I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s that time of the year. I’ve gotten scads of phone calls and emails from folks in the Iowa Conference UCC for the past several weeks asking my advice about curriculum for their upcoming confirmation classes.
I don’t answer in the expected way, which I’m sure is frustrating to the person on the other end of the line. My last position was as a chaplain at a residential treatment facility for young people with mental illness and behavioral disorders. I certainly supported young people of many denominations and faith traditions who wanted to pursue confirmations and bar/bat mitzvahs; still, I didn’t teach the classes myself. The reality is that I know little about commercially available confirmation curriculum.
However, having sat through countless confirmation classes as an observer, I have some thoughts about it. I think the rite happens at totally the wrong time in a person’s life. Just as a young person is entering a time when everything in their life becomes a question, we are asking them to make a definitive statement of what they believe. Most young people awkwardly comply with this expectation. A few strong-willed ones refuse to meet this expectation and are not confirmed. We then usher him/her quietly to the side and we speak him/her in hushed tones in the back of the church parlor. I would rather walk them to the altar and applaud them for being mature enough to know that they are not ready to confirm their faith in such a way.
In “A Rite Needing Revision: What’s Confirmation For?” (June 2, 2009 issue of The Christian Century) UCC Pastor Martin Copenhaver of Wellesley Congregational UCC in Massachusetts articulated his thoughts about confirmation and offered an alternative approach. “Or perhaps we need to abandon the idea of a normative age for confirmation. After all, in many traditions, including my own, we affirm there is no normative age for baptism. If we want individuals to confirm vows made on their behalf at baptism, a more natural time for such confirmation may be when someone returns to church as a young adult. … A service of confirmation would have great power for people in that kind of circumstance. It would not resemble a graduation ceremony so much as another kind of celebration – a joyous homecoming.”
I was so happy to read that suggestion in a public forum. I’ve been thinking for a while that confirmation should not be done as a compulsory, graduation-like rite, but rather when people feel led to make a deeper commitment to their faith. How amazing would it be if faithful people ages ranging from 14 to 89 assembled together to make a deeper commitment of faith, each learning from the wisdom and fresh ideas of the others who have traveled varied paths to get to this point.
This intergenerational confirmation idea burns within me. Is there a person or congregation out there somewhere who will champion this idea? Or maybe someone out there has tried it?
I can't believe I missed that article – and I can't seem to find it at home or online! I think this is a wonderful idea! Some churches do a full year of study with potential new members (can you tell I'm reading "Christianity for the Rest of Us"??) – if we insist on it for young people, why not for adults?
Perhaps that's another question. More to your point, I could not agree more. At our church, we do confirmation classes when the young people are ready – when they are asking those tough faith questions and are ready for some abstract concepts. That means I've only done 1 class in my six years here. But I hold fast to the idea that it doesn't happen at any one year for a youth. Students are all over the place developmentally and socially.
I have heavily modified Will Willimon's "Making Disciples" in the past, and if I were going to do it again, I would probably use it as the barest of starting points. I like making my own stuff, or at least cobbling it together from a variety of other sources. Am I just weird that way?