This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!
I did not grow up in the Anglican church. My teenage years were split between a Messianic Jewish synagogue and a Grace Brethren congregation. So, at a distance, the sacrament of confirmation looked like a cool rite of passage for my Episcopalian friends. But on February 11th, 2018, I received the laying on of my Bishop’s hands with this blessing:
“Defend, O Lord, this your servant, Hunter, with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes into the fullness of your everlasting kingdom.”
This same confirmation prayer occurs in every iteration of the Book of Common Prayer, always emphasizing mature perseverance as an intended fruit. I received this sacrament as an adult who, at that point, had served as a youth minister for six years, yet I experienced a new vigor in receiving the Eucharist and participating in parish life. Perhaps my own confirmation experience makes me acutely aware of a common disparity between the theology of confirmation and the practice of confirming youth in the Anglican church. It seems to be the case that parish catechesis risks merely preparing youth confirmands for the rite of confirmation while the liturgy and theology of confirmation treats the sacrament as an initiation into life-long, Holy Spirit-filled perseverance. The result of this disparity is a generation of youth fully initiated into a Body they are unprepared to participate in long-term. Thus, the Church risks perpetuating another achievement for youth to attain without life-long practices and perspective. So, the question, “Are you initiated?” may not be as helpful for confirming youth as, “What are you initiated into?”
Now, there is no ecumenical consensus on the timing of confirmation. Our Eastern Orthodox friends do not separate baptism and chrismation, while Anglicans, like our Roman Catholic friends, withhold confirmation until a child or adult may take reasonable, mature ownership of their faith. However, the question of what youth are initiated into remains for every Christian tradition. In what follows, I will explore the way a strong method and theology of confirmation moves youth beyond the words of a catechism and the works of piety into a persevering desire for the Triune God.
Words, Works, and Desire
What prepares a young person for confirmation? The numerous catechisms written since the Protestant Reformation seem to answer: systematic content. The Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments become jumping off points into a didactic process whereby the catechumen ought to know what these teachings mean and why they occur in the Church’s liturgical life. Now, it may be unfair to diagnose this method as overly cognitive in its scope, yet youth confirmands experience that, in order to be confirmed, you must learn what these words mean. Under this view, catechism concerns the meaning behind the words and works of the Church. William Cavanaugh addresses a similar problematic method at work in the Eucharist. “The problem is that the Eucharist has been reduced to the message, to a piece of information for the mind to grasp. … The key is not what the Eucharist means, but what it makes. And it makes the Church.” Surely the sacrament of confirmation also ought not be reduced to merely confirming what someone knows.
Since a little ressourcement goes a long way, let us consider a catechetical method from the early church. In De Catechizandis rudibus, St. Augustine responded to Deogratias, a deacon in Carthage, regarding how to deliver a proper catechism. This deacon, celebrated in doctrinal knowledge and eloquence, struggled to deliver the scope of the Christian faith without boring his catechumens. What is Augustine’s advice?
The narration is complete when the candidate has received instruction from that first passage in Scripture, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” all the way up to the present age of the Church. But this does not mean that those of us who have memorized the whole Pentateuch, all the books of Jewish kingdoms and Ezra, the whole Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, should rehearse them verbatim. … Rather we should offer a brief and general summary, selecting particular passages that occasion wonder and pleasure in the hearer and also form the sinews of the story.
Certainly, Augustine is not implying that parts of the Biblical narrative are unimportant. His narrative method is intentional, knowing that where one starts affects the whole and must fit together with all other pieces. The goal of catechetical instruction is “love proceeding from a pure heart, good conscience, and unfeigned faith.” Much like the hermeneutic instructions in De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine emphasizes the desire for and enjoyment of the Trinity as the ultimate end of all instruction.
So, how does Augustine’s narrative method answer what catechumens are initiated into? A catechism beginning with a selective biblical narrative (1) shows that the catechumen/confirmand is part of and participates in the public story of God’s redeemed people and (2) assumes this story will inspire wonder and pleasure for a life-long pursuit of God. If I might expand Augustine’s illustration, the sinews of the biblical narrative are sufficient for the catechism because they prepare the confirmand to be a full part of the Body of Christ, rather than an individual initiated solely on their mature knowledge.
