What do you get when you mix three churches, four pastors (one retired), four youth directors, twenty-two sponsors and twenty-two youth on a Sunday afternoon?
The answer - confirmation!
At least one possible configuration of it, anyway.
Every pastor that is charged to a local church is also charged to organize confirmation for the young people who are considering this important decision. The confirmation process can be done in many ways. Some pastors choose to use curriculum from Cokesbury or other publishing houses. It is great for us to have such resources at our fingertips. Yet, I wonder if we also need to ask another question about the confirmation process. What process will help our youth and those participating be renewed in this important journey of the Christian faith?
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut with curriculum and resourcing, and we forget the creative energy that is within. Many of us went to seminary; most of us have had to keep up with Methodist Doctrine; and yet we often rely heavily on curriculum and programs to practice our knowledge of our denomination- which can be troublesome if it lacks vulnerability. The process we are working on for confirmation is a partnership.
Partnerships, especially with youth and mentors giving their time, require vulnerability. What I mean by that is for the youth to trust you as you guide them to know faith in Jesus Christ, they need to know they are not being run through a prescriptive program. They need you - laity, pastors, believers - to be vulnerable in a process with them.
That's exactly what came up as a topic of conversation with the Rev. Jeff Clinger from Tonganoxie UMC and the Rev. Rob Winger from Basehor UMC and me. I was serving Bonner Springs at the time and knew that we had youth ready for confirmation. Jeff, Rob and I discovered that we were tired of the old rut of curriculum and decided, "Hey, let's create a process on our own!" With seven youth from Bonner, eight from Basehor and seven from Tonganoxie, it seemed that it would be a heck of a lot more fun and also beneficial for the churches to share in the development of this process. The other plus, that as pastors we would share the load together, learn from each other, and present different perspectives, helps the authenticity of the experience. We aren't looking for cookie-cutter Christians.
As we began to discern, we enlisted one more pastor, the Rev. Charles Grant who was a retired elder from the then "Kansas West Conference" and on staff at Bonner. With two or three face to face meetings and several emails, we put together a process where students and mentors met Sunday afternoons, rotating churches for our meetings with two weeks in between. The rotation was intentional to cause all of us to physically see and experience each other's church settings.
We set up the areas of emphasis similar to the Cokesbury format; Who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? Bible part one and two, Spiritual Life part one and two, History of Methodism, What we Teach and How we do things.
Additionally, we had a three day retreat that included visiting a Synagogue, a Mosque, a Mega Church, an African American church and an exploration of social life in a city.
In order to be confirmed, a student could not miss more than two Sunday sessions and was required to take part in the retreat.
The end goal was to celebrate the process with confirmation on Easter Eve. We were prepared if a student decided that they did not want to join the church because we were simply proud of them for committing to the process. We had the talk with parents and guardians before the process began to ensure that this was a time of discernment, not a time of enrolling your child into the United Methodist Church.
What we found was that all twenty-two said "yes". I believe this was because we were vulnerable with them and they in turn were able to safely and honestly make this decision.
Thus, on Easter Eve 2014, in one common sanctuary, four pastors, four youth directors, twenty-two mentors and over one hundred more in attendance laid hands on, baptized, remembered baptisms, heard witness from, worshipped and welcomed twenty-two young people who affirmed that they desired to follow Jesus Christ and wished to do that in The United Methodist Church. It was amazing!
Now, I'm not writing this article to convince you of this process. Although, if you want it, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and it's yours!
I'm writing this because I want you (pastors, laity and leaders) to know that God has vital ideas working through our connection, including partnerships with other churches as we partner with our youth on this important journey of life. Jeff, Rob, Charles and I learned much from each other and from all those that committed to the nurture of our youth as they considered their faith community.
We wouldn't have been able to do that without partnering to be vulnerable, knowing that God was going to guide the process all along!