I am writing this after the Confirmation Service held at St Stephen’s on 19 February. It was a great service and a wonderful occasion, with 1 candidate getting baptised and confirmed, 12 others getting confirmed and well over 100 in attendance. Congratulations to Martine, Sophie, Ben, Jack, Nathaniel, April, Cynthia, Eunice,Sian, Keith, Peter, Robert and Simon. Although I was a little nervous about the service, having not done anything quite like that before, and I suppose a little tense during the service, I thought everything went well. Everyone who has spoken to me seemed to enjoy the service. It was particularly meaningful with all the churches within the benefice having candidates for confirmation and lots of people attending and it was good to also welcome our friends from the Littledean LEP churches as well.
During Bishop Michael’s address he kept mentioning the candidates by name. I thought it was great! Obviously this was a key part of his message, that we are called by name and known individually by God. Bishop Michael was also keen to say that the candidates came as they were, as themselves; they did not need to pretend to be anything they weren’t. He was very keen to refer to people as they would normally think of themselves and as they would normally be referred to. So Ben was ‘Ben’ rather than ‘Benjamin’ and so on. Although the reactions varied a little from one candidate to another, it was lovely to see peoples faces as Bishop Michael mentioned their names. Most smiled a little and I think everyone was pleased. It made everything seem personal and more meaningful. I always try to use names when I am leading and speaking at a baptism service for the same reasons. All sorts of things are conveyed when we use individual names. As Bishop Michael said, we are called by name; we are also recognised as individuals and loved as individuals; God wants an individual relationship with us; Jesus died for us as individuals. We are called by name and we come as we are.
Another type of service where we spend a lot of time thinking about an individual is a funeral (or memorial) service. Typically the minister, or a family member or close friend, will talk about the person who has died, sharing some of their life story, their interests and passions, their relationships, and, particularly for those who were practising christians, something of their faith and the difference it made to them. I took a memorial service on the Friday before the confirmation service for Liz Lockett at St Ethelbert’s in Littledean. Liz had been a member of the church there for around 25 years and had served as Church Warden, bellringer and, more recently, as magazine editor. Liz was a generous benefactor of the church. She was a loving and committed wife, mother and grandmother. But, what moved me most as I spoke with her, and what moved me most as I spoke about her at her memorial service, was her faith.
The last time I spoke to Liz was in the Sue Ryder Hospice atLeckhampton Courtjust a few days before she died. Liz was upbeat and positive. She had never complained about her illness or her pain. She told me what a good week she had had there. She was looking forward to going down toPlymouthto be near to her daughter and son-in-law and was quite excited about her private ambulance journey. Liz knew exactly what was happening to her and we talked about what was to come. We talked about Jesus’s statement that in his Father’s house there are many rooms, that he was going to prepare a place for her, that he would come and take her to be with him. We talked about John’s vision of heaven as a place with no more death, no mourning, no crying, no pain, a place where every tear would be wiped away and we will be with God for eternity. Liz was totally sure that this was her future, and she was totally sure that it would be wonderful. Although she admitted to being a little concerned about the transition, she was totally confident of her relationship with God through Jesus and totally confident of her place in eternity. That was Liz: calm, relaxed, full of faith, confident in her trust in God.
I hope that each of the confirmation candidates, and each of us, continue to grow in our faith and our trust in God so that, at the end, we have no fear as to what the future holds for us. That we may be calm, relaxed, full of faith, confident in our trust in God.