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”?
As many of you know, I have spent a good deal of my ministry in a variety of settings researching, writing, and advocating for (or against) the rite of Confirmation. It has not that I have been opposed to this sacramental rite in which many have called a “sacrament in search of a meaning,” but that I have been critical of how we (in The Episcopal Church specifically) have been preparing teenagers (and even adults) in making that reaffirmation of their baptismal promises.
When working with congregations and their youth preparing for confirmation, it had been my experience that a majority of the young people were less than enthusiastic about meeting on a regular basis for “preparation” and many were only present because their parents “made them come.” And after receiving the laying-on-of-hands by a bishop, these same young people rarely came back, having finished their formation and requirements to be a “Christian.” And those faith statements that often began with, “I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe we are supposed to be good people”: The whole moralistic therapeutic deism piece explained in the research of Christian Smith. Isn’t Confirmation supposed to be one’s reaffirmation in the belief that Christ is their Lord and Savior and they will follow him as a disciple for the rest of their life? A tough statement that may not be so developmentally appropriate for a teenager who is still trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. Continue reading The “Best” of Youth Confirmation in a Nutshell→