Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nails in Confirmation's Coffin Lid

The Episcopal Church's Blue Book is sent out prior to its upcoming General Convention and it usually contains lots of controversial material. This year proves to be no exception with same sex blessings and budget slashing to be found as useful fodder for the press and for the blogs.

The big ticket items can sometimes cause the bleary eyed, beaten down, church warrior to give lesser issues a pass. Why bother about arguing over something trivial like removing all references to "Confirmation" from the Canons of the Church when all that other stuff is going down?

Why? Because of the possibility that they got it wrong, and to reflect on the unforeseen consequences of wrong actions.

First, read their explanation,

The 2009 General Convention adopted The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation, which describes the many processes by which Episcopalians live into the Baptismal Covenant. The explanation accompanying that resolution explained the vision underlying the Charter in this way: “We affirm
that life-long Christian formation is foundational to the success of any church, and in the case of our own, is an integral part of the process by which we will rebuild The Episcopal Church. Our congregations will grow in numbers and health when they are supported by leaders – of all orders of ministry – who know their identity in Christ and are able to access their tradition for the purposes of proclaiming and living out the Gospel.” These proposed amendments of the Canons underscore the importance of lifelong formation as spelled out in the Charter and address a further priority: that people in leadership positions in The Episcopal Church, such as members of a vestry, delegates to diocesan convention, and other appointive or elective positions, demonstrate adequate formation in Episcopal identity. It is important to form new members and those elected to leadership positions in Episcopal identity and governance, building upon the foundation of baptismal catechesis and life-long learning opportunities for all members. 
The resolution does not prescribe a singular mode of instruction but rather affirms the rich and diverse contextual realities in The Episcopal Church and acknowledges that myriad resources for formation in Episcopal identity already exist at parish, diocesan and other levels. In order to fulfill this requirement for instruction, parishes, dioceses and others are encouraged to collaborate and share resources.

These proposed amendments of the Canons underscore the importance of lifelong formation as long as lifelong formation doesn't include anything following a 1979 BCP Baptism.

I have mentioned before that in the past, Confirmation was an important bridge between infant baptism and adulthood. Through Confirmation and its required homework, study, prayer, and commitment, those who had been baptised as infants could, through this rite of passage, be welcomed as adult, committed members of the Church, and would then be able to receive their first Communion. Most traditional societies had rites of passage into adulthood that children could look forward to and have as a goal. Unfortunately, in the Episcopal church, the rite of Confirmation was somehow felt to be a barrier to some, so as part of the many changes which hoped to rejuvenate a declining denomination after the 1979 Book of Common Prayer came out, unconfirmed children began being given the Eucharist. Thereafter, "Confirmation" became, in the eyes of most teenagers, unnecessary. Is it any wonder that secular rites of passage such as getting your driver's license, losing your virginity, your first alcoholic beverage, etc., have superceded traditional, faith based rites of passage in the minds of our youth?

Going back to the Church's explanation of their proposed changes you read earlier, you  do have to love that reference to "...the rich and diverse contextual realities in The Episcopal Church." That is what we call Episcobabble. I hope you didn't mess up your computer screen with any recently ingested diverse consumables after seeing that one.

Let me list the proposed resolutions and highlight the words to be removed from the Canons starting on page 156 of the Blue Book, or as I refer to it, "Le Livre Bleu." 

