Thursday, May 24, 2007

Blessing the Un-confirmed

Hi all--
Have any of you developed good ways to bless/affirm/comission kids who have gone through the whole confirmation class process and choose not to be confirmed?

Because I want the youth to see confirmation as a serious commitment, I always have told them it's okay to say, "I'm not sure, or I'm not ready." Because I want to honor their God-given freedom and integrity, I've always said, "This class constitutes an invitation. You are free to say, "no".

Yet it is hard to avoid there being some stigma attached to the kids who choose not to join. Their parents and other adults in the congregation wonder what went wrong. Was it the class? The teacher? The whole idea of confirmation itself? One of the grad students that has been helping lead the confirmation group this year went on a bit of a rant at Session last night saying essentially that, "We disenfranchise the honest kids and embrace the ones that just go with the flow."

I don't agree completely with his diagnosis. There are some kids who just go with the flow and don't take the whole thing very seriously, but there are also kids who do see confirmation as a meaningful commitment--one they are making freely and joyfully. I also don't think that all the kids who say "no" are brave non-conformists. Some are, but others make that choice to disoblige their parents, or differentiate themselves from a sibling, or because the guy they have a crush on thinks Christianity is lame.

Here the heart of the question, I think. How do we privately and publicly affirm the choice of the kids who say "This isn't the right choice for me right now," yet still somehow convey to them and the gathered community that, ultimately, it DOES matter whether one chooses to be a follower of Jesus or not.

How have you worked this out at your place?


more cows than people said...

The week before confirmation (we only do confirmation every other year) I plan on incorporating a moment in worship the week before confirmation for "affirmation". The first year I taught confirmation one of the 10 students opted out (as her sister had a few years before)- my sense is that she respectfully participated in the class to make her churched mom happy and she respectfully opted out of confirmation to make her agnostic, not so churched dad happy. I also think she just really wasn't sure and didn't want to make a commitment that she wasn't sure about. I respected that and we affirmed her in worship, celebrating the gifts in her and the faithfulness evidenced in her completion of the class, and praying a blessing on her continuing journey. I gave her a copy of "Girl Meets God" also... I tried to find a book that would help her think about coming to faith, but put no pressure on her. That was a good pick for her, not sure it would be my pick for everyone. All the other kids got a book, so I wanted her to get one too. We also affirmed a confirmand who had gone above and beyond completing a boy scout badge in the process of confirmation. So, affirmations that were in addition to or separate to the confirmation process were done that week before. I don't remember what liturgy we used. I could go hunting for it if you're interested. I know that I got the idea from Elizabeth (Lib) Caldwell's book on confirmation, which, I think is called "Leaving Home with Faith", but I might be making that up. Hope this helps.

I know that several moms who had kids who opted out in the past really appreciated that we did this, stating that their kids' estrangement from church was solidified in that moment of opting out and being ignored by the church.

ppb said...

That seems like a neat idea, more cows.

My church made a big, stinking deal of confirmation, including a 3 day "weekend of decision" retreat--and long dresses for the girls on confirmation day.

Two kids in my 45 member class did not get confirmed. One was Greek Orthodox but attended our Youth group and all. She knew going in that she wouldn't be confirmed in teh Presbyterian church as her parents wouldn't allow it (joke's on them--she's now a Presbyterian minister). The other guy just didn't want to do it. I didn't know him so I don't know his reasons.

The first half of the service celebrated all of us. Each group (we had home based classes) did a short thingy. Then the second half the service was the baptism/confirmation part. Those that didn't get confirmed were in the first half but not the second.

I like Stacey's idea better, though.

Gannet Girl said...

I think it's wonderful that you raise this question and that people have solutions. None of my three children would go near a confirmation class. I knew they didn't really have any religious beliefs and I kept urging them to go, assuring them that they did not have to join the church or ever say anything that made them feel hypocritical, but encouraging them to use the opportunity to learn. They didn't buy it for a second. Perhaps if there had been a church tradition that some join and some don't, with appropriate recognition and celebration of both, they might have seen the class as a reasonable option.

Anonymous said...

Why are confirmation classes always targeted at a particular age group? That makes it much more difficult for young people to opt out (heaven forbid they should be different!!!). But some people are ready to be confirmed at 10 and some at 47. As a lay leader, I have taught confirmation classes for 11 years - many kids are just there because it's what you do when you're 12 and go to our church. Many of them do make an honest commitment to church membership - many of them join the church in just as pro forma a way as they attend confirmation class. During Pentecost worship, we recognize ALL the people who completed the class; everybody gets a Bible. Some become members and some don't. Now - we also have a confirmation class for older youth that's completely optional (Wednesday evenings at 8:30 - tough on the adults but an ideal time for the students). Those classes are so rewarding for all of us because everyone is there to explore the reasons why the church is and to consider possibility of assuming the responsibilities of church membership. Everybody (the I'm-12-so-I'm-here class as well as the older kids) is confirmed at the same time - so younger kids do know that you can be confirmed at the "official" age or later. Why don't we make as big a deal over adults who make their first professions of faith? No idea! Maybe we're trying not to embarrass them? After all, they are different. Oh horrors! We adults don't want to be different either....

Kathryn said...

I guess it's sadly easier for me, in that we don't have enough youth for it to be a regular event - confirmation classes only happen if it looks as if there is a group that wants to be confirmed.
Two of my three kids have been confirmed, but the one whose faith is most alive resisted, because he refuses any denominational allegiance. I'm so grateful that we're not in a context where his honesty would proclaim him out of the ordinary in an uncomfortable way.

Anonymous said...

On a totally different vein, I'm not at all sure that "being a follower of Jesus" and confirmation-as-a-rite-of-passage are at all equivalent.

Seems to me that the educational component of confirmation still has value for the individual's faith journey even if they don't choose to jump through the ecclesiological hoop and make it "official".

Too bad we can't figure out a way to honor the process rather than the result (My denomination isn't any better at it!)

Mary Ann said...

Before my recent (first) confirmation class I knew I might well have at least one young man in the class to learn about Christianity and United Methodism who would not be becoming a member. I emphasized throughout the course that the choice to be confirmed as member was a separate thing, and, while serious, not as important as one's relationship with God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit.

I also told them that if they didn't really want to join the church but their parents wanted them to, I would not only support them, but fight for them.

At the end, I told them that I would need to hear from them individually during the week if they wanted to be confirmed. I made the strategic error of telling them that if I hadn't heard by Friday I would call them-- so all but one awaited my call.

Each of them elected to be confirmed-- sincerely, I think, though about half had started out noncommital. (The boy who would not join didn't in fact become a part of the class, but I think he's hoping to next year, partly because of pur flash paper ritual.)

That Sunday the class joined me as worship leaders. The best part of that from the youth point of view was leading the congregation in a ritual of confession that involved flash paper, I think.

We had a confirmation class graduation recognition with Bible presentations. Baptism/confirmation was later, after the homily and immediately before the communions (both intinctions-- juice and bread, and cookies and milk*) which class members helped with.

It's naturally a little hard to tell, but I think and hope that these ways of making separations helped.

*We have no rules on what the elements for communion be except that no alcohol be used.

Anonymous said...

Great questions/comments.
I have no new ideas but appreciate your dealing with this. My own kids (at least some of them) definitely joined because they felt like they had to. Now I just pray for them to figure things out without too much pain.

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