To be confirmed, or not?

I didn’t want to be confirmed when I was 13. I had endured confirmation class with 20 other teenagers for a year, gathering on Tuesday afternoon with our earnest and well-meaning associate pastor. He was an excellent youth group leader but he struggled (or perhaps it was only my struggle) to make the confirmation curriculum relevant and interesting. Mostly we looked forward to the newly-installed soda machine at our church which allowed us to sip our Cokes as we tried to listen to lessons about the Bible and church history.

            At the end of the year, we went on a “decision-making” retreat where we spent time learning about the significance of church membership, the importance of pledging ourselves to faithful living and the value of endeavoring to serve God with all our hearts, minds, and spirits.

            I didn’t feel ready. I wasn’t sure what I believed. I was scared to make a promise to God because what if I couldn’t keep it? 

            But I was 13 and not a rebel. The retreat was billed as “decision-making” but it felt more like “decision-assumption.” It wasn’t explained what would happen if we weren’t confirmed.  Would we be cast into eternal darkness? Or – perhaps even worse for a teenager – excluded, shunned? No longer considered “part of the group”?  It didn’t seem truly up for discussion.   I didn’t hear anyone else voicing any concern or notice anyone hesitating about what seemed to me to be an enormous step.  So I went along.

            Our rather intimidating senior minister performed the confirmation, placing his hand heavily on my head and offering a quick prayer. I didn’t feel any different after the service. For the next three years I was very active in church through youth group and choir, going on retreats and enjoying time with my friends. When I graduated from high school, I considered myself a graduate from church, as well.  It would be a long time before I stepped into a sanctuary again.

            This Sunday our congregation will be celebrating confirmation. The parents of our confirmands understand that while they may have been able to insist that their children attend class (and I’m glad they did), they cannot force their child to be confirmed. It is an individual decision based on personal faith.

            I hope that choice is clear to the 11 teenagers who have experienced our confirmation program. While I hope that it was more riveting and engaging than my memory of confirmation, I can’t promise that. But I am confident that I let them know that they are on a lifelong journey of faith exploration. If they aren’t ready to be confirmed now, they should wait. And in the meantime, they can continue to be a valued part of our church family.

            Very few faith decisions are “once and done.” More often, we need to choose daily – sometimes hourly – how to live our faith and say yes to a loving God who calls us to share hope and new life. We confirm our faith by loving our neighbor and treating one another as we want to be treated.

            Our confirmands are making a public decision on Sunday and then will be asked to live that decision out in their daily lives. 

How do you confirm your faith?

What does church look like?

When you envision “going to church” perhaps you expect a quiet, orderly sanctuary filled with well-dressed people quietly listening to organ music.

That was your grandmother’s church experience.

These days, church means so much more. Yes, we are here faithfully on Sunday mornings (join us! Everyone is welcome!). The dress code has relaxed and rarely includes the suit, tie, dresses, and shined shoes that I remember from my childhood. The music might include the organ but will just as likely feature exuberant children, guitar, ukulele, piano, and bells. We do manage to get to “quiet” but only after the deacon patiently – and sometimes repeatedly – calls the congregation to order. There is a joyful sense of community as people of all ages greet one another. They have gathered for respite, reassurance, learning, fellowship, and the life-giving assurance that they are loved and lovable. Through God’s grace, we are forgiven; we can share that hope with others.

How we live out that hope brings us to other church moments. “Church,” thank God, doesn’t just happen on Sunday mornings. Church can be in the orderly chaos of a clothing sale in a huge room filled to overabundance with used clothes. Church means partnering with the high school’s volunteer group FRESH (Family Related Effective Solutions for Humanity) to make a difference in our community. These teenagers are dedicated to combating poverty and hunger in our area and put their ideals to work as they hauled, sorted, and displayed clothes. Residents from local homeless and domestic violence shelters are invited to come for a free “shopping spree.”

“Church” happens in the kitchen when volunteers prepare meals for anyone facing life’s challenges. Church can be delivered in a microwavable container. It can be a warm meal that reminds recipients that they are loved and cared for.

“Church” can take place in our local park when we gather for “Tuesdays at Twilight” for outdoor worship in the beauty of God’s creation. Bike-riding children, parents pushing strollers, fishermen passing by can wander into our circle as we listen to the birds overhead, watch the ducks make a splash-landing on the water, and marvel as the evening sky is reflected in the pond. “Church” happens whenever and however we share God’s love. I believe we are invited to constantly discover new and different ways to be the church in a fractured, busy world. Church might mean Bible study in a classroom and could also be conversations about God, faith, and life at a coffee shop.

How will we do church? We will honor our traditions and we will look for new ways to reach out and connect with God’s people. We will continue to worship together in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings and be open to other times and places where we can learn, grow, rejoice, and serve together.

Church will take many new forms in the 21st century.  Who knows what “church” will look like next!