Abidemi was a teenager in some parish in Ogbomoso, Oyo State. She enrolled for confirmation classes; diligently prepared; and eagerly looked forward to the event. Her enthusiasm was cut short when she was asked to pay an amalgam of levies imposed on confirmation candidates. Her mum simply told her to stop going for the classes. She would not get round to undergoing the rite until she was an undergraduate and was presented for confirmation without levies.
Sunday was training to be an “Altar Server” elsewhere in a Diocese in Lagos. It was the issue of confirmation levies that almost truncated that ambition. The Vicar had called the mum to ask why he did not bring his own “confirmation levy”. The mum apologized and told the boy to come back home. Another parishioner paid the levy on his behalf. In yet another parish, the priest had to pay for some of his candidates.
Certainly, “confirmation” does not make you a child of God, but in our own tradition, it is a rite of initiation, a time of declaring that you are now a mature Christian and willingly proclaim and accept with your own mouth that which was vouched on your behalf at baptism. It is the occasion in which the candidate receives an impartation for service. The Bishop prays “be confirmed and strengthened with the Holy Spirit for His service” while laying his hands on the candidate, as we read in Acts Chapter 8.
If I may paraphrase The Preacher: To everything there is a season. Time to receive gifts and impose levies, and a time to refrain. The occasion of receiving new members into the fold of Christ is no time for collecting levies. It must be stopped
Given the above scenario, is it right under any guise to place any levy of any sort on these young members (either in age or in the faith) who are desirous of becoming “full”, active members of the body of Christ and becoming filled with His Holy Spirit? Does a baby pay for his own ante-natal and delivery expenses? What are these fees for? Who are these fees for?
It is certain that these levies are not for God. Were we to present it as such, He would reject it like the gift of Cain. If the focal point of the Confirmation Rite is the impartation of grace, we would be violating the principle of “freely ye have received, freely give.” From many interactions I have had, some of which are quoted as anecdotes at the beginning of this piece, it certainly violates the principle of cheerful and proportionate giving.
Is it for the work of God? That I’m not sure. I have not been seeing income lines captioned “Confirmation Levies Income” in Church Accounts. Perhaps it is to buy gifts for the Bishop and the Priests. And that, I’m afraid, would be an abomination on many grounds. These confirmation candidates are living sacrifices on their way to the altar. Why would we waylay them at the door with three-pronged forks?
Are these levies meant to defray the expenses of the priests who labour to catechize them in preparation? In as much as the labourer is worthy of his hire, it is not by making merchandise of the sheep. “The mouth of the priest should keep knowledge, and people should enquire of the Lord at his mouth”, but then, was God happy with the priests when he railed against them in Micah Chapter 3 verse 11 that “her priests instruct for a price, and her prophets divine for money…”? What you are duty bound to give should not be sold.
Perhaps, we comfort ourselves, in spite of abounding evidence to the contrary, that the levies are given happily and willingly. But so was the case of Simon the Sorcerer, on an occasion that prefigures our confirmation rite of today. He was willing to pay any amount, but the Apostles would have none of it. Indeed, Simon attracted an imprecation for attempting to bring such accursed offering.
So, are we saying offerings or levies are bad? We make no such wholesale condemnation. But like Elijah observed in the matter of Naaman and Gehazi, we are bound to also ask: is the confirmation an occasion to “to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?” 1 kings 5:26. I think not.
These are young sheep, who are to be fed and to be nurtured. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not”, says the Lord. Nothing, absolutely nothing must be cast along their way that may constitute an impediment. If our confirmation levies can cause one, even one little one to stumble, or be discouraged, it is sufficient to abolish it. Did He not say “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the sea” ?(Mark 9:42)
If I may paraphrase The Preacher: To everything there is a season. Time to receive gifts and impose levies, and a time to refrain. The occasion of receiving new members into the fold of Christ is no time for collecting levies. It must be stopped.