The Confirmation Ministry Task Force Report
(Adopted by the Third Biennial Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, September 1, 1993)
In 1988 the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and board of the Division for Congregational Life, responding to a recommendation of the former church bodies, approved a study of confirmation ministry. A pre-study committee drafted a preliminary process, then the board of the Division for Congregational Life named a Confirmation Ministry Task Force to lead the study. From the start, this task force concentrated on two major items. First, drawing on the 1970 report of the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation, in which the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod conducted an intense study of confirmation ministry, the task force worked with a definition of confirmation ministry, which reads:
Confirmation ministry is a pastoral and educational ministry of the church that helps the baptized through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission.
Secondly, this task force identified a focal question for its study process:
What is the role of the congregation in affirming youth in Christian faithfulness with an emphasis on lifelong learning and discipleship?
What follows is informed and shaped by these two concerns and is addressed to both pastors and lay leaders in congregations to help them develop in their setting a grace-centered vision for confirmation ministry.
The report has three parts.
Part One responds to the question "What is confirmation ministry?" and offers an understanding of what confirmation, at its most vital, truly is. It begins with a look at the background of recent studies of confirmation ministry, followed by what is seen as the challenge and opportunity of this ministry. Part One concludes with a discussion of confirmation's baptismal basis.
Part Two addresses the questions, What does this mean for us? and How do we respond? It offers practical, concrete suggestions for creating an effective confirmation program in the parish. It looks at the role of the congregation in confirmation ministry, confirmation's grace-centered nature, and the importance of lifelong learning within the community of faith. Part Two discusses rites of affirmation of Baptism and offers ways of implementing and assessing confirmation ministry in congregations.
Part Three summarizes the report and makes recommendations.
What Is Confirmation Ministry?
Understandings from Recent Studies
As we enter the twenty-first century, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America can be thankful for a theology and a tradition rooted in an understanding and experience of the grace of God. Our grace-centered ways of thinking and talking about God and our traditional Lutheran ways of responding to God's Word are gifts to be shared with all Christians.
Much of this classic heritage has been emphasized anew since the 1970 Report of the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation. This current study recognizes and applauds that work as a comprehensive examination of the history and theology of confirmation and the precedent for a number of major studies by other Christian denominations. Several themes of the 1970 report are of particular importance:
- the centrality of Baptism to our faith,
- the separation of first Communion from the rite of confirmation,
- the need for a lifelong process of learning, greater emphasis on the entire congregation's pastoral care of young people,
- the challenge to provide genuine opportunities for more profound attachment of youth to the Christian community, and
- the provision for a variety of rites at significant times in life.
Additionally, since 1970 there have been a number of changes in congregational perception and practice regarding confirmation ministry, including:
- responsibility for confirmation ministry is more and more shared by both lay and clergy,
- catechetical instruction has broadened to include issues of the wider world,
- instruction in the Bible and the Small Catechism has recently returned to the fore,
- increased awareness of learning styles and contexts has generated a variety of approaches, strategies, and techniques,
- increased understanding regarding developmental stages in both faith and cognition affects both what is taught and how it is taught,
- though a large majority of congregations invite members to take part in Communion before they are confirmed, the age for first Communion varies,
- congregations continue to see the confirmation rite as important even though the meaning remains ambiguous,
- the confirmation rite is seen as an affirmation of Baptism, not a completion of it or its competitor, and
- catechetical instruction has been a valued opportunity for experimentation.
These themes and understandings have provided a good base from which to begin discussion of confirmation ministry.
The Challenge of Confirmation Ministry
What is the role of faith in the lives of today's young people? What is the role of confirmation ministry in the life of today's church? These two questions are intertwined and generate an agenda for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as we seek to be faithful in our ministry. In exploring them, we discover both challenge and opportunity for confirmation ministry.
While it is true that confirmation is a practice not mentioned in Scripture (although it is grounded in Baptism, as we shall see), it was created by the church as a valuable tool for growth in faith. Because of its work through the centuries in helping to shape a Christian's faith, confirmation ministry remains important to Lutheran congregations today. Its changing form and function over the years is an attempt to address better the needs of the young people of the day.
As we look at confirmation ministry today, there is much to celebrate. Today's young Christians bring to congregations exuberance, talents, diverse perspectives, and insight. They are not simply the church of the future, they play an important role today. They are ready and eager to probe their identity, to appraise the traditions of family, church, and wider community, and to put their experiences into the context of faith in Jesus Christ. Their invigorating commitment, in addition to the emergence of new models in educational ministry and the restoration of Baptism to the center of Christian experience, offer tremendous hope and opportunity for a vital confirmation ministry.
Moreover, our Lutheran heritage presents great reassurance and resources to use in ministry with young people, especially as we share an understanding of life that differs from that of society's. We live with the assurance that although we may at times feel our Lord's grace is too good to be true, even our weakness cannot diminish the actions God has taken to redeem us. Ours is a theology and a tradition rooted in the grace of God.
