My Confirmation ministry has always been based on a simple idea that former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson gave me during my first year as a pastor. He was the keynote at the First Call Theological Education conference in Colorado, and we were talking about Confirmation one afternoon. “If I was teaching Confirmation today,” he dreamed before us, “I would do a deep dive into the five parts of our baptismal covenant.”
Here are the five parts of the Lutheran baptismal covenant:
- To live among God’s faithful people
- To hear the Word and celebrate the Holy Meal
- To proclaim the good news of God through word and deed
- To serve all people following the example of Jesus
- To strive for justice and peace in all the earth (p. 236, ELW)
Former Bishop Hanson went on, “I would do an entire field trip for each one of these five, so that our kids would know exactly what it is they’re affirming on their Confirmation Day and beyond.”
So a year later, I tried it! Parents raised their eyebrows for a minute: that’s not what they did twenty years ago. (I still teach some scripture and catechism too, but the center of the whole program is always back to “the Big Five.”) Field-tripping makes our experience, yes, very different from my own traditional Confirmation of just sitting in a classroom and memorizing. It’s also felt more fruitful to me than some of the newer programs I had tried and failed as a youth director, where we spun our wheels, trying to turn the bible stories into entertaining shows for the kids to passively and hopefully absorb each week.
Instead, when we discuss “living among God’s faithful people,” I take them to long-time members’ homes, and we ask dear, old Greta: “Mrs. Lane, you’ve experienced so much loss/pain/grief/anger in your life…why do you still stick with the church after all these years?” Holy Moly! Some of the highlights in all my years of ministry are hearing Greta, and others, respond (i.e. witness), as I sip her tea and nibble on scones with a small circle of wide-eyed middle school confirmands…
When we talk “serve all people, following Jesus’ example,” we’ll go do a service project, and visit in the car on the way about what “all people” really means…
Or learning about “striving for justice and peace in all the earth”: When I was serving in San Diego, we drove to the US/Mexico border wall, heard stories, and thought anew about what justice and peace was. That same afternoon, we also got onto an aircraft carrier in the all-powerful San Diego harbor, and there we asked a member of both our church and the U.S. Navy what “striving for justice and peace” meant to her. That was a quiet ride home, as I could almost hear the gears shifting.
After every living lesson, we eat lunch. In fact, the only cost of Confirmation is $10 each month for a meal. Breaking bread is where we bond, laugh, check-in and pray. (I so miss eating with our kids, in this pandemic era.)
Friends, I’m sharing a bit of what I’ve been inspired to do, only as an offering. Maybe it sparks something new, in how we value and understand Confirmation. I don’t believe it’s a rite of passage. (The rite of passage was at the holy waters of the fount—and, “If you’re not baptized, let’s get you baptized!” I’d say.) No, Confirmation is the season for our young people – and all of us – to explore, probably for the first time, what it means to “be walking wet,” as ELCA pastor and cartoonist Dan Erlander says. What does it mean to live in joyful and sacrificial covenant with God?
Maybe we should post the 5-part baptismal covenant in our sanctuaries and classrooms and websites and bathroom mirrors at home…and on our hearts! Middle schoolers can absolutely grasp (i.e. memorize) this, and they’ve already been leaving puddles all over the church and God’s world.