to them rather than being herded through it as a matter of course, which is generally what happens in most parishes (either as part of a youth or young adults class or as part of a newcomers class).

    Others make the argument that we need our leaders to know the faith and the history and polity of our church before holding office. I know far too many people who have been confirmed (both as youths and as adults) who are still woefully undereducated in our faith. Confirmation as a requirement doesn’t solve the problem (nor has it ever done so according to my readings in church history).

    If we drop confirmation as a requirement but retain it as an option for those who have a deep longing to mark moments when they go much deeper into the faith they first professed in baptism, then it has a usefulness for us. In the current form, it really is just another way of fencing people apart, marking some as more chosen than others.

  28. The rites of “Confirmation” in both the Churches of the East and of the West have had a long and storied past. From the first use of the word “Confirmation” in the Council of Orange in 441 AD and its first doctrinal explanation by Bishop Faustus of Reiz in 458, “Confirmation” has perhaps indeed been a “rite” in search of a theology. Faustus tells his faithful that “in Baptism we are regenerated to life, after Baptism we are confirmed to fight; in Baptism we are washed, after Baptism we are strengthened.” Yet in later years perhaps Faustus reflected on a more mature doctrinal understanding when he wrote, “What good can it do me, after the mystery of baptism, to have the ministration of confirmation? So far as I can see, we have not obtained everything from the font, if after the font we need something new.”(Eusebius Gallicanus,”De Pentecosten”)
    Perhaps over the centuries this particular rite has taken a life all of its own, and in certain ecclesiastical quarters its understanding is at least equaled too, if not more important, than Baptism itself. The evangelist Billy Graham always finished his crusade services with this statement: “Every disciple that Jesus received He received them ‘Publically.’ ” But the New Testament is full of occasions where Jesus received not just disciples, but everyone “publically.” He recieved and touched those who were un-clean. He dined with those who were “outside the walls”, and he recieved them “publically.” He healed those who were sick, ministered to those who were needy, was a friend to the friendless and perhaps brought not a few down from their own self-inflated understanding of themselves, all down “publically.” Perhaps it is not necessarily a call to maturity, so to speak, for Jesus commands all of His followers to maturity(Matt. 5:48). Indeed, one cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless he or she is a “child”(Matt. 18-1-4). “Confirmation” is not necessarily about “emotions”, however that is understood, expirienced or reflected upon. It is Baptism and formation, not just catechesis and confirmation, that makes a Christian. It is perhaps more about belonging and participating rather than just “belieiving.” It is, perhaps, not just about “intensification” or fullness but by being available to those around us, moved by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The noted Liturgical scholar Aidan Kavanah once theorized that “Confirmation” in the early eastern church was in fact the dismissal, the “missa” of the baptized, now “consigned” with oil, into the church to receive their first Eucharist. Perhaps this can be a model for us as well. Entering the church we pass the font, remember our own Baptism and the vows we made, or were made for us. Going forth to the altar, partaking of that Holy food, we rise up and depart. Having confessed our own sins and un-worthiness, we have been received “publically” by God who calls and “sacraments” us to live and serve His Kingdom “publically” to the glory of His name.

  29. Frederick Buechner says:

    Whoever came up with the phrase, “Confirmation is a rite in search of a theology” never evidently realized that it had a perfectly fine theology before it was dismantled and emasculated in the ’79 Book of Common Prayer because its revisers were obsessed with “rediscovering” Baptism. Further, some thirty five years ago, Urban Holmes wrote an astounding essay confessing the SLC didn’t have the ability or time to educate the bishops regarding Confirmation, so they purposely made the new rite as theologically ambiguous as possible, hoping that the future would provide the opportunity for “greater theological clarity”. Given the current Confirmation liturgy remains nothing more than a renewal of Baptismal vows, not to mention how often we have to renew our Baptismal Covenant, little wonder so many want to do away with a relatively meaningless rite.

  30. Richard Bidwell says:

    Is Confirmation a sacrament? We haven’t really decided that for sure. I came from the Lutheran tradition where it was treated like a sacrament, but wasn’t called one. Every 8th or 9th grader had to be confirmed under threat of being dis-inherited by grandma.
    It was also somewhat disconcerting to my wife and I, both Lutherans for 50+ years, that we had to be re-confirmed in order to jon the Episcopal Church. What is Confirmation? It is not a renewal of Baptism?

    • Fr. Rick Williams says:

      Richard, your confirmation in the Lutheran Church is acknowledged as a mature confession of faith.
      I hope that your parish Priest affirmed to you and your family that the Episcopal Church receives you into this Communion without a need for “Re- Confirmation” which is theologically and past orally incorrect. Within the Confirmation Liturgy we reaffirm our Baptismal vows, but receive into this Communion those who have made a mature commitment of faith in another Christian community.

