Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toward salvaging Confirmation

Confirmation in the Episcopal church has been suffering for a while. It would appear that we're not alone as Bishop Gerard Holohan of the Diocese of Bunbury in England says that confirmation "...has practically become a Sacrament of Farewell". Clearly the same has been happening in our church here in the States. Confirmation is "graduation from Sunday School" for too many families.

None of this is news to anyone paying much attention to the faith lives of our young people. What perplexes me is how little we really want to talk about the causes and possible solutions. There's plenty of talk on the subject but most of it is hand wringing over it all under pinned by a feeling that it's really all beyond out control.

And I think that's a load.

So let me take a shot at the subject - causes and possible solutions.

So why do we have this problem with Confirmation as the "Get Out of Church Free" card? I see several concepts at the root of this:

De-linking Confirmation and First Communion
- Once upon a time Confirmation was the gateway to Communion. Since we have (very properly I believe) recognized that baptized children can be ready to receive at a much earlier age Confirmation has been left without a commonly understood function. We don't know what it's all about, it's just a church milestone to be gotten behind us as quickly as possible.

The Adults Have Allowed It to Happen
Parents have raised their kids to believe it. Young people pay a lot more attention to how we act than what we say. Too often parent's actions say that faith/religion/church is an option, isn't really as important as skiing or soccer or work or whatever. The lay and ordained leadership of the church haven't done enough to show what Confirmation means. We haven't worked hard enough to make the faith that we supposedly hold so dear a living, vital thing for our younger brothers and sisters. I say supposedly because if it really was important, if it really was a precious part of our lives surely we would have desired to pass it on. Instead I see a satisfaction with simply teaching a few concepts and praying that they'll "get it eventually". It's a lack of faith in faith.

So what do I think we need to do to salvage Confirmation?

Make it the threshold event to adult membership - To do this I believe we need to change several things.

First make the age of confirmation 16. That's the canonical age of adulthood in TEC. So at that age when we call them adults Confirmation becomes the time when we ask them to confirm those promises made for them as children. The logic of asking for such a confirmation while they're still children has always puzzled me. I positively don't give a rat's butt about what it's always been. Confirmation at 12 or 13 or 14 is simply idiotic. It lacks a logic other than the Sacrament of Farewell. Anyone who argues for this based on "tradition" shows precious little concern for either the faith of our children or the life of the church.

Second - we need to stop screwing around and actually live out the canons. If they're adults then let them be adults. We live as hypocrites otherwise and they sense the hypocrisy. This means bringing them into places of responsibility, it means listening to them, and learning from them. It's astounding to watch what they can achieve when we allow them to take their place at our side or sometimes in the lead.

Third - we need to stop living a life in faith that is socially acceptable, careful, and secondary to our "real" lives. This isn't about making a great show of our faith. Scripture warns against that and it's just another form of fake faith. What you believe should color and influence everything in our lives from the moral decisions we make to how we drive, how we treat people on the street, to how we spend our money. Every choice we make reflects our true beliefs. That reflection either shows a person of faith (flawed and struggling certainly) or a hypocrite. Part of that is showing that being flawed and struggling is not a failure of faith but part of the life in faith. Our young people will see themselves in that faith struggle. They want no part (quite rightly) with people who mouth the words and live a lie.

I look at these ideas and think it seems so simple. As with so many things in this life of faith it may be simple but it's certainly not easy. It means changing how we live, it means putting in the work to create an environment of transformation for our children as they grow. It means releasing control and power. It means not just hearing but listening. It means accepting change.

And it means more of us have to be willing to stand up and call for that change. We must accept our call to ask questions, persist after answers, challenge power. It is a call without an terminal date. It is daunting. Intimidating. Exhausting merely to contemplate.

It is a call of the Spirit. How will you answer it?



PseudoPiskie said...

I disagree about waiting till 16 to confirm the kids. By that time they are gone, lost, too busy elsewhere, disinterested. And the parents won't help either as they want their kids to be successful in hockey or soccer or gymnastics or whatever else is scheduled for Sundays. I need to think more about the rest before I comment.

Reverend Ref + said...

At my bishop's visitation in a few weeks, we will have three confirmands; their ages are 42, 38 and 60+.

I teach a TEC 101 class which is, effectively, a confirmation class. The first time I taught it, I had the two adults and their kids (a teen and pre-teen). The family came over from the Baptist tradition, so this was good for the whole family to attend. I told them that Confirmation is an adult affirmation of their baptism, and I don't think that kids are ready to do that. In short, I don't think we should be confirming people 13-15.

we need to stop screwing around and actually live out the canons. If they're adults then let them be adults. We live as hypocrites otherwise and they sense the hypocrisy. This means bringing them into places of responsibility, it means listening to them, and learning from them.

Yeah . . . pretty much. The trick is helping someone that age consider serving in leadership positions, i.e. the vestry.

Great post.

forsythia said...

Nothing much I can say about this, except that our priest, in a discussion about the same problem, referred to "the TEC's 'catch-and-release' program. LOL, except that it's not funny.

Anonymous said...

I have been working in children's and youth ministry for about 20 years in the diocese of MD. In our diocese, people are invited to confirmation when they are at least 16. in my parish this has been the norm for about 25 years, since children were admitted to communion.

We use Journey to Adulthood and the kids are invited to confirmation after they have gone on pilgrimage.

Now, there are some/many who say no. That's fine. When they are ready and mature enough, they will come for confirmation.

We're getting better at accepting the confirmed teens as adults. They can vote and serve on vestry, we ask them to be chalicists. But still....all the sports, etc are still given priority over God.

DaYouthGuy said...

I should make clear that I know I'm not the only one with these thoughts. The problem I've seen is that too many of us are just frustrated and not saying it out loud any more. It's great to hear that folks are or have moved toward these ideas any way.

Sorry, shel I have to disagree. Keeping confirmation as it is clearly ISN'T the answer. The problem lies with the parents and with us, the congregations - lay and clergy. It's not the kids fault that they don't care. Why should they? We don't give them any reason to. I'm perfectly content to NOT have kids go through confirmation as teens and be presented with a consistent, powerful expression of faith rather than "force" the issue. First because I believe we'll retain a higher percentage that way PLUS we get a higher percentage back later in life. Helping them find and feel the power of the HS in their lives is more important than whether or not they are confirmed as teens.

Thanks everyone for the comments. Hope folks continue to join in.