“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, 'Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?'” (Revelation 7:13)
Last Sunday morning, the answer was our church's most recent confirmation class. With a red carnation pinned to their white robes, five eighth-graders had the promises of their baptism confirmed as they made public profession of their Christian faith. Over the past two years, I taught them the basic stories and truths of the Bible using Luther's Small Catechism and a variety of teaching materials I've collected over the past thirty years.
I've known Corey his whole life, baptizing him fourteen years ago. I've known Adam nearly as long. They're both in Boy Scouts, are very intelligent, and talk non-stop at an extremely rapid pace. I've known Kristina about six years, since her family moved to town. She's one of the quietest people I've ever met. It was so fun trying to get her to laugh. I met Olivia when her older sister began confirmation class four years ago. She a talented gymnast with a contagious laugh. Cole's only been here about a year, but he's smart and has his head on straight. Everything they learned about God and His Word was important. But just as important was the relationship forged during each week's 90 minute class. I usually make a few extra “unofficial” certificates with some of the nicknames I invent for them. (This year I was convinced Adam was an alien, so I called him “Alphonzo Zorf. And, for some reason we came up with “Potatolivia,” too.)
Confirmation is one of those powerful worship-family-Holy Spirit moments for me. Unable to believe in Jesus Christ or come to him by our own reason or strength, I am so aware of the Spirit's work during this rite. I choked up a little because Corey's grandfather, not in very good health, not only came, but was able to come to the altar to lay hands on his grandson.
You see, I have this love-hate relationship with the whole process of confirmation. Call me crazy, but I love teaching Jr. High or Middle School students. They have so many questions and desperately want to learn. High school students are different. They think they know everything. Seventh and eighth graders are just discovering who they are, learning what they can do and dreaming about what they can be. Teaching them involves laughing, teasing, yelling and threatening. It also involves transition, for they grow so much through their seventh and eighth grade years. Clueless in seventh grade, they show up for their second year suddenly having discovered the opposite sex, combing their hair and wearing makeup.
But as much as I love teaching these classes, I hate what confirmation will mean. Typically, I will never see half of them again. The drop out rate is consistently 50%. Tragically, their parents will stop bringing them to church and before long the entire family will drift away from the congregation. Like salmon returning to spawn, families show up with their seventh-grader because they need to make their children attend these classes. Sadly, when it's over, these families will be gone.
This year will be atypical. Four of the families have been very involved in the church, and I expect they will continue. I only have to say, “Adios” to one. And next fall, I'll start all over again with a new class of fresh recruits with a variety of backgrounds and personalities. And whenever we meet, it will once again be the most frustrating and rewarding part of my week.