The Associate editor of The Living Church, the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano, considers Confirmation preparation at St Benet’s Church in Cambridge, where he serves as Deacon.
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the ordaining bishop describes “the office of a Deacon” and its functions. After this, he asks those being ordained, “Will you do this gladly and willingly?”
The answer, in good Anglican fashion, is “I will so do, by the help of God.”
Since my ordination as a deacon last July, it has been my desire and joy to carry out by God’s grace my ministry in the body of the Church. Naturally, it has involved many different tasks: preaching, praying, visiting the sick, assisting “the Priest in Divine Service,” and aiding in the distribution of Holy Communion – not to mention many other activities the prayer book does not specify. This being England, cups of tea come to mind.
One of the traditional roles of a deacon, mentioned in the prayer book and elsewhere, is to prepare candidates for baptism and confirmation, and it was my delight to do so during Lent this year and now into Easter. There is no greater privilege or duty of the ministry than this: meeting with members of the Church, encouraging them, and patiently teaching, discussing, and proclaiming “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2) the faith of the Church, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As with any kind of preparation, it is tempting to wonder “Was it enough?” We met eight times and discussed everything from the sacraments to Scripture, from the meaning and methods of prayer to living in holiness and hope. We had constant recourse to the Bible and the C of E’s catechism; we considered various hard topics in the spirit of “faith seeking understanding” (and, sometimes, “reason challenging faith”).
All was in the context of shared hospitality: eating and drinking together as we searched the Scriptures. It was exhilarating, at times usefully frustrating or difficult, but always pursued with goodwill and a kind of seriousness, in the best sense, that is often lacking in today’s Church. These were matters of life and death, not trivialities, matters of heart and mind, matters that strike to the core of our humanity.
I believe and trust that whatever deficiencies there were in the instructor, can and will be made up by the Holy Spirit. For ultimately this is a preparation focused on him. The end of our classes was, after all, confirmation, admittedly not for everyone who came, but for most.
Were I to believe that I could teach rightly and thoroughly in my own strength – well, that would have been a betrayal of my ordination vows and a kind of hubris unfitting to the grace-filled character of the Christian ministry “Who is sufficient to these things?” (2 Cor 2:16).
But, were I not to give it my best, taking up my task “in fear and trembling,” trusting that God would work in me “to will and to work according to his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13) – that would have been another sort of betrayal. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant “(2 Cor 3:6).
In the work of ministry, in all our life together, we must put our whole confidence and trust in the mercy and power of God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead in the Spirit, who gives life to our mortal bodies also, and who “activates” and “energises” all the varied work of the Church (1 Cor 12:1-11). How else can we proceed but in faith?
In only a few days’ time, our candidates will appear before the congregation and our bishop, and they will make their vows and receive gifts from that same Spirit, that same Lord and giver of life, as our bishop lays hands on them and prays. The Holy Spirit of God will rest upon them, strengthen them, and build them up – for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body, for eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.