Confirmation and the Body of Christ

I am certainly not the first to observe the great difference between parenting and grandparenting, that from the vantage point of the years we understand that what we thought were near crises were not so serious after all, that whether or not they ate their brussels sprouts had nothing to do with the kind of people they turned out to be. Nor am I the first to observe that grandchildren grow up a lot faster. One day you are holding her on your lap reading a story and the next thing you know she is looking you directly in the eye and asking if you remember the Vietnam War. When we were expecting our first grandchild years ago a friend put his arm around my shoulder and solemnly said, “John, you are about to experience the only truly free lunch.” He was right I have discovered.

A 13-year-old granddaughter, Eleanor, was confirmed in her Presbyterian church recently. At the beginning of her Confirmation Class last fall her father told me that she wasn’t at all certain that she wanted to join the church; in fact wasn’t at all certain that she believed in God. I assured him that her concerns were perfect. After eight months of weekly meetings supplemented with retreats and mission trips she not only decided to publicly declare her faith and become an adult member of the congregation but wrote a statement of faith that brought tears to my eyes, and she told me at a family dinner that she absolutely loved her Confirmation Class experience.

It set me to thinking about my own Confirmation experience and how different it was. In the Presbyterian church of my youth admission to church membership and participation in the Lord’s Supper was granted upon completion of Communicants Class. Eight of us 7th graders met in the pastor’s study after school weekly during Lent. The curriculum was simple: The Westminster Shorter Catechism, 107 questions and answers based on the Westminster Confession of Faith, written in 1643. Parliament called an assembly to meet in Westminster Abbey to “settle the government and liturgy of the Church of England on a manner most agreeable to God’s Holy Word and most apt to procure the peace of the church.” The Assembly convened in a time of political and religious turmoil and in the midst of it, thanks to Westminster, the Church of England was briefly Presbyterian. When the Church of England returned to its Episcopal heritage, Westminster became the theological standard for Presbyterians in Scotland and Europe and, in 1729, America.

The agenda for our Communicants Class was to memorize the 107 answers in the Shorter Catechism. Some of them are doozies. Question 4: “What is God?” Answer: “God is Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” The Westminster Divines were nothing if not confident that the reality of God could be nailed down in human language. I’m not certain what the experience did for me but I’ve always been glad to remember the first question: “What is the chief end of man?” and the answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

Witnessing Eleanor’s Confirmation from the back pew and remembering my own I went home and pulled from the shelf James Fowler’s Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian. It is a superb book in which Fowler says adult faith happens as a result of developing, among other things, a “deep habitus…a pervasive orientation to the divine initiative and the universality of love.” Eleanor’s Confirmation Class leader, John Vest, a wise, creative and energetic pastor, asked each of the 27 class members to write a statement of faith, something that would never have occurred to Rev. Graham as he drilled us in our memorization.

Eleanor shared her statement with me. She wrote: “Everyone is a child of God, even if you don’t believe in God you still are. I believe you can see God in anyone. I believe Jesus was God’s son. Through the friends I have made and the discussion in my circle group, I have never seen God more clearly. I have been going to church all my life, but I never thought about God in a deep way… This year I loved going to church and the sense of community I feel. The most significant thing I learned this year is to love my neighbor just as Jesus taught us.” Eleanor concluded by saying she wanted to be a part of the wonderful things the church does.

Reciting answers to catechetical questions and memorizing scripture are good things to do. But reading her statement of faith and witnessing Eleanor kneel in front of the congregation and become part of the Body of Christ in the world gave me hope for the church and a heart full of gratitude.

Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    John,
    My 14 year old granddaughter is being confirmed this June. I will share this with her. I pray her statement of faith will be as wonderful as your granddaughter’s was.
    Barbara

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