Reverend Atkins last weekend announced, in a lovely understated and unassuming way, that if you were interested in the possibility of being confirmed this year, then please could you see him before this Saturday to let him know. It was a comment that the minority of you who are already confirmed or who are committed to another religion could afford to ignore altogether with good reason; however, I’d like to argue today that the rest of you should give it real consideration this week – not simply to see it as another weekly notice; but real, genuine consideration. It is easy to write it off, easy to say “I’m not interested in that sort of thing”, easy to get on with what is for us all a busy life. But I am going to force you to think about it at least for five minutes today – and hope that one or two may do so enough to go to at least seek out a conversation with Reverend Atkins at some stage in the coming days.
I may seem an unlikely advocate for Confirmation into the Church of England. I am a Catholic; I was brought up in an Anglican school like this one; and I now have a Jewish wife and children. And yet, maybe that is a good start; I like to think I am open minded and have no axe to grind nor drum to beat. I was at school at a time when I, and many of my peers, were confirmed almost without thought at the age of 15 or 16, just because it was the done thing. Our parents had done it before us, and the date was in the diary almost before anyone had considered asking you whether you actually wanted to or not. It is probably better now that people go into such a commitment with open eyes. However, I am immensely grateful I was confirmed, for the following reasons – which may just ring a chord with you:
- In a world which is so uncertain, which is ever changing, which is never predictable, which sees things happen overnight to seemingly turn your own world upside down, God is permanent. This is not to say that other things are not permanent: the waves crashing upon a shore, the sun rising in the morning, the stars lighting the galaxy; but if you can see God in these things, and if you can have God alongside you in life (and I include, incidentally, other religions in that comment), you are lucky indeed. He is permanent.
- The act of confirmation is an acceptance of that permanence. It gives you a chance to affirm your faith and to live your life accordingly. It also asks God to give you power through the Holy Spirit to enable you to live in the way of Jesus. This promises permanence in life and an understanding of the eternal.
- The main reason I am grateful, though, is that it fitted who I was in my upbringing. The vast majority of you ought to relate to this. It was not so much the religion I craved, I do not think, but the values it brought. This school’s values are rooted in the Anglican tradition. When we go to Chapel each week, we hear about what those Anglican traditions are. This term, Reverend Atkins has set out his talks along the line of ten virtues, amongst which are humility, fortitude, love, charity, faithfulness – not exclusively Christian values, of course, but all identifiably Christian. And it is not just in Chapel you hear these sorts of things; they are absolutely everywhere around us – this school, like so many of the great English Public Schools, seeks to develop character strongly underpinned by Christian values. Assemblies which demand kindness to your neighbour; match day team talks which urge respect for the opposition and modesty in victory; great theatrical successes which teach humility and grace in the acceptance of their applause, not to mention gratitude for everyone remembered their lines and tolerance of those who did not; are all as poignant in their own Christian way as the sheer beauty of the choir singing its praise in Chapel and the quiet, dignified duty of the monitors on the door. It seems to me, looking back, that to be confirmed was in fact to be confirmed in this way of life; to assert my belief in what Christian values meant; to affirm that I did in fact believe in the way that I had been brought up to believe; and even in some small way to say thank you for the immense good fortune I had.
Now I am not saying that you have to be Christian to live out a life full of values that this school has helped to bring you up with. Far from it; and there are very many examples of wonderful people who maintain all these values and who would never dream of being confirmed in the Church of England. It is also the case that one of our core values is “curiosity”, which must surely mean that you are just as entitled to go to seek understanding of other ways, too. But all I asked at the start of this short talk is that you consider confirmation this year; at the very least, why not go to find out a bit about it. You can go to the first few lessons and make a decision after that whether or not you wish to continue. You may find that, one day, you look back and thank the day you did just that.