But society presents challenges. Its trends are disturbing. American youth, whether active in church or not, engage in many at-risk behaviors: thoughts of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, aggression, and abuse of sexual expression, to name only a few. Furthermore, the pluralism in society, the changing nature of households, and the demands of an increasingly complex world require review of confirmation ministry so that it remains a vital ministry of the church.
The challenge confirmation ministry faces becomes even greater when one realizes that, as a recent study shows, many adult Lutherans have difficulty in accepting salvation as a gift. Confirmation ministry today must address this inconsistency between what our church teaches about salvation and what Lutherans young and old say they believe.
Yet, in all of this we have hope. God continues to send the Holy Spirit to bear the good news of God's gracious love to us through the Word and sacraments. Individual members of all ages, in actions toward one another, daily affirm God's grace. Baptized into Christ, young people feel themselves drawn into the Christian community, and, empowered by their active role in a worshiping community, are better equipped to venture into a fast-paced, pluralistic society, bringing a message of God's grace to share with others. The church is free and challenged to change and enhance confirmation ministry so that it best serves individuals of all ages in our congregations.
The Baptismal Basis for Confirmation Ministry
The practice of confirmation is not mentioned in Scripture. If flows out of Baptism. It is an implication of Baptism, a ministry to help Christians realize Baptism's gracious benefits: forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and the bestowal of everlasting salvation to all who believe what God has promised, as Luther said in the Small Catechism.
When the New Testament describes how the triune God saves people, it relates salvation to the death and resurrection of Jesus, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification, gave his life as a ransom for many, and offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin. Jesus' whole life culminates in his death on the cross and God's raising him on the third day (Mark 10:45, Rom. 3:25, 4:25, 1 Cor. 15:3-5, 1 Tim. 2:6, Heb.10:12).
Our relation to Jesus' death is all-important. In the Gospel of John, the cross is where Jesus draws all people to himself. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, after predicting his own death, Jesus tells his followers they are to take up their own crosses. In his letters, the apostle Paul speaks of being joined to Christ's death, of dying with Christ, and of being crucified with Christ (John 12:32, Mark 8:34-35 and parallels, Rom. 6:4-8, Gal. 2:19).
The Gospel, which is the power of the triune God for salvation, is the proclamation that God was, in Christ, reconciling the world, a reconciliation freely given to us because God is gracious. God's Spirit leads us to trust this good news that God in Christ has established a right relationship with us. This is the heart of the New Testament's idea of salvation, and it gives form to believers' lives. We are to die to sin, to the old age, and to our old selves. As we are joined to Christ's death, so also will we be joined to his resurrection. A new creation will be raised as Christ lives in us and we abide in him. This is given already in faith and one day will be brought to completion in a new resurrection body (Rom. 1:16, 3:24,3-5, 6:1-11, 2 Cor. 5:19, Gal. 1:4, Eph. 4:22, John 15:4, 1 Cor. 15).
This biblical pattern of the new life in Christ stands in contrast to both ancient and modern schemes of self-fulfillment. It focuses on the death of our old sinful self, the forgiveness of sins, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and newness of life in Christ. We are saved or put right with God by God's graciousness, not by our own achievements, and are set free from a preoccupation with our own well-being. Now we are free to love our neighbors and the world that God creates.
God brings us into this new relationship by joining us to Christ in Baptism. Through water and the Word, "and our trust in this Word," as Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, God incorporates us into the crucified and risen Christ and his body, the Church. Baptism is one of the "means of grace" God's Spirit uses to create saving faith in people. Whether faith is generated in adults or older children who hear the Gospel and are then baptized, or infants are brought by believing parents to be baptized, faith in Christ follows Baptism. The Spirit uses the proclamation and teaching of the Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion in the assembly of believers to create and sustain faith in those who are baptized.
Baptism is a lifelong reality, as well as a rite. When the early Christians heard the word baptize, they would think of an everyday action, not primarily a religious ritual. Literally, baptize means "wash," "immerse," and "cleanse." It also was used metaphorically in New Testament times to mean "drown," "sin," or "throw down one's opponent in wrestling." Therefore, it is not surprising that in the only two places in the New Testament where Jesus speaks of his own Baptism, he refers not to his being washed in the Jordan River by John, but his impending death. Baptism refers to what Jesus must undergo. It began when he was washed and received the Holy Spirit and his commission from God, but it did not end there. It culminated in his death on the cross (see Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:40-45).
As Christians we are baptized into his death. We too are given a divine commission. This reality continues in our lives until we die. We are no longer our own, but we belong to Christ, so that we now walk in faith and hope. As Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, we are to remember our Baptism daily in the walk of life. In doing this, we gain courage and guidance for a life of mercy and justice. We are assured that God's love for us is concrete, real, and immediate.
