I started reading and praying from the Book of Common Prayer regularly almost eight years ago.
It began in a darker season for me; in a time when I had run out of words to pray, or couldn’t find them, and my spirituality was simply coming up short. I was hurting and broken and I needed a new vocabulary for what I was feeling and what I was learning about God and myself. I found richness in the prayers and collects, the pages saturated with Scripture, and readings of the Psalms which allowed to be more than simply an object of study, but rather the very voice of my prayer.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a new leg of my journey. And it was one which would include being healed, married, ordained, and installed as a local pastor.
It would also lead to some shifts in belief/theology, to some hard lessons learned and unlearned, to a sense of release from my ministry position, stepping into unknown territory, working for a non-profit, becoming a foster dad, being hired as executive director for said non-profit, and nearly being a seminary grad.
In short: prayer changes things.
Most particularly, prayer has been changing me. And even more specifically, I have felt a shift or sense of clarity surrounding part of my calling as a result of this formative practice.
It has been incredibly affirming to see and trace the hand of God and the movement of the Spirit over these years, leading and inviting me into a new moment. At this point in my journey of following my sense of calling and purpose in life, I am taking a significant step into further exploring and discerning this vocation.
God willing, on September 30th, I will receive the sacrament of confirmation into the Episcopal branch of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. This is a significant step of my journey toward potentially serving as clergy within the Church.
But what does it mean to be confirmed? For those of you raised in a similar tradition as I was raised, you may wonder why someone like me who was baptized at a five-year-old in a Baptist church by my Baptist father, attended a Baptist Bible college, and will be (hopefully!) finishing seminary this spring must now be confirmed in his mid-thirties?
That’s a great question. There is a short, more procedural, answer: I need to be confirmed in the church to begin the process of potentially being ordained as a clergy person within the Episcopal church.
I will write more about why I feel called to serve in this way another time. For those of you who may be interested, what follows is a a longer answer as to why I am being confirmed and how I understand its significance.
According to the Book of Common Prayer, the baptized (whether adults or children) are “expected to make a public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism in the presence of a bishop and to receive the laying on of hands” (412).
I see three strong components of confirmation:
A Public Affirmation of Faith
This is important on a couple levels. Some have asked me whether this means that my faith is finally “valid” because I am being confirmed, as if unconfirmed faith is not valid. Absolutely not. My faith has been valid in all of its forms/practices and throughout the different seasons of my life. I have grown in my faith, questioned it, expanded my understanding of what I believe, deconstructed it, reconstructed it again, and continued to walk in it. And I imagine that this will be the case in the future as well.
But this is a way to, in a fresh way and new season of my life, publicly affirm my faith in Jesus. This is no small thing today. It is also a way of saying, my way of following Jesus is moving forward in a new way.
A (Re)Commitment to the Responsibilities of Baptism
The responsibilities of baptism are to:
* Affirm the Apostle’s Creed (what Christians have historically believed)
* Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread, and in the prayers (doing what Christians have historically done)
* Resist evil and repent when I fall into sin, proclaim the Good News in word and deed, serve all people, love my neighbor as myself, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being (continue doing what all Christians are called to do)
The Presence of a Bishop
Why is it important that some person with the title ‘bishop’ and a cool hat be present for this? Bishops, amongst other things, help to show us and remind us of the unity of the church. They stand in line with the Apostles as those who have been called and charged with carrying on the apostolic work of leading the church. In the same way that the Apostles would lay hands on others to confer the Spirit and affirm the work of God, so too do bishops do the same today.
I will have hands placed on me as a way of willingly placing myself under their authority and aligning myself with the historical movement of the Church. It is a real and tangible way of being a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is, for me, a move toward solidarity and unity with the historic church and the deep tradition to which I belong. It is a statement that says that I am in expressed communion with the Church of history (for better and for worse).
This bishop will likely pray these words over me:
“Strengthen, O Lord, your servant Derek with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life. Amen.” (BCP, 309)
It will be the power of the Spirit which will move me onward into what may come next.
I invite your prayers as I take this step forward and welcome your questions as well, should you have them.