In one of my Facebook groups, a pastor shared that three suicides had occurred at her local high school and middle school in 48 hours. Facing confirmation class orientation shortly, she was considering scraping her elaborate confirmation curriculum “filled with content, requirements, and boxes to check off” and telling her families that confirmation this year would be family based. “Come with your child and we will share highs and lows, see what word God might have for our daily lives in the Bible, talk about it, pray for one another and bless one another.” She added that she didn’t care if her confirmands “memorize the catechism, or can remember the three marks of a sacrament or recite the books of the Bible in order.” She wanted them to know that God loves them and they are wonderfully made in God’s image.
Checking back in the Facebook group the next day, I was glad to see the pastor had decided to go with her plan to make the confirmation program family-based. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, why it takes something like a community triple tragedy for those of us in the church who offer faith formation programs to realize that we’re doing it wrong? The evidence has been mounting for some time, with studies like The National Study of Youth and Religion determining that parents are the most significant influence on the religious and spiritual lives of American teens. As Wendy Claire Barrie puts it in her book Faith at Home, the study also noted that “the home is where the transmittal of faith happens, that clergy and youth ministers play a very limited role in that transmission, and that ordinary life practices – not programs, or rites of passage, or preaching – are the means of transmission.”
Of course, the family should be the center for faith formation from a child’s earliest days, but if it hasn’t happen before confirmation age, then the confirmation program provides an opportunity to make up for lost time. For various reasons, families who have brought their children to church sporadically or rarely will make the effort to have their children attend a confirmation program in order to gain the “prize” of being confirmed at the end. Those of us in the church need to make the most of the precious time we have with these youth.
As we look around our churches and see less and less young adults, it is beginning to sink in that confirmation needs to be reevaluated. Although some programs incorporate spiritual practices, service, and mentors – all good things — there is very little emphasis on faith formation with parents in the home. So much of the content is head learning – creeds, theology, church history – which is good to know but isn’t what makes a person decide to follow Jesus. Our intellectual approach doesn’t convey the wonderful mysteries of faith. You may be familiar with the old joke about a group of pastors discussing the problem of bats in the belfry of their churches. They discuss various techniques to get rid of the bats, none of which has worked successfully. Finally, one pastor relates that she has found the solution: “I had that problem but I baptized and confirmed them and I haven’t seen one back since!”
What do you think? Do our confirmation programs need to change?