Confirmation is a sacrament that is a lot like a rite of passage. For denominations that baptize in infancy, Confirmation is the time when you take on for yourself the vows that your parents made on your behalf.
Usually that’s done in the mid or early teenage years. In fact, I was all ready to do it in my early teenage years. But, I hesitated. I just wasn’t sure. I felt alienated from the church, unsure of many of its claims, and disturbed by many of the political debates happening within the community. I went through all the motions, like a good preacher’s daughter, but when the time came, I realized that I was about to do something important–something important that I didn’t really believe.
So, conveniently, there happened to be an anime convention that weekend. When the Bishop came to confirm the young members of our church, I was absent. I never explained my decision to anyone. I thought, maybe, they wouldn’t be hurt if it just looked like an “accident.” As a teenager, I preferred my acts of defiance to melt into the background. Some teenagers acted out–I made secret spaces, secret decisions, and kept up appearances on the outside. I played into the non-confrontational Minnesota Nice. I felt often as if I had better control of myself when I melted into the background.
The ability to have real, adult independence as a college student, and then as a working person, changed much of that for me. With new challenges, and a new kind of loneliness, I began to change the way I related to my religion. It was no longer controlled by others, but controlled by myself. My studies in college helped me to understand it better. My experiences as a teacher in Korea helped me to define it, experience it, and understand what it was and was not.
When I came home, I attended church–sort of–but I mostly showed up for Monday Supper to cook and serve a meal for young and destitute people. I found my church community there, in many ways–I found a religious community at the women’s center where I worked.
A religious community of many faiths, where we worked together and talked about faith and acted out commandments together. For me, my faith was defined by action: what I could do to act out God’s love in the world.
To be confirmed as an adult, it seems, has a lot more gravity than it does when you’re 15 and going through the motions. At 25, one is a lot more aware of what one’s signing up for–especially because you know you could just walk away. In churches with large confirmation programs and contingents, sometimes the rite of confirmation is like an “exit ritual”. Parents release their children from church-going when confirmation is complete. Then the kids have taken it upon themselves, and their parents consider themselves released from the baptismal vows. Now it’s the kid’s job.
Practiced this way, Confirmation actually does the exact opposite of it’s desired goal. It serves as the pre-requisite to the teenage years of questioning and exploration, rather than the coming home afterward.
I can attest that ‘coming home’ is a lot harder than going out. Especially when one is intimately aware of all the problems with the church. But, to deny the things that build you and shape you are often to give them exceptional power over you. At the service, the Bishop joked that our charge is to love our neighbor–not like.
Love is very different, and is subversive, challenging, full of both rage and joy. In love, you meet someone face to face with actual care and indeed, many times, confrontation.
It is, I suppose, the same with the church: to be confirmed is not to like the church. It is to meet it face to face, with actual care, the ownership of a relationship. Then it does not have the same kind of power over you as when you run from it. Then you are not only denying its faults, but working to change them. Then you are not mourning the loss of its good qualities, but lifting them up and participating in their continuation.
So, I am now a recognized adult in the Episcopal Church. The Bishop has laid hands on me, and I am one for whom my faith is my own. Of course my faith has been my own for quite some time now, but I have agreed to meet the church as myself and as an adult. Not to like it, as if someone unbound and who could walk away at any time, but to love it: someone in difficult relationship, equals, partners in the long history of God’s work.