Last week a friend of mine who is leading a confirmation preparation class for his church asked on Facebook whether people thought youth preparing for confirmation should be required to attend services. I passed the question along on the CnC Facebook page, and did some thinking about it myself.
It turns out I had done some initial thinking about it a few years ago in a blog post that came down to the unsatisfactory answer of a question: What is the most faithful way we can help confirmands worship the living God?
And as I thought about that, and thought about whether or not we should require youth to attend services, I just started coming up with more and more questions. Here are some of them:
Do we require adults to attend services? Why or why not? I can understand some of the reasons we don't: ostensibly, adults have already made the choice and commitment to be part of a faith community, or they wouldn't be getting confirmed. No one needs to require them to come; there are no parents in the background insisting that they get confirmed. And yet, do we have any requirements of our adult confirmands? Or adult members generally? What are they? How do we enforce them? Do we? And that raised another question.
Have we explained our reasons? Have we heard (from youth) their response? If we are going to require time commitment from youth (and the parents who need to bring them), have we explained our reasoning? Have we done so in the context of dialogue or dictate? Have we heard what people have to say in response? What would happen if we asked youth whether they thought they should be required to attend services or not? And that raised another question.
What do our requirements tell us about power? About trust? In other words, what do our requirements of youth tell us about ourselves? About our parishes? Are we placing requirements on youth because we firmly believe youth will gain a deeper understanding of their tradition from attending services? Because we are fearful they will lose touch with tradition? Because there's a power struggle at home? Because we can? A mix of motives? Have we really explored why we are doing this and what this raises within us? When has the requirement become the focus, rather than the reason for the requirement? Which raises another question.
At what point do we waive requirements? Are there excuses? Are there reasonable exceptions? Are there people for whom confirmation makes perfect sense even if they never attend worship? At what point to we need to let go of our own expectations for behavior? What is law and what is grace?
It seems to me these are some worthwhile questions to ask ourselves before we place attendance requirements on youth confirmands. That said, it is still a reasonable expectation that those who are affirming a mature commitment to Christ should play a part in the worship life of a community of faith. If we do ask that of confirmands, here are some further questions:
1. How do we get their feedback on what they experienced? Do we merely ask them to sit there, or do we get their reactions and feedback? Perhaps offer a sheet asking for favorite part or least favorite, what they would change, what interested/bored them. Or, rather than a written assignment, have a time for feedback at confirmation class or after services or while meeting with a mentor. And if they don't like it, are we willing to listen?
2. How do we ask them to lead worship? Are they lectors, intercessors, or part of another ministry? Can they write the prayers? Has their class creed been part of a service? Maybe we should ask them to pick all the hymns for a Sunday service, just to see what that's like. Maybe we should ask them to preach or teach. How else can we invite them to be worship leaders?
3. Does it have to be our church? Confirmation is not about denominational membership; it is about a mature affirmation of faith. What if our worship requirement involved going to other churches to see what they are like and report back what they have found?
Finally, please bear in mind the fundamental question: What are we hoping to give young people through our confirmation preparation program? If we have answered that question and attending services seems to fit that answer, then, yes, of course attending Sunday services should be part of what we do. But if what we are hoping to offer doesn't seem to require Sunday attendance, then can we let that go? Can we simply focus on what it is we do want them to receive, even if it doesn't look like our image of confirmation preparation?
Lots of challenging questions! I welcome your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions as I continue to ponder.