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Beginning the journey of faith

MIDDLE SCHOOL students are confirmed during a ceremony at First Lutheran Church. Pastor Bob Cochran said the process allows youths to learn about their faith and what it means to become a disciple of Christ. Pastors and youth directors delight in seeing the changes in the students as they prepare for confirmation. (Photo provided to The Courier)

MIDDLE SCHOOL students are confirmed during a ceremony at First Lutheran Church. Pastor Bob Cochran said the process allows youths to learn about their faith and what it means to become a disciple of Christ. Pastors and youth directors delight in seeing the changes in the students as they prepare for confirmation. (Photo provided to The Courier)

By SARA ARTHURS
Staff Writer
Confirmation, when young people become full-fledged members of their church, is an important rite of passage in one’s faith life.
Students prepare for the event for many months, leading up to a confirmation ceremony that is often held in the spring. Many area churches either recently held confirmation or will soon.
St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church will hold its confirmation June 8. Usually confirmation involves just eighth-graders but this year’s group included seventh- and eighth-graders together.
Debra Pees Arce, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Andrew’s, said students meet Sunday mornings for an hour and a half to prepare. The focus is on “what it means to be a Christian” and specifically a United Methodist. They also talk about the church’s involvement with social justice issues.
Pees Arce said preparing for confirmation involves reading a lot of Scripture and students do “a little bit of homework but not too much.”
The instruction includes parental involvement “as much as we can.” In addition, each student has another adult, usually a member of the congregation, as a mentor. Pees Arce said it’s important that children know there are other adults, further along in their own faith journey, who are “just so supportive of them.”
St. Andrew’s confirmation candidates also attend other worship services, including a Shabbat worship service at a Jewish temple in Sylvania and a Taize worship service at Trinity Episcopal Church. Pees Arce said the idea is to learn about the similarities and differences between different types of worship.
Glenwood Middle School eighth-grader Amanda Montgomery, a confirmation candidate at St. Andrew’s, said she particularly enjoyed learning about other faiths and the chance to “see how it relates to ours.”
Pees Arce enjoys seeing the change in the confirmation candidates.
“It’s certainly fun and amazing to watch,” she said.
She said students start off not knowing each other well and may be quiet but by the end of the year they come together as a group.
“They have their own dynamics,” Pees Arce said. “They have their own inside jokes.”
In addition to growing closer to an adult of faith, they also grow closer to one another.
“We pray that they grow closer to God,” she said.
St. Andrew’s confirmation candidate Grant Vermilya, an eighth-grader at Liberty-Benton School, said he has enjoyed the discussions the confirmation candidates have had. Grant said he expects to become more involved in the church after confirmation.
“I’ve seen his faith strengthen,” said Grant’s mother, Jody Vermilya.
Pees Arce has seen teens who, before being confirmed, may not have been involved with the church’s youth group but in their high school years she witnesses them “just becoming leaders.” She enjoys hearing high school youth group members talking about things they discussed while preparing for confirmation.
“It’s been fun. … I’ve learned a lot of new things,” Amanda said.
She said she looks at the church and her faith differently “and it means more.”
Amanda is particularly looking forward to seeing the banners that are a St. Andrew’s confirmation tradition. Each confirmation candidate picks a Bible verse and creates and decorates a banner with its text. Amanda has chosen as her verse Deuteronomy 31:6 while Grant has chosen Genesis 1:1.
First Lutheran Church confirmed 10 eighth-graders on May 4.
The Rev. Bob Cochran said many youths attend church but don’t know much about it. He said they learn what it is to be a church member but, more importantly, “what it means to be a disciple of Christ.” There is a lot of discussion about why church members do what they do.
Cochran said the ceremony is different in different churches. At First Lutheran, the confirmation candidates’ names are announced and they come to the altar rail one at a time. Their parents make the sign of the cross over the child’s head and say “child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever”. There is a blessing with the parents putting their hands on their child’s shoulders and then the child is welcomed into the church.
Cochran said it can be a challenge to keep teens active in the church into their high school years.
“The old thinking was that confirmation was graduation, and confirmation is not graduation from the church. … This is the beginning of their faith walk, not the end of their faith walk,” he said.
