Monday, May 15, 2006

Rite of Spring

It happened again. Another Confirmation Class completed and commmenced. It was, I realized, my 26th Confirmation Sunday; from the early days in Lafayette, Indiana, to Muskegon, Michigan, where one year I had only 2 confirmands, to the 13 years in Minneapolis, where Confirmation classes were sometimes as large as 30. It's a rite, it's a ritual, it's a formality and a custom full of traditions, expectations and dreads. This year's class, composed of three students (blended with the first year class, not pictured, of six more) and four teachers, meant wonderfully small groups of students and teachers talking about text and meaning. We met every Tuesday from 4:30-6:00 pm. It's an awfully incovenient time, sandwiched between school and dinner and team sport practices. These students (and parents) paid a high price to shuttle 7th and 8th graders to and from class and get home in time for dinners and evening events.
So, is it worth it? Is the custom of pastor-taught Confirmation an outdated ritual that has little place in the emergent conversation of church engaging culture? Is it a time-sink for over-committed pastors (not to mention adult volunteers and parents)? Is Confirmation something better released into the larger sphere of youth-ministry and overall discipleship?
I don't think so. After 26 years of doing this, I have this treasure trove of relationships with 7th and 8th graders (now grown-up, married and bringing their own children to Confirmation classes somewhere). It's a great point-in-time connector between the senior (or lead) pastor and the youth, especially 7th and 8th graders who wildly fluctuate between silly childhood and profound adulthood. It becomes the time when I am allowed to put families together by visiting with students each week about life, and school and home. It's when I, the pastor, enter family streams without the reason of crisis.
Next weekend I am officiating at a wedding of a couple in St. Paul who have no church affiliation, and probably will not. Why me? I was her Confirmation pastor (and her brother's) and we established trust ten years ago in a basement classroom filled with squirrely confirmands. Now I'm allowed to re-enter a family's tender time of marriage because of Confirmation.
It's less and less about getting the material covered and all the memory work done, and more about cementing relationships of trust and love.


At 10:25 PM , Blogger Dan said...

Well, Donn, I come out of a church tradition that did not practice the rite of confirmation who found his ministerial home in the Covenant. My journey with confirmation has been... interesting. But, when I question the value or practicality of confirmation form a strictly pragmatic point of view... well it makes little sense... but from the relational experience and the opportunity confirmation gives me to become a real person to those 7th and 8th graders who are standing on the threshold of the most dynamic years of their young lives... well, i find that priceless and pragmatics be....

I have not been at this as long as you, but in a few weeks I'll be confirming my tenth class! For me one of the most valuable outcomes of confirmation is as i mentioned already- I become a real person to the young women and men that I spend those many hours with over the course of confirmation... and they become real to me- not just the kids of some of the parents i minister to.

At 6:48 AM , Anonymous Same ol' kent said...

This Sunday I will confirm 7 students. While I do not have 26 year classes under my belt, there are mopre than few. And the chief advantage I see of confirmation is the relationships with these young people that I can build no and grow with. The other benefit is the chance to help them see Christianity as whole rather than the collection of stories they have grown up with or may have never heard. We get build a bridge to their future beliefs. They have some anchors to hang on and remember, even if only vaguely.

At 1:07 PM , Anonymous same ol' kent said...

who is the old guy in the middle?


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