Ask in the right circles away from the hubbub of the youth room and you’ll quickly learn a simple truth about the confirmation process in Methodist youth ministry: no single effort carries more weight in the spiritual life of a UM youth. It’s where they’re outfitted for life, carefully and painstakingly trained for the journey ahead. It’s what it’s all about in a lot of cases. Here we shine.
That’s probably why across Methodism there’s such a clear understanding of what that process looks like in the local church. What it means. Who leads it. Equally sarcastic fourth descriptor. You get the idea.
Many if not most churches are making this up as they go. Does it need to be clergy led? What materials do we use? Are we supposed to make up our own? When is it supposed to take place, and for how long? And what does “confirmed” mean, anyway? Is that just a fancy way of saying that they’re joining the church? Or making a profession of faith? Most churches eventually arrive at some version of their own answers to all of these questions; at the end of the day, somebody cares about it enough to mash it into definition.
At my own church we’re still getting our heads around it. When I came on at my church confirmation was on pause, having taken a year off due to genuinely more pressing matters in the life of this local congregation. Most confirmation program efforts I’ve observed or talked with other youthworkers about come down to some blend of how-we’ve-always-done-it, what the current pastor thinks is important (if anything), and whatever opinion the youthworker might bring (if any). With two out of those three being brand new voices in the conversation (the pastor & I were in our first months at the church) and having come from a church with a relatively weak background in confirmation, I contacted the previous senior pastor here for some background on how-we’ve-always-done-it. There I found some surprisingly refreshing advice on how to proceed. He said, “Kevin, I could walk you through everything we did and why, but in a lot of ways you’ll be chasing ghosts that don’t matter. The most important thing you can do in your confirmation process is to do everything on purpose.” On purpose. On purpose is different than right or even well. On purpose gives room for trial-and-error, room for making a mess to find a few treasures.
So we blew it up.
One thing I’d never liked about confirmation in general was the feeling that some families seemed to think they were getting their kids “stamped” for the kingdom. When does it start, when is it over, when does grandma need to show up and dab at the corners of her eyes with a tissue as Sally gets baptized (or accepts the baptism of her infancy, if she’s a lifer). Many families would emerge from the woodwork for this time and then vanish again as soon as their kid had completed the important bit of business known as confirmation. It’s always troubled me that in a denomination forever emphasizing journey and relationship through grace and community our confirmation efforts seem to have such a distinct beginning and ending. Here we begin, here we end; I hope you got it, because we won’t mention it again.
So we’ve stretched our process over three years, and that’s where things get a little weird. What is confirmation? Is it the education that leads to or edifies a profession of faith? Is it the moment of joining the church? And when do the Methodist Men get to give out bibles in a 3 year process?
For our purposes, we’ve stopped asking that question and, in the spirit of on purpose, have begun addressing things like this: each year of middle school for 6 weeks in the spring, our youth will experience an intentional discipleship effort guided by the official UMC confirmation resource Credo (not a commercial; just telling you what we’re using) in 2-hour sessions on Sunday night. Through individual conversations then and throughout the year, we will work to come alongside our youth in their spiritual journey. At whatever point a youth is ready to make a profession of faith, they will be encouraged to do so publicly before the congregation and enter into that beautiful covenant relationship of community. If they make a decision during the six weeks of confirmation, we’ll celebrate with them at Easter, our traditional confirmation Sunday. Any who have made professions of faith previously in the year will return on Easter to be held before the church again. If any wish to join the church (or their families with them), that will also take place. Oh, and the Methodist Men will give a bible to any youth beginning our confirmation process–that just makes more sense to me anyway.
This year we’re also adding a camping trip that serves as a confirmation retreat–open to middle & high school youth, reemphasizing the importance of community in faith development and making sure that we don’t let a middle school process be the end of that kind of intentional conversation. Sure, spreading out our confirmation process over three years has created some wrinkles. But we’re doing it on purpose. Even if we can’t tell you what confirmation is.
How does your church process confirmation? What do you love about it? What concerns you?