rebuilding confirmation: Because We Need More Than Another Graduation
2017 Ave Maria Press
By Christopher Wesley, former director of student ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland.
In the preface of his slim volume, rebuilding confirmation: Because We Need More Than Another Graduation, Christopher Wesley, a seasoned youth minister, suggests that we look at 'Confirmation as the beginning of something amazing. It is after all a sacrament of initiation. It helps us begin a new season of our discipleship, rather than end our years of religious formation.’
Wesley’s book offers Confirmation catechists and others a useful tool with which to reflect on their current Confirmation model. He argues the need for a clear vision and a well thought-out strategy to 'meet the candidates where they are at in their faith journeys and help them to take a next step to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ'.
In short, he does not promote a specific, commercially available programme. Instead, he identifies the building materials necessary for setting the foundations and erecting the scaffolding to support effective preparation for Confirmation. Rather than blaming everyone involved in the process, Wesley offers guidelines for strategic planning, specifically the role the various stakeholders – the teens and their parents, sponsors, catechists, the parish priest and very importantly, the parish community.
Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1303), Wesley sets out why Confirmation matters. Young people need to hear more than ‘it's something they have to do' but that it has purpose and value – greater than the extra tuition and practice that might lead to a scholarship or an athletic trophy; 'it is the beginning of a disciple’s life which is filled with God’s grace, to go and change the world.'
'The problem with setting up Confirmation preparation like a formal classroom is that you are adding to the constant noise of information overload that teenagers face on a regular basis... when we sit in a classroom and crack open a book, the focus is on content and not the individual'. Moreover, teaching needs to be focused on the essential elements that impel young people to change the way they approach life - to be Christ-centered, a disciple.
Crucially, like our faith, ‘Confirmation preparation needs to relational’ (italics mine). It needs more than teachers but people willing to build relationships of trust and respect. With a strong relationship, the teenager is more receptive to what the adult has to say. Rather than lectures, adult leaders should facilitate conversation ideally within small groups. Building and supporting his team of leaders, Wesley goes on to suggest even ‘pairing teens with an adult who is living as a disciple, passionate about sharing the Catholic faith and interested in investing in the next generation’ as a form of active mentorship.
While having a team of disciples to mentor each young person individually may not be feasible in many of our parish communities in the UK, Wesley does offer, in a manner of speaking, a very helpful, indeed thought-provoking array of 'steel beams' or what he identifies with the acronym 'STEPS' for growing disciples including:
- Service (both within the church building and beyond)
- Tithing (‘learning to give with Christ in mind’);
- Engaging in Christ-centered relationships (small group discussions);
- Practicing their faith (through prayer, scripture and sacramental life); and
- Sharing one’s faith (to go out and make disciples).
In conclusion, Wesley’s work is not the only book a catechist would need to rebuild their Confirmation programme as it does not set out the theology of the sacrament in any depth. However, Wesley has shared many excellent suggestions for building a context that doesn’t end with the Bishop’s visit to confirm the young people of your parish.
Review by Margaret Wickware (Catechetical Co-ordinator, Church of Our Lady, St Johns Wood)
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