When I was twelve, the sixth grade Sunday school class lesson scheduled for the year was confirmation. Confirmation is an interesting practice that the United Methodist Church and other denominations use to shape and develop youth as they grow in Christian faith. We probably do it in part because our practice of baptism doesn’t revolve around believer’s baptism, and