Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 Confirmands at Immanuel

Ms Barb, Jordan, Jacob, Nate, Grant, and me
This week is busier than usual. Not only is this the end of our university's spring semester (graduation is this Sunday), but Sunday also marks the end of the four-year process of confirmation instruction for four eighth-graders at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Michigan City.

Because of the sudden, tragic death of Immanuel's pastor last October (Pr. Kevin Palmer), I was invited to serve as fill-in pastor until the congregation can form a committee to call another pastor. Since the congregation has decided to take some time for reflection and self-study before starting the call process, I will likely continue in this role for the next year or so. I am pleased to do so, for a whole host of reasons.

One of those reasons is the joy that one experiences from participating in the confirmation instruction on Monday evenings. Ms. Barb Herzinger, Immanuel's deaconess, has been the principal instructor for our seventh- and eighth-graders, and I have served as commentator and occasional resource person. Since I usually engage university students and faculty in issues of faith and theology, interacting with middle-schoolers has been a nice addition to my academic world. We've really had some great discussions over the past seven months--and I'm grateful for Ms. Barb's leadership and patience in this regard. With these students there's never a dull moment!

Immanuel still follows the older Lutheran custom of having a "public examination" of the confirmands. This took place last night. The 90-minute event allowed the students to share with the congregation what they have learned about the Christian faith and how it has become a more vibrant part of their own lives. While we are not saved by our religious knowledge--only God can do this through his grace that we receive by trusting in Christ alone--this public event gives these students an opportunity to express their faith, begun in their baptisms (all were able to tell us the date on which they were baptized!), and to articulate the essential elements in that faith as these are explained in Dr. Luther's smaller catechism.

I must say that the young men did a great job of taking us through "the six chief parts" of Dr. Luther's classic intro to the faith (the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, Office of the Keys, and Lord's Supper). There were a total of 95 questions that yours truly asked. All got answered, even if the deaconess and I had to assist occasionally with a few clues and hints.

I suppose one could liken Confirmation to the Jewish ritual of the "bar mitzvah," since the Lutheran rite of Confirmation is the formal way in which eighth-graders become adult members of the congregation. They will now be full communicant members of the "new covenant" that has been established through Christ's death and resurrection. While we Lutherans do not consider Confirmation a sacrament, as some other Christians do, we think that this rite is an important step in the process of becoming a more mature disciple of Jesus.

The challenge now is to encourage these young men--and the other young women and men in our confirmation program--to stay active within the congregation. Confirmation is not "graduation" from church, but a milestone that is marked by a deeper commitment to the Christian faith and Christian discipleship.As such, it is indeed an important "transverse marking" in the lives of these young adults.

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