Cynthia Weems: Confirmation and remedial grace
How do we entice outsiders to want more of the grace offered in the church? How do we entice ourselves?
Recently our church celebrated the “Confirmation” of eight middle school youth. They were confirmed in their faith, professing a commitment to Jesus Christ, as well as confirmed into membership in our congregation. The Confirmation class planned the worship service and led each part from prayers to scripture reading to ushering. When the time came, they each knelt at the altar rail to remember their baptisms, offer thanks and be confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The following day, a young man attending our weekly evening outreach to homeless youth began telling one of our volunteers about the service. The volunteer had been unable to attend the Confirmation service but this young man had been present and asked her, “What was that?” He described every part of the service including communion and asked again, “What was that? What is Confirmation?” She did her best to describe what she understood was taking place in worship that day for these young people. They were professing their faith in Jesus Christ and continuing a lifelong journey to follow him which began at their baptisms many years ago.
This young man felt a connection to these young people because of experiencing this worship with them. He also felt something beginning to brew inside of him and was not sure exactly what it was. It’s like he wanted to be a part of whatever “that” was.
In thinking about this, along with other comments from the congregation regarding Confirmation Sunday, I began to reflect on the importance of confirming and reconfirming our commitments. As part of our Confirmation service we invite the entire congregation to remember their baptisms, recommit to serving Jesus Christ through our church, and to commit to loving and nurturing the persons before them who are professing their faith for the first time. It is a kind of initiation ritual where everyone has a part and, ideally, everyone comes away with renewed faith and purpose. I was glad to hear that this even happened for the young man who is new to our church and living in tough times.
Do our congregations and organizations have regular rituals that allow people an opportunity to “re-enlist” and affirm their commitments? Do we regularly initiate new people into the life of our organizations or do we hope they will pick up the routine along the way? Do we have opportunities for even the “old timers” to recommit themselves to the principles of the organization as well as lift up and acknowledge the newcomers?
On Confirmation Sunday I preached about grace – which the Confirmation class had requested. They liked the idea of receiving an undeserved gift, a “free present,” from God and thought it would be a good topic for everyone to hear about. In preparing for this, I thought once or twice that my message might come across as a remedial course in Christian doctrine. I hoped it wouldn’t and that all persons in attendance would be able to get something out of the whole service. In the end, the message did turn out to be a fairly introductory lesson in grace; and that is precisely what was needed. Long time members of the church told me how grace had “never been explained in that way before.” Others commented that it helped them to see their faith through the eyes of these new, young believers who are making a commitment for the first time. Others said, “I’m going to spend more time giving thanks for God’s grace.”
As much as our young people were the center of this Confirmation service, so were the many and varied other persons in attendance that day. Each person there needed an opportunity to recommit and reclaim their lives.
How might your organization or congregation offer opportunities for persons to welcome newcomers and recommit to the mission? Are there rituals or events that naturally lend themselves to this special recognition?
Cynthia Weems is senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida.