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Sunday, June 23, 2019


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter --

Be warned: this is longer than usual, [850 words instead of the usual 500 or so] and mostly a memoir.

I think that “confirmation” is one of the most important thing a church can do, because in it, we are confirming that each person counts.

I have been through a lot of confirmation Sundays, enough that they run together in memory, vaguely. Four, however, stand out, because of who I got to share them with. [Yes, but it sounds better having the “with” at the end.]

Granddaughter Brigid’s confirmation is memorable primarily because Grandma was her mentor, and they were so disgusted with the level of the confirmation materials that they devised their own. Later Helen asked Marcus Borg to write a confirmation-level version of The Heart of Christianity, since she had used it with Brigid and thought others should get to. He said that he could not write at that level, but she could, since she had been a teacher, so she should do it and he’d put both their names on it and get his publisher, HarperSanFrancisco, to publish it. Alas, that never got done, but that confirmation was important because we got to do it with our granddaughter.

The first confirmation that I remember was my own, and older sister Mary V’s, at East Park Methodist in Indianapolis. I was 9 and she was 13. There weren’t many kids in the church, and the pastor figured he’d better get us all confirmed while there were enough for a class, especially since the actual confirmation process involved standing up in front of the church and reciting together stuff that we had memorized. You feel better at a time like that if there are more kids around you to drown you out.

We had a class, I’m sure, but I can’t remember anything about it. It was probably during Sunday School. Mostly it was memorization. Probably Psalm 23 and such, but all I remember was the Apostle’s Creed. We were covered from the stock of robes in the church basement, various sizes of white, and stood up in front together and mumbled. Mary V and I both said after, only to each other, that the Apostles’ Creed was the only thing we were able to get through without gaps.

That confirmation was important to me because East Park was my first church, and I felt at home there. The people were affirming, especially when I was the young shepherd in “Why the Chimes Rang.” Mostly it was important because I got to do it with my sister.

The second important confirmation was similar to the first, in that it was a multi-age group. I was preaching at Stanwood and Red Oak Grove Presbyterian churches, near Tipton, Iowa, while I did doctoral work in Iowa City. They had quite a few children, about a dozen, who could be considered confirmation age. The people were eager to get them confirmed while they had a preacher who was willing to do it.

Daughter Mary Beth was confirmation age, so we would drive out together on Wednesday nights to do confirmation class. The women of the churches prepared a supper, a nice one. Then we had class.

In those days I was into writing my own materials and developing all sorts of unusual ways of confirmation education. The parents thought it was great. The kids were all cooperative and willing to participate, But mostly this confirmation was important because I got to do it with my daughter.

My last confirmation class was at Tampico, IL, when I did a part-time interim year there in retirement. We had class on Sunday mornings, since that was easiest for Helen and me. They had a big group, about a dozen kids, who fit the usual confirmation age, young teens, so we were able to do young teen stuff. The wonderful TV show, “Joan of Arcadia,” where God would appear to teen Joan in the guise of everyone from a linesman to the cafeteria line lady, was on in those days. It was required watching for confirmation class. At least one kid didn’t have the correct TV connections to get it [no live streaming and YouTube and such in those days] so a cooperative adult church member taped it and took it to him.

We had mentors who came to class with the kids and sat with them in worship and talked with them after worship about what we had done in worship and why. We talked every week about “our friend, Joan.” I wrote a “Confirmation Times” newsletter every week that reflected on worldly events and how we might see God there—more questions than answers.

This was a great confirmation experience, because the whole church was so enthusiastic and supportive and eager to get kids confirmed while they had a preacher who could do it, and because the mentors took their jobs both seriously and joyfully, and because the kids enjoyed participating so much. Mostly, though, this confirmation was important to me because I got to do it with my wife.

I think that “confirmation” is one of the most important thing a church can do, because in it, we are confirming that each person counts.

John Robert McFarland

Freud’s method was called “the talking cure.” Jesus practiced the walking cure. “Come, follow me.”

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