Friday, June 5, 2009

Confirmation and the Church

I've only been going to my current church since July, so each holiday brings something new. This past Sunday, Pentecost, we had confirmands. I sat in my new church, trying to think about the last time I saw anyone being confirmed. It's likely to have been 20 years or more.

My last church was composed primarily of retirees, many of whom had been going there for 20 to 40 years. They had raised their children years ago, but still had memories that involved children and the church. Only a newcomer, like me, could look around and say, "Hmm. We have a problem here. Just a few small children, no youth group, no confirmation class." I had no solutions, but I attended that church regularly for 10 years and never saw anyone confirmed.

We had no confirmands because we had no teenagers. I know that other churches have no confirmands because of the stressful demands of modern lives. I started my own confirmation process in the late 70's. There were no other activities on Sunday afternoons. Nobody had sports practice or school activities. In some communities, most stores would be closed on Sundays. How things have changed.

When I was confirmed, everyone expected that we would diligently study for 3 or 4 years, that we would do this in addition to Sunday School and Church. Now, many confirmation classes have been condensed into one year, and the studies are done during the Sunday School hour. And I suspect that once teenagers are confirmed, we're not going to see them again for years, perhaps decades--if ever.

I've never understood why parents see Baptism and Confirmation as important, but they don't seem to see daily and weekly parts of being a Christian as important. Why baptize a child if you don't intend to bring that child to church on a regular basis? Why do we push children into Confirmation? I've often thought of my own Confirmation--at age 14, I was asked to commit to beliefs I could barely understand--but I knew that I better do it, because my family was watching.

Of course, my own life might demonstrate why we go ahead with these rituals. I went off to college, and wasn't part of regular church again for several decades. My involvement with the Lutheran Student Movement during undergraduate school and the Lutheran center on campus during graduate school meant that I didn't leave church completely. However, I didn't really return to regular church until I was well into my 30's. But I did return.

And I still wonder if there's a way to make regular church more like my campus experiences. Did we need to live in close proximity to have those Lutheran Student Movement experiences? In some ways, we were more like a monastic community in college: we ate together, worshipped together (often with worship services we created), and studied together.

My old LSM friends and I often discuss these ideas, but I've probably wandered towards a different blog post. I'm swamped by nostalgia. I think I'll be self-indulgent and dig out old photos. Maybe I'll be really self-indulgent and post one here and write a bit more about my own Confirmation memories.


John said...

Trying to confirm students as teenagers has too much going against it. I suggest lowing the age to third grade or so. They are more receptive at that age.

Kristin said...

My thoughts have been towards moving confirmation in an opposite direction--let's just wait until adults are ready to make that commitment.

Of course, 3rd graders might have fewer problems with some of the less rational elements that Confirmation tries to explain.