Our Confirmation Journey

There were fourteen of us – eight teens and seven mentors – who began the Confirmation journey last spring. And it really was a journey, because everywhere we traveled as a class, we took the words to Psalm 23 and laid them out on the ground and walked them. We chose the Complete Jewish bible translation of this scripture and it became a sort of labyrinth for us to walk and pray.

conf1Outfitted with journals, art supplies, bibles, hymnals, and our own copies of The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook, we journeyed together to discover a faith in Jesus Christ that was both orthodox and personal. The Confirmation curriculum was crafted out of a discussion with a colleague, who holding up her hand asked me, “What are the five most important things to you about your faith (and that every Christian needs to know?”)

And so our Confirmation leadership team put together discussions, activities, and field trips to inform and engage us in some of these essential things: God’s unrelenting love; Sin (missing the mark of who you were created to be rather than a list of your wrong-doing); Soul-work (practicing Wesley’s Means of Grace and Works of Mercy); the Bible (more like baklava – with layers of literature, tradition, law, sweetness, and some nuts – rather than dense and uniform pound cake);  Death and Resurrection (with a field trip to a Catholic mortuary); Science and Technology as gifts and revelations from God (with a field trip to Lawrence Hall of Science); and a Weekend Retreat in the country (looking at nature and beauty as portals to God) at Sebastopol United Methodist Church.

Rather than pair up mentors and Confirmands we had group mentors, and the discussions with our mentors became intense and engaging as adult-seekers shared openly with young-seekers about the joys and struggles of following Jesus. (It turns out that wrestling with faith and fear, and certainty and doubt, are part of the human/Christian experience, regardless of age.) Church families provided meals for us and were invited to stay and eat and enter into our conversations. Food, games, art, laughter, confession, and silence became tools we used to mine the riches of the Christian experience. And every time we gathered we walked and prayed Psalm 23: silently, or aloud in unison, or with a cacophony of voices. Psalm 23 became the underlay for our journey and a necessary metaphor to craft faith statements: the words and word-pictures informing us about who God is and who we are as God’s own.

On Confirmation Sunday each of our Confirmands read his or her faith statement and tears flowed as our congregation witnessed faith being handed to and received from one generation to the next. Each Confirmand knelt to receive a cross and a blessing with laying on of hands. One of our Confirmands was baptized and all of his class gathered around him to witness this new commitment he was making.

conf2I shed some tears on Confirmation Sunday, too, in part because the journey had ended; it had dumped me out of the “believer box” and set my feet on the path of seekers where I traveled with a group of diverse companions – some young, some old, some confirmed in their beliefs, some clearly undecided – but together we traveled to those unexpected places of surprise and delight in encountering the living God. I discovered that Confirmation, like any profession of faith, is not a one-time-only experience.

So… how do I create those “surprise and delight” experiences of the Confirmation journey for myself? And how do I create opportunities – and engage others – in journeying to those sometimes unknown and unexplored places of encountering the living God?  Psalm 23 beckons me to listen to these questions, to this longing for the journey: “Adonai is my shepherd; I lack nothing. He has me lie down in grassy pastures, He leads me by quiet water, He restores my inner person.”

Questions to consider:

  • What are your “surprise and delight” experiences of your confirmation journey?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pastor-MaryleeRev. Marylee Sheffer
Pastor
Lafayette United Methodist Church
Lafayette, CA

When Professed Faith becomes Personal Faith

tennis-balls

I was a church kid. I grew up with Sunday School, Confirmation, and Youth Group as an ongoing part of my life, but I didn’t see myself as a stereotypical church kid.   Competitive sports were a big part of my growing up, and that kept me, at least in my own imagination, from being a stereotypical church kid.  Everything was turned upside down the summer following my junior year of high school.  The local Kiwanis club selected two high school students to attend the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Boy’s Camp in Ashland, Oregon.   To qualify you had to play a sport (mine was tennis) and be active in a church.

The stereotypical church kids I imagined (long on church, short on sport) never showed that week at Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp.   Most of the 800 teen boys played football, basketball, baseball or track, and most were bigger, taller and stronger than me . . .  by a lot.  As it turned out, tennis wasn’t a featured sport, but football, basketball, baseball and track were.

The first two days of competition were the two most humbling days of my life.    I was a part of a team made up of eleven other guys and me.  In almost every competition, I felt like that proverbial  ‘last kid to be picked for the team’.    As I failed to shine for (or even with) the team, my self-confidence plummeted through abysmal performances at football, basketball and baseball.

My redemption, however, was coming:  Wednesday afternoon was track.  While I knew I wasn’t the fastest kid there, I was pretty quick.  My event was to run the second leg of the mile relay.  It was hot, about 103, and the brand new black rubberized track absorbed so much heat that your feet were hot just walking across it in tennis shoes.  When they ran out of colored shirts, our team volunteered to be the skins (we ran shirtless).

My race started out wonderful, I received the baton and actually passed a couple of other runners.  For the first time since I had arrived, I felt like I was an asset, rather than a liability, to the team.  However, on the back stretch my toe came in contact with another person’s heel and the next thing I knew I was skidding across that new, hot, rubberized track.    Without any idea of the amount of skin I left on the track (substantial), I pulled myself to my feet and ran, or perhaps staggered, until I collapsed.

That afternoon and evening I sat alone in my dorm room covered in some sort of petroleum jelly slathered all over my still burning body.  I was  hurting intensely, both physically and emotionally.

My life up to that point included a number of significant ‘professions of faith’: baptism, confirmation, and kneeling at the altar receiving communion.  However, that petroleum jelly-covered Wednesday evening was a new sort of profession of faith.   For the first time my ‘self’ was stripped of all imagined worth . . . like the skin that flayed off my body as I skidded across that hot rubber track.

“When he came to himself” was the wording of the existential turning point of “the prodigal” in my RSV Bible (presented to me as a 4th grader, with my name imprinted on the cover, at Court Street UMC in Alameda).  I had long loved the story, but never before had I been stripped to that sort of ‘self’.   It was there that my public professions became faith. . . alive and intimately personal.

Over the years in the church my understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ has changed in many ways (I’d like to think it has deepened and matured), but that raw moment of embracing, accepting, committing to . . . and with . . . and for . . .Jesus Christ, remains formative and clarifying.

Through this blog on professions of faith, each of the writers close with an invitation to explore a couple of questions.  I leave you with two.

  • Is there a raw and stripped down moment where professed faith became personal faith?  (I don’t want to suggest that it cannot happen simultaneously in a public moment of Professed Faith).
  • How can you return to those “coming to yourself” moments to rekindle passion and find intimate clarity?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
DaveSamelson_80x100_GVKZGJVCRev. David Samelson
District Superintendent for Great Northern District
Cal-Nevada Annual Conference