I was Confirmed at St Mary’s in Walthamstow last month, on Sunday November 10th – Remembrance Sunday. The following is the piece I wrote for the parish magazine.
I was baptised as an adult at Pentecost on Sunday, May 11th, 2008. It was the logical next step after having attended the “Just Looking” group run by Jackie and David Baker in Autumn 2007, and I remember at the time when giving my testimony that I felt baptism wasn’t a destination – it was a gateway to pass through on my journey of faith.
I didn’t feel ready for confirmation at that time however; although I had been slowly coming to Christ for what seemed the whole of my life – even through the 20 years I spent as a Pagan – I was still very new to church life. Unlike the majority of those I attended the confirmation course with, I hadn’t been raised in the church; ours was not a church-going family, and the closest I’d ever been to church was a few months attending a Sunday school attached to an Assemblies of God group when I was 9, and later a Christian youth group at the local Christadelphian church in my teens, none of which really had much in common with your typical C of E church. I was still finding my feet in a new life as an adult Christian.
I always knew that confirmation would be something I wanted to seek for myself at some stage however. There was a confirmation group about a year after I was baptised and though I considered it at that point, I didn’t feel I was ready enough. But over the past couple of years, I have been increasingly feeling that I am being called to serve in some way, and these past few months in which I have been serving as part of the music ministry team at St Mary’s seem to have only whetted my appetite. Confirmation seemed the logical next step; a public reaffirmation of the vows I made in baptism as a deeper dedication to God, and an open, deeper commitment to the church as a whole. When the confirmation class was announced in September, I knew I was ready at last.
I think the confirmation course has been as much an educational experience for Donna, Peter and Young as it has been for me and the rest of the candidates. I was one of the oldest on the course at 40 (and I was the oldest person confirmed at the service on remembrance Sunday); most of the other candidates were young adults in their teens, with only four adults (including myself). For the younger people who had almost all been raised in the church, it seemed to me that confirmation was simply something they just expected to do because they were old enough; it had a different meaning for those of us who came to it with adult experiences and expectations, I think. Over the course of the various sessions together the younger candidates seemed to gain a much better insight into their own faith I feel however, and I think we all learned from each other as much as from Donna, Peter and Young; there was a wide variety of life experiences within the group, which I think was one of its real strengths. There was a focus on sharing a meal together at each session, and I think that informality really aided us in getting to know each other and share our stories of what had brought us to that point.
I also found that for me, exploring theology and interpreting passages from the Bible together helped really clarify a lot of my own understanding of the Bible and God’s word. It helped me to remind myself of how God’s word speaks directly to me of my own salvation. In many ways it was like reliving again those marvellous evenings at the Bakers’, reawakening that strong sense of realising I had been walking with Jesus for so long and He had only been waiting for me to notice. At every session I had a very strong sense that the Spirit was present with us; I found the sessions to be very inspiring and invigorating at a spiritual level, and there was a real feeling that we were all walking on the same journey together.
The last confirmation session before the actual day, we had a form of dress rehearsal in St Gabriel’s. I remember everyone was complaining it was very cold in the church and most of the group kept their coats on, but I was quite comfortable in just a t-shirt! The run-through made it all seem very real suddenly – we’d been heading in the same direction towards the same destination, but we’d been a little hazy about the exact specifics of how we would get there. I’d been present at the last confirmation at St Mary’s a few years before so I had perhaps a little more idea of what would happen. There would be three baptisms just before the confirmation, and having been baptised as an adult myself I knew what to expect. But it’s one thing to have witnessed a confirmation, another to be one of the candidates oneself.
We had been asked to find mentors and sponsors at the start of the course, and for me there was only the one obvious choice – David Baker, who sponsored me at my baptism and has been, together with his wife Jackie, one of the most influential Christians in my life to date. It was his leadership in the “Just Looking” group that first encouraged me towards baptism, and over the past five years he and Jackie have been wonderful examples of maturity of faith and have been amazingly supportive. I have always looked forward to our LifeGroup sessions every Thursday – for the intellectual and spiritual stimulation, animated and insightful conversation, support and good Christian fellowship. I couldn’t think of anyone in the world I would rather have had standing behind me than David and Jackie Baker at the moment I was confirmed, and I was delighted when David agreed to be there.
