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In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.

One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a Workpermit.com post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:

to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.

However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:

The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.

The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.

Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.

“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.

Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:

even if they are illegally in the UK.

This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.

Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.

That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:

the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.

“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.

The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.

In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:

Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.

Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.

On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.

The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:

the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:

There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.

Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.

In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.

The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.

Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.

Hmm. It sounds very minimal.

The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!

In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.

The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.

It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.

It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.

Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.

Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.

If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.

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Confirmation catholique-nanterreRecently I read remarks made about Confirmation class:

Confirmation should be fun.

Confirmation is too religious.

So, Confirmation — a sacrament whereby a youngster receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and renews his baptismal vows in order to be able to be a witness for Christ — is supposed to be fun and secular.  Wow.

If you happened to read one of my earlier pieces on transubstantiation, you’ll recall that I had Lutheran neighbours at one point when I was growing up.  One of the nice things about being a young Catholic with Protestant neighbours is that they will often invite you to one of their church services.  My friend was taking Confirmation class at the time, so as a bonus, I was allowed to sit in with her.  I imagine that this all had to be pre-arranged.  No one seemed surprised to see me on the day.  The kids were nice, but they were geared up towards that Sunday’s Confirmation lesson.

Our Savior Lutheran Church still exists and has a website.  The pastors in question had German surnames both beginning with ‘K’.  One Pastor K founded the church after the Second World War, and the other, younger K was serving as Pastor when I attended in the 1970s.  At that time Our Savior was part of the Lutheran Church in America and now is part of the ELCA.  My friend and her family were really conservative, so, although they have since moved away, I wonder if they are now going to Missouri Synod (LCMS) churches.  The ELCA would seem progressive to them on a number of levels.  But I digress. 

The recently retired Pastor K took the Confirmation class.  We were in an annex of the church in a room that smelled of wood and prayer books.  It’s the kind of pleasant and comforting scent one finds in Protestant churches.   

Anyway, every student sat in one of those school-type chairs with the small slab of wood on which to prop a book and take notes.  It was quiet, in fact, completely silent. Every child had his own Bible, a catechism and a notebook.  No one looked at each other.  Their books were closed.  The girls wore modest dresses or skirts and sweaters.  The boys had dress shirts and ties. 

Pastor K, the founder, breezed in and scrutinised everyone.  Mercifully, I received the briefest of introductions.  Everyone looked straight ahead or at him. He was approaching his sunset years, grey and jowly.  He wore a dark suit and clerical collar. 

Pastor K started on that week’s Confirmation lesson straightaway.  I vaguely recall that he said something about not having much time and that it was incumbent on everyone to make the best use of the time they had.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair to others.

As far as specifics go, I’ve since forgotten.  The time went by quite quickly.  What I do remember was that the kids answered every question he asked, whether it was about the catechism or the Bible. I’ve never seen such good knowledge of Scripture among young people.  There was one boy who faltered in one of his responses, however.  Pastor K looked at him.  He narrowed one eye.

‘Didn’t you study this lesson?  Didn’t you take the time to prepare?’

The boy looked at his open Bible.  ‘Um, noooo.’

Pastor K straightened up.  ‘”No” what?’

‘No, Pastor K, I did not fully prepare for this lesson.’

‘Well, see that you do so for next week.’  I can just imagine that Pastor K sought his parents out after the morning Communion service to have a quiet word.

Today, it’s probably completely different.  I have read numerous times where pastors have said, ‘Of course, we have the standard Church materials, but we use our own lessons quite a lot.’  So, in these churches, any child who wants a more in-depth or properly done study of his denomination’s catechism has to spend more of his own time reinforcing what he’s learned.  The Sunday School Confirmation class will add little to what he knows and will waste his time.  The pastors would disagree, of course, but you can get to the social justice, LGBT conversations and diversity lessons after Confirmation.  Because it’s after Confirmation that our work as soldiers of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, begins.

The Bible and the catechism build our foundation on which to carry out the Lord’s work.  Without them we have no spiritual, theological or moral guidance.  Confirmation class is probably the last time many of us attend Sunday School.  Anyone who says this is meant to be fun or less religious needs a rethink. 

I notice that these are also the same pastors who wonder why their attendance levels are falling.  If Pastor K could speak from beyond the grave, I’m sure he’d have an answer for them.

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