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The Report of the Confirmation Task Force

The fourth biennial convention of the ELCIC June 30 - July 4 has recommended that this Report of the Confirmation Task Force be commended to congregations for study. Specifically, congregations are asked to examine the first seven recommendations of the ten recommendations listed at the end of the report. Congregations are encouraged to share with the Division for Parish Life any comments and decisions which they make with respect to these recommendations. We commend this report to you for study and pray that the Lord of the Church will use it as a means to enrich understanding and foster an improved confirmation ministry in our church.

Prepared under the auspices of the Division for Parish Life in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Preface

The Confirmation Task Force was appointed by the ELCIC Division for Parish Life in 1989. The Task Force's study was to be completed by the 1993 national convention. It should be noted that the Task Force's work was a parallel study to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who was also beginning a similar process. Members from both churches worked together throughout the past four years.

The membership of the Confirmation Task Force consisted of one person nominated from each synod, the Executive Director of the Division for Parish Life and a seminary representative. The director of ELCA Confirmation Ministry was also present as an observer. The Task Force met in Winnipeg four times (May 1990, November 1990, April 1991, November 1992) to share results of synodical input and the drafting of this document. The following report is the result of our study.

Task Force Members

British Columbia Synod Anne Bucar (May 1990)
Don Bolstad (since April 1991)
Synod of Alberta and the Territories Dennis Wenzel (since 1990)
Saskatchewan Synod Paul Johnson (since 1990)
Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod David Whynot (1990) (chairperson)
Glen Krentz (since April 1991)
Eastern Synod Peeter Vanker (May 1990)
Wendell Grahlman (since November 1990) (chairperson since December 1991)
Seminary Representative Arnold Weigel (1990-1991)

Introduction

The meaning and purpose of confirmation ministry, its content and methodology, has always been in flux in the church. The history of the church is replete with a variety of styles and diverse meanings of confirmation including: the age and context of the church's ministry, the spirituality of the people, the political nature of the church, the understanding and mission of the church. Throughout time, confirmation has retained distinct meanings and purposes within ecclesiastical traditions.

Perhaps we should not be surprised today at the soul searching for a recovery of denominational and congregational meaning and purpose or for a new understanding and practice. It comes to us naturally in the history of the church. We are but one segment of time and space in the church's history and in the church's mission. Confirmation may again be something new, but as in the past (perhaps most notably for Lutherans during the time of Luther and the Reformation) confirmation will be discovered anew and with renewed meanings in conjunction with our understanding of the church and our daily baptismal vocation.

In 1970 confirmation went through a significant shift of meaning and structure from its historical roots. At that time the "Report of the Joint Commission on theTheology and Practice of Confirmation" was released by the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Confirmation was defined as "a pastoral and educational ministry of the church which helps the baptized child through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission." We wish to uphold that study as being formative for our own present situation. Especially we affirm:

  • the centrality of baptism to our faith;
  • the separation of first communion from the rite of confirmation;
  • the need for a lifelong process of learning;
  • greater emphasis on the entire congregation's pastoral care of young people;
  • the challenge to provide genuine opportunities for more profound attachment of youth to the Christian community.

Since 1970 there have been a number of changes in congregational perception and practice with regard to confirmation ministry. In some instances, these have been a result of the efforts of the ELCA's study and the ELCIC's "New Visions for Confirmation" study document. Among noted changes are the following:

  1. the responsibility of confirmation ministry is more and more shared by laity and clergy;
  2. catechetical instruction has broadened to include issues of the wider world;
  3. in the last few years, instruction in the Bible and the Small Catechism has returned to the fore;
  4. participants may no longer be grounded in a knowledge of the Christian heritage;
  5. a variety of approaches, strategies and techniques has surfaced attributed to an increased awareness of learning styles and contexts;
  6. increased understanding regarding developmental stages in both faith and cognition affects what is taught as well as how it is taught;
  7. though a large majority of congregations invite members to take part in Holy Communion before they are confirmed, the age for first communion varies (for further information, see the "Statement on Sacramental Practices");
  8. congregations continue to see the rite of confirmation as important even though the meaning remains ambiguous;
  9. the significance of the rite of confirmation as "Affirmation of Baptism" begun in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) is important for the majority of members;
  10. catechetical instruction has been a valued opportunity for ongoing experimentation in learning ministry.