Remembrance Sunday dawned clear and bright, and I felt no nerves as I dressed and got ready. My partner David and our daughter Freda walked with me to church, and I felt only a keen anticipation of what was to come.
It felt a little strange to sit in the front left pew, watching the music team setting up and running through a rehearsal and not being one of them (I’ve been taking a more active role in church over the past few months and I’ve been part of the music ministry team at St Mary’s for over six months now as a singer, helping to lead sung worship and occasionally playing flute or guitar). However I couldn’t sing and be a candidate at the same time – as I’d joked at the dress rehearsal on the Monday before, I’d likely have ended up taking an accidental dunk in the baptismal pool trying to be in two places at once, and I’d already been baptised by full immersion!
The Remembrance Sunday part of the service was very moving; I found myself feeling close to tears, and actually had to fight the urge to salute at the playing of the Last Post despite having left the TA over ten years ago. But any tearfulness was soon forgotten as Bishop David got right into his sermon. He always puts on a good show that also leaves one with much food for thought.
And then we were up, and it was finally time. There were sixteen of us being confirmed, so we went up in two lots of eight. I was in the first group, and I found myself standing in the middle, Jackie and David both standing just behind me. Just before Bishop David began the laying on of hands, Jackie leaned forward and joked that it was too late to back out now. I grinned back and said I wouldn’t have backed out even if I could.
And then Bishop David was in front of me; he gave me a smile, laid his hands on my head, and I closed my eyes. I felt a sense of complete calm, peace, and rightness.
And then he moved on, and it was done.
I think I floated back to my seat; I’m not entirely sure walking was involved, though it must have been. It felt very similar to how I’d felt after my baptism, and I couldn’t stop grinning through the rest of the service.
At the end, Pauline Martingale, Debbie and Shirley Anstey waved me frantically up to join them singing the final hymn and there were hugs and grins all round, and then it was off to the lunch afterwards in the Welcome Centre before a slow walk home again afterwards. I still felt like I was walking on air even as I went up to bed that night. It was back down to earth with a bump the next morning for the mundanity of the school run mind you!
Confirmation wasn’t a destiny for me however; this isn’t the end of the journey, and the path stretches on before me now. I have plans already; I want to volunteer to be a CAP befriender, and I want to do CCS (Course in Christian Studies), to give me a good sound formal foundation in theology. Looking ahead, I’d like to become a Licensed Lay Minister, with an ultimate view of looking towards ordained ministry as a Non-Stipendiary Minister. But all that is in the future, and will require lots of prayer and discernment before I get to that point.
To anyone considering confirmation for themselves, I would first recommend that you be very certain that you are doing this because it’s right for you – not because you feel you are expected to, or that it’s just something you do because everyone else is doing it; particularly if you are a teen or young adult. It’s something you have to feel ready for, and it’s something you have to do for you. If you’re just exploring the possibility, then do go on a confirmation course – even if you don’t think you’re quite ready yet, you will find it very useful finding out what would be involved and examining deeper just how you actually feel. There’s no obligation to go through with confirmation at the end if you don’t feel ready for it – and indeed, you will be advised not to and supported in your decision, whatever you decide, by the excellent confirmation team.
Do find a good spiritual mentor, someone who is mature in their faith with a good grasp of theology, doctrine and scripture. Join a Bible study group (at St Mary’s we call them “LifeGroups”) if you haven’t already – I really do recommend them; they are a wonderful way of exploring the Bible and Christian issues together, and you will find the support and sense of community and fellowship to be helpful and valuable. Talk to others who have been confirmed; ask them about their stories and share yours. Pray – alone, and with others; ask them to pray for you too.
Above all, don’t think of confirmation to be a final destination; it’s a gateway on the journey to Christ. A journey you are not walking alone, but with Jesus Himself at your side. Others have walked this path before you, others will be following the path behind, others are walking it with you – but this is your journey, and Jesus will be with you every step of the way.