Some churches wonder why Confirmation is such a big deal. To help explain, I think it’s important to first understand the history of such a rite. Since the beginning of human society, there have been moments set apart by humans for children to transition into adulthood. The Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, the Jewish tradition, and yes, Christians have all marked this point in a young person’s life as they take this next step. This is what is known as a ‘rite of passage.’ Humans celebrate these rites of passage for different occasions in a person’s life: birthdays, weddings, and funerals to name a few. These moments help us mark important points in one’s life; they are pinpoints within our timelines.
While the Reformed Tradition developed its identity in juxtaposition to the Catholic Church’s rituals, some churches and denominations rid themselves of some of the formalities of traditional church life. Take Presbyterianism for example; the Book of Order & Confessions are clear that there are only two sacraments that we in the PCUSA celebrate: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as compared with the Catholic Church’s seven sacraments. However, some of these celebrations are still celebrated by us, while not necessarily being considered sacraments—Confirmation is one of these.
So why Confirmation? While it is certainly not necessary for one to become a member of the church (just think about adult new member inquiries), there is still something important that goes on when we give space and time to celebrate the transition from a young person’s faith into that of active membership. In a sense, we are celebrating the transition into adult faith; an opportunity to claim one’s identity in Christ while being surrounded by those who quite possibly previously affirmed vows to raise this child in the life of faith just years ago during their baptism. In the baptism of an infant we celebrate God’s choosing of this child. In Confirmation we celebrate the child acknowledging God’s call in baptism, and in response, the young person’s commitment to follow Christ in church membership. One way to put it: it is they who are now choosing God.
Practically, there are several wonderful things that can happen during the Confirmation process:
- Education. The young person is instructed in many important topics that pertain to Christian faith, the Church, and membership. There are no set class requirements, but the confirmand may end up knowing more about the church than many of the other adult members!
- Intergenerational Ministry. Adults within the congregation, including the pastor, have the opportunity to share in their own faith as they interact with these young people. This may happen through mentorship models, Elder leadership, and intergenerational activities.
- Expressions of Faith. We have the opportunity to formulate and express our faith in words. When we take the time and energy to think about such an important part of our life, we can wrestle with what, exactly, we believe, or as one of my colleagues says, ‘think we believe’.
- Celebration. The church has an opportunity to celebrate young people. This is an opportunity for young people to once again feel the love and support they did in their baptism; whether they remember it or not!
- Spiritual Practices. We have the opportunity to develop life-long faith skills. While Confirmation is a great time to teach about church history, it is also a great opportunity to allow the participants to develop skills that will be needed for the faith journey forward; we call these spiritual practices. Prayer, Bible study, and mission are just a few of these.
- Relationships & Community. Relationships are formed on a deeper level when people have the opportunity to discuss and experience important things such as faith, spirituality, and mission. Many wonderful friendships start here, even amongst adults!