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After weeks of preparation the ‘big day’ had arrived. Fourteen candidates – seven adults and seven children – had explored, discussed and reflected upon the existence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They had studied what it means to be a Christian, had made their decision to follow Christ, and were ready to confirm their faith.
But faith, like the eagerness of a young child learning to walk, sets out with shaky steps. And so it was at the morning rehearsal as a subdued air of nervous anticipation and concentration took hold at St Johns. Even the furniture needed stage-managing! The altar kneelers, rails and the bishop’s chair were all put through their paces when the lack of space on the chancel proved an issue - as the rehearsal progressed, the movement of each item had to be finely choreographed for each act. Nevertheless, with Reverend Jan standing in as bishop any small slip-ups made as the group walked through the service were corrected or laughed over. Finally, all that remained was for everyone to go and get dressed in their finery and return for the live performance.
The service proper brought a marked change in atmosphere and the excitement began to build immediately as people arrived. Those for confirmation sat nearest the front of the church, still a little nervous but looking splendid, while their families and guests – several having travelled from Germany for the occasion - filled the rest of the church together with members of St John’s and St Cuthbert’s congregations.
The service got underway with the rousing hymn, At the name of Jesus, played by organist Duncan Eyre, as the clergy slowly processed from the back of church led by our Reader, Peter carrying the processional cross.
After the greeting, Bishop John introduced the service and addressed the confirmation candidates, and then the entire congregation recited the Gloria in Excelsis. The Collect prayer was offered and Peter gave the first reading from the letter of Paul to Philemon (Philemon 1-21), and Reverend Tessa read the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 14.25-33).
Between the two readings the gradual hymn, Do not be afraid, was sung with great feeling and the opening words: “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; you are mine”, were later used by Bishop John to begin his sermon.
Whether or not the words of the hymn had helped to calm the fears of the candidates, the focus of attention was now drawn to them as they were asked to stand to be presented to the congregation. The candidates for baptism were asked to confirm that they wished to be baptized, and the remainder that they had been baptized. All then affirmed their faith in Jesus Christ and the whole congregation vowed to uphold them in their life in Christ, with God’s help.
The baptism part of the service began as Tessa lit the Easter candle and the bishop pronounced that in baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. The baptismal candidates declared their decision to follow Christ and each received the sign of the cross on their brow with oil of catechumens. All the candidates, their godparents, families and the ministers gathered at the font where Caitlin and Anthony each added some warm water, poured from a silver tankard. The bishop said prayers over the water and blessed it, and then everyone professed the faith of the Church.
One by one, Bishop John baptized Jackie, Caitlin, Lorraine, Andrea and Anthony in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then those candidates who were already baptized were invited to dip a finger into the water and sign their forehead with the cross as a reminder of their own baptism. After another prayer, the bishop returned to the chancel and the candidates gathered before him for Confirmation.
Gradually, Susan, Nikki, Shannon, Neil, Jackie, Caitlin, Thomas, Emily, Shane, Lisa-Marie, Lorraine, Tiani, Andrea and Anthony were introduced to the bishop by their sponsor or godparent. Each one in turn knelt before the bishop who declared, “God has called you by name and made you his own.” And then, with his hands laid on the candidate’s head, he said, “Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit” and then anointed their palms with oil of chrism. When the newly confirmed had returned to their seats, the congregation joined in prayer for them all, asking the Lord that they may continue to be his for ever.
After offering one another a sign of peace the offertory hymn, Dear Lord and Father of mankind was sung and Tessa began preparing the table for the Eucharist. After consecrating the bread and wine, the bishop invited all to receive and the honour of being the first to do so was given to the newly confirmed. Only they can tell how they felt as they took the symbolic bread of life and cup of salvation during Communion but at last all they had worked towards had come to fruition. They had taken their first steps on their Christian journey.
All that remained of the service was for the bishop to present each baptized candidate a candle, lit from the Easter candle, with the words, “God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light. You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life.”
With that, the chords of the recessional hymn, O praise ye the Lord! struck up and the bishop led the newly confirmed through the church. The service was over and at last the families could gather in more relaxed mood and photographs could be taken. To further mark the occasion, each of those confirmed was presented with a gift of a bible or prayer book to equip them for their new life in Christ. To round off the day, the refreshments were welcomed by all and, under the guidance of Bishop John, Shane and Caitlin had the honour of cutting the celebratory cake – into a very small number of extra large portions! And so, after a slightly shaky start, the day had ended in a memorable way.
Welcome to all the new members of God’s family, may you be richly blessed by his love. With God’s help we will help you walk in your new life in Christ.
(Note: See our 'Photos' page for photographs of the service)
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