For Christians, baptism not only signifies the gift of the Spirit, it is also our initiation into ministry in the name of Christ. I’ve been interested in the relationship between Christian formation/education and the sacraments since the mid-1990s when I began to research developments in confirmation, particularly in Western churches. This background led to the project which resulted in The Belonging Kit, written and edited by Cheryl Lawrie and published by Uniting Church Press in 1998. (This was the second baptism/confirmation series produced in the life of the Uniting Church.) I did the overall learning design for the project which coincided with the Uniting Church reviewing its framing of confirmation more clearly as a reaffirmation of baptism, an act which could be repeated throughout one’s life. Cherly did a fantastic job of giving the project life, breadth and creative learning. A double CD of music, stories and prose was also produced.
In a journal article published in Uniting Church Studies, I presented a stronger change which would remove confirmation as a one-off event and focus on repeatable reaffirmation of baptism. [“Reaffirming our baptism: A proposal for confirmation reform”, Uniting Church Studies Vol 4 No 1, March 1998.]
Reaffirming_Our_Baptism_A_Proposal (Download PDF)
The question for confirmation was/is as much educational as sacramental, as confirmation had become a focal point for learning about ‘adult faith’ or core Christian beliefs. For many Christians, this became the last time that they were expected to learn anything about the faith. Secondly, such learning in itself was often perfunctory. On the one hand, a trend in other denominations was to make more of confirmation, not less of it. On the other hand, there was a trend to take people through confirmation at a younger age so that the church might not lose them. The efficacy of this was questionable. The bigger question was how to locate confirmation within a vision for lifelong formation and education in Christian faith.
Of course, in the early 2000s the Uniting Church national Assembly provided liturgical resources and a formational guide for a catechumenal process culminating with Easter baptism. The liturgical aspects of this are contained in Uniting in Worship 2. The late Rev Dr Robert Bos provided the leadership for this development.
The Belonging Kit consisted of 12 sessions addressing four broad themes – Belonging, Believing, Growing and Sharing – participation, understanding, practices and service/mission. This constituted a broadening of the curriculum to include belonging, believing and behaving. It was unashamedly ecumenical in a range of ways. Secondly, the materials were exploratory, inviting participants to open up important questions of faith – to invite them deeper into a lifelong faith journey rather than providing simple answers. Thirdly, the learning processes were communal, with the role of church elders and mentors taken seriously. Finally, the learning activities including action and developing Christian practices. Hence, baptism and confirmation were emphasised as part of a communal journey of discipleship.
Belonging Kit Contents (Download PDF)
Baptism – Beginning Belonging Becoming (Download PDF)
Planning for Baptism (Download PDF)
The Our Faith: Video and Discussion series is the latest iteration of resource for baptism and confirmation preparation for adults.
I have more recently developed a workshop entitled Diving Deep to help church leaders explore how they prepare youth and adults for baptism and confirmation.
My next project is to gather and examine original materials developed and used by Uniting Church congregations and their ministers for baptism and confirmation of youth and adults.