I suspect I am one of the few priests in the world whose prayer book falls open naturally to the Confirmation Service. And as someone who has spent a lot of time looking at the confirmation service, I want to know why in the world confirmation was ever allowed to become an exit rite.
You know what I'm talking about, right? That exodus that too often occurs after youth get confirmed; that gap we too often see between the ages of younger and adult members in the church. After doing a lot of thinking about confirmation, I have my suspicions about where this comes from.
I've heard stories of adults telling youth, "If you just get confirmed, you don't have to come to church any more." I've heard stories of church folks saying that seeing youth leave after confirmation is only natural. Does that seem...odd to you? To me, it's kind of like saying to someone, "If you just get married, you don't have to spend any more time with your intended spouse," and all the guests at the wedding thinking that's perfectly normal.
Here's what the Book of Common Prayer says "Concerning the service of Confirmation":
"In the course of their Christian development, those baptized at an early age are expected, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop."Sounds pretty serious to me. Public, mature, commitment. Sounds a lot like marriage. In fact, let's see here..."Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant." Yep. Sounds pretty similar to me. So why would we suggest to youth that confirmation is their opportunity to leave? Why has leaving been part of the youth confirmation DNA?
I've got to tell you, I don't think this is primarily due to the youth.
If we tell youth, "Just get confirmed and you never have to do another thing," we are betraying the sacrament of confirmation. If we watch them leave and think, "Well, that's just what happens after confirmation," we are complicit in devaluing its meaning. We are the ones who have belittled the service and made it a poor ragged little thing, a scrap of a ceremony with no worth whatsoever. We are telling youth, by word and example, "Make this commitment; it doesn't really mean anything anyway." What kind of witness is that?
The good news is, we can change that. If we change our attitude from "just get confirmed; whatever else you do doesn't matter" to "what you do matters; confirmation needs to be congruent with what you intend to do afterwards," then I firmly believe confirmation will no longer be an exit rite. We need to be willing to stand up and say, "If you aren't truly willing to make a commitment to the responsibilities of your Baptism, then don't get confirmed. If you do want to make the commitment, then take your part in the councils of the church. We take confirmation seriously and we take you seriously too."
I truly believe that confirmation is worthwhile and means something. Let's treat it like it does.