Confirmation 2017-2018 is about to begin for youth in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades (or any high schooler who wants to, really). So this is a very good time to ask:
What is confirmation? And what is confirmation at UCCAustin?
So many folks come to United Christian Church of Austin from so many different denominations and traditions, or none at all, that it’s important we remember not everyone is used to the same vocabulary; and that, even if we’ve heard the word before, it’s likely going to sound a little different in our progressive Christian setting at UCCAustin. So what is Confirmation?
In Christian traditions that practice infant baptism, confirmation is the process by which baptized persons later in life (often early adolescence) claim or “confirm” those promises made over them as babies: to endeavor to follow in the way of Jesus, to love God and our neighbors, and so become members of the church in their own right. In traditions that practice baptism later in life (not coincidently about that same age) a conversation with the pastor usually covers the same ground, as those persons prepare to choose baptism for themselves.
So yes, at the end of the confirmation process next spring, participating youth will be asked if they want to become members of the church and, if they’ve not been baptized before, receive baptism (either by sprinkling or full-immersion). And here’s where we get the United Christian Church spin:
Our goal in confirmation is to share our faith with the youth of our congregation, to be sure, but more than that, to engage them in a conversation about their emerging faith; to explain vocabulary and concepts we may take for granted, yes, but more importantly, to encourage them to enter into their own relationship with God.
Confirmation is not a test; therefore, choosing to join the church isn’t success and choosing not to join the church isn’t failure. The journey really is the point.
No, really, we mean it; after all, this isn’t the only chance a person has to join the church; in fact, anyone can walk in to worship next week and tell us they want to be a member and, voilà, they’re a member, just like that.
Confirmation isn’t a test. I’s a gift. It’s a special time we set aside to share with our youth tools we hope they may find useful in building that lifelong authentic relationship with the God of their understanding; a faith that is grateful for our inherited traditions but also values pointed questions that suggest new horizons where “God is still speaking” today; a faith that challenges them to pursue justice, peace, and compassion in their relationships with all their neighbors; and a faith that honors the faith commitments of others, or their lack of religious faith, understanding we are all companions on the journey to becoming more fully human and humane.
Toward this end, the best gift the church can offer our youth is time with Jesus.
Our confirmation program this year will be structured less around abstract ideas of systematic theology—“What is the Trinity and How does it work?” or “How is Jesus’ saving work accomplished?”—and more around the life and teachings of Jesus himself; after all, no matter how exactly we describe him, there’s no denying Jesus is the value-added at the center of our Christian faith. So we will spend most of our time in the Gospels, asking ourselves how Jesus thought about God and the Bible, about justice and peace, even about his own death and resurrection. Of course we’ll also explore what the church has said about Jesus over time, too. But the point is: If you want to know the heart of our faith, get to know Jesus, personally.
And get to know other folks who love Jesus, too. Our 2017-2018 confirmation program will involve monthly group meetings with brief weekly follow-up readings and journal-style questions for reflection; in addition, each participant will be assigned a mentor, an adult member of the congregation who will accompany them through the course and check in weekly, using those journal questions as conversation starters. Both confirmands and their mentors are asked to attend the monthly group sessions with Rev. John and Rev. Nikki to share what they’ve been talking about and any questions that have come up. Again, the point is not to learn the “correct” answers by rote but to build relationship, with God and one another.
As the year turns and we come around toward Pentecost next spring, Sunday, May 20…
…we will ask the confirmands whether they would like to (a) be recognized as having completed the class, only; or (b) be baptized, if they haven’t been already, and confirmed and join the church as a member in their own right. Again, for all of us in the leadership of the church, both are acceptable outcomes and are reasons for celebration. If you have children who are considering participating in confirmation class, we hope you will take this to heart in your discussions about it as a family.
Confirmation is a gift for our youth, but it’s a gift for the church, too.
We are grateful for the opportunity not only to teach our youth the faith we’ve each inherited and altered according to our own experience and understanding, but to be taught by them as they enter more fully into that same conversation with God themselves.
Whether you have a child participating in the program or not, whether you’re a mentor or not, please support these youth, their families, their mentors, and our entire church in prayer. This is important stuff we’re about, the stuff of faith, the stuff of life. We pray that the “God who began this good work in us will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6) to the glory of God, which is “the human being fully alive” (St. Irenaeus).
For more information , contact youth director Meghan Trout here.