These insights lead us to understand that Baptism is the basis for Christian education and nurture, including confirmation ministry. The Church is to help baptized Christians to live out their Baptism, to grow in knowledge, insight, and faithfulness as servants of Christ. Baptized Christians need to be nurtured in lives of faith, hope, and love, grounded in the pattern of death and resurrection.
Confirmation ministry does not complete Baptism, for Baptism is already complete through God's work of joining us to Christ and his body, the Church. In him is salvation. Moreover, confirmation ministry does not compete with Baptism, because confirmation ministry does not save anyone.
Identity, mission, discipleship, and vocation, important issues addressed in confirmation ministry, proceed from Baptism. Being baptized into the Church, we find our identity as God's children, forgiven sinners, members of Christ's body. Because it comes by God's action, this identity takes precedence over other aspects of who we are: ethnic background, gender nationality, class, or culture. Not that these aspects are denied; rather they are claimed for Christ and God's mission in the world. Confirmation ministry is an important time for young Christians to reflect on their identities as Christians in their particular time and place.
Being baptized involves us in Christ's mission, through the Church, to bring the Gospel to all people. Because salvation is a gracious gift of God, no human characteristics qualify or disqualify a person. This church's pastoral and educational ministry, including confirmation ministry, is to assist its members in this mission (Matt. 28:18-20 and Eph. 4:11-13).
Furthermore, this mission requires church members of all ages to be disciples, that is, followers of Jesus. Disciples are members of Christ's body with a mission. Like Jesus, we deny ourselves for the sake of others. Because such living will put us in conflict with many of society's norms and expectations, we need the fellowship of believers, involved in worship, study, prayer, and conversation, to sustain and direct us as disciples. We need the forgiveness of sins and regular participation in the means of grace to sustain us in faith, hope, and love. As baptized youth participate in the congregation, confirmation ministry gives shape to discipleship and opportunity to reflect on the mission of the Church.
As baptized people, we see our daily life as a place to carry out our vocation, our calling. All aspects of life, home and school, community and nation, daily work and leisure, citizenship and friendship, belong to God. All are places where God calls us to serve. God's Word and the Church help us to discover ways to carry out our calling. Youth, especially, face far-reaching decisions about education, marriage or singleness, citizenship and occupation. Confirmation ministry addresses this time of decision-making. It can empower young people to trust their own experiences of Christ's faithfulness as they identify those values and beliefs for which they are willing to suffer. Confirmation can help young people determine how they want to live now and in the future.
To summarize, confirmation ministry is an opportunity for congregations to renew the vision of living by grace, grounded in Baptism. This vision is especially important for ministry with young Christians, but it also has lifelong implications. Through identity with the baptized community, we grow in mission, discipleship, and our vocations in daily life. The congregation, of course, plays a vital role in this ministry.
What Does This Mean for Us? How Do We Respond?
The Role of the Congregation in Confirmation Ministry
The Congregation's Ministry of Word and Sacrament
Living with Christ means living with other people of God and helping one another grow in faith, love, and obedience to God's will. Therefore, confirmation ministry must be understood to include not only formal classroom instruction, but the entire life of the whole Church and of the congregation.
The task of confirmation ministry is not only to reflect on the familiar questions and answers of the Christian faith, but to deepen our trust in God's promises, to strengthen our sense of Christian vocation, and to equip us better to live out that vocation in witness and service in the world.
Confirmation ministry will vary from place to place, but it will always be an educational and pastoral ministry of the entire community of faith. To describe confirmation ministry as the responsibility of the entire congregation suggests that faith matures by virtue of the Holy Spirit working through a rich fabric of caring relationships.
The focus of this life together is worship. In gathering to hear God's Word and to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we are nurtured and encouraged in faith throughout life. In the pattern of weekly worship, we are called together to hear again and celebrate the good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ, and then are sent forth to respond to our identity as those who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Within communities of faith we learn from each other. Each person has something to offer and much to receive. While we have commonly thought of confirmation ministry as consisting of one or more adults giving instruction to youth, the nature of belonging to a community of faith suggests the process is multidirectional and involves people throughout their lives. The quickened faith of the young, their good questions, the witness of their experiences with God, and their expressions of service challenge the baptized of all ages.
Confirmation ministry must facilitate the lifelong learning of the baptized. The ability to express faith changes as we grow in years, and the understanding of our Christian identity and vocation is clarified and refined by new experiences. We never graduate from the need to be renewed in the promise of our Baptism, which, through our daily dying and rising with Christ, enables us to face new trials and temptations.
Because Christian identity begins with God's action in Baptism and continues throughout life, the 1970 Report of the Joint Commission on the Theology and Practice of Confirmation was able to recommend that one's first Communion no longer be tied to status as a confirmed member of the Church. During the past two decades, congregations of the ELCA have chosen a variety of ages at which to prepare children for receiving this sacrament. The 1990 reports from ELCA congregations suggest that while grade five is now the usual time for admitting baptized children to the Lord's Table, there is a variety of practice throughout the country.
