I’ve Been Wondering
Why Should Young People Confirmed?
It’s probably been drilled into our minds that Confirmation is a rite a passage, the time when children become adults in the eyes of the church. And though 15-year-olds can discern more clearly what they might be starting to believe, let’s be honest – today there are no other healthy places in society that we expect 15-year-olds to be adults. In fact, in the early church, Confirmation was simply an act of a priest or bishop performing the laying on of hands and praying for the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the baptized. It happened at the same time as baptism, whether the one being baptized was an infant or an adult.
It wasn’t until in the modern age of reason (post-1500) that the church started assigning the meaning of Confirmation to a maturing faith and a rite of passage. In that time, Confirmation happening in the lives of 13–15-year-olds made sense. Most children were only educated through about 8th grade. After that, they were expected to work and contribute to family and society. It wasn’t uncommon, especially in rural areas of Europe and America, for teenagers to be married and starting families soon after that. So, aligning a spiritual rite was one way for the church to assign meaning to this seismic change in young people’s lives.
By the time many of us adults were going through Confirmation, the Rite had turned into a rigorous curriculum of knowing the meaning of the tenets of faith, expecting that knowledge equals maturity. It was memorization and (dare I say) monotony for most young people. Most of us still get the chills thinking about having to recite Luther’s meaning of each article of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. And though knowing these things and studying them is important to understanding what kind of God we are called to follow, it has been less than an ideal way of leading young people into a consequential faith as they mature to adulthood.
So again, why should young people be confirmed today?
It starts with what each of us needs from a life of faith: Community, Meaning, and Transcendence
So much of life is transactional these days. There is a metric for everything. Young people are tested from 1st grade on and ranked on how smart they are, how tall they are, how athletic they are. There are so few places where young people have refuge from metrics. The Church is that place. Through the process of Confirmation, young people experience a different kind of community. They come to know that whatever’s going on in their lives, or however they are measuring up, there is a community of people, including adults, who see them, know them, and love them just as they are – and that because of this community – they come to believe that God does too. You, the body of Christ, show these young people what it means to believe. And we celebrate this rite of Confirmation with them so that they may claim an identity that is rooted in God’s grace and open to the call that God has for each of them.
This kind of community helps shape identity and provides meaning. Because we don’t expect 15-year-olds to be adults, we have to take seriously that these young people are only starting to form a mature identity. The Confirmation process is a time in young people’s lives to ask questions, to be curious, and to grow their spiritual and theological imagination.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, there is a deep need for all humans to experience transcendence – the sense that there is something more significant than the material world. Confirmation, both the process and the rite, provides young people with language, community, and practice to experience the transcendence that faith in Christ offers.
One of the things we don’t talk much about in the church is that because Confirmation is not a sacrament, and its traditional function has been to affirm one’s faith – to say yes to the promises God makes to us in baptism – Confirmation is not something that can only happen once in life. God grabs our attention at many points in our lives. If you’ve had a profound experience of faith and would like to affirm your baptism (or be confirmed) again, or maybe you were confirmed when you were young and your faith means something different or is more meaningful for you now, you can always affirm your baptism again! Look for an opportunity later this year for a group called Adult Confirmation: Everything You Wish You Remembered this winter and an opportunity to affirm your baptism at the Easter Vigil in late March.