Posted in Ministry

My love-hate relationship with confirmation classes

“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.

 

 

Posted in Grace, Life, Ministry

Confirmation

Today was confirmation day at our church. Those who grew up Lutheran might wonder how I arrived at the last Sunday in April. I do like Palm Sunday, one traditional day for confirmation, but it often falls during spring break so some years that doesn’t work well. I love Pentecost, too, but when Easter is late in April, that sometimes occurs after school is out in Florida, so that can be difficult, too. So I’ve done the first Sunday in May for a long time, except for this year when I feared that my daughter’s college graduation might be that Sunday. So adapting to a multitude of secular conventions, we went for it today.

And it was great. I love teaching middle schoolers, confirmation classes, and the rite of confirmation. If no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) then days like this are very powerful. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not so much about what they know, although we cover a lot of material with the Small Catechism. It’s more about who they are. I always pray that emerge from the confirmation experience realizing that they are children of God, who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:15). I also pray that they’ve developed a relationship with a pastor and a church, so that no matter what else changes in their lives, they can always go back and find the unchanging, unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this is a special event for me because I vividly remember my own confirmation nearly forty years ago. At the time, it seemed like I had arrived. In retrospect, I was just getting started. When I got to the seminary and we began to review Christian doctrine, I realized a lot sounded very familiar to me. My pastor, the late Rev. Donald Sallach, had done an excellent job of teaching me the basics. I only hope that to some extent, I can do the same.

Posted in Ministry

Confirmation this Sunday

We’re confirming seven of our young people during worship this coming Sunday.  I’ve taught confirmation every year I’ve been in the ministry (that’s twenty-three years this June).  Every time I do this, memories of past classes and students come to mind.

This year is a little different, with one of my own children in the class (the last one, our youngest, Olivia).  It’s also the largest we’ve had at Shepherd of the Coast since I’ve been here.  Now that I’ve been around for a while, I am confirming some of the children I baptized years ago.  It’s powerful to see how they’ve grown, and how our relationship has developed over the years.

I’ve picked out their Bible verses and prepared their certificates for Sunday.  I’ve gotten to know each one well enough that passages just pop into my head as I think of them.  That relationship is the most important product of confirmation, I think.  They may only remember a small fraction of what they’ve learned over the last two years, but hopefully, their relationship with God will continue, as well as their relationship with me.

Confirmation instruction most frequently occurs during seventh and eighth grades.  I enjoy teaching middle school, because most of them want to learn.  They’ve got a million questions.  It’s tough to get them to do work outside of class, but it’s easy to get them talking about various topics.

For me, confirmation is a powerful reminder of the Holy Spirit at work, calling, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping us in true faith.