The 1970 report calls for flexibility in such practice. We agree. That study and the subsequent A Statement on Communion Practices, adopted by The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America in 1978, both recommend age 10 or fifth grade as a time of readiness for first Communion; but the statement also notes that such readiness may occur earlier or later. The 1978 statement indicates that, within certain guidelines, "The responsibility for deciding when to admit a child is shared by the pastor, the child, the family or sponsoring persons, and the congregation.Ó Our confessional writings also provide for a degree of freedom and flexibility concerning readiness for Communion, while mandating instruction so that the baptized may receive the sacrament with a living and discerning faith.
Commitment to a process of instruction before receiving the sacrament does not imply that one becomes worthy by understanding or merit. Holy Communion is as much the free gift of God as the Word and Baptism. Honoring the gracious nature of the sacraments is what stands at the heart of our evangelical perspective.
Attention to Youth
The baptismal pattern of death and resurrection shapes the life of each Christian and gives meaning to life's experiences, particularly at times of personal transition, such as adolescence. The years from ages 12 through 22, or even later, are a time of complex life changes for youth, requiring heightened care and attention from this church. Therefore, congregations are called to provide age-appropriate educational and pastoral ministry to youth throughout their adolescent years, regardless of the particular shape of confirmation ministry, or the age at which young people are confirmed. Furthermore, a continued emphasis upon learning from the Small Catechism and the Scriptures is an expectation of confirmation ministry, for it enables Christian young people to meet life's turbulent transitions with an informed faith. Opportunities for spiritual growth and prayer are also a significant element in confirmation ministry.
Who is to teach our young people? The centrality of the pastor's role has long been recognized in the Lutheran tradition. In bearing a public responsibility for Word and sacraments in the faith community, the pastoral role has been largely defined by a concern for teaching the Scriptures, church doctrine, and theology. Equally important is the unique role the pastor plays as an adult model of faith and ministry.
Adult lay persons play an increasingly important role. They are chosen by virtue of the maturity of their own faith, their skills for relating to young people, and their commitment to the community of faith. Especially where there are opportunities for training and regular support, lay catechists have much to offer. Some have great experience and expertise as educators, others have special gifts in community building and unique abilities to enhance the relational aspects of confirmation ministry.
Lay catechists should model what it means to be faithful to Jesus Christ. It is important that young people see such catechists playing a role not only in special confirmation ministry settings but also in the ongoing life of the congregation. Lay catechists are able to give credibility to the way in which a lively understanding of vocation can shape the life of an adult Christian.
In addition to pastors and lay catechists, parents and guardians have a large share of the responsibility for the nurture of their children in the Christian faith. Congregations should encourage and equip parents and guardians, starting from the birth and the baptism of their children, to be models of faithfulness and guides in Christian life and understanding. Especially if a young person does not have a parent or guardian who can serve as a model of Christian faithfulness, congregations should consider supplying a surrogate mentor. An increasing number of congregations have found mentors useful for all confirmands. Not only are such adults able to personalize confirmation through a one-to-one relationship with the student, but, like lay catechists, mentors also witness to the importance of vocation.
Finally, we must not neglect the fact that young Christians themselves have significant gifts to share with each other. Intentional development of peer relationships, whether structured between confirmands or involving older youth, can provide students an enriching and supporting environment in which to face life's transitions.
Gospel-Centered, Grace-Centered Confirmation Ministry
The strength of our Lutheran heritage is rooted in our insistence that God be understood as the good and gracious one who brings us to faith through the Gospel, and who, in Baptism, unites us with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The role of the congregation is formed by an understanding that the Word and sacraments are gifts freely given.
Each congregation shapes confirmation ministry to address the needs and resources of a particular setting. In doing this, the primary question to be asked is: How can this congregation best bring the Gospel to its young people and nurture them in lives of faith? When a congregation plans a program centered on Scripture, doctrine, and the Small Catechism, and intentionally involves youth in worship, service, and witness for the sake of the Gospel, the congregation is responding to God's gracious gift. Synods and the churchwide expression of this church, and seminaries, play an important role in assisting congregations in this task. Materials, networks, and trained leaders are resources that they are able to provide the local congregation.
Congregations tailor their programs by using available resources: their Christian community, individual members, their time, and the gifts they bring. A confirmation ministry team, discussed in detail below, is a helpful means of organizing and utilizing these resources.
Three Basic Needs
As congregations strive to bring the Gospel to young people and nurture them in lives of faith, they should consider the following three basic needs often expressed by young people:
The Need for Self-Worth and Personal Identity. A variety of experiences shape self-worth and personal identity, two issues that need careful attention in work with youth, who often see themselves as unworthy and incapable of measuring up. Our society's emphasis on competition and achievement, the dilemma between having and not having, the media images of perfection, and adult expectations contribute to young people's negative feelings about themselves.
