Many pastors and congregations wonder how they can make the rite of confirmation more meaningful for both the youth being confirmed and the congregation. There is no magic formula, but here are some simple dos and don’ts to make your confirmation service more meaningful to both the confirmands and the congregation.
DON’T treat confirmation as if it were an add-on or an afterthought. Too many churches report that the confirmation rite is “tacked on” at the end of the worship service and treated as if it were just something to get through. Or, confirmation is held at a time different from the principal worship service so “we can get out on time.” Both are mistakes. The rite of confirmation should be celebrated as the focus and theme of the principal worship service.
DO make the rite of confirmation a special event in the principal worship service. This is important because the congregation plays a vital role in the rite and is called upon to make commitments about their own faith and about their support of the youth who are being confirmed. It is very important that the service allow the congregation to make those commitments.
If there are youth in the confirmation class who need to be baptized, use the full ritual. The Thanksgiving Over the Water is not only a prayer but also a rehearsal of the mighty acts of God. Christians need to be reminded often that their faith is based on the story of God’s acts; as a result this prayer becomes an integral part of their faith journey. The same is true with the use of the Apostles’ Creed. Avoid the temptation to omit it in the interest of time; it takes only a few seconds to affirm the creed. The confirmands are affirming the faith of the church and their commitment to it. As you prepare to baptize youth, invite the other members of the confirmation class to stand as their sponsors. Unless the confirmation class is small, other members should stand where they are seated rather than come to the front with parents, grandparents, and other sponsors. But include them in the baptism; all the youth have made this journey together.
Confirm youth individually. They are a community but also individual persons. The laying on of hands and the pronouncing of names are key parts of the service. Many congregations, at this point in the service, have the parents standing to the side, holding a gift for their son or daughter. The churches order the same gifts for everyone (often a cross to hang around their necks), but the parents pay for the gift and make the presentation.
At the close of the service, arrange for a receiving line for the congregation to greet the confirmands. The door to the sanctuary is probably not the best place for this, because of the crowds. If there is a garden close to the sanctuary entrance, have the confirmands and their parents stand there.
DON’T treat confirmation as graduation. Many pastors and churches, at least in the recent past, have assumed that youth would learn in confirmation class everything they need to know about being a Christian for the rest of their lives. This is a highly unrealistic assumption, and the celebration needs to be joyful without assuming this is the end of learning and growth. Too many parents support this assumption by saying things such as, “You will stay in Sunday school until you are confirmed.” The message conveyed by that statement is that after you are confirmed, you no longer have to be involved in learning and growing in the faith.
DO celebrate confirmation as a key stage of the faith journey. By Water and the Spirit, the theology of baptism adopted by the General Conference, calls confirmation the first (or one of the first) opportunities for youth to affirm the faith into which they were baptized. This is the faith of the church, as symbolized by the Apostles’ Creed. My personal practice was always to tell confirmands (as we celebrated and rehearsed for the rite) that their faith would be different when they were seniors, or perhaps even next week, because I expected them to continue to learn and question and grow in the faith. After all, late adolescence is a time of questioning faith, and youth will look at the creed differently a few years from now. Confirmation is a repeatable rite (see Baptismal Covenant IV), and youth (and adults) can make a public affirmation of a changed and maturing faith.
DON’T go through the popular project of having the class write its own creed to be used in worship. Many churches do this under the assumption that youth will believe more deeply if they write a creed. But the ritual invites them to affirm the “faith into which they were baptized,” that is, the faith of the church. We are not bold individualists who rewrite the faith on a regular basis. Rather, we are the latest generation to affirm and try to live out the faith of the church through the centuries.
DO emphasize that the affirmation is the faith of the church. If this point is carefully taught in the confirmation preparation class, and the story of the church is faithfully told, youth will be excited about the idea of affirming the faith of the church. The point can be emphasized as a part of the rite, so that the congregation is educated about why they are saying the Apostles’ Creed.
Following these suggestions won’t magically make the confirmation rite a high moment. But following them will move you and the congregation in that direction.