I was just introduced to a book by Christopher Rodkey, UCC pastor in Pennsylvania, where he argues that we, as a church, subconsciously encourage our children to leave the church.
For many denominations it’s called “Confirmation.”
Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we fill children’s heads with dogma.
Confirmation: the culmination of a process whereby we use books that look a lot like school books to “teach” children about faith.
Confirmation: the frustrating program that pastors secretly dread because they have to fight with parents and youth over sports schedules and vacations and the youth have enough homework, why give them more…
Now I will admit that my faith community has gone through a bit of a transformation with regards to Confirmation. We use a question-based curriculum that doesn’t intend to fill heads with ideas, but rather (I hope) fills hearts with questions.
And I don’t really ever have trouble convincing youth or parents about the importance of our weekly meetings. We generally have 100% attendance.
And yet I can’t help but think that this whole process is talked about as a way for our children to achieve, graduate if you will, from the need for church.
Church then becomes something you did and accomplished, not something you live and do.
We teach about the faith. We don’t teach faith.
And by “teach faith” I don’t mean that “I want you to learn to rely on Jesus” language that is so often used but so often vacuous.
I’m talking about living into a pattern of life whereby you see yourself in a cosmic sense as part of a radical movement within the world that we call the church. Yes, that does mean that you often rely on Jesus, rely on your faith, to ground you.
Yes, that does mean that you must learn some history and be familiar with some doctrine that the church has historically taught.
But more than anything it means that you begin to live into faith more radically. And it will affect the way that you buy and sell, the way that speak and act, and the way that you see yourself and others, and the way that you view work, and school, and home.
And the church then becomes your feedbox as you gather with a community to hear ancient words, sing and pray in community, and learn to encounter a God together so that you can identify when and how to encounter God anywhere.
But instead of that, we’ve created a system, a pipeline, to bring kids in, teach them in the style of the school room, parade them in front of the congregation, and effectively hood them with a hug and a handshake. Some even wear special robes for the occasion.
And then they come on Christmas and Easter to tour the faith that they used to participate in, pointing out the places and memories where this or that happened, like they’re touring their old elementary school recalling Ms. Clodfelter’s therapeutic shoes scuffing up the asbestos tile floors.
The current behavior of the church subconsciously works on our children to give them the message, “This is the culmination!” instead of the real message intended, “This is the beginning!”
In fact, I see this with the baptismal rite in many places, too, especially with adult baptism. We have these rites of faith that now have become rites of the culmination of faith…
I hear many complain that families “don’t take Confirmation seriously” anymore.
I wonder where they get that idea. I mean, if it’s just a mechanism for leaving the church (as our rite has set it up to be), why wait until it’s done? Now is the acceptable time, right?
As a rite of the church, Confirmation needs to go through a serious re-adjustment. And not just in curriculum. We need to rethink the whole thing. I’m considering ways for this to happen, but in the meantime we must at least admit that at some level we’re graduating our children out of church, all the while blaming them for being uninterested in the church.
And I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, if this is the message that we’re sending with our actions, if not with our words, well…what does that really say about the faith that we’re trying to pass on?