The Need for Relationships. Personal identity is linked to a sense of belonging to a group. Young people need relationships with each other, with adults, and with God. Friendship-making and group decision-making skills are important. Exposure to various styles of family life, persons of different ages, and adult mentors can help young Christians feel important and needed. Youth especially need to be needed. They need to be valued as contributing members of the church, capable of being partners in the Gospel.
The Need for Time. Sometimes adults appear to have too little time for young people. Unfortunately, many young people also have too little time for themselves. Yet, growing up takes time, pressure-free time, to observe, participate, reflect, and question repeatedly amid dramatic physical, emotional, and spiritual changes. Having time for personal growth in the context of patient love is essential to emotional well-being.
Grace-centered confirmation ministry addresses these basic needs of young people in light of the resources available to the congregation. It can respond to those youth who may have been closed out of the life of the congregation. An experientially based, cooperative learning program can integrate all young people.
Characteristics of Gospel-Centered, Grace-Centered Confirmation Ministry
Over the past two years, this task force has gathered information, ideas, and perspectives from a variety of sources. Included was a study of 30 exemplary confirmation ministry programs throughout this church. They reveal exciting possibilities for integrating grace-centered confirmation ministry into the daily life of ELCA congregations.
Deciding how the Gospel can be brought to a particular congregation involves important congregation-based choices. In shaping its own approach to confirmation ministry, the congregation is assisted by published resources as well as synodical and churchwide suggestions and programs.
In the programs studied, several elements were identified as common characteristics of a strong program:
1. a focus on grace, affirmation of Baptism, mission, discipleship, and vocation,
2. a focus on the Bible and the Small Catechism,
3. the use of resources and guidelines provided by the church,
4. involvement of a committee or group composed of lay people, youth, pastor(s), parents, and council and education committee members in the development of the program,
5. an emphasis on human relationships within the congregation,
6. an integration of the program into the worship life of the congregation,
7. a continuation of the program after the rite of confirmation with an emphasis on maintaining key relationships with the newly confirmed, and
8. an understanding of affirmation of Baptism as a lifelong process rather than a once-in-a-lifetime event.
An Invitation to Lifelong Learning
Given the lifelong nature of God's act in Baptism and the continuous need for God's Word of grace offered in the shared life and conversations of believers, confirmation ministry is more than education for youth. Issues relating to God's will, faith, and discipleship are important whatever one's age.
An invitation to lifelong learning emphasizes the needs and contributions of young people on the one hand while insisting that, in community, people of all ages can benefit from being co-learners. In every congregation, mature members bring the stability of lifelong experiences of living by God's grace. Youth bring exuberance and fresh questions of the faith. Relationships, when nurtured across generations and among peers, can allow for significant learning and growing in faith together.
While our Baptism into Christ occurs only once, complete and unalterable, the baptismal experience of dying and rising to new life in Christ is experienced daily. It calls forth a need to reflect on our faith commitments, to grow in trust, and to hear God's assurance in the midst of insecurity. Thus, transitions in life, and the times between, can become "learning moments": moments in which the Church has the opportunity to direct us again to the baptismal ground of our faith in Jesus Christ. Ministry should be intentionally focused on these learning opportunities.
Leaders of already established programs (circles, Bible studies, issues forums, support groups, visitation groups) engage in confirmation ministry to all ages by calling attention to these learning moments. This helps members return to their Baptism and see these experiences in light of God's grace. These moments are also prime occasions to ask again the familiar catechetical question: "What does this mean?" Such ministry, whether in the context of informal exchanges between Christian sisters and brothers or in more formal or public contexts, could turn these times of loss or newness into baptismal moments.
Rites of Affirmation of Baptism
A rite that is truly an affirmation of Baptism can be of great benefit to the congregation, as the community of faith seeks to minister to members experiencing life's transition. The Church discerns and proclaims God's movement in people's lives as they experience endings and beginnings, connecting these significant transitions with the baptismal understanding of our dying and rising with Christ. These rites mark moments when the faith given in Baptism finds new expression, and the spiritual gifts given in Baptism are stirred up to meet new challenges.
In all its forms, including the adolescent confirmation rite, the rite of affirmation of Baptism is a creation of the Church, not a sacrament instituted by Christ. We have much freedom in designing and celebrating such rites. The practice of affirmation of Baptism should recall and honor Baptism itself. Elements of a baptismal event may be used in affirmation without overshadowing Baptism. For instance, those making affirmation may enter the nave holding their already lit baptismal candles, or may wear albs to recall the white garment worn or put on at Baptism. Water may be lifted from the font so it can be seen and heard during the vows.
While Baptism happens only once, affirmation of Baptism and prayer for the baptized can happen many times. One way to encourage the lifelong return to Baptism is to hold regular rites of baptismal affirmation for the whole congregation on baptismal festivals such as the Easter Vigil or the Baptism of Our Lord, or on other appropriate days, such as rally day or congregational anniversaries.