Time and circumstance have raised the question of broadening the practice of confirmation with respect to all persons in the church. Important issues revolve around creating and providing opportunities for persons to affirm their baptism at any age, and especially at moments of passage and significance; and deepening and intensifying their relationship to the church, affirming their faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. Confirmation is then a ministry centered around learning more deeply and personally one's faith through remembrance of baptism as a member of the body of Christ.

In 1970 a definition of confirmation was offered. In the 1990's, we wish to affirm that definition as a ministry of the church for all baptized persons:

Confirmation ministry is a pastoral and educational ministry of the church that helps the baptized through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission.

An Interdependent Relationship

Confirmation is a ministry growing out of a loving concern for our personal and communal spiritual well-being. It provides a time to claim and to reflect on our identity as Christians in our particular time and place. It is a lifelong ministry involving worship, learning, service, witness and support all areas of the church's mission and life to, through and with the entire congregation. Confirmation ministry gives opportunity for growth in discipleship as baptized people participate in the congregation.

In one's baptismal journey a person is continually to grow into greater responsibility in the life of the Christian community and its mission in the world. This is always a growing process of discipleship. Responsibility is something into which we grow; it is not something given because we have earned it. Certainly some have more capability for responsibility than others, but not necessarily by reason of age, status, or cognitive ability.

Confirmation ministry is also a two way process between confirmands and congregational members. As Christian stewards and baptized sisters and brothers, our care and love for each other never end because of a person's new found maturity in faith. We never become fully independent in our faith lives. We can never "go it" on our own. We constantly depend on God's spirit to guide, support and strengthen us and we continually rely on each other for care, prayer and support.

Nurturing the Faith

The Beginning of Confirmation Ministry

To understand and practise confirmation ministry as a particular journey in our daily baptismal discipleship is to affirm the presence of God's Spirit in the believer's life from the moment of the sacrament of baptism. Sometimes the unconfirmed are treated as spiritually empty and devoid of God's presence. In fact, children and youth are quite spiritually active and alive, their faith having been nurtured by the church in many ways, not least of all the influence of family, sponsors, pastors, and congregational members.

A study of faith and life in educational ministry conducted in the United States in 1990 by the Search Institute of Minneapolis surprised many people with its results. Among those was a rediscovery of faith relationships in homes. The two most powerful connections to faith maturity in youth were shown to be family spirituality and lifetime exposure to formal Christian education. The particular family experiences most tied to faith maturity were the frequency with which an adolescent talked with a parent about faith, the frequency of family devotions, and the frequency with which parents and children together were involved in efforts, formal or informal, to help other people.

If confirmation ministry is a lifelong process, cradle to grave, then we are called to affirm the gifts of those who are even quite young, and to use their gifts in the ministry of the church. Baptism is the beginning of life in God's reign. Our understanding of faith and mission grows out of our understanding of baptism.

A focus on baptism is essential in one's growing understanding of self in relation to God, other people, and the rest of creation. That understanding can be enhanced in several ways:

  • The celebration of baptismal anniversaries, both at home and in the congregation, is a significant way to begin.
  • The recognition that in baptism each person is given a vocation and that our ministries are various.
  • Worship is important for spiritual nurture. Here we need to be sensitive so as to include and recognize the gifts of all. Worship is the primary weekly gathering of God's people, and an important opportunity for spiritual nurture. The priority of worship is blurred and the meeting between God and people is obstructed when learning opportunities are scheduled to take place at the same time as worship.
  • Hospitality toward children, treating them as full members of the congregation by virtue of their baptism, is important.
  • Inclusivity in all areas of the church's life is essential. All members, regardless of age, need opportunities to be directly involved in service and mission. Along with other members of the congregation, children and youth can be meaningfully involved in activities which promote justice and peace.

In baptism parents and sponsors promise the nurturing of Christian faith in children, in the church and at home. Parents have primary responsibility to raise their children in the faith. The church is to help each baptized Christian grow in knowledge, insight, and faithfulness as a servant of Christ. Baptized Christians need to be led into lives of faith, hope, and love, grounded in the pattern of death and resurrection.

Journeying in Faith

We affirm the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, continually calling and renewing us since the day of our baptism, providing the seed for our continual spiritual growth and maturation in faith.

Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith is received and communicated in many ways. We need to grow and mature in this faith throughout all our life. The Holy Spirit works through our experiences in life, our relationships with each other, and by our reflection upon situations to urge and encourage us towards a mature faith. The use of the catechetical question "What does this mean?" offers a way—through textual material and classroom structures among other means—of understanding our lives in the context of our baptism into Christ.

Reflecting upon various life experiences can result in new growth in faith. That is what is celebrated by using "Affirmation of Baptism." There is no "proper age" at which persons should begin confirmation ministry. Again, confirmation ministry is a birth to death process in a baptismal context. Confirmation is not a one-time classroom programme then, but rather an ongoing ministry the church offers for the sake of the pastoral care and spiritual growth of its members.

Confirmation has traditionally been planned for young people between the ages of twelve and fifteen. However, more and more young people choose not to be a part of confirmation ministry at that age but do desire it later. Increasingly, young adults beyond age fifteen and adults desire to be confirmed. The traditional time for confirmation ministry needs to be expanded to include persons of all ages.

Several learning models can be explored by congregations. Although they must be adapted to local circumstances, the following learning models deserve consideration. The first model might be considered a parent to the remaining five such that they could be used as options within the framework of the first.

The Catechumenal Parish

The catechumenal parish model is built on the historic catechumenal process. It moves the catechumen through a journey that involves:

  • considering affirmation of the baptismal faith;
  • enrolling as a confirmand or catechumen;
  • studying or reflecting as part of a group and with a sponsor;
  • receiving the sacrament of Baptism or affirming one's Baptism;
  • embracing congregational support after Baptism or confirmation.

Movement through the process is ritually marked by the whole congregation.

Longer and Later

Longer and later methods extend confirmation ministry from early childhood through high school years and beyond. Activities, spread out over many years, usually include in-home visitations, cooperative-learning groups, short courses, retreats, and (parental) covenanting.

Meeting of Young People

This method emphasizes personal conversation and learning to use the faith to think and act. Sessions are described as meetings rather than classes. The pastor or catechist prepares an agenda and guides people in weekly meetings about how the Bible and the catechism relate to their lives. This approach uses experiential learning and usually includes one to two years of intensive work.

The Confirming Community

The confirming community option uses a system of relationships between confirmands and others who serve as peer helpers, tutors and mentors. For example, eighth graders who are studying the sacraments work with second graders who are learning more about Holy Communion; adults focusing on their baptismal vocation volunteer with youth to help the poor and needy through a local food and clothing coop. Mentoring and conversations with the pastor throughout the process provide time for reflection.

The Renewed School

The renewed school is a structured catechetical approach revolving around regular classroom activities. The emphasis is upon learning the Small Catechism and Scripture. A strong relationship is fostered as teachers become mentors for learners, focusing especially upon growth in skills and self esteem.

Vow-Driven Catechesis

This option is built on the vow made at the rite of confirmation and develops five projects for each person who is taking the vow. The development and accomplishment of the five projects becomes part of the confirmation process for the person.

(More complete information regarding these and other approaches may be obtained by contacting the ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries. Additional information may be available from conference and/or synodical learning ministry resources.)

Each learning model employed will be of length and content sensitive to the persons and context involved (eg. young adults, adults, youth, persons in recent crisis, occasion for thanksgiving, etc.). It is recognized that differences exist in congregations depending upon their geographic, economic, and other contexts. Perhaps most notable in our church are differences between rural and urban congregations. The ELCA Confirmation Ministry Study Task Force determined that a strong confirmation ministry includes the following characteristics: Affirmation of Baptism; a focus on grace, mission, discipleship, and vocation; a focus on Bible and catechism; a congregationally developed process; a specific and representative group in the congregation as overseers in development; an emphasis on relationships in the congregation; integration into worship life; confirmation ministry continuing after the rite of Affirmation of Baptism with emphasis on maintaining key relationships with the newly confirmed; affirmation of baptism thought of as a lifelong process rather than a once in a lifetime event.

