We’ve talked about some of the basics of the confirmation process and the “what” or content that needs to incorporated into this discipleship formation. However, I realized in the last post that I forgot to post any resources to check out in terms of using curriculum from a United Methodist perspective. The primary one for United Methodism that you’ll see advertised at Cokesbury is Credo. Also be sure to check with your pastor or district office, who might have a resource director who might be able to make an additional option or two that are specifically designed for United Methodists.
So let us now move on to this last part of this series, where we will examine the procedural and logistical matters pertaining to confirmation. Know that these are just recommendations, some of which will be more general while others will be quite specific, so adapt it to your own context as necessary.
Also, I want to offer a big thanks to my Superintendent, Dr. Joe Geary, who passed along many of these pointers to me:
–Finding the Right Age–
One of big questions is regarding age. At what age is a youth ready for confirmation? Be sure to use the language of “youth” and never “child”…using “youth” or “young person” helps us adults as much as it does the young person to orient our minds toward the reality of their growth and maturity and that their input is significantly valued. St. Paul talks about “milk then meat” as the process of growing in discipleship. Saying “youth” or “young person” rather than “child” affirms to everyone involved that they is ready for the meatier content of the Christian faith and journey.
With that said, the most ideal time in a young person’s life for entering confirmation is when he or she is in 7th grade or later. There are exceptions as some curriculum recommend ages 11-14, so if someone shows remarkable maturity then beginning them in 6th grade might be acceptable. But it’s best, in my mind, to maintain a clear starting point for the youth of your church so that there’s no sense of competition or failure among youth or their parents. Because “If their daughter Suzie got to go through when he was in 6th grade, why is my son Joe not permitted until next year?” Best thing is to set a boundary and stick to it. If a problem arises and persists, then gather the leadership of the church to make a change across the board rather than just making one or two exceptions.
Have a session of orientation for the parents/guardians and sponsors, ideally the week before your sessions start with the youth. This orientation does at least four things:
- The parents/adults see and receive the materials that their youth will be using throughout the process.
- It eliminates most surprises about expectations of the process. If need be, offer an entire adult confirmation class to the whole congregation so they’re acclimated to the process for themselves and may become more open and excited to incorporate it into the life of the youth.
- It addresses the basics of what confirmation is and isn’t; including its relationship to baptism – i.e., there won’t be “rebaptism” for those baptized as infants.
- It lets the parents/guardians/sponsors know that youth will not necessarily be getting on and/or coming off at the same point – that is, it’s a community thing, but each youth will make their own decision based on their readiness (or not) to embrace the Christian faith more fully in confirming or professing it themselves.
–Individual Sessions with Youth–
Around the session(s) when “commitment” comes up, the pastor or youth leader should have a 1-on-1 conversation with each young person asking about their readiness to make the commitment or not.
- The idea here is to allow them the most amount of freedom in making the commitment. Having their sponsor or parent/guardian there can very easily lead to coercion
- Remember: welcoming presence and invitation, not high octane, high pressurized coercion to make a decision
- Provides opportunity for the youth to raise questions they were perhaps afraid to ask in a larger setting
- Accountability: remember the importance of ethical boundaries by remaining visible to others but not that others’ presence influences what the youth say(s)
–Length/Schedule Confirmation Class–
The ideal length of a confirmation class is at least 8 weeks. I’ve known some that do a whole year. Follow the guides and supplement as needed with other materials or “field trips” and work with your youth leadership to make the schedule out. Some things to remember and communicate to all involved:
- This is a commitment of the parents and mentors too!
- Parents should choose a mentor in consultation with pastor – mentor should be non-family member.
- Ideal to take at least 1 field trip out of town – visit a place of worship with a difference expression of faith than expected in your setting. Examples: Roman Catholic Mass; Eastern Orthodox worship; Jewish synagogue; Anglican/Episcopalian service – bodies from which our tradition comes
- This experience(s) will help youth see several of the aspects of our faith, observe similarities and dissimilarities with other faith traditions, and to discover in person the continued expression of some of our story’s elements and past – where we came from.
For each session it’s ideal to carve out a 2 hour block with a 15-20 minute break with prepared snacks
- Sunday afternoons from 4-6pm has proven to be a fruitful time for many, but adjust according to the needs and schedule of your community
At the end of the confirmation class, when you have all the decisions of who will be confirmed and/or baptized (if the confirmand wasn’t baptized prior), make sure to do a rehearsal of the service (Baptismal Covenant I – UM Hymnal, 33ff.)
–Employing our Connection–
Now for small membership churches, sometimes it is difficult to do the class for just one or two students, or such a number might make them feel more pressured one way or the other. In cases where there are very few young people in the congregation, here are some ideas that might open the door for the possibility of clustering with other small membership United Methodist Churches in your area:
- In Benton County, Tennessee (where my current appointment is located), we United Methodist clergy have met and decided that Lakeshore United Methodist Assembly would be a great location to have the sessions. So if there is a retreat center or campground nearby that would be hospitable, use it!
- Meet at the various churches who are participating in the confirmation class.
- Rent a space or find a hospitable place – just be sure the background noise, if any, can be kept to a minimum.
It comes down to this reality: We are a connectional church – while small United Methodist churches do have things in common with small churches of other traditions, when it comes to discipleship we can be mutually supportive of other small United Methodist churches and resource with one another. Let’s use the connection to our advantage, which by the way, is a significant reason why it exists!
What other ideas or aspects pertaining to the details or procedure of confirmation would you include? Anybody have best practices you would recommend for such settings?