When there are changes in a Christian's life, rites of affirmation of Baptism and intercessory prayer could mark the passage. Depending upon the situation and pastoral sensitivity, these rites could be held in small group settings, such as a support group or a circle of friends. Moving into a nursing home, beginning parenthood or grandparenthood, choosing or changing an occupation, moving out of the parental home, the diagnosis of a chronic illness, the end of one's first year of mourning, the ending of a relationship, and retirement are all examples of life's transitions that could be acknowledged by these rites.
The confirmation rite is preceded by years of instruction, relationship, and growth. Other rites of affirmation at other stages in people's lives also would involve preparation, perhaps in the form of pastoral conversation, in order to connect their faith with their transitions. Like the adolescent confirmation rite, these rites would not be graduation but rather commencement ceremonies, marking the beginning of a new stage of life. The congregation should make every effort to continue support following the rite. A continuing relationship with a mentor, continued involvement in fellowship and leadership in this church, and ongoing opportunities for study and reflection are important, especially during the teenage years.
Several elements might be included in rites of baptismal affirmation at times of transitions: presentation by names of those affirming their faith; recognition of those participants in the process leading to the rite; a reminder of God's baptismal promises; public profession of the creeds; affirmation of Baptism responses appropriate to the stage in life; prayer, including a prayer for the stirring up of the Spirit's gifts; and laying on of hands for those affirming faith.
Like all rites of the Church, rites of affirmation of Baptism should have certain characteristics. They should be: evangelical (displaying and proclaiming the grace, love, justice, and beauty of God), baptismal (linked with Baptism in word, symbol, action, and timing), honest (reflecting the experience, beliefs, and context of those making affirmation, and placed within the faith of the whole Church), communal (involving as much of the community as feasible, in both planning and celebration), voluntary (assuring willing, not coerced, participants), and contextual (reflecting a sensitivity to the cultural context, history, and piety of the congregation).
Implementing an Effective Confirmation Ministry in Congregations
Models of Gospel-Centered, Grace-Centered Confirmation Ministry
In listening to ELCA congregations and Lutheran churches in other parts of the world, a number of confirmation program models that deserve consideration were discovered. Each approach could be adapted by several congregations working together in a coordinated program.
Longer and Later. An extension of confirmation ministry to include early childhood through high school years. Activities, spread out over many years, usually include in-home visitations, cooperative-learning groups, short courses, retreats, and parental covenanting.
Meeting of Young People. An emphasis on personal conversation and learning to use the faith to think and act. Sessions are described as meetings rather than classes. The pastor or catechist prepares an agenda and guides young people in weekly meetings about how the Bible and the catechism relate to their lives. This model uses experiential learning and usually includes one to two years of intensive work.
The Confirming Community. A system of relationships between confirmands and older youth who serve as peer helpers, tutors, and mentors. For example, eighth graders who are studying the sacraments help prepare fifth graders for first Communion; tenth graders counsel ninth graders, and both grades work as "counselors" in the church's VBS program. Adult mentoring and conversations with the pastor throughout the program provide time for reflection.
The Catechumenal Parish. Built on the historic catechumenal process, it moves the catechumen through a journey that involves the following stages: considering affirmation of the baptismal faith, enrolling as a confirmand or catechumen, studying and reflecting as part of a group and with a sponsor, receiving the Sacrament of Baptism or the reaffirmation of Baptism, and embracing congregational support after Baptism or confirmation. Movement through the process is ritually marked by the whole congregation.
The Renewed School. A structured catechetical program that revolves around regular classroom activities, with emphasis on learning the Small Catechism and Scripture. A strong relationship is fostered as teachers become mentors for young people, with special attention paid to helping students grow in self-esteem.
Vow-Driven Catechesis. Built on the vow made at the rite of confirmation, it develops five projects for each young person who is taking the vow. The development and completion of the five projects becomes the confirmation program for the young person.
(More complete information regarding these and other approaches is available by contacting the Division for Congregational Ministries, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631.)
A Confirmation Ministry Team
Establishing and implementing an effective confirmation ministry program in a congregation takes time and effort. Selecting a confirmation ministry team is one of the best ways for a congregation to achieve success. But how should this team be structured? What are its purposes and responsibilities?
First, concerning structure, an effective team will reflect the congregation's size, makeup, and administrative structure. Team membership, determined by the size of the congregation or congregations, also should reflect the ministries of the parish. It might include the pastor, other congregational leaders (such as a council member, a stewardship or finance leader, a worship committee representative), educational leaders, youth, and parents. In larger congregations, a workable team size might be five or six members. In smaller congregations, the team might be as few as two or three people. Small congregations may want to work together in forming a joint team.
Second, concerning purpose, the team should: define what confirmation ministry means in the congregation, expand ownership of the ministry, guide planning and implementation to reflect a rich diversity of numbers, relate confirmation ministry to the congregation's total ministry, keep the program strong in periods of staff change, relate the church's tradition to the current program needs, and regularly review and evaluate the confirmation ministry program with regard to the overriding themes of faith, community, identity, and vocation.
