Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What is this?

What exactly is the purpose of a confirmation stole? I have seen these more and more in liturgical supply catalogs. I never understood what the productive purpose of them were, but then I just assumed it was a Roman Catholic thing, because the catalogs I saw them in were predominantly Catholic oriented supplies like Autom.

I never really considered it in any detail because I had never encountered it at an Episcopal church confirmation service. I had also heard tell in seminary of bizarre customs like the priest at a Confirmation putting his stole on the confirmands for some liturgical symbolism that escapes me. But then, I am reviewing a new Confirmation curriculum that the Episcopal Church is putting out. I am fairly impressed so far with the quality and set-up of the curriculum for the most part, but one of the lesson plans actually suggests having the Confirmands make their own confirmation stole. 

From what I have read so far, unless I missed it, it does not explain the liturgical purpose of such a stole. I can make some educated guesses, but I don't like any of the reasons I can think up for such a liturgical device. I'm guessing it is trying to liturgically reinforce the very Protestant "priesthood of all believers" notion fueled by lay empowerment movements. I am all for the laity taking on their own ministries and having ownership in the local parish mission, but giving them stoles or clerical collars or whatever disturbs me. The concept of having a priest-like stole for confirmation is disturbing to me on a number of levels which I won't go into here. 

I would pose the question to anyone "in the know" as to what exactly the purpose for such a stole is? I do not like any of the answers I am coming up with in my head as to its purpose: liturgical, theological, or otherwise. Can anyone clue me in as to what this is about and why it is possibly appropriate? 


Rainy Rector said...

Ryan, In doing some research on stoles a few months ago, I came across the idea that the stole can represent the bonds that bound Christ as he is led to be tortured and killed. Priests wear a stole in recognition of being bound to God in their call and ordination. I suppose that those who confer confirmation stoles are thinking along those lines. That we are bound in baptism to Christ's death and resurrection, therefore, in confirmation we are binding ourselves through the promises made on our behalf at baptism, to God's service as Christians. But that is just a guess, I have no idea really! Court.

Laura Toepfer said...


I'm the managing director for Confirm not Conform and hope I can answer your question.

First of all, the confirmands don't make their stoles; they are made by a member of the congregation (usually) and then signed by all the members of the congregation (often).

The stoles are presented within the context of a service--not confirmation itself. All the participants in the program, whether they choose to be confirmed or not, take part in the service that recognizes their work in exploring their faith.

Each participant has chosen a passage of scripture which they memorize, recite for the congregation, and then teach on--explaining why they chose it, what it means to them, and what they learned from it. It is after this that they receive the stole. It's partly a sign of their authority to teach, and partly (as it says in the service) a sign asking "May God's blessing and the love of God's people always embrace you."

Like all signs, it's going to carry a lot of different meanings, but I can assure you it's not meant to be a sign of cheap grace!

I hope that helps. Thanks for exploring the website, and let me know if there are any other questions I can answer for you.

Laura (at) confirmnotconform (dot) com.

Anonymous said...

Hi....I am a Roman Catholic, and love your blog....we are encountering this very issue right now. From what I can tell, beyond all the very nice "reasons" for the Confirmation stole is really a modern attempt to clericalize the laity. It would be far more fitting, and less confusing in terms of a priest's stole, to go back to the red arm band or the red satin sash that goes from shoulder to hip across the body--more in a witness/soldier mode. My instincts are with yours I suspect.