Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blue Book: On Confirmation and Leadership

Scott Gunn has been working his way through the Blue Book over at Seven Whole Days. In yesterday's post, he considers the resolutions concerning life-long Christian formation and education.

Several of the resolutions presented by the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education would alter the requirements and expectations for positions of church leadership. There are four resolutions which are, I think, working in concert to achieve a single shift. The resolutions are A041, A042, A043, and A044.

The shift is this:

  • Currently, a lay person must have received the sacrament of Confirmation in order to fill certain leadership roles. A lay person who seeks ordination as a deacon or priest must likewise be confirmed.
  • If the resolutions A042A043, and A044 are adopted, this requirement will be removed from both the Constitution and Canons, and lay leaders and those seeking ordination will simply need to be adult communicants.
  • If resolution A041 passes, lay people in positions of authority and leadership would need to receive some sort of training in the "history, structure, and governance" of the Episcopal Church, as well as specific instruction about the office they will assume.
My response to this is mixed. The resolutions make clear that the motivation for this change is that Baptism is full and complete initiation into the Body of Christ, and so it is Baptism, not Confirmation, that ought to be required of leaders. Father Gunn supports these resolutions for this reason. I agree that Baptism is full and complete initiation into the church, that a Baptized Christian is a complete Christian. But it is one thing to be a Christian and another thing to be a Christian leader. Resolution 042 states that "that the baptismal theology of the Book of Common Prayer understands Baptism and not Confirmation to be the sacramental prerequisite for leadership in The Episcopal Church." I'm not sure it does. Our baptismal theology does claim that baptism is the sacramental prerequisite for membership in the church, but I'm not sure that it rules out a higher standard for leadership. 

Confirmation is an opportunity for those baptized as infant "to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism". Is it strange to expect a person who is called to be a leader in the church to demonstrate this mature public affirmation of faith and commitment? As a reminder, the canons we're discussing cover every ministry from Eucharistic Minister and parish Vestry-member all the way up to Executive Council and Chancellor of The Episcopal Church. While Baptism may be the basic sacramental requirement for membership in the Christian church, is it wrong to expect a higher standard of commitment from leadership? Twisting the Ethiopian eunuch's (rhetorical) question to Philip, what is to stop them from being confirmed?

This question doesn't come from a desire to find a reason for Confirmation to exist. It has been called "a sacrament in search of a theology" (by whom, by the way? I can't remember) and we're not quite sure if it's a "completion" of baptism or a kind of Christian bat/bar mitzvah. Our theology of confirmation is unsettled, and yet it is clear that it's an opportunity for a person of mature mind to stand up in public and claim her Christian faith. That shouldn't be a weird thing to expect in our leaders, should it?

Resolution A041, though, does a good thing in theory. It is clear that our leaders need to be trained and educated leaders. We must know our context and our history and our structures if we are to function within those things. This resolution would, effectively, mandate training and education for lay leaders in the "history, structure, and governance" of the church. These resolutions, taken together, would replace the (perceived) sacramental requirement with an educational requirement. In principle, I think it's a fine idea. In practice, it's bound to be tricky. Who will come up with that curriculum? How will the future candidate for Chancellor prove to us that she or he has taken this training? Will I, as a parish priest, need to sit down with the people who are running for Vestry to make sure that they're qualified before the election happens? 

Perhaps I'm sensitive to this because we are also seeing an effort to remove the requirement that one be Baptized before making one's communion with Christ in the sacrament (Creedal Christian is the latest to write about this), and I'm seeing an across-the-board devaluing of our rites of commitment. Maybe that's not what's happening here, but we are replacing a rite that ought to be encouraged in all Christians with a bureaucratic requirement that, while worthy, will be difficult to implement.  

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