One of my favorite things that we do is supervise our students on their internships, or block placement. While we certainly make them work while they’re with us at the University, it is tremendous fun to see them in their home churches and meet their families.
This year, I volunteered to visit Joram in the diocese of Maseno West, in western Kenya, as I had been in the diocese in 1998. At a conference in 2015, I promised the bishop that I would come home. So come home I did.
As it turned out, for the time that I would be visiting, the bishop was going to be conducting confirmations in two of the parishes in which Joram had worked, so I went with him to attend both services. And I had the joy of seeing the fruit of his ministry.
In Kenya, the confirmation age is 12, and I think it’s the same in Uganda. This means that confirmation often happens at the close of school terms for the church-founded schools, or towards the end of school term holidays, as the students have been prepared for confirmation during this holiday. Joram said that when he arrived, there were only 12 candidates for confirmation, and since he didn’t want to waste the bishop’s time, he traveled throughout the church to find more people to be confirmed. He ended up with a class of 43. The other service also had about 40 confirmands, so in two days, I witnessed in excess of 80 people being confirmed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a service in the US with that many confirmands!
One of the things I love in African is that the bishop examines the confirmands in advance of their confirmation. Most of the questions are related to reciting the answers in the Catechism, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creeds (Nicene and Apostle’s), and these are often done as a group.
But then the bishop went around the circle and examined the candidates individually. Sometimes the question was as (presumably) easy as “what is the name of your bishop?” The confirmand answered that question correctly. However, if the bishop was not satisfied with an answer, he retained the confirmand’s name tag, and returned to that confirmand later. The confirmand is free to consult with the clergy (and presumably) others present to get the right answer.
In this class, ultimately three students had to be examined again, and all passed and were confirmed. I asked Joram whether the bishop ever declined to confirm anyone, and he replied, “Oh yes. In fact, he has dismissed an entire class because they were not prepared properly.”
Joram was surprised to hear that this is not the way we do things; in my memory, we did meet with the bishop in advance of the confirmation service, but he didn’t examine us. I assume his agreement to confirm us was based on the recommendation of the rector, or in my case, the youth pastor, who had prepared us for confirmation.
I love that the bishops in Kenya (and presumably Uganda, though I’ve not witnessed the pre-service activities) test the confirmands prior to the service. In my humble opinion, this is as it should be. Confirmation is an important sacramental rite, and we would be remiss to not take it seriously. Praise God for all bishops, clergy, catechists, and ordinands who do treat this work with the gravity it deserves!