Using the principles set out in this report, each congregation will know best how faith is nurtured in its context. Ideally, more sensitivity will occur as persons of all ages desire to affirm their baptism. That will be true in two ways: to be inclusive of all people who affirm their baptism; and to be sensitive to the maturity of those seeking confirmation. Where baptism is affirmed numerous times throughout the stages of one's life, congregational members will want to be careful not to suggest that confirmation ministry is primarily for youth. Instead, it is suggested that people begin when they are ready, and that events and passages on the journey of faith are celebrated by the congregation with various rites of Affirmation of Baptism. Such events and passages could include completion of a time of instruction in the Christian faith, a period of counselling, and/or significant life changes.

Confirmation ministry has no ending. We never reach full maturity in faith. Indeed, our lives and faith are constantly changing in respect to the world around us, and in that context we continually affirm our baptismal faith and vocation.

Supporting One Another in Faith

The Affirming Congregation

As confirmation model we offer the journey of faith within community; with communal support the individual experiences increased openness to and cooperation with the ever-present Spirit. The individual is recognized as one freely accepting engagement in a process of daily conversion (as Luther says, "the self…should be drowned through daily repentance") within a supportive community of faith that is also experiencing that process. Again, the context is total faith community, the emphasis on a complex, holistic process of initiation, of which religious education is but one part. The task is one of nurturing personal faith relationships, not simply acquiring knowledge. The focus is on communal celebration of new life; people experience fuller initiation into the life of the faith community and receive guidance and support for ongoing conversion. There are many ways this could happen: camps, retreats, and other similar events engender relationship-building. The use of the larger church (for example, conferences holding an annual Confirmation Day) also enhances relationships between leaders and participants.

Affirming our baptism means that we affirm the presence of Christ in our daily lives and that we live as his disciples in the world today. We are all members of the body of Christ, called to minister to the hurts and needs of people in the world today. This is reflected clearly in our liturgy in the call to prayer: "Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs."

It is clear now that confirmation ministry needs to be tied into the fullness of the congregation's ministry expressed through witness, worship, learning, service and support. A daily remembrance of baptism will include opportunities for involvement in worship, practice in stewardship, outreach into the community, and service to those who require help, care, compassion and nurture. It becomes essential that the congregation integrates the confirmands into learning opportunities and ministry areas that include children, youth and adults, that is, the total ministry of the congregation and all its relationships.

The Affirming Persons

Confirmation ministry happens in a living community of faith and is the responsibility of the congregation, along with the pastor. Acquiring an informed faith is something Christian people, especially youth, seek in the congregations to which they belong. A continued emphasis upon learning from the Small Catechism and the Scriptures is an expectation of confirmation ministry, but opportunities for spiritual growth and prayer are also a significant element in confirmation ministry.

Lay persons play an increasingly important role in providing leadership in confirmation ministry. Those who serve in such positions are chosen by virtue of the maturity of their own faith, their skills for relating to other people, and their commitment to the community of faith. These persons may also receive training affirming their faith and gifts for use in ministry.

The use of mentors in confirmation ministry has been satisfying for an increasing number of congregations. Not only are such persons able to personalize confirmation ministry by building a one-on-one relationship with another person, but like lay catechists, mentors also witness to the vitality of vocation as a way of looking at every Christian's life. Young Christians also have significant gifts to share with each other. Peer relationships, whether structured between confirmands or involving youth, are one more facet of the rich, mutual relationships that are needed.

The use of sponsors is a yet largely unexplored but promising aspect of confirmation ministry. Sponsors could be baptismal sponsors, someone chosen by the confirmand, or even family members. Sponsors and mentors could even be the same person. It must be emphasized that in addition to the learning that occurs, confirmation ministry provides the opportunity for the formation of significant relationships. Relationships take place between participants, pastors, sponsors, mentors, parents, lay leaders, and congregational members. Sponsors, mentors, parents and members should be models in the way they worship, in living lives of honesty and integrity, and in struggling to live out their faith in Jesus Christ in the joys and challenges of everyday life. In this context it is clear that confirmation ministry can also provide a time for consideration of matters of our Christian vocation.

Selecting a confirmation ministry team provides an excellent base for a congregation to establish, implement, and oversee an effective ministry. The team could be a new group created specifically for that purpose, or an existing group, such as the learning ministry committee or the council. The point is, confirmation ministry becomes the responsibility of the whole congregation.

