Church leaders, professors, and researchers from ten different countries coming together to talk about confirmation might not sound like an exciting time for you, but as I sit at the airport awaiting my flight I am overwhelmed with a sense of being blessed – blessed by the passion and dedication of gifted people for meaningful work with young people, blessed by the good work being done, blessed by great hospitality and new colleagues, and blessed for the journey ahead.
Passion for and dedication to confirmation? Yes! Those may not be your words or your sentiments for confirmation, but this gathering was filled with people who actually believed in the practices of confirmation and sought to discover how it was, or was not, impacting the faith lives of young people. OK, nine of the countries were from Europe, but these really smart and talented people could be directing their energies elsewhere…and they are not!
Good work being done in confirmation…Really? Yes, and the work is two-fold. First, the thoughtful, dedicated work of studying the practices and experiences of confirmation in each of these countries. Second, and maybe even more inspiring, is that the findings point to good congregational practices and positive confirmand experiences. So sure, there is room to grow, but finding congregations doing good work is a good thing.
Great hospitality and new colleagues…who can resist that? The Finns, and the organizations they represented, were over the top with their hospitality. Nice accommodations, opportunities for exploring the region, storytelling, and of course a sauna or two were just some of the elements which surrounded the good lectures and presentations. Conversations over meals, walking to the train station, or while paddling a church canoe transformed intellectual dialogue into engaged conversation on a wide range of topics. Learning about each other’s work, teaching, and scholarship also turned into caring about our sister churches in other parts of the world as well as in some cases each other’s families.
Blessed for the journey ahead…you betcha! Only five people from the United States research project on confirmation attended this gathering. We came to learn from others further ahead on the journey. Not sure what to expect, we researched their methods, read about their results, and arrived ready to simply listen and ask questions. But today, saying good-bye, I sense it was all that and more. Yes, we talked research methodology and goals, and we committed to being in more conversation with each other in the future, but our team returns to the United States, and our research team and project, commissioned. As if we were not already committed to this project for “our own sake,” now we are reminded of how our work fits within a larger picture. Within work the Europeans are doing, yes, but also within a larger history and set of practices which have made up the work of confirmation for centuries. As an American, being in Europe often reminds me of my roots and helps me connect United States history to a larger arc. And this trip did that with confirmation work. We, church leaders, serve for such a short time. But our faithfulness to our call to meaningful work in that time is really important.
So, if you are just finding out about The Confirmation Project in the United States…welcome to the journey. If you have been anticipating this research for some time, know we move forward thoughtfully and with care. And if you are here because you are passionate about discipleship among young people in Protestant denominations, so are we. Let’s be diligent with our research while we are also mindful of the larger calling and story in which we find ourselves.
Blessed in Helsinki!