Today is April 23, 2016. For most people this day is just an ordinary day in the life of the church. For me though, this day holds special meaning! Today is the Feast of St. George. Growing up at St. George’s Church in Hempstead, New York today was our paternal feast day. Although this feast day is celebrated with more pomp in other areas of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church does observe this day as well. Who was St. George? He was a Roman solider, serving in Palestine, who was converted to Christ and consequently was martyred at Lydda in 304 A.D. . . He typified many such soldiers who witnessed to the faith with their lives and deaths. He is patron of England and of the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem.
The reason why this day is important is that every year the sacrament of Confirmation would take place on St. George’s Day. So 47 years ago on this day, I stood before Bishop Richard Martin and using the 1928 Prayer Book responded to his question, “Do ye promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” My response was “I do.”
I remember being nervous the bishop, in his cope and mitre, seemed intimidating. (Bishop Martin was one of the holiest and kindest men I ever knew and he and I had many conversations after I was ordained) Though I really didn’t know the full extent of what I was committing to on that special day, I did feel a sense of support and encouragement. I felt I was becoming part of something much bigger than myself. I often wonder, if I knew then, what I know now, would I have made the same commitment? The answer is an unequivocal “YES.”
“I believe the sacrament of Confirmation is a gift to assist us in being Jesus’ disciples in the world, knowing we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.”
The Episcopal Church has been debating the merits of the sacrament of Confirmation for a few decades. I remember a heated exchange in the House of Deputies while serving in Minneapolis and Columbus. The sacrament of Confirmation, like the sacraments of baptism, marriage and ordination are a starting point. Yes, Confirmation is a continuation of my baptismal vows! Yet, it is also a new chapter in each spiritual journey. Confirmation was a catalyst for me to engage in a deeper, more purposeful relationship with Jesus Christ. Confirmation for me has served as an anchor by which I can reflect on not only my promise to follow Jesus, but how the journey has brought me to where I am today.
When I was in public school (kindergarten through twelfth grade) each morning began with the Pledge Allegiance to the Flag. Because we did so each day, the pledge became monotonous! Now when I get this privilege, it means so much more. So too, each time I can affirm my baptism and confirmation through the renewal of the Baptismal Covenant, it brings me back to the beginning of that new chapter on April 23, 1969.
Following Jesus Christ is not easy! It wasn’t for St. George and it isn’t many days for anyone who calls themselves a Christian. As Christians we are called to love in the midst of hate. We are called to respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to serve, sacrifice and give. At the core of the Christian journey there needs to be special moments which can give up confidence and hope and focus. April 23, 2016 was one of those days for me.
Next week we will celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation with 20 people we will commit to follow Jesus. May we who witness this joyful event support them in their journey as we have been supported in our journey. My hope is that those being confirmed will discover a new spirit of the living Christ in their lives. And how about the rest of us? I believe the sacrament of Confirmation is a gift to assist us in being Jesus’ disciples in the world, knowing we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Ron Abrams serves as Rector of St. James. He and his wife are native Long Islanders, have two sons, a daughter-in-law, a grandson, and two dogs. Before answering the call to St. James, Ron was Rector of Holy Trinity in Fayetteville, NC; Rector of St. Ann’s in Bridgehampton, NY; and Assistant at St. Mark’s, Westhampton Beach, NY. Ron is also an avid Yankees fan and historian.