Confirmation gives young people something to long for beyond the moment of initiation: a daily strengthening by the work of the Holy Spirit. The theology of confirmation points to this very reality. In baptism, the Church is united to Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, the Body is united to Christ and one another through receiving His body and blood. In confirmation, each believer participates in Pentecost. A narrative catechism emphasizes a young person’s participation in a public story; initiation is participating and receiving that act of God which initiated and constituted the Church.
Throughout De Catechizandis rudibus,Augustine exhorts the listener to consider what they really rest their hope upon. If you place it upon your personal character, you will not persevere. If you place it upon the character and piety of others, you will not persevere. Augustine’s interest in the chaff among the wheat takes a pastoral turn towards perseverance and the purpose of Christian practice.
This is fulfilled by no one save the man who has received the other gift, the Holy Spirit, who is indeed equal with the Father and the Son, for this same Trinity is God; on this God every hope ought to be placed. On man our hope ought not to be placed, of whatsoever character he may be. For He, by whom we are justified, is one thing; and they, together with whom we are justified, are another.
Here lies the mysterious hope in the sacrament of confirmation: that, by grace, we will persevere in our desire for the God on whom, alone, our hope truly rests. Christian practices form persons who daily put their hope in God, awaiting the fullness of His everlasting kingdom.
A Practitioner’s Perspective
Discipling teenagers is not an easy task. I studied youth ministry at a Christian college, served in youth ministry a non-denominational church for six years, and now I am a student ministry director at an Anglican parish. I write as a practitioner seeking clarity and conviction for my own students, more like Deogratias than Augustine! Yet I find that the Anglican tradition offers a uniquely helpful perspective and practice for forming youth.
First, Anglican youth ministry is free to learn from any Christian tradition and practice. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, began from a larger sociological shift when the institution of public education functionally created a distinct people group: teenagers. The Anglican Church can learn from every kind of response to this phenomenon, from movements emphasizing family-driven faith to methods presupposing teenagers are largely unchurched. I have every reason to study the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Orange’s “It’s Just A Phase” curriculum, Hillsong Worship, St. Augustine’s understanding of the Imago Dei, and missiologist Leslie Newbigin in order to catechize and disciple students well.
Second, the Anglican tradition can be locally adapted for a variety of post-Christian contexts. I serve a diverse, urban parish in the heart of a city nicknamed the Holy City for all the church steeples on the skyline. Yet my students attend schools, have jobs, and form friendships in spaces that relegate religious beliefs to private preferences. Thus, the methods of reaching teenagers and equipping parents will look different in a diverse, urban setting compared to a suburban, like-goes-with-like context. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table will form parishioners in a Kingdom reality, but parish catechesis must adapt to the spaces where parishioners will go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Third, the Daily Office is an ideal rhythm for worship and discipleship. It is relatively easy for young persons to read Scripture with the multitude of Bible apps and reading plans one download away. Yet the Anglican tradition gives youth ministry a true gem: a pattern for how to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture as a Body. Our parish now requires all confirmands, youth and adults alike, to learn and practice the Daily Office as a rule of life.
Anglican youth ministry benefits from strong sacramental theology and practice.
On one morning of a youth service weekend at a nondenominational church, I
struggled to teach Christ’s
words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” I realized I could not teach this
passage without treating the Eucharist as a true sacrament and not just a
memorial ordinance. Christ’s words surely go beyond daily devotions and into
the constitutive reality of a Church united to Him in the sacraments. Youth
ministry, at least in the United States, risks merely moralizing Christian
practices without a historic sacramental theology, a risk still present even in
Anglican parishes. The challenge of parish catechesis will always be to pierce
beyond the meanings of a catechism into the mysterious initiation into a Body
united to Christ, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together
through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” May our youth always persevere in
their desire for God and participation in the Body.
Hunter Myers is a Student Ministry Director at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina. He earned his BA in Youth Ministry & Philosophy at Columbia International University. He is from a small town called Golden, Colorado.
 Cavanaugh, William. “Eucharistic Bodies in an Excarnated World.” Lecture, The Intersection Conference, Atlanta, May 17, 2019.
 Personal unpublished translation by Dr. Andrew Alwine, Associate Professor of Classics, College of Charleston.
 See Dr. Sarah Coakley’s understanding of systematic theology. Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self, 41.
 De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 2.6.
 Augustine, De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 27.55
 John Berard, Rick Bartlett, James Penner, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture.
 John 15:5, ESV.
 Colossians 2:19, ESV.