I’ve been in ministry for nearly fifteen years, and the majority of that time has been spent working specifically with youth and children. During those years I’ve probably had a hundred youth in one confirmation class or another. And I have to say that having this task fall to me has been something that I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded with each year’s class.
So, first the dread. Of course there are always those students who have made the deal with their parents that if they get confirmed they can stop coming to church; that is if they join the church they can quit it (which has never made any sense to me). By and large these are not the most engaged people in class.
The other thing I have struggled with is figuring out what to teach. I’ve tried various curricula, and most end up being some mix of lessons from the Bible and a little church history. If the class is denominationally specific there is some polity thrown in as well. And it has always ended with the student writing a faith statement. And frankly, I’m not convinced that this is what the kids need.
This leads me to what I look forward to in confirmation. There are always the kids who are really trying to make sense of their faith. There are those kids who really dig in and ask questions and want answers. They make it fun. However, one thing that has struck me over and over again is that it is often these kids are also the ones who come to me towards the end of the class telling me that they aren’t sure that they can get confirmed. They aren’t sure that they buy it all. They aren’t sure they can stand up in front of the congregation and say with integrity that, “they believe.”
As I’ve reflected on all this, I’ve started to think that one reason for this phenomenon is that too often we have locked faith in the past. It is something ancient. Really, to a lot of kids, I’m something ancient and I’m only forty, so something that is two thousand years old, like Jesus and the start of the church, or five hundred years old, like the reformation, seems completely irrelevant.
I believe that we need to share stories of faith that speak of God’s actions now, that tell of heroes of faith that are fighting for justice, sharing love, making peace, right now today, that express how God is wrapped up in the Hydron Super Collider and the Hubbell Telescope. And this has to start with our youngest of children. If all our kids grow up hearing about are parting seas and multiplying fish and loaves then they are almost guaranteed to face some a great crisis of faith…around the time they show up in confirmation.
Donald Hanna is the pastor at Alamosa Presbyterian Church. He recently moved with his family from Minneapolis to a small ranch on the outskirts of the San Luis Valley in Colorado.