As noted in a previous post, I have been discovering “treasures” buried in my personal “archives” (aka boxes in a storage unit) of Christian education materials. This posting comes from the September-October 1963 issue of Religious Education, an official publication of the Religious Education Association (REA) which continues in existence today. The particular issue was edited by Randolph C. Miller, once the Professor of Christian Education at the Divinity School of Yale University. He was a prolific author on his own in his day. The particular issue that I have is Volume LVIII, Number 5 that has a focus on the title of this post.
Much of the tension (beyond age) of when confirmation should occur was often related to when one could participate in Holy Eucharist. For many Christians during this time period, confirmation was seen as a “completion” of baptism and confirmation followed catechetical instruction the preceded one’s “first communion.” Today, in the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions, baptism is full initiation into Christ’s Body. This “symposium” of articles struggles with when the best “age” is for one to be confirmed.
The introduction states:
Increasingly the question is being asked about the proper age for a declaration of faith. Whether it is confirmation, believer’s baptism, profession of faith, or Bar Mitzvah, the problem of intelligent loyalty lies behind these inquiries. Is a person capable of making such as decision at the age of seven, or ten, or twelve, or fifteen, or eighteen? The answer one makes to this question depends on his view of the rite, ordinance, or sacrament and its implications. It is also determined by his interpretation of the psychology of growing up. Cultural expectations may play a part as well.
This past Sunday, the confirmands in my home parish shared their “faith statements” to parents, mentors, and Vestry members. With twenty-three confirmands (all about to graduate from 8th grade), it was an interesting “listening session” to hear how those who have spent a year in preparing for confirmation shared what they believed – and what they did not believe. All appropriate for this developmentally “searching” phase of adolescent life. Lots of “I’m not sure of all this Bible stuff.” “I feel closest to God when …” “My favorite experience has been …” “Even though I am still questioning …”
Then this piece came across my screen this week. Tim Schenck, rector of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts and known as the creator of Lent Madness, posed a question on Twitter that one of his parish high school confirmands asked him: What difference does it all make?
As I introduced the group to the Confirmation Collaborative. Basically, anyone who is gathered to discuss best practices of confirmation as well as share stories and struggles about making this catechetical time a catalyst for ongoing faith formation in our congregations. One of our discussions centered around having mentors for confirmands. What does this entail? Who does the choosing? What do mentors actually do?
Gail Sheehy, the author who did pioneering work about the various passages of life, recommends some tasks to consider during the fifth decade of life. She said that some of the most important work is in having and being a mentor. Will Willimon writes in Making Disciples: Mentor’s Guide:
As noted in a previous post about results of The Confirmation Project and the Confirmation Collaborative, curricular resources are not the key to a good confirmation “program.” However, many churches still depend on written materials, programs, and “lessons” to form the basis of their confirmation program with youth. When the press release of the Confirmation Collaborative came out, many got in touch with me about what new resources (aka curriculum) we were going to develop, including The Living Church. Somehow I feel that the whole point of the Collaborative was missed. Sadly, the Church automatically goes to default when formation and confirmation are discussed.
While the Living Church initially requested information from me about what new materials are in the works to be published, I was glad to see that their article did focus on the process in “Raising Confirmands in the Way They Should Go.” I think I would have appreciated the title “Raising Confirmands in the Way WE Should Go, but it takes awhile to move that needle. In the article, Lisa Kimball states:
“They don’t want the teacher in the front of the room lecturing about those things,” Kimball said. “They want to be learning pedagogically and be more engaged in participatory ways.”
If there is anything that creates more conversation and passion in church circles with parents, clergy, Christian educators, youth ministers, and even bishops it’s the topic of confirmation. A multitude of curricula has been written across the denominational spectrum, resolutions put forth at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention over the decades, and dioceses attempting to develop standards and guidelines. For some it is muddy, for others it is something not to be messed with. But where are we (the Episcopal Church) in our understanding, preparation of youth, practice, and forming of disciples in this (what some still say is) “rite in search of a meaning”?