Resolution A042 Amend Canons: Canon I.1.1(b), Canon I.1.2(a), Canon I.2.5, Canon I.4.1(c), Canon I.4.3(d), Canon I.9.7, Canon III.4.1, Canon IV.17.3
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, the 77th General Convention
affirm that the Book of Common Prayer teaches that Baptism is full initiation
into Christ’s Body the Church and Confirmation is an occasion for those baptized at an early age “to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism” (BCP 412); and be it further
Resolved, that the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer understands Baptism and not Confirmation to be the sacramental prerequisite for leadership in The Episcopal Church; and be it further
Resolved, that Canon I.1.1(b), Canon I.1.2(a), Canon I.2.5, Canon I.4.1(c),
Canon I.4.3(d), Canon I.9.7, Canon III.4.1, and Canon IV.17.3 be amended to
read as follows:
Canon I.1.1(b)
(b) There shall be a President and a Vice-President of the House of Deputies,
who shall perform the duties normally appropriate to their respective offices
or specified in these Canons. They shall be elected not later than the seventh
day of each regular meeting of the General Convention in the manner
herein set forth. The House of Deputies shall elect from its membership, by
a majority of separate ballots, a President and a Vice-President, who shall
be of different orders. Such officers shall take office at the adjournment of
the regular meeting at which they are elected, and shall continue in office
until the adjournment of the following regular meeting of the General
Convention. They shall be and remain ex officio members of the House
during their term of office. No person elected President or Vice-President
shall be eligible for more than three consecutive full terms in each respective
office. In case of resignation, death, absence, or inability, of the President, the
Vice-President shall perform the duties of the office until a new President is
elected. The President shall be authorized to appoint an Advisory Council
for consultation and advice in the performance of the duties of the office.
The President may also appoint a Chancellor to the President, a confirmed 
an adult communicant of the Church in good standing who is learned in both
ecclesiastical and secular law, to serve so long as the President may desire, as
counselor in matters relating to the discharge of the responsibilities of that
office.

