If you had been a fly on the wall of Rev. Bergstresser’s office back in 1972, you would have been pretty sure that I was one of those confirmands who just wasn’t going to make it. My memories of those six mind-numbing Wednesday nights in the pastor’s office, sitting in a semi-circle with four other seventh graders around Rev. B’s gi-normous desk, are mainly of watching the clock for d-e-c-a-d-e-s until Confirmation Class mercifully came to an end.
Halfway through confirmation, I told Rev. B that I didn’t want to be a United Methodist.
He raised his gray and impressively unruly eyebrows. “Really? What do you want to be?”
“Oh—maybe Catholic.” (My friend Kelly was Catholic.) “Or Quaker.” (Quakers were always doing cool things, according to my American history book.)
“Okay,” said Rev. B. “Well, for Catholics, confirmation takes about a year.” (Strike one.) “And if you’re Quaker”—(Rev. B knew me well enough to know where to go with this one)—“you can’t talk.”
I was had.
But then he walked over to his bookcase and scanned until he found the volume he was looking for. “Here,” he said, handing me a book describing what seemed to be every Christian tradition in the universe. “Why don’t you read this, and find a denomination you like better?”
To no one’s surprise but my own, a month later I was confirmed a bona fide United Methodist. But for reasons I still don’t quite understand, I devoured the book Rev. Bergstresser gave me. Reading about various religious traditions did not transform or intensify my faith; camp did that, a few years later. But it did do something important. It was my first recognition that theology mattered; it shaped particular kinds of Christians who served Christ in particular kinds of ways. More important, it was my first realization that I had agency in my faith. The faith once claimed on my behalf, I was now choosing.
Three years later, at camp, it would dawn on me that for me to choose Christ was not ultimately the point; the point was that Jesus had chosen me, and I left camp overwhelmed by the sense of purpose that this divine choosing bestowed. And given the fact that I was a cradle United Methodist in a family that faithfully attended a United Methodist church that sang United Methodist hymns and sent teenagers to United Methodist camps, there was very little chance that I would wind up anything else. Yet while I don’t recommend Rev. B’s pedagogy (for confirmation or anything else, for that matter), what mattered at age twelve was that I got to weigh in. I was now a participant in my own life with God.
United Methodists value “synergy” in Christian life, meaning: God does not choose to work alone. God certainly didn’t need all those nitwits in the Bible—or in the church–who in spite of themselves (ourselves) wind up carrying the ball of faith a little farther down the field, thanks mostly to God’s gracious intervention.
But God does not perform solo; God seeks accompanists, and seems to have a soft spot for rookies. Despite our penchant for missing our cues, God repeatedly invites human beings into the missio dei, which is essentially what United Methodists understand to be what confirmation signifies.
In recent years, there have been serious efforts by United Methodists to reclaim confirmation as a repeatable rite, as ongoing preparation to participate in the mission of God. I am excited to be part of the Confirmation Project because, despite our uneven execution of this practice (and despite our sometimes questionable pedagogies, uncertain purpose, and inconsistent curricula), confirmation invites teenagers to choose a life, a very particular life–the life for which they were created–that enlists them as agents in the mission of God.
Which means…we better buckle up.
Written by Confirmation Project member Kenda Creasy Dean. Learn more about Kenda here.