Between the youth and adults being confirmed, we were in the largest group to be confirmed at one time in the history of the parish, which extends back more than 100 years. As a result, there was some excitement over the event. The ceremony is presided over and performed by the Bishop. An Episcopal Church Bishop is somewhere between an LDS area authority 70 and a Stake President- so he isn't someone who I've encountered a lot beyond the thoughts on daily scripture readings he posts on facebook. But for such a special occasion, he spent more time with us. During a practice rehearsal of the ceremony ahead of time, he spent some time going over with us the history of the practice of confirmation and how that practice differed between different faith traditions. Apparently, there are two vows in the Episcopal traditions of baptism and confirmation that are, to the Bishop's knowledge, fairly unique to the Episcopal church. They are the following:
- "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"
- "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"
Following the rehearsal, there was a community dinner in honor of all being confirmed. Having heard that it was going to be a pasta dinner, I had visions in my head of a bunch of uninspiring noodles heated up with bottled tomato sauce. In reality, it was superb. I don't like to go out to eat places where I can cook better than the food being offered is and the chef catering our dinner clearly is a better cook than I am. While I might be able to replicate the dishes prepared for us if I knew the recipe, I frankly couldn't do so just on general inspiration. I had originally thought of having extended family come with us to this dinner as part of the general family celebration of my graduation, I'm now somewhat glad I did not. Moderate amounts of alcohol were being drunk by many of those present and I know it is not uncommon for LDS people to feel uncomfortable in settings where alcohol is being served. I was personally amused by the situation, since I can now say that my first experience with being around people who had just enough alcohol in them to make them more sociable was at church.
Similar to how LDS children are often given journals or their own copies of the scripture when they are baptized, Episcopalians are often given their own copy of the Book of Common Prayer as a traditional confirmation gift. Both my wife and I were presented with copies which were signed by both our confirmation sponsors and by the Bishop. This brings the total number of copies in our possession to three. I have been working on learning how to adapt the spiritual ritual practices of the Episcopal Church into my life, so these were welcome gifts.
On the day of the confirmation, we had to attend church at a service later in the day than usual since the Bishop was doing all confirmations at the same time. The social hour in between the two services was packed with people. The mood was celebratory. Photographs were being taken all around. The Bishop took all of the people being confirmed aside to visit with us ahead of the ceremony and asked if we wanted to share our thoughts and feelings. Many tender emotions were expressed, with at least one person there breaking into tears. The ceremony itself was joyous, and there was an extravagant burst of applause following the completion of the confirmations. There is a kind of emotional power in a group of people making spiritual vows together, not just quietly whispered but with loud confidence. The sense of community created is beautiful, especially when the congregation at large promises to help those being confirmed live out their promises.
I grew up being taught that those who left the LDS church would invariably have much of the light and spiritual spark in their lives die as a result. I was taught that all who left typically fell prey to dire temptations and a darkening of their personalities as satan took over their hearts. Frankly, leaving the LDS church can be a very dark and disturbing experience where your entire sense of identity, personal and family relationships, worldview, and sense of morality can be reevaluated so fast that some people are left with a sense of vertigo. Family and community rejection is common. Who wouldn't face a period of darkness after the entire foundation of their life was disrupted? But that has nothing to do with the rebuilding of lives that can happen afterwards. Confirmation is, in part, a way for me to solidify my new way of interpreting my Christian identity. The Episcopal church is a faith community I am proud to be a part of.