The purposes of the team are to:

  • define what confirmation ministry means in the congregation;
  • expand ownership of the ministry;
  • guide planning and implementation so the ministry reflects a rich diversity of members;
  • relate confirmation ministry to the total ministry of the congregation;
  • keep the ministry strong in periods of staff change;
  • relate the tradition of the church to the current needs of the ministry;
  • review and evaluate the confirmation ministry of the congregation.

The team would meet regularly to focus on the following considerations:

  • the meaning and purpose of confirmation ministry in light of the congregation's mission;
  • the relationship between confirmation ministry and the church;
  • the development of objectives and methods appropriate to the congregation, the persons involved (including special learners), and the leaders of the ministry (including the roles of pastor and lay catechists);
  • the resources required to carry out an effective ministry.

An effective team will reflect the congregation's size, makeup, and administrative structure. The membership of the team will be determined by the size of the congregation(s) and should reflect the ministries of the parish. The team might include the pastor, a congregational council member, a stewardship or finance leader, a worship ministry representative, educational leaders, youth, or parents. In larger congregations five or six may be a workable number.

Furthermore, confirmation ministry itself is best led by a group of congregational members consisting of ordained and lay ministers, sponsors, mentors, and parents. Leadership and responsibility are shared providing a model of the church's ministry in action, and a healthy model of where and how learning takes place.

Celebrating through Faith

Affirmation of Baptism could happen several times a year in different circumstances. At times of major life changes such as beginnings and endings of relationships and jobs, retirement, leaving home, the birth of a child, and bereavement, we need to hear God's word of saving grace. Whether these be times of fresh sorrow or new joy, these are the moments in which we are open to a deepening of our faith commitments. In the rite of Affirmation of Baptism a person expresses continuation in the covenant, the covenant having been fully established for us by God, in Holy Baptism, and continually renewed and strengthened, in Holy Communion. It equips people to find their place as those who live in the world by the grace of their baptism into Jesus Christ.

Confirmation ministry offers spiritual growth and nurture to persons in the church who are mature and honest seekers of a deeper identity with the Christian community and a fuller participation in its mission. A distinction should be made between corporate rites and rites for individuals. If confirmation ministry honours the ritual needs of people negotiating transitions, especially the significant transition of adolescence, rites of Affirmation of Baptism need to be used and adapted for each situation. For example, new enrollment rites can be used for the beginning of the catechetical process, and those congregations which practise First Communion may consider using the rite for Affirmation of Baptism at the conclusion of the instructional period.

Summary

Confirmation Ministry is envisioned to be a process of daily discipleship lived out in one's baptism. Its area of ministry is expanded from that of the youth to all persons in our congregations. Confirmation ministry is the place where all persons in the church may continually affirm their faith, and where the church continually confirms them in their faith.

The following recommendations will affect the church congregationally, synodically and nationally. Most will take place at the congregational level where confirmation ministry regularly occurs. The recommendations assume that "Confirmation ministry is a pastoral and educational ministry of the church that helps the baptized through Word and Sacrament to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission."

Recommendations

The ELCIC Confirmation Task Force recommends that:

  1. Congregations, in their confirmation ministry, will give many persons an opportunity to share their God-given gifts, especially sponsors, mentors, parents, congregational members and ordained leaders.
  2. Amidst the use of a variety of resources and approaches, the Bible and the Small Catechism will be basic.
  3. Worship, as an essential way for nurturing faith, is integral to and necessary within confirmation ministry.
  4. Confirmation ministry is a part of a congregation's total ministry expressed through worship, learning, service, witness and support.
  5. Confirmation ministry needs to be less age specific than person centred, and more open to frequent use of the rite of Affirmation of Baptism.
  6. A group of persons in each congregation will be responsible for confirmation ministry to oversee its implementation and continuation.
  7. Persons will be confirmed when they express readiness to affirm their baptism rather than being confirmed because they are part of a completed group process.
  8. The prayer, "Father in heaven, for Jesus' sake…"will be used whenever Affirmation of Baptism is celebrated.
  9. New rites/liturgies for Affirmation of Baptism can be used for the acknowledgment of various transitional times in people's lives and for various occasions during periods of catechetical instruction.
  10. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada will evaluate all constitutional and other references and occurrences of "confirmed members," and if deemed necessary, will make the appropriate changes.
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