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The Lent groups meeting in houses have had to be postponed because of the power crisis. I hope that they will be able to be Easter groups instead. Meanwhile it may be a good idea to take this opportunity given by the enforced delay to give a little of the background which the groups will be investigating as they try to weigh up what should be done in the future.
For many yedrs a great number of people in the Church have been convinced that our normal way of baptising infants shortly after birth, bringing them to Confirmation at twelve or thirteen and expecting them to become regular communicants from then on, is well nigh absurd, practically, theologically, psychologically and pastorally. The figures seem to bear this out, for the wastage, if that is the right word, is enormous. A very large majority of the children in this country are baptised in the Christian Church, by far the larger part in the Church of England. Only a fraction of these are confirmed when they reach ‘years of discretion’ , and only a small proportion of the confirmed remain as regular communicant members of the Church. So practically,

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this way is out, simply because the facts show that for the majority, the big majority, it does not work.
The theological arguments are more complicated. The traditional teaching about Confirmation in the Church is that this is following the example of the Apostles who administered the laying on of hands upon those who had previously been baptised by others, for example Philip’s converts in Samaria. But, in fact, the great bulk of the evidence in the New Testament does not support this. There is no evidence that the laying on of hands took place with the great majority of converts. What seems to have happened is that the Church in later times needed to find a self-contained theological reason for Confirmation, once the original rite of entry into the Church had become split in half. There seems no doubt that the New Testament Church regarded Baptism as the full and essential way of entry into the Christian Church. By Baptism we enter into the death and the resurrection of Christ and the Spirit of God dwells in us as his children. Ideas that the Spirit is only given at Confirmation make nonsense of the New Testament. So the present way does not hold water theologically as well as practically.
Psychologically, our usual manner of procedure is entangled in great difficulties. Firstly, Baptism is surely a moment of great decision - the greatest that it is given to Man to make. Infant Baptism is very difficult to justify, for how can the new-born infant ‘turn to Christ’? With a firm and faithful Christian home life and example, and with the reaiisation that Baptism into the Body of Christ is achieved by God’s action, not ours, there is a very strong case for the continuation of infant baptism where the parents strongly and in full resolve to fulfil the obligations placed on them, desire to have their children to be baptised members of the Church to which they themselves are actively committed. But what of the child who does not have this background?
Secondly, in our present practice, we are asking childien in their early teens to make the momentous decision that they wish to be confirmed. With the many problems and state of indecision that young people go through at this stage of their growing-up, there could hardly be a worse time to demand of them a life-long commitment. My own experience is that many young people have later regretted being confiimed at this age, not necessarily because they now wish to opt out, but because they feel that they were pressurised by the Vicar, their friends or relatives, into a decision that they had hardly begun to grasp. By their late teens they have begun to see things more clearly and have the experience of life necessary to the real making of life-long decisions.
Pastorally too, the present method is very poor. We deny children under twelve the right to receive the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood. Why? Because they don’t fully understand perhaps. Do we believe that we fully understand? Surely,

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we are all in the situation, however venerable we may be in years, of seeing partially. For all of us the full revealing of the mysteries of God must wait. It is strange that alone of all the great Christian churches, it is the Church of England that insists on Confirmation, or at least readiness for Confirmation, as the gateway to sharing in the sacramental life of the Church. In fact, it was an historical accident, brought about by thirteenth century English Bishops anxious to end the neglect of Confirmation in this country at that time.
Would it be more pastoral sense to admit children of, say, eight or nine to receiving the sacrament after suitable instruction, and reserve Confirmation for the time when members of the Church are launching into full adult life? In this way our children would have the opportunity to escape the frustration which many feel when present at the Holy Communion with their parents or in the choir, and have time and opportunity to grow in the practice of communicant life while still at Junior School, where many are able to receive Church teaching.
Because of these and other faults in our present system, the Archbishops appointed a commission to study the problems and make recommendations to deal with the situation practically, theologically, psychologically and pastorally. Their report has been published, and it is this that I hope that the house-groups will discuss and comment on.
If the problems are so clear and the experts have made their recommendations, why bother to discuss it further? Why not just get on with it? There are three reasons: Fiist, the report stands a very good chance of being put on a shelf and forgotten, unless the grass-roots of the Church take an active and audible interest in something being done. Secondly, there are many recommendations in the report which have a bearing on parish practice and can be put in operation guite independently of central decisions. Thirdly, even if the report’s recommendations are carried through, they will not in themselves bring about a solution of the problems, unless there is active effort and planning in the parish.
Full details of the house-groups will be in the next edition of the magazine. We hope that you are interested and will be able to join one of the groups.
Darrel Speedy


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