CONFIRMATION PREPARATION AT
Revd Douglas Dales & Revd James Dickie
Chaplains, Marlborough College
Marlborough College is an Anglican boarding school, originally founded for the education of the sons of clergy. There
are now around 850 pupils in the school, boys and girls, aged between 13 and 18. The College has a beautiful
Victorian chapel, and the principal services on Sundays are both Eucharists: a said service at 8.30 am, and a sung
service with a choir at 10.15 am. But there is also an evening talk or lecture, to which pupils may opt to go instead of
attending an act of worship.
In its teaching and liturgical practice, the College stands in the tradition of Charles Gore, William Temple and
Michael Ramsey. Many Christians of other traditions also receive the sacrament on a regular basis, and services have
to be conducted with sensitivity to the feelings of those of other faiths as well. Holy Communion is also celebrated once
a term in each boarding house, and there is a termly Catholic mass.
Confirmation preparation is open to any pupil in any year of the school, on a strictly voluntary basis: this year there
are over 120 candidates, including a number of Catholics, who are prepared along with their friends by the College
chaplains and also by the local Catholic priest. The course runs from the end of September until Confirmation itself,
which occurs early in the summer term in Eastertide. There is a weekly meeting, in groups of around 16, with one of
the chaplains, and pupils are encouraged to attend the main Sung Eucharist on Sundays.
During their preparation, each person has the support of a confirmation sponsor, an older pupil who has already been
confirmed. Each house has its own Sacristan, who is the chaplains’ pastoral link, and who keeps a watching eye on
confirmation candidates, and is available to answer their questions.
Early in the course, each chaplain takes his own groups away individually for a Confirmation afternoon, where a meal
is shared, and time given to consideration of some aspect of Christian belief and practice in an unhurried atmosphere
away from school. There is also a service immediately before Confirmation itself of preparation for all concerned.
Parents are kept fully in the picture throughout by letter, and pupils are encouraged to make contact with their parish
priest at home.
Various forms of post-confirmation follow-up have been developed, with some success. Pupils are invited, for
example, in their original confirmation groups, to come to a chaplain’s home for a simple Eucharist and some light
refreshments twice a year for the remainder of their time in school. Serving as confirmation sponsors or house
sacristans, or helping in the life of the Chapel provide other opportunities. There is also an informal Bible study and act
of worship and prayer, run by a lay teacher, as well as more intellectual activities such as Theology and Philosophy
societies in the upper school.
The active programme of social care and involvement, as well as a steady tradition of raising money for charities, also
provide scope for pupils to put their Christian beliefs into practice. It is hard to measure the long-term impact of all this
nurture and formation, but there are notable occasions in the school year, for example the Ash Wednesday and
Ascension Day Eucharists, when attendance in chapel is entirely voluntary, and over two hundred pupils come up to
receive Holy Communion.
The style of the small group meetings with the chaplains is at the heart of confirmation preparation, and these have to
strike a different note to the teaching in R.E. All pupils in the lower school tackle a demanding and examined R.E.
course, in two lessons per week, which seeks to build a bridge between the gospel of St Luke and the modern world. So
some familiarity with the teaching and example of Jesus, and their bearing upon social and ethical issues today, stands
in the background of confirmation preparation at Marlborough. This means that emphasis in confirmation preparation
can be given to spiritual and personal formation in the Christian life.
Confirmation classes are first and foremost a school for prayer. The little book by David Adams, The Rhythm of Life
(published in paperback by Triangle in 1996 -£5.99) is very suitable for young people. It provides a brief liturgical
framework for personal prayer for each day of the week, following major themes of Christian belief – Resurrection,
Creation, Incarnation, the Holy Spirit, Community, the Cross, and the Saints. Designed to be used four times a day, it
actually provides material for a full month if used on a daily basis. Candidates are encouraged to set aside at least five
minutes each day for their own personal prayers, and time is given to discussing how individuals can best use and
develop such times of private prayer.
Each chaplain has the freedom to offer their own course of more formal preparation, and one of these follows the shape
and content of the Eucharist itself. It runs for fifteen sessions along these lines:
Making the choices and promises of Confirmation
Building up a relationship with God
Our attitude towards God
Apology and change
The language of Worship
The Gospel and the Bible
The meaning of Baptism and Confirmation
The gift of the Holy Spirit
The nature of the Church
The belief of Christendom – the Creeds
Introducing the Eucharist – its shape, origin and names
The Eucharist as thanksgiving
The Eucharist as sacrifice and self-offering
The Life-style of a Christian
Mission and Vocation
The art of confirmation preparation lies in creating the atmosphere within each group for prayer and for consideration
of what it actually means to be a Christian, and to develop a living relationship with God. There has to be carefully
prepared input, but also time for dialogue and questions as well. But because a priest makes an impact as much by what
he or she is as a person as by what is said, the quality of relationship is decisive, and in fact becomes the most
rewarding part of confirmation preparation. Within this framework, teenagers can experience a friendship with an
adult, on an equal footing in the presence of God. For confirmation preparation is essentially a pilgrimage into faith
together, which seldom leaves the priest unchanged in his or her own spiritual life.
Our experience is distilled in the little book which we give to each candidate for their use during the Easter holiday
before Confirmation, and which is intended to accompany them in their spiritual life for many years thereafter. It is
published by the Canterbury Press (£5.99), and it is called This is my Faith – a personal guide to Confirmation. It
enables them to look back on their confirmation preparation, and to remember its shape and purpose. It also serves as a
record of what they need to know and understand, in order to feel that the decision they made at Confirmation was
informed and genuine, and remains of abiding significance and worth in their lives.
The Revd James Dickie Revd Douglas Dales