Let the journey begin

So, there’s a pattern in most of our churches. And working with campus ministries, I’ve noticed it even more. We love to confirm our youth, send them off, and never talk to them again…until they have children of their own. It’s the life cycle of our church. We get that early branding in, make sure our children can identify our logo, then we figure that they can come back in time, you know, when their own kids need to be baptized.

But it doesn’t work so well anymore, because people get married later now, if they get married at all. Then they usually marry someone outside of their tradition, someone of another religion, or someone who’s agnostic or an atheist. The denominational label doesn’t mean anything. So the chance that anyone’s wandering back into our church is pretty slim. 

In the FTE seminar that we had last week, we talked about this, and one pastor described the beautiful ceremony that they had for their youth, complete with white graduation gowns and red carnations, but he realized that they were saying something with the ritual. The congregation was saying, “You’ve graduated! It’s time to move away from home. See you later!” And the youth heard the message, loud and clear. They disappeared from church after confirmation.

So what can we do as churches to change this thinking, both on the part of the families and churches?

At the meeting to form this learning exchange, I learned what Roman Catholics do. Tim Muldoon and Lee Nagel introduced me to the practice of mystagogy. Mystagogy means to lead into deeper mystery. And (ideally…they admittedly have difficulties in practice as well) each person who goes through catechism is not considered a graduate, but a novice in the faith.

You notice the shift? For them, the journey into deeper faith is beginning, for us, it’s ending. For Roman Catholics, there’s a mentoring process inherent in the training, a relationship of pastoral care. In our discussions, there was not a sense that this was age-related. The novice could be older than the mentor, but rather, there was a sense of deepening the mystery.

We have done this in churches that I pastored, in the way of sponsoring someone who just went through confirmation. But, I think we could do a better job. If we could begin to change the culture of our congregations, so that we can begin to understand that the journeys and the mysteries are only just beginning.

the photo’s entitled, “The ideal confirmation photo” by druzli

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6 thoughts on “Let the journey begin

  1. Maybe if we could make it more conceptually linked to getting your driver’s license. I mean, shoot, what’s the point of a rite of passage that doesn’t involve you getting to do cool things afterwards? You know, like actually being treated like an adult with real input into both the future and present of the church.

    Unless, of course, the church doesn’t actually want younger members to have a voice in leadership. For some reason, that gets me to thinking about the Presbyterian Church and our friends the Fundamentalist Mormon cultists, and how the elders in that community make a point of driving out all of the young men because it would subvert the thang the elders got goin’ on.

    An unfair analogy, perhaps, but it does have a nice piquant bouquet.

  2. Pingback: A Process of the Catechumenate in the PC(USA) «

  3. I feel like this exactly what we do. Maybe I’m wanting to believe that — but I do. We remind them that none of us have the answers — I even had one of the kids mentored by an agnostic. It is a beginning.

    I was amazed that the kids told me that they felt like something was expected of them when confirmed. They were nervous that they couldn’t live up to membership (which is problematic because they were already members) — but we still don’t see them after that ritual.

  4. I enter wondering how do we invest in the youth so they will be invested in the worshiping community. My father always told me nothing worth having is free…

  5. I wonder if part of this is the tendency to view youth as the future of the church instead of realizing they are the church. One of the volunteers who spoke during our Youth Sunday service emphasized that and I think he made a really good point. They are just as much a part of the body of Christ as the oldest saint around. They are treasure troves of undiscovered talent and giftings. Without them, the body is not funtioning on all 8 cylinders so to speak.

  6. I think you make a good point, Carol. We Disciples don’t do confirmation per se, but it is interesting to see how kids grow up and leave the church and we don’t seem to make any effort to keep them connected.

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