Canon I.1.2(a)
(a) The Canon shall specify the duties of each such Commission. Standing
Commissions shall be composed of three (3) Bishops, three (3) Priests and/
or Deacons of this Church and six (6) Lay Persons, who shall be confirmed 
adult communicants of this Church in good standing. Priests, Deacons and
Lay persons are not required to be members of the House of Deputies.
Canon I.2.5
Sec. 5. The Presiding Bishop may appoint, as Chancellor to the Presiding
Bishop, a confirmed an adult communicant of the Church in good standing
who is learned in both ecclesiastical and secular law, to serve so long as the
Presiding Bishop may desire, as counselor in matters relating to the office
and the discharge of the responsibilities of that office.
Canon I.4.1(c)
(c) The Executive Council shall be composed (a) of twenty members elected
by the General Convention, of whom four shall be Bishops, four shall be
Presbyters or Deacons, and twelve shall be Lay Persons who are confirmed
adult communicants in good standing (two Bishops, two Presbyters or
Deacons, and six Lay Persons to be elected by each subsequent regular
meeting of the General Convention); (b) of eighteen members elected by
the Provincial Synods; (c) of the following ex officiis members: the Presiding
Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies; and (d) the Vice-
President, the Secretary, and the Treasurer of the Executive Council, who
shall have seat and voice but no vote. Each Province shall be entitled to be
represented by one Bishop or Presbyter or Deacon canonically resident
in a Diocese which is a constituent member of the Province and by one
Lay Person who is a confirmed adult communicant in good standing of a
Diocese which is a constituent member of the Province, and the terms of the
representatives of each Province shall be so rotated that two persons shall
not be simultaneously elected for equal terms.
Canon I.4.3(d)
(d) The Presiding Bishop shall appoint, with the advice and consent of a
majority of the Executive Council, an executive director, who shall be an
adult confirmed communicant in good standing or a member of the clergy
of this Church in good standing who shall be the chief operating officer and
who shall serve at the pleasure of the Presiding Bishop and be accountable to
the Presiding Bishop. If a vacancy should occur in the office of the executive
director, a successor shall be appointed in like manner. 
Canon I.9.7
Sec. 7. Each Diocese and Area Mission within the Province shall be entitled
to representation in the Provincial House of Deputies by Presbyters or
Deacons canonically resident in the Diocese or Area Mission, and Lay
Persons, confirmed adult communicants of this Church in good standing but
not necessarily domiciled in the Diocese or Area Mission, in such number
as the Provincial Synod, by Ordinance, may provide. Each Diocese and Area
Mission shall determine the manner in which its Deputies shall be chosen. 
Canon III.4.1
Sec. 1 (a) A confirmed communicant in good standing or, in extraordinary
circumstances, subject to guidelines established by the Bishop, a
communicant in good standing, may be licensed by the Ecclesiastical
Authority to serve as Pastoral Leader, Worship Leader, Preacher, Eucharistic
Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, Evangelist, or Catechist. Requirements and
guidelines for the selection, training, continuing education, and deployment
of such persons, and the duration of licenses shall be established by the
Bishop in consultation with the Commission on Ministry.
Canon IV.17.3
Sec. 3. The Disciplinary Board for Bishops is hereby established as a court
of the Church to have original jurisdiction over matters of discipline of
Bishops, to hear Bishops’ appeals from imposition of restriction on ministry
or placement on Administrative Leave and to determine venue issues as
provided in Canon IV.19.5. The Disciplinary Board for Bishops shall consist
of ten Bishops elected at any regularly scheduled meeting of the House of
Bishops, and four Priests or Deacons and four lay persons initially appointed
by the President of the House of Deputies with the advice and consent of the
lay and clergy members of the Executive Council and thereafter elected by
the House of Deputies. All lay persons appointed to serve shall be confirmed 
adult communicants in good standing. Members of the Board shall serve
staggered terms of six years, with terms of one half of the Bishops and one
half of the lay persons, Priests and Deacons collectively expiring every three
years, with the first expirations occurring at the end of the year 2012.
 What is interesting to ponder is how these changes will interact with the current trend (and proposed resolution in favor of) Communion without Baptism. Read the explanation to the above resolutions that strike out references to "confirmation."
Explanation
These amendments bring the canons into conformity with the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer, which teaches that “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church” (BCP p. 299). They will extend to all members of the Episcopal Church opportunities for serving as appointed or elected leaders. These amendments will equip members of the Episcopal Church with the knowledge and understanding to lead effectively. Amending these canons clarifies that rather than being a prerequisite to holding office in the Church, Confirmation is a “mature public affirmation of faith and commitment to the responsibilities of…baptism” (BCP, 412) through which each confirmand is strengthened,
empowered and sustained by the Holy Spirit (BCP, 418). The canons will continue to require individuals holding office to be “communicants in good standing,” which is defined by canons I.17.2(a) and I.17.3 as “those who have received Communion three times in the previous year,” and “have been faithful in corporate worship unless for good cause prevented and have been faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the kingdom of God.”
Notice that the proposed language does not require individuals holding office to be “baptized" communicants in good standing. This is a big mistake. You see, in the past, in order to be confirmed, one must first have been baptized., and the old language of the canons recognized this as the way things were.  If the current resolutions pass, there will be no requirement that anyone be first baptized before being elected to a leadership position in the church.

The current move to Communion of the unbaptized leads to the inevitable problem that if a priest or bishop allows an unbaptized person to receive Communion three times in one year, and they show up in church on Sundays, then that person is now eligible to do pretty much anything including, serving as "Pastoral Leader, Worship Leader, Preacher, Eucharistic Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, Evangelist, or Catechist" [Canon I.4.3(d)  Sec. 1 (a)]. Of course, some people will not see that as a problem.

