Friday, April 25, 2008


This Sunday five young people will make their public confession of Christ in the Rite of Confirmation at St. Peter congregation. Mixed emotions often accompany this event for me as a pastor. Confirmation for Lutherans, unlike Roman Catholics, is not a sacrament. Nevertheless, this rite frequently attracts the kind of attention one would think appropriate and expected for sacramental actions. Although it finds its meaning within the reality of Holy Baptism, it seems too often to eclipse this sacrament and the blessings originally received, by the attention given to it.

If you talk to some Lutherans you may very well get the impression that Confirmation is a kind of 'rite of passage.' Here once effectively graduates from the drudgery of compulsory Sunday School attendance. Except for the occasional ushering duty, it allows one to now see church attendance according to convenience of the young person, and Bible study as purely optional. Parents, who knew the need to push their child so as to 'qualify' for confirmation, now step back with a huge sigh of relief, paranoid that if they push further the child will be alienated forever from the church.

Yet, how have we come to this point? Has the church unwittingly communicated the wrong message by all this attention, and failed to really help the child appreciate his or her true place in the assembly? Have we brought the baptized to the Table for the body and blood of Christ, only to leave them with the impression that their need for spiritual nourishment was only for that moment (and that they can now 'coast' on the 'grace' of confirmation until death)? Is this an issue primarily of the home, where parents encourage one thing and model something entirely different, effectively undoing whatever was attempted in the past two or three years of confirmation instruction? Or does part of the problem lie with our modern dilemma of adolescence where the young person is neither child nor adult, with even fewer expectations that they had before? Perhaps it is a combination of all the above and even more.

This Sunday will be a glorious occasion, and as always, I will be caught up in the festive nature of the day, forgetting for a moment my frustrations with the eventual outcome. Perhaps my dear readers may provide some wisdom and insight as I prepare for another year.


Presbytera said...

I am no help to you at all. This past month was our confirmation and I had to explain it to my 2 granddaughters who wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I was really at a loss to explain to them the "whys". They have been well catechized in the importance of their Baptisms - we even celebrate their Baptism day each year. I said the words, "It is a public affirmation of the faith you received at Baptism" but the words stuck in my throat.

Steve Newell said...

Many years ago, my church moved Confirmation Sunday to Reformation Sunday. Prior to that time, it was in the late spring. The reason for the move is that many people, both adults and the countermands, viewed Confirmation like graduation. Confirmation is a point on the journey of faith, not the beginning or the end.

Don Engebretson said...

Various churches have placed Confirmation on a variety of church festivals such as Pentecost, Palm Sunday, and Reformation. Personally I like to keep it on a more 'minor' Sunday so as not to take away from the focus of the original festival. My church here in Wisconsin had it on Palm Sunday, but it always felt awkward, like having National Lutheran Schools Week during Lent. One event is celebratory, the other more somber. I moved it to keep the focus on Palm Sunday as the beginning of Holy Week.

Some churches use Pentecost, and I did so in my previous parish. However, I wonder again if one event does not have a tendency to overshadow the other, even though Confirmation is a "rite" that takes place within the service, and not an "occasional festival" like a church anniversary, ordination, etc.

Having it within the Easter season, as it is for me now, seems most appropriate, as the Resurrection of Christ and Baptism are closely related, and thus a good tie for Confirmation being 'baptismally based.'

Unfortunately Confirmation is by default a 'minor festival' whether we call it one or not, and it has taken on a life of it's own.