  31. Kevin Matthews says:

    I think the comments here speak to the problem. Some think Confirmation is a completion of Baptism (Not according to my liturgics professor, Charlie Price! The 1979 Prayer did away with that mistake by placing the prayer for the seven fold gifts of the spirit within the Baptism service, as it was in the ancient church). Some think we should not Baptize babies. Others think it is the moment one joins the Episcopal Church. Still others think it is the time when we are instructed in the history and polity of TEC. Then there are the folks who believe it is the moment when we make an adult statement of faith (I apparently did that at the adult age of eleven.). What a mess!

    Being one of the sacramental acts created by the post-biblical Church, it is a temporal matter, to be sure. Today, we have absolutely no idea what the heck we are doing with it. What we know is that our Bishops think that one of them should have contact with all members at least once in their lives. In fact, it was originally going to disappear under the Prayer Book revision, but the Bishops objected, so it was returned. We have lived with this confusion ever since.

    Should we dump it? Perhaps. Maybe in a post Christendom era, where baptism is rapidly becoming not normative but chosen by active believers, it should be relegated to the history books as a once important event that no longer serves the purpose for which it was created by the Church. And it is just as possible that something else will rise to address the new concerns we are raising.

  32. David Hamilton says:

    This is the sort of thing that drives people out.

    We are supposed to be one of the more liberal branches of Christianity, yet we hold ourselves on these old legacy things from the Catholic church.

    We have priests going around saying that people should take time to read the Bible from cover to cover every year. Is that sort of fundamentalist nonsense going to attract people? Would we be better to spend our time actually living the Word in the world instead of sequestering ourselves away reading?

    This summer, I visited one parish where the rector was hellbent on getting people to read the Bible and was spearheading a campaign to get everyone in the world to read it. They even published something saying the Penn State scandal wouldn’t have happened if everyone was sitting around reading the Bible. If this is the state of leadership we are attracting in parishes, we are doomed. However, it wasn’t like this was a very vibrant parish, it was mainly old rich white people awaiting their funerals. It had to be the worst worship experience I have had and I never returned.

    We need more progressive and inclusive leadership like that of Bishop Spong instead of the Bible thumping rector of a country club parish. If we turn Confirmation into more of discerned a mature acceptance of faith instead of another Catholic holdover ritual there would be a great benefit.

    That way we might be able to get leaders who lead through living the Word instead of telling people to just read it.

    • Julia Langdon says:

      Wow. Just wow. I’m sorry but the anger and condescension in your post is palpable and off-putting. If this is “progressive Christianity,” no wonder we’re shedding members and not attracting many seekers — you can’t blame Bible study. “rich old white people awaiting their funerals,” huh. Wow.

  33. Jessica Dye says:

    Firstly, what an amazing conversation! It is exactly this sort of multitude of valuable opinions that made me fall in love with the Episcopal Church. Personally, I disagree with a lot of what’s been said, and strongly agree with other aspects…often within the same argument.

    For me Confirmation was an important choice, one I had to look at very carefully if I wanted to join our little mission church’s Bishop’s Committee. I knew I loved our church, but did I love the Episcopal faith? I knew I wanted to help more and be a part of our church in every way I could, but I didn’t know if I was willing to be Confirmed in order to do it. I read the rite in the BCP, and found everything I already knew as truth there…so saying the vows wasn’t the obstacle, for me it became mostly about do ~I~ belong in the Episcopal Church as a whole? Do I want that association, not just for today, not just with my little church, but for the rest of my life? Is this the faith-tradition in which I wanted to raise my children?

    I came to view Confirmation as akin to Marriage. Marriage isn’t something to be taken lightly, there shouldn’t be an out lingering in the back of your mind if it becomes difficult. So, I joined the Confirmation classes being offered to learn, to discern, my place. In the end I stood next to my 16 year old daughter, and together, surrounded by a love I didn’t know existed up unto that point, we were Confirmed. For each of us it was an individual choice, not something we felt pressured to do, only loved and supported as we waded through learning the history of the Church and prayed about our impending decision.

    For me, having the Confirmation barrier to being on the Bishop’s Committee was important. It made me ask myself just how far into the Episcopal rabbit hole was I really ready to go, and I don’t think I could have thoughtfully answered that question or have been a genuinely effective ~Episcopal~ leader of any kind without the Confirmation classes.

    It’s been about two years since I was confirmed and my faith, my church…OUR faith, has become my daily life. I serve as the Bishop’s Committee’s Clerk, care for the church website, write the weekly newsletters, put together the pew sheets, handle the Lay calendar, work as the office manager, served as the lay representative for this year’s Diocesan Convention, and pretty much anything else where I see I may be able to help. Without being put into the position of needing to decide if I was ready to marry the Episcopal Church, I’m not sure I would have the perseverance or understanding needed to do everything I’m doing.

