by Rev. Alex Shea Will
The first confirmation class is always my favorite.
If you ask any of these ninth graders why they showed up to that first class, they’ll (almost) always reply: My parents made me. Usually, this comes after a bit of negotiation. Sometimes they only have to come to a few classes before they get to decide for themselves: “Just go and see what it’s like before saying ‘no.'” Other arrangements are more long-term: “Just do confirmation, then you can decide whether you go to church anymore or not.” Sure, in a dream world it would be nice to be greeted with a class full of teenagers, excited to spend their Sunday evenings at church. But I’ve come to love the reality, too, the challenge of engaging our shared faith in a way that feels life-giving, relevant, and even fun.
Because what eventually happens after that first class, filled with trepidation and skepticism, is that something new begins to unfold: Laughter and curiosity. No, It doesn’t happen right in that first class, or the second, or sometimes even the fifth. But, eventually, it does shift. That group of diverse youth, often coming from different schools, grows into a small-group within the church – texting each other outside of class, riding down together on the mission trip, and helping one another plan worship.
I won’t lie: Not every youth loves confirmation. Some even decide halfway through the year that they don’t want to do it anymore. And that’s okay. It’s why I don’t mind a little negotiation when it comes to getting ninth graders to try confirmation. Because at the end of the day, what we do over the year only takes hold if it begins to matter to the confirmand. They can’t be forced into accepting it, or believing anything. Rather, confirmation is all about offering the opportunity to take a deep dive into our faith, and to begin to make some claims about who we are as people, how we want to be in relationship with one another, and what are we called to do with this one life we’ve been given. We don’t arrive on the other side having figured everything out; rather, we arrive on the other side having connected with a new community, explored important questions, and hopefully discovered that discernment about what we believe to be true is deeply connected to the impact we’ll have in the world.
If you have a rising ninth-grader (or someone else that may be interested), take this week to talk to them about confirmation. I often describe confirmation like learning a new language. We’ll talk about things like grace, sin, redemption, salvation, and transformation – words that help us describe our experience in the world and with one another on a deeper level. My dialect of Christianity might be different than yours, but we’ll spend time figuring out what it feels like to speak the language of Christianity, in an open, honest, and supportive environment. Then tell them that they won’t be taking this journey alone: You (their parents) will be walking alongside on your own (parent) confirmation journey! Periodically throughout the year, as Jenn gathers with the confirmands, parents of the confirmands will gather together with me to talk about the same material. Modeling that life-long journey of discernment and creating shared pieces of connection for reflection together.
If you have any questions, always feel free to reach out.