Diocese bucks trend of declining confirmations with rock climbing and bread baking

An article from the Telegraph by Oliva Rudgard, May 2017.

Confirmations are often seen as an rite of passage out of the Church of England for unwilling teenagers soon to become more interested in socialising and sport.

But one diocese is experiencing an uptick in interest after it introduced rock-climbing, film sessions and baking bread into its classes.

The Rt Revd Dr Edward Condry, Bishop of Ramsbury, has been spearheading a project to increase the number of confirmation ceremonies, and believes it could be key to a revival.

The ceremonies, which traditionally involve children aged 11 to 13, have been in decline for years.

While still popular in Scandinavia and America, the ceremonies are declining in the Church of England and have become an also-ran to more popular baptisms and weddings.

The number of confirmations taking place in the Church of England fell from 29,800 in 2005 to 16,700 in 2015. By contrast, in the same year 44,000 couples were married in the Church and 120,000 adults and children were baptised.

The Diocese of Salisbury, where Dr Condry is a bishop, is bucking the downward trend.

In 2014 it was faced with a crisis after years of decline.

But since the start of the project numbers have stabilised. 551 were confirmed during 2016, with 546 taking place the year before.

And 2017 looks set to be an even better year. 362 people have been confirmed in the diocese since January and another 30 are due to take part in ceremonies in the next six weeks.

Crucially, the diocese’s confirmation classes have moved beyond dull sessions in sleepy rectors’ offices.

Confirmation candidates bake bread together, learn to do wall-climbing and watch films.

The sessions culminate in a special Eucharist which they are allowed to stop at any point and ask questions.

The classes give students a chance to ask tricky questions about faith and even express doubt and scepticism.

Dr Condry said that one class of ten teenagers had recently been confirmed in the small town of North Newington.

“The teenagers ask really difficult, challenging questions. The curate has a PhD in Aquinas and he said he found it tough,” he said.

A love of ritual and ceremony means baptisms are also taking on a new lease of life, he added. One mother in the diocese invited 250 people to a baptism ceremony in a tiny church.

A primary school holds a ceremony in the rectory garden with both baptisms and confirmations. Children are baptised in a rowing boat filled with water under a walnut tree.

“Confirmation was once seen as a graduation ceremony, but now it’s seen as a public affirmation and a step on a pilgrimage.

“I find that members of the congregation are turning up to these ceremonies – I went to Bratton, a village in Wiltshire, on Monday and there were five being confirmed, and the church was full on a Monday evening,” he added.

The diocese will employ its confirmation officer for another 15 months – and Dr Condry is hopeful that the growth will continue.

Some older people who have been going to church for years have come to be confirmed
Some older people who have been going to church for years have come to be confirmed CREDIT: GERRY LYNCH/DIOCESE OF SALISBURY

“I think rituals are really important. In life, there are not enough rituals,” he said. “This is something positive that the church can offer.

“People want events, and the church actually does them well. It’s a place where events and rituals happen, and if we get them right, it’s a tremendous thing. I think this is a really hopeful sign.”

The project has been helped by local private schools including Marlborough College, Godolphin School and Sherborne School, which Bishop Ed says do “an enormous amount” to encourage pupils to be confirmed.

But a real groundswell of growth has been older people. One member was confirmed after he had been coming to church for 50 years.

One member in her 90s, who grew up in India, was confirmed by Dr Condry in her old people’s home.

A typical group confirmed in Salisbury Cathedral ranges from 10-year-olds to 75-year-olds.

Church of England statistics show that the proportion of over-20s getting confirmed has grown from 38 per cent in 2005 to 44 per cent in 2015.

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