Those who do stay find they grow in their faith, he said.
“Confirmation gives them the sense that, yes, I need to take responsibility for my faith,” Cochran said.
But while it is serious business, “we have a lot of fun in confirmation,” Cochran said.
First Lutheran’s program includes multimedia curriculum, skits and a quiz show format. Cochran said a particularly popular feature is “stump the pastor. They have to ask me questions I can’t answer,” he said. These can include questions about whether their pets will go to heaven or questions about people of other faiths.
“They really ask tough, tough questions and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.
Donnell Middle School eighth-grader Cynthia Napier was recently confirmed at First Lutheran.
Cynthia started going to church consistently every week while preparing for confirmation and getting “more involved in my church,” including in its youth group.
She said the lessons would be taught with games and it was “just a lot of fun.” At first she wasn’t excited to go to confirmation but as time went on, “I really, really enjoyed it,” and loved the people she had class with. Cynthia said the experience helps her understand why certain things are done in church.
She said some teenagers stop coming to church once they’re confirmed, but she won’t because she enjoys the church “and I think it’s important for me to go.”
St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church holds a confirmation “camp” in mid-July to allow students to prepare. Confirmation is held in November.
Geri Leibfarth, director of religious education, said most children are baptized as infants and the confirmation Mass is a renewal of the promises of baptism. They grow in their faith in that now the faith is their own, she said. She particularly enjoys seeing the “aha moment” for the youths.
She always tells the confirmation candidates that they need to come to it “with an openness” rather than a closed mind. If they allow the spirit to work through them “wonderful things can happen,” she said.
Candidates are asked if they pray and if they understand why they’re asked to do service. Leibfarth said the church tries to promote an attitude of service. She has seen youths who start out reluctant to do service but then end up doing many more hours than are required.
She, too, said confirmation is about “taking ownership” of one’s faith.
“They’ve been traveling this faith journey since baptism,” Leibfarth said.
Dave Charles, youth pastor at St. Marks United Methodist Church, said confirmation involves grooming the youths to become “active members of the church.”
Confirmation preparation can give them a chance to ask questions they’d been afraid to ask.
St. Marks’ curriculum includes learning about the life of Jesus as well as a four-week section specifically devoted to the United Methodist Church. Charles said this focuses less on history and more on “how it is active today.”
Confirmation is a young person’s choice, and if they cannot make a pledge to support the church then confirmation is not for them.
All confirmands are required to have 75 percent attendance throughout the year and to participate in eight hours of community service, as well as retreats and a summer mission trip.
Charles, a youth pastor for more than 20 years, finds confirmation particularly meaningful.
“I can say without a doubt it is the single number-one thing that helps kids get a grip on their faith,” he said.
He said confirmands should realize this is something they will be doing for the rest of their lives, “a journey, not a sprint.”
At the beginning of the confirmation process, Charles said, youths see it as important to their parents, but by the end it is important to the confirmands themselves.
“They have a comfort level and a new assimilation into our church,” he said.
Those who have been confirmed are voting members of the church, involved in decisions such as when St. Marks built its new building.
This is true at other churches, too. Cochran said there is a high school student on First Lutheran’s church council and he has “as much vote as I do. … We want his input.”
Concordia Lutheran Church will hold its confirmation service in June. The Rev. Matthew Shive, pastor, sees the youths grow and have a different attitude toward their faith, “absolutely.”
He particularly enjoys seeing them grow in their understanding or tell him they are thinking of thins in a new way.
“I like their questions. … I like how they can get you to think on your feet,” he said.
The church seeks to encourage the youths to continue in Bible class after confirmation. Shive also holds intergenerational events where children get to interact with older members of the congregation over breakfast.
Shive said when a child was baptized their parents “spoke on behalf of them” but now they are speaking for themselves.
“Now they are saying, ‘This is what I believe and I wish to continue in this,'” he said.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

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