How to teach confirmation class ecstatically (Part 2)

May 11th, 2015

In this three-part series, I’m discussing the activity of putting together and teaching a confirmation class. In Part 1 we looked at time frame and teaching content. In Part 3 we will discuss the ecstatic nature of divine love, the consequent ecstatic nature of Christian life, and the implications of these for how we teach confirmation. 

This week, we touch several crucial topics: prayer during the course of confirmation class, service projects as a part of catechesis, and putting together a show-stopper confirmation liturgy for Easter Sunday. 

1. Prayer. One of the main goals of catechesis is to wind up with people who really pray. Thus, each confirmation class itself begins with prayer. We each have to hand on to others the ways of praying that Christ has given us, and by which the Holy Spirit moves and blows through us and keeps us living, abiding and moving in God's love. Jesus gave all his disciples the prayer that begins “Our Father…”, so we can't skip it. What I want to hand on to others is an ability to responsively enter the Spirit through both liturgical prayer and extemporaneous prayer. 

Hence, the start of each of my confirmation classes goes like this: 

a. We make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” 

b. We all say either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed together. Doing this aids in the process of memorization, on which they will be tested on Easter Sunday before they are confirmed. 

c. We pray the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father…”) together. 

d. We recite the Jesus Prayer together 10 times. (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) 

Then the instructional part of class begins, perhaps with a memorization exercise, or review of last week, etc. 

At the end of class we share prayer requests and close in an extemporaneous prayer from one or more people. 

Regarding the above order of opening prayer: I put together a several page booklet and give one to each catechumen. It contains these prayers as well as some other prayers from the tradition I cherish and use. It is also decorated with some icons of Jesus. We use these booklets for the span of the class, and they become gifts to the catechumens at Easter. I encourage them to keep the booklet in their Bible, both as a reminder of their commitment to Jesus Christ, and because they have, over the course of eight months, learned a simple way they can begin and end every day in prayer. 

I repeatedly try to drive home the point that by praying these rote prayers and trying to enter into them with heart and mind, we are forming habits, involving ourselves in the same kind of ascetic training we do in order to be excellent at a sport, and so are being reshaped by the Spirit into praying people. 

2. Service. My dream for each student I confirm is that she or he will be a Christian who will, as much as she is able during the course of her life, actively serve others somehow through the church. How this looks will differ depending on one's context. At a small country church or small urban church in which the youth are already helping out with many of the ministries of the church anyways, it might just make sense to continue that, require each student to help out with something, and talk some about service. A larger church, on the other hand — be it urban or suburban — might need to intentionally plug every catechumen into some kind of service work, or have several Saturdays or Sunday afternoons or Wednesday evenings in which the catechumens do community service together. It is more important that service is part of the regimen of Christian reformation than what service one does. Jesus gave us foot washing as the picture of what love and service look like on the way to the cross (John 13): Done in accord with the Holy Spirit, any service can become a way of washing feet with Jesus. 

3. Awesome confirmation liturgy. Your confirmation class starts in September and, with an eight-month investment from teens and parents, it ought to culminate with something awesome. There is nothing more awesome than a lovely confirmation liturgy right smack dab in the middle of the Easter Sunday liturgy (unless your church perhaps does an Easter vigil on Saturday night, that is). It will be an unforgettable Sunday for those confirmed and their families. It is even exciting to regular attenders and (some!) visitors: everyone can feel that something real is happening on Easter Sunday. Promises are being made to the Crucified and Risen Lord. In the sermon, or while introducing the confirmation, I’ll say things to underscore this reality: The promises these teens are making are every bit as solemn as the promises one makes when one enters into Christian marriage. 

In the liturgy, I place the confirmations after the liturgy of the Word and before the liturgy of the Eucharist. 

Here’s what we do, mixing these into the confirmation liturgy in the hymnal: 

First, I invite all the catechumens to come stand in the front of the congregation. I begin with the examination: I call on each teen to recite from memory a stanza of the Apostles Creed in front of the congregation. Each knows the whole creed from memory, and each one is ready for this, but does not know which stanza he or she will be called on to recite. Then, the whole congregation stands and joins with the catechumens in reciting the Apostles Creed together. 

Next comes the confirmation proper. I stand in the front of the congregation with two other adult helpers. Most recently, they were an associate pastor and the mother who helped me lead confirmation class. The students being confirmed, still standing in front of the congregation, then come stand facing the three of us one at a time. I ask her or him the three or so questions in the hymnal by which the profession of Christian faith is made. Then I invite the confirmand to kneel before us. This is a dramatic moment, and our culture is not big on hierarchy: both of these elements add to the solemnity and beauty of the ritual. I place the end of my stole on the head of the confirmand and say, “[full name] , I confirm you as a disciple of Jesus Christ, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The associate pastor then sprinkles water on the kneeling, newly confirmed Christian’s face and says, “Remember your baptism and be grateful.” The parent assisting then marks the sign of the cross with oil on the Christian’s forehead and says, “May you be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.” Then the three of us say together, “Christian, rise.” And the congregation is happy. We repeat this ritual five or eight or ten times, or however many catechumens we have.

If someone getting confirmed isn't baptized, we do that, preferably in a borrowed horse trough. Instead of remembering their baptism, their baptism happens to them. 

After this, the teens help assist that day with distributing Holy Communion, either with the elements themselves or with ushering, etc. In a ritual at once elegant and lavish and possessing dramatic simplicity, the catechumens renounce their sins, commit themselves to the triune God and are addressed by their new name, which no one truly knows except the one who has received it: “Christian, rise.”

And they do. They rise with Christ. 

Related: How to teach confirmation class ecstatically (Part 1)

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