Like marriage, confirmation is about the church’s desire to be a player in people‘s lives.
It would serve better if it stopped being about the church and, instead, addressed a faith question that people actually are asking.
Take the example of marriage. Fewer and fewer weddings happen in churches. More and more happen in “wedding venues” and have little to do with faith. They are an opportunity to celebrate a new life being formed and to thank all who brought the couple to this moment.
The exchange of religious vows matters, but even when performed by a pastor associated with the couple, the vows are often 10 minutes in a two-hour production. More and more couples don’t even go that far. They ask a friend to buy an ordination for the day, and the vows become another piece in the friendship mosaic.
Is anything lost? Sure, one thing churches tend to do well is weddings. A church is a lovely setting, even for non-believers, and it’s far more economical than a rented wedding venue.
But is anything lost to God? In my opinion, God’s moment in the couple’s life happened at some point during their courtship, and it will happen again when they struggle to communicate, when they take on children, when their parents are dying and when career stresses get in the way. That’s when the faith community can make a difference, for that is when people are open to God.
A perfect wedding doesn’t guarantee a healthy marriage. A central role for pastor and church on the wedding day doesn’t mediate God in their lives.
Confirmation is like that. It celebrates movement through the church’s functionality: baptism, Sunday school, youth group, confirmation.
Confirmation can be seen as a “graduation,” the closing of a chapter. That’s the wrong message. If people are taking God at all seriously, they will be asking pointed questions like: How can I be a person of faith when everyone around me is focused on having fun? How can I follow Jesus in a world dominated by people shading the truth, denying the truth or fighting about different versions of the truth? When the economy seems rigged against the vulnerable, how can my faith make a difference? When haters are shouting and pummeling, what am I to do?
Those are far more important questions to be asking than memorizing a creed. The faith community needs to walk with the believer. Confirmation should be the faith community’s promise to them to be a guide and stay, to help them take a church-centered faith out into a messy world.
Rather than a single moment of ritual, I suggest a promise to check in at pivotal moments and to help them address the hard questions being asked.
TOM EHRICH is a publisher, writer, church consultant and president of Morning Walk Media, based in New York.