Last Sunday my church celebrated as 8 youth celebrated their rite of Confirmation. I remember little of my own Confirmation (for those who don’t know me, I have issues remembering everything), except for my faith statement and that the only other person Confirmed that day was one of my best friends.
But what is Confirmation?
I managed to find a report on the ELCA website (a miracle, I know) on Confirmation. Granted, it is from 1988, and much has changed in the church since then, but it’s as good a place as any to start.
Confirmation ministry is a pastoral and educational ministry of the church that helps the baptized through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission.
Quick overview of Confirmation in the Lutheran church:
Also known as Affirmation of Baptism, Confirmation is a time when young people in the church publicly affirm the promises that their parents made at their Baptism: to participate in the community of faith, to learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, and the Ten Commandments, to learn the Bible, and to learn to live a Christian life.
In the vast majority of Lutheran churches this is usually preceded by a class that teaches those things, often spanning anywhere from one to three years (Note: It is a sad fact that while parents all promise to do these things, most never do, so the class is necessary if the kids are going to learn any of this).
Then, on Confirmation Day, a rite is held during the worship service in which the Confirmands affirm and confess their faith. Many choose special verses from the Bible that really speak to them (Fun fact: My verse was 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”)
One of the actions that can be performed is called the laying-on-of-hands, in which the Pastor lays his or her hands on each person’s head and asks God to stir up in the person the Holy Spirit. It’s an ancient rite in the Christian church, and one that I wish we used more often.
I experienced this again on Sunday, though from the opposite side. I seem to recall having the Pastor lay her hands on my head for the blessing when I was confirmed, but on Sunday, Pastor, myself, the education director, the kids’ sponsors and their parents all participated in the laying-on-of-hands. Now that’s powerful! Physical touch is a powerful and vulnerable connection, so to have all of these people showing support for the young people in such a close way was moving.
I hope that these kids don’t go the way of so many youth who go through Confirmation. So many treat Confirmation as a “graduation”–they’ve done their “duty” to the church, and now they never have to come back, right?
Except that the purpose of Confirmation is to more deeply connect people to the community. It’s an introduction, not a graduation. Yet, because of the curse of 1950’s American Christendom, sending their kids to Confirmation has become an obligation for many parents instead of a voluntary choice made by the youth.
I know for a fact that there are a few kids in Confirmation class here who are only there because their parents are making them come. I hate that. If the kid doesn’t want to affirm the promises made in their baptism, no one can force it. Let the kid be.
Confirmation is not necessary to life in the community–Baptism, not Confirmation, is when we are welcomed and adopted as God’s children. Confirmation isn’t even a sacrament in the Lutheran church.
But I hope that experiences like Sunday will show these kids, in ways that a three-year class just can’t, that the church is a community to which they are connected, a community which cares about them, supports them, and wants them around.