Confirming Beloved Community: What I learned in confirmation class this year.

by Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine, Indian Hill

I was never a big fan of the end of the year or end of course assignments where we had to write about what we learned from the course, class, year, or subject matter. It has always been difficult for me to express in writing what is in my head. However, this year in Confirmation was different. Quite different. This year’s confirmation class broke the mold for me.

This year’s class came of age during the global pandemic. This year’s class saw George Floyd murdered, they realized Black Lives Matter and they experienced the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This was an intelligent class, they felt things very deeply and they probed for more than any class I can remember. If this year’s class had a mascot or a patron saint, it would have to be Thomas the disciple.

What helped me in this journey of learning was having the disciple Thomas as my guide. As we read in John Chapter 20: 25-26 “The other disciples kept telling him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’” They wore poor Thomas out. “Thomas, it was Jesus. He was alive. Peter got to hug him! He showed us his hands. He gave us the spirit. Thomas, it was amazing. I can’t believe you missed it. I can’t believe you missed Jesus! You should have been there! It was amazing!”

This may be the perfect story for Confirmation Sunday, especially for this year’s class. This year’s class is a special group. Small in number but the most inquisitive since I have been a pastor. Small in number but honest, brave, and questioning. Small in number but for the first time we have had more than one student decide not to be confirmed. This may seem like a failure, what the heck preacher? Didn’t you teach them about Jesus, and didn’t you make them believe? Well, no! That is why this story is so perfect. For this class, and all of us.

So, instead of referring to the disciple Thomas as “doubting Thomas,” what if we saw this story as lifting Thomas up, Thomas the brave, Thomas the honest, Thomas the truth seeker? What if we use Thomas as our patron Saint of Confirmation? What if we thought of confirmation as a journey, a way to begin to ask questions about faith, life, and God? Instead of the process of downloading all the answers. A time to build community instead of checking the right of passage box and moving on.

What would confirmation look like if the church offered young people friendship, love and support with no strings attached? What would confirmation be if the clergy and mentors simply tried to build a community where young people can experience God’s delight in them and could practice God’s delight in others? Instead of trying to get the students to conform to a set of denominational beliefs, what if we encouraged room for questions and doubt?

Back in the day confirmation in the Presbyterian Church was a whole lot of memory work, learning the catechism and regurgitating it back to the Session. We were taught that God was an authoritarian and Jesus was my Savior. Those truths were much more important than finding room to ask questions or express doubts. The old way of confirmation was focused on the sovereignty and power of God reflected in the theology of English and European White Males which is not so helpful today. What matters more today is building a relationship that is loving, trustworthy and supportive. A relationship that allows space for growth, questioning, seeking and even doubt.

These are exceptional young people, but I have to remind myself they are 13&14 years old. They are so much more intelligent, articulate and savvy than 13- & 14-year-olds were back in the day. They are growing up in a world that objectifies them, forces them into roles prescribed by cultural scripts, images, and narratives that social media blasts at them 24-7. Mental health and well-being are huge issues that used to be hush hush but today the cry for help must be heard! It is time for we the church to step out and step up and find our voice of love and support for the young people in our care and our community.

Through practices of love, support, and friendship, we the church must offer young people a unique experience of themselves, an alternative to here are all the answers to life’s questions and allow them space and freedom to question and doubt. To know that God is love and God takes great delight in each of them.

I think Thomas would have fit in with this year’s Confirmation class. They pushed me and the rest of the mentors to rethink so many things. They called us to reimagine the connection between science and faith, the significance of language and acceptance, the importance of love, respect, and support. They showed us that it is okay to find your own space and in fact it is better than okay it is a true delight in God’s eyes. Why do I know this because the Bible told me so.

So, thank you, Thomas, and this year’s confirmation class for teaching me the importance of questions and doubt. It reaffirmed for me that God is big enough to take it and that God is good enough to love us.

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