    Ah, and just for the record, I’m not some wonder woman with a ton of energy or free time. I’m a technically disabled wife and mother of 3 who struggles constantly with a painful, incurable illness. It’s just that, God gives me the energy and the occasional pain free moments so I’m able to serve our church.

    May we continue to talk to one another, respect each other, and walk in the Love we are blessed to have.

  34. Sanford Z. K. Hampton says:

    I do not believe Confirmation for leadership positions in our congregations should be REQUIRED given that we affirm Baptism as “..full initiation…into Christ’s Body the Church.” Having said this, I do believe anyone chosen for leadership should have as complete an understanding as possible of how Episcopal/Anglican polity is practiced and been part of a congregation long enough to have been fully incorporated into the Household. Over my 23 years as a Bishop, in our zeal to include, I have seen folks rushed into leadership (especially in small congregations) who are ill prepared to exercise these ministries which often lead to disillusionment and failure for them and their exodus from the congregation.

    • The Rev. James C. Pappas III says:

      Yes, yes, yes! It is proper preparation for holding office that is lacking. A ritual won’t provide that preparation. But solid training will. When I went up for ordination, one of the requirements was that I had be adequately trained in the canons of the church. I think it would do us well to have a similar requirement for lay leaders.

      And it isn’t always just a zeal to include that causes congregations, especially small ones, to rush new members into leadership roles. Often the folks that have been there for a while have simply grown tired and are eager to hand the reins over to someone, anyone, else. I’ve seen small churches where just coming up with enough people to sit on the vestry took extraordinary pleading. I’ve seen people tricked into assuming the roles of the wardens by being promised that they wouldn’t really have to do anything.

  35. Andy, I love your “wise cracks” as they were called. The truth sometimes stings. You are absolutely right – the church is starting to sound less and less like Jesus and more like Pontius Pilate, as she continually asks “what is truth”? Confirmation is only a “hoop to jump through” to parents who don’t see Christian Education and understanding why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe as being as important as that weekend soccer tournament or all that time spent on AP class work. Someone once said you have to stand for something lest you fall for anything, and I fear that is where the Episcopal Church is now. And how dare you, “Frank and Dog” suggest he or anyone leave because of his opinion or how he expresses it? I remind you that it is not your church, but Christ’s, and the body consists of many parts. The foot does not remove the eye, nor the ear, a leg. And you know, sometimes, tough things just have to be said. Christ didn’t sugar-coat everything, but for some reason, we in the church believe that we have to “tolerate” everything – that is of course, except those who don’t agree with our “tolerant” minds.

  36. Kathryn Horvat says:

    As someone who grew up in the American Baptist Church and was baptized when I was 15, I felt rather strange about having to be confirmed to join the Episcopal Church. I joined anyway, since that was my only option for becoming an Episcopalian. All of the Protestant Churches I was familiar with handled the question of membership by first, holding Inquiry or similar groups to educate prospective members about the church, second a request for membership that is affirmed by a church board(deacons, elders, etc) and third, receiving “the right hand of fellowship” from the minister during a church service. If the ritual of reception was opened to anyone who had already been baptized or even confirmed as a Christian, many who don’t want to be “reconfirmed” might feel more comfortable about joining an Episcopal Church.

    • DOUBLE AMEN!!!!WHat is wrong with being Confirmed and Baptised and receiving Communion weekly?To these people WHY go to church to start with?DUH!

  37. David Halsted, M.D. says:

    As a former deputy, I would love to know how much time you all spent on this “issue”. God bless you all, but it sounds like a Yeshiva argument. Only in the Yeshiva, the opponents at least have a scriptural basis for their prospective positions.

  38. Richard Campanaro says:

    Thank you, Father Holt. You comments related to Confirmation are excellent and I certainlyu agree with you. Please continue to comment on the right things. Thanks again and God Bless You Always. Richard Campanaro 9/1/2012

  39. A T Ballenger says:

    As a Christian who grew up through four denominations as I travel extensively in younger years, I found my roots anchored deeply through the holy consecration of Confirmation. While some may talk history and others theology and some convenience; for me, confirmation is the adult moment when I laid my whole life before God in front of the church members I trusted to help me live a worshipful and service-filled life in a renewed, total dedication of the rest of my life.

    In the Community of St Mary the Virgin (Wantage/S Africa/India) Office, one finds: “Total your giving, and this revelation opened the heart of one who longed to answer…(p. 44, Bk 2). Confirmation gave me the opportunity to witness to that breakthrough in my life, the Church, and all times to follow. Some of us adults have traveled paths that are not formal but which need a formal blessing for commitment that may come like Paul’s light in the road or as a gradual unfolding to where we are “one in the Spirit” with our God, faith, commitment, and the church.
    and need to express that commitment in front of our church.
    Few pew members will ever go to the priest or dean or warden or Bishop and say they need this permanent marker to act as lighthouse as they voyage on “whatever betide,” but there are those of us for whom this is not only helpful but absolutely essential if we are to grow in commitment and leadership.