They use the same rationale for the next Resolution as well, and I include it for the sake of completeness.
Resolution A043 Amend Constitution Article I, Section 4
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring that Article I.4 of the Constitution
of The Episcopal Church be amended to read as follows:
Sec. 4 The Church in each Diocese which has been admitted to union with the
General Convention, each area Mission established as provided by Article VI,
and the Convocation of the American Churches in Europe, shall be entitled
to representation in the House of Deputies by not more than four ordained
persons, Presbyters or Deacons, canonically resident in the Diocese and not
more than four Lay Persons, confirmed adult communicants of this Church,
in good standing in the Diocese but not necessarily domiciled in the Diocese;
but the General Convention by Canon may reduce the representation to not
fewer than two Deputies in each order. Each Diocese, and the Convocation
of the American Churches in Europe, shall prescribe the manner in which its
Deputies shall be chosen.
Explanation
This amendment brings the constitution into conformity with the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer, which teaches that “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church” (BCP p. 299). It will extend to all members of The Episcopal Church the opportunity to serve as deputies to General Convention. These amendments will equip members of The Episcopal Church with the knowledge and understanding to lead effectively. Amending the constitution restores Confirmation to its rightful place as a “mature public affirmation of faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their baptism” (BCP p. 412). The constitution will continue to require individuals serving as deputies for General Convention to be “communicants in good standing,” which is defined by canons I.17.2(a) and I.17.3 as “those who have received Communion three times in the previous year, and “have been faithful in corporate worship unless for good cause prevented and have been faithful in working, praying, and giving for the spread of the kingdom of God.”
One long term problem, of this thing might be found in the next Resolution.
Resolution A044 Review Confirmation Requirements in Title III
Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, that the 77th General Convention
direct the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and
Education and the Standing Commission on Ministry Development to review
the requirement for Confirmation in the Title III Canons on the ordination
of deacons and priests
and consider any revisions to the canons needed to
conform them to the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer; and
be it further
Resolved, that this review include consultation with other provinces of the
Anglican Communion and full communion partners such as the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America and the Moravian Church; and be it further
Resolved, that the standing commissions report their findings to the 78th
General Convention in 2015.
Explanation
Resolution 2009-B013 adopted by the 76th General Convention directed the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education
to bring to the 77th General Convention “any proposed revisions to the canons to conform them to the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer.” The Commission began its work by focusing on canons pertaining to lay leadership in the Church. The Commission believes that consultation with the Standing Commission on Ministry Development and others partners is necessary to address canons pertaining to ordination. This resolution permits the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education to complete its work in consultation with the Standing Commission on Ministry Development in the next triennium and to report back to the 78th General Convention in 2015.
Why they didn't just go ahead and do away with Confirmation for those to be ordained is beyond me.

Now they need to see how this will work if and when the unbaptized apply for ordination to the priesthood!

Holy Ambrose! You might even jump from pewsitter to Saint without getting wet!

I may just be picking nits here when the whole scalp needs to be treated with a pediculicide, but I do think that rites of passage are important, and you need to think twice about the long term consequences to the Church, and to families and kids from removing such rites as an expectation. Who needs ongoing Christian Formation when baptism is sufficient?

Isn't it a bit like giving a Cub Scout his Eagle badge upon attending his introductory meeting?

Who would have thought that the seemingly harmless idea (that I first heard in the 70's) that it is unfair to "deny" communion to those who have not, as an adult, confessed their faith through catechism and/or confirmation would lead to this.

I think my Dad thought it would, but he also thought that the introduction of Medicare would lead to socialized medicine.

What did he know?



17 comments:

  1. Thank you for the thorough and informative job on this post, UP. Now, like the proposed adoption of an alternative rite for SSB's, we'll see whether any of the deputies to GC are paying attention to what they are voting on.

    Isn't there a parallel in medicine? At some point, the invaders take over the host to such an extent that they themselves cannot stop the process that will bring about their own demise by causing the death of their host.

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  2. It would seem that eliminating the requirement of Baptism and Confirmation, your denomination has indeed consigned itself to oblivion. See, A.S. Haley's comment above. I shudder to think of all the souls affected by these changes.

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  3. Allan,

    The parallels are clear. Like other conditions too, those who wear the same theological hats, bed down on the same-sex mattresses of modernity, or drink through the same leaky straws will also get infected.

    What amazes me is the incompetence that must pervade TEc to allow such resolutions to get this far without much discussion. To my eye, this is something that should never have made it out of committee (assuming we were talking about a functional, hierarchal organization).