Third, concerning responsibilities, the team will meet regularly to assess or monitor: the meaning and purpose of confirmation ministry in regard to the congregation's mission; the relationship between confirmation ministry and the church; the development of objectives and programs appropriate to the congregation, young people (including special learners), and leaders of the program (including pastoral and lay catechists' roles); and the resources required to carry out an effective ministry.
As the confirmation ministry team begins its work, here are some recommended tasks and guidelines:
1. Study the congregation's mission statement and examine how confirmation ministry fits in terms of the total mission and ministry. Affirm the essential role of confirmation ministry, and assist in developing a long-range plan for moving into a grace-centered confirmation program.
2. Identify tasks for lay persons and consider including these tasks on stewardship time-and-talent cards.
3. Examine existing church programs for possible integration with confirmation ministry, especially Sunday school, youth programs, worship, camping, family events, social ministry, first Communion, pre- and post-Baptism sessions, new member classes, and evangelism programs.
4. Identify members who are committed to teaching, administration, or curriculum development, and recruit them to assist in implementing the program.
5. Examine the current financial support available to confirmation ministry, and wherever possible, place it in the congregational budget. Consider funding lay training and support.
Some special strategies the team might consider to help in transition to greater lay responsibility for the program include: invite a person to serve as confirmation ministry coordinator, with such responsibilities as teacher recruitment, budgeting, and scheduling and coordinating the program's service projects; advocate that confirmands be included as part of the congregation council and committees; increase publicity for confirmation; and link confirmation ministry with youth programs.
Involving Congregation Members in the Confirmation Ministry Program
The following are several ways to involve the congregation more fully in confirmation ministry:
1. an adult mentoring program,
2. leader training in experiential learning and techniques of cooperative learning (this also benefits other congregational programs),
3. establishing a community of learning environment by incorporating fellowship and community building in catechetical content sessions. (Some suggestions: organize activity around a meal or snack that involves other youth and adults; hold youth group meetings in conjunction with confirmation ministry sessions to provide for interaction, tutoring, or mentoring across grade levels; provide time for one-to-one sessions with pastors to discuss personal concerns and theological or spiritual questions, thus establishing a trusting bond.),
4. establishing caring relationships with families in the congregation through in-home visits in the elementary years, following the model of Longer and Later programs,
5. connecting confirmation ministry with other dimensions of congregational life. (Some suggestions: Use the catechism in Sunday school units; offer courses with sufficient flexibility to include adults, parents, and youth; have pastors work to develop strong relationships with post-catechetical youth; encourage the youth to help teach younger congregational members.),
6. initiate a program of contracts for learning, service, and covenant relationships, which would develop clear expectations of roles and responsibilities of parents and youth in agreements or covenants, and
7. promote biblical literacy across all age levels.
Assessing Confirmation Programs
As existing congregational confirmation ministry programs were considered in this study, several elements in effective programs emerged. To each of these elements, which are listed below, we offer one possible guideline and reflective question(s) to assist congregations in assessing their confirmation programs.
1. The program attempted to focus on grace, affirmation of Baptism, mission, discipleship, and vocation. Guideline: Affirm the centrality of Baptism. Question: How are we reminding our young people of their Baptism and helping them use the tools of faith to make decisions about their lives as baptized people?
2.The program focused on the Bible and the Small Catechism. Guideline: Recognize Scripture as the basis of all Christian teaching, emphasizing that the source of authority is the Word. Questions: How are we making use of the classic "question and answer" format of catechesis? How are we helping our youth to formulate contemporary life questions and answers modeled after Luther's Small Catechism? How are we using catechetics as a process of moral formation?
3. The program was developed by the congregation using resources and guidelines provided by the church. Guideline: Examine confirmation ministry through the lens of congregational life and the congregation's mission statement. Question: Are expectations for students and families clearly formulated and known to all involved?
4. A committee or group within the congregation was involved in the development of the program. Guideline: Provide stability by building a program that will last many years. Question: What happens to our program if our pastor leaves?
5. The group included lay people, youth, pastor(s), parents, and representatives of the council and education committee. Guideline: Integrate confirmation ministry with the congregation's total ministry. Questions: How do we value ministry as the responsibility of the priesthood of believers? Is our laity actively involved in our ministry?
6. The program emphasized human relationships within the congregation. Guideline: Provide opportunities for relationships with other "forgiven sinners" who facilitate learning: adult sponsors, hosts, or guides who invite others to a new level of vocation, who serve as examples, and who empower others to achieve their visions. Question: How is each confirmand linked to an adult significant in his or her life?
7. The program was integrated into the worship life of the congregation. Guideline: Link the congregation's education and worship ministries so they support each other. Question: What opportunities do we provide confirmands to be actively involved in worship, so they may experience reverence and thanksgiving and the stability of tradition?
8. The program continued after the rite of confirmation with an emphasis on maintaining a key relationship. Guideline: Provide a safe place for young people to examine and explore their faith journeys as Christians. Question: How do our members, both youth and adults, see confirmation ministry as a part of the lifelong process of being (not becoming) faithful church members?
9. The program began to think of affirmation of Baptism as a lifelong process rather than a once-in-a-lifetime event. Guideline: Draw on life's baptismal rhythms of dying and rising in organizing ministry in the congregation. Question: How are we encouraging our youth to see confirmation ministry as a lifelong process?
To summarize, a confirmation ministry team will assist the congregation in developing a Gospel-centered, grace-centered confirmation ministry.
Summary and Recommendations
This report's definition of confirmation ministry emphasizes the pastoral and educational ministries of this church that help the baptized through Word and Sacrament, to identify with the Christian community and to participate in its mission. A key question has been: What is the role of the congregation in affirming youth in Christian faithfulness with an emphasis on lifelong learning and discipleship? This definition and question have led to several understandings.
First, everything involved in confirmation ministry flows from Baptism. The faith that follows Baptism is the focus for congregational life. In this life together, the Bible, the Small Catechism, and worship for all members, including young persons, are vital. A Gospel-centered, grace-centered approach to confirmation ministry conveys a community grounded in Christ.
Second, confirmation ministry happens in a living community of faith and is the responsibility of the whole congregation, not only the pastor. Confirmation ministry is better able to respond to the concrete needs of youth when it is tailored to fit particular contexts.
Third, effective confirmation ministry involves use of a variety of persons and approaches. Youth are helped to mature in faithfulness through learning with peers and persons of all ages and cultures, including catechists, mentors, pastors, and parents or guardians. For such learning to take place, congregations must be hospitable places for youth.
Fourth, young people benefit from confirmation ministry programs that include diverse models of learning. Young Christians should not be isolated from the ministry of the rest of the congregation, for confirmands are called to lifelong learning in worship, identity, mission, discipleship, and vocation. Confirmation ministry thrives where adult involvement in education and service is a high priority. In other words, it is as important for adults to participate in education as it is for children and youth to be involved in congregational worship.
1) That congregational confirmation ministry be Gospel-centered, grace-centered both in content and in approach. Recognizing the many dimensions of the lives of young people, we call upon congregations to intentionally address the need to hear the Gospel as refreshing, life-giving good news. Furthermore, because of the highly competitive and depersonalized environment of much formal schooling, congregations should make their approach to confirmation ministry grace-centered as well.
2) That such a confirmation ministry be tailor-made with an emphasis on community building and faith to convey the Gospel in the congregation's particular context. Recognizing the diverse settings in which members live, we affirm the congregation's freedom to work singly, or with neighboring congregations, to develop a confirmation ministry which addresses the needs of their specific young people. Such an approach provides the flexibility to address the varied ages, maturity, and skills of young people.
3) That congregations create, or designate, a confirmation ministry team to give shape and direction to the planning and coordination of a pastoral and educational confirmation ministry. Recognizing that reforming confirmation ministry is an on-going task, we urge that specific members of the congregation be designated to provide oversight and continuity.
4) That synods, the churchwide organization, and seminaries be in partnership with congregations in developing a broad variety of support resources, such as materials, networks, and trained leaders for confirmation ministry. Recognizing that our approach to confirmation ministry places greater responsibility at the congregational level, we call upon others in this church to work together to provide support and resources.
Members of the Study Task Force
Patricia Lull, Chair, Athens, Ohio, Marc Kolden, Vice-Chair, St. Paul, Minnesota, Dennis Bonikowske, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Claudia Brookover, Humble, Texas, Robert Conrad, Chicago, Illinois, Beverly Conway, Chicago, Illinois, C. Richard Evenson, Northfield, Minnesota, Mary Hughes, Columbus, Ohio, Dorothy Jeffcoat, Columbia, South Carolina, Brian King, Dubuque, Iowa, Margaret Krych, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Donald Main, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Tito Moreno, Las Vegas, Nevada, Mark Oldenburg, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Rhoda Posey, Irvine, California, Elaine Ramshaw, Columbus, Ohio, Ruth Randall, Lincoln, Nebraska, John Seraphine, Oak Park, Illinois, Charles Sigel, Columbia, South Carolina, Kristin von Fischer, Chicago, Illinois
The Staff Team that worked with this task force
Daniel Bollman, Wyvetta Bullock, Eldon DeWeerth, Rebecca Grothe, Mary Ann Moller-Gunderson, Kenneth Inskeep, Mark Knutson, Constance Leean, Susan Niemi, Marvin Roloff, and Ken Smith, Luther Lindberg, Columbia, South Carolina, was coordinator of seminary relations.
Copyright by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631. 800/638-3522. Produced by the Education and Evangelism team of the Division for Congregational Ministries.
Permission is granted for congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to reproduce this resource for local use.