Dealing with Covid-19 has impacted every aspect of congregational life. We have, like most of you, found daily changes and adaptations we need to make to continue to be the church. Some have said that being a pastor these days is like learning to fly an airplane – while you’re flying the airplane! This is true for most of us, I imagine.
As we turned our thoughts to fall, one of the rites of faith and of passage we think about is affirmation of baptism (confirmation) for young people who have completed three years of instruction, service, and fellowship. So, how do we do that when we can’t gather? Anne Williams, our Minister for Learning, explains:
The Rite of Affirmation of Baptism is meant to take place in the assembly of God’s people. It is a Rite where we ask those affirming their baptisms to affirm not so much the act of their baptisms, but the faith of baptized people. That faith makes it possible to declare to the world, “I am a Christian!”
Lutherans baptize babies (and adults, and everyone in between). We know that in baptism God comes to us, washes away sin, and welcomes us into the assembly, the whole host of witnesses, past, present, and future who make up God's people, those who work of God’s kingdom!
When we welcome new members, we ask them to affirm their baptismal faith in a rite that looks a lot like what we have called Confirmation for years (the fancy technical term is Rite of Affirmation of Baptism). New members, coming from other Christian assemblies, are asked if they believe like we believe, using the Apostles’ Creed, and if they will work toward God’s justice and peace in the world with us.
For Lutherans, if you were baptized in any Christian tradition, then strayed away from God, the church, and faith during your life, and then wanted to come back to the church to be part of God’s work in the world again, we would not re-baptize you. We do not think re-baptism works. We would have you do an Affirmation of Baptism instead. The baptism took! God still acted (and that is the important thing). It is still good! Humans need to acknowledge the fact that God never strays from us!
So, when the assembly cannot gather safely, we need to come up with another way to give our young people a voice and a public venue in which to declare that they are ready to declare, "I am Christian!" For us, at Holy Trinity, this looks like each small group of 9th graders gathering virtually, on Zoom, with all their friends and family for an Affirmation of Baptism. All six small groups have already shared this chance to gather and share in the Rite together. We recorded the Rite, and on the weekend of September 26th and 27th (which would have been the big weekend), we will have a big Rite of Affirmation service with clips from all the smaller Rites we observed. Our sermon will focus on our students and the promises they make that day, our prayers will be for them and their families as they continue to grow in faith. We will see them affirming the faith that was gifted to them by the Holy Spirit at their baptisms. This is how we will be public and faithful at a distance. Then, when it is safe to gather again, we’ll see if we can have a party!
This is how will we uplift and celebrate the next generation of faithful Christians. We find ways to be together in new ways in unprecedented times. We trust God who has never left us, never strayed. God is at work in the lives of the young people at Holy Trinity!
Well said, Anne. Thanks to all the parents, grandparents, and young people who took part in this ancient and meaningful rite; a passage from child to adult; from onlooker to disciple, in a new and necessary way.
Tim Olson – Lead Pastor