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  4. Randall,

    The numbers of baptisms and marriages are well below the numbers of funerals in most TEc churches now, so you are correct.

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  5. One would think that with 815 being located in Manhattan, the ruling elite would be aware that under New York State's Religious Corporation Law, the Wardens of a parish MUST be confirmed members of the Episcopal Church.

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  6. Doh! Good point Deacon Vicky.

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  7. I think this resolution if passed will be the beginning of the final slide of TEC into paganism . Lets see, baptism is all you need to be a member of the church. Of course, you can take communion without being baptized! AND be elected to any office at parish, diocesan or national level all you have to do is take communion three times a year ( for which you don't need to be baptized) and have been faithful in corporate worship, etc. So if both of these resolutions passed, truthfully you would not need to even be baptized to hold any office. Terrific news for all those pagans who want to hold office in an Episcopal parish or diocese. I agree Pewster, how did this get out of a committee? Did those who wrote this resolution decide that the communion of the unbaptized resolution was a sure thing so some other decided to go ahead and make resolutions? to axe confirmation? Truly the oddest application of logic........
    SCBlu Cat Lady

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  8. No more bishops visiting a parish annually for confirmation!

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  9. Alexi,

    The druids have already gained a toe-hold in this diocese, so you might have a point there.

    I'm thinking about where they are going to set the Trilithons.

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  10. Galletta,

    In many dioceses, that might not be a bad thing.

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  11. Pewster, All I can say is thank God that the convention of this Diocese (SC) changed the diocesan constitution to no longer accede to the Canons of TEC. Won't matter here what ridiculous canons are passed at GC.
    SC Blu Cat Lady

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  12. Pewster, They will have a hard time getting the idea of no confirmation necessary for ordination past the Moravians. Good luck there, indeed! Moravians may be smaller in number but the are very faithful orthodox Christians. How odd that the resolution talks about consultation with other in the Anglican Communion as well as other denominations. Why bother? TEc has never listened to others in the WWAC before this. Believe me the Moravians won't be falling for this nonsense.

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  13. These are profound changes that change our understand of being a Christian as well as membership in the Church and who as a lay person may lead the Church.

    Baptism in the '79 Prayer Book is over emphasized at the expense of Confirmation. The argument then is that Confirmation is no longer required. So, it is easy to see this as a natural progression in the EC but it is a serious mistake to water down our Christian Theology and beliefs to this level.

    Some time crucial legislation is hidden amongst the enormous mounds of other resolutions and such and is lost.

    This is a profound change that will not serve our Church well at all.

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    1. Creighton+,

      It is a natural progression from the '79 Prayer Book which was a natural progression from a lot of other things. It should remind us that not all natural progress is good.

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  14. Does anyone else have the sinking feeling that is exactly what some want? I remember I warned another group (cat fancy) about something that was to be voted on by the membership. Oh NO, I was told. That is not the intent of the revision. Uh huh... but guess what happened- exactly what I feared! Sigh. If these resolutions pass GC, no one can not say they were not warned. Sadly, do people in the pews even know much less care??

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  15. As someone in the pews I am quite aware of what is being proposed and frankly I believe a middle ground (via media, perhaps you've heard of it?) is in order.

    Frankly, I'd be pleased if TEC did away with infant baptism all together and required a solid core of catechesis by anyone wishing to join TEC.

    And if you had actually read The Blue Book without prejudice and snark you'd also know that there is a proposed requirement for ALL leaders in the TEC to receive an education in Church history, polity, and governance - which would necessarily require education in a variety of other matters including liturgy and theology to make sense of the Church.

    Back to confirmation: simply eliminate infant/child baptism and make Adult Baptism the norm - Anabaptists are hardly going to complain, now are they? LOL

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    1. No infant baptisms? We are heading there by accident. I would consider that a via extrema position though.

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