    This may not address the legality or practice of confirmation in the church as knowledgeably as some of the answers here, but some of us know what a difference confirmation made and makes in our life.

  40. James Dirlam says:

    Should confirmation be required of those who are asked to come serve at the Table? Often, there are few at the service. They are loyal churchgoers who regularly receive communion and share of their talents and treasure but who may not have been confirmed.
    Should one who has not been confirmed be allowed to communicate others?

  41. Scott Campbell says:

    This should be left to individual parishes. However, Confirmation may not be a Major Sacarament, although in my opinion it should be as it is still our public profession of faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. When would our members make that profession without Confirmation? Would we then start worshipping like evangelicals by having ostentatious altar calls with our vicars preaching to scare people into salvation? There is something so holy and solemn about the Confirmation Rite and the amount of studying required to be presented for Confirmation. Also, why is this an issue? Let the congregations make the decision.

  42. bernie jones says:

    I agree with those who, like me, are baffled that anyone would see harm in being told that a person in a leadership position in an Episcopal church should be confirmed.

    We dealt with a situation like this in my parish a little over a year ago. We had an interim priest as we were getting ready for undertaking a search. In passing, I recall on different occasions, chatting with other members about our history as Episcopalians. Very few were baptized cradle Episcopalians or Anglicans. I mentioned that I was raised Roman Catholic, as a few other were. But no one had any idea of what I was talking about when I was received. I couldn’t believe it; the interim was stunned because she presumed everyone was already Episcopalian and she knew of the requirement that vestry members should be confirmed. I was stunned because these were longstanding members who were raising their children Episcopalian and teaching Sunday school, who had no idea of Episcopal Church history, theology or liturgy. They knew they liked attending and they liked the priest. For the Roman Catholics, things were similar, but they could only talk in superficial terms about their attendance on Sunday over the course of years.

    But putting aside those concerns, these were people who were going to be interviewing candidates for our rector position, how would they begin to talk theologically and liturgically about what our church is like? How would they create a parish profile? I remember saying to a few people, what if a candidate asks, “what do you think of a rite one service?” How would you respond, would you know what that would mean and what that might say about the candidate’s liturgical practice?

    However, the way we went about it was not accusatory or shaming; instead, we spoke about it in positive terms, of adding an important element in one’s identity as an Episcopalian, including raising children Episcopalian who should have an idea of their family’s faith journey. We presented it as an inquirer’s class, and that if anyone in the class was interested, they might be confirmed or received.

    As we use a prayer bulletin based upon the BCP, they opened the prayerbook for the first time and discovered it. Once again, this was something that surprised me. When I first visited an Episcopal church, I was burning with curiosity, I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on.

    It went over very well, the participants learned things they never knew before; they could suddenly articulate on firm historical, theological and liturgical grounds, why they liked attending services and why it was possible they could occupy imporant leadership positions in our church but not necessarily in the churches they were raised in.

    So our search committee was able to visit other parishes and not get lost in the service, because they knew what Rite 1 was and because they learned how to use the prayerbook.

    Thanks be to God.

  43. I left the Catholic Church after about 70 years becaause of something that happened.I am newly Baptised and hopefully will be Confirmed as well in my NEW church.I “loved” the Catholic Church but want to leave it and be “REDONE” into the Episcopal Church by being Baptised and Confirmed and whatever else it requires.It is a wonderful feeling to feel BELONGED TO!!!!

  44. Confirmation is ideal, but not aways possible.

    We are a small mission church with an average Sunday attendance of 40. We’ve had a few folks join our church in the 2 years since we’ve been attending. I don’t know if they’ve requested information on confirmation, but we have no program of education to prepare for confirmation, a 1/3 time vicar so not a realistic way to develop a program for confirmation & I think it’s been 3-ish years since a Bishop has been here. Had we not already been confirmed in our previous Diocese, WE would not be able to take communion or serve in a leadership capacity for 2+ years of attendance. If we want to attract people to our way of faith, we should at least make it attainable.

    Also, we have a young woman in our congregation who has been attending regularly for over a year. Her home life is a mess & we are her sanctuary in every sense of the word. But she is not confirmed, is 16 years old, & her parents forbid her confirmation. Do we deny her communion for another 2+ years until her parents no longer have legal standing? Have church be one more place where she is treated as unequal (she is an ethnic minourity), a place where she’s not fully included?

    I am grateful that there is ongoing & prayerful dialogue about this? While I agree with all the good reasons that confirmation is ideal, I think there are always circumstances out there that make it dangerous to hold hard and fast to the rules for their own sake.

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