Confirmation classes are a traditional forum for teaching the Gospel. But they can also be a real headache. One priest explains how she has been exploring creative new ways for engaging teenagers with the beliefs and practices of Christianity.
Confirmation classes provide a great opportunity to challenge teens to wrestle with the basics of their faith, and to invite them into a deeper commitment to Christ.
Over the years, I have adapted for confirmation classes a book by Kevin Giles, called Count Me In: A Confirmation Workbook for Young People (Acorn Press, 1992). In some fifteen sessions, the course takes the teen through the basics of Christianity. The lessons range from creedal topics (“The death which brings new life” and “The Holy Spirit”) to sources of authority (“The Bible” and “What on earth is the Church?”), to sacraments and Anglican distinctives, right down to Christian living. I have modified the content substantially to suit my own teaching style, and have added more interactive components such as video clips, dramas, group work, and art. The structure of the course, however, comes entirely from this book.
Perhaps as important as the program itself, however, have been the “extras” I keep in mind when working with the teens:
Commitment: From the very start, I make it clear to the teens that confirmation is a very adult decision. This is not about pleasing their parents or grandparents. If, at the end of having taken the course, they decide they do not feel ready to be confirmed, then I will back them in that decision.
Before the course begins, I write a letter to each teen outlining what the course is about, how long it lasts, what they can expect from me, and what I in turn expect from them. I have five basic expectations of the teens:
1) regular and punctual attendance in class;
2) regular participation in worship on Sundays and in Youth Group;
3) doing any prep work for class (usually about ½ hour per week);
4) respectful treatment of one another in class;
5) a willingness to ask questions and be open to God.
The teens must sign at the bottom, stating that they have read the letter and still want to participate in the class, or that they have read the letter, and do not want to participate at this time. (Since I usually already know the teens personally, this letter doesn’t come across quite as dictatorial as it sounds!)
Teens often come to us with very loose church connections. Adding participation in youth group as a requirement for confirmation has helped teens form friendships with other Christians-itself a part of their learning about the life of faith.
Sunday morning worship is an obvious expectation. Interestingly, we sometimes see parents also becoming more regular in attendance because of the family habit developed over the 14-week program.
I try to meet with the teens individually at least once during the course, to learn more about them, and to ask and be asked questions. If I expect them to be committed to the program, then I want to show that I am equally committed to them.
Creativity: “Count Me In” offers some good ideas of ways to teach complex concepts to teens. Engaging teens in the material, and getting them to wrestle honestly with their questions–this is the greatest challenge of teaching confirmation classes. Again, I am constantly trying new things, to see what works and what doesn’t.
Affirmation: Throughout the course, I do my best to learn about each teenager, and am always on the lookout to see what gifts, abilities, and shining characteristics they might have. On the day of their confirmation, I write each teen a brief note, suggesting ways in which I see that God has gifted them, and encouraging them to use those gifts in service to God and to others.
Involvement: When the teens go through confirmation class, I ask them to get involved in different ministries in the church: as readers or servers, as leaders in our kids’ programs, in Day Camp, in music, or wherever their gifts may lie. Most teens respond enthusiastically to requests for help; this in turns helps them feel more connected, and continues their own learning about what it means to be a member of the body of Christ.
Ongoing contact: Finally, I try not to lose contact with teens once confirmation classes are over.
Confirmation need not be a graduation ceremony for teens out of church. Instead, I view it as a golden opportunity to encourage teens to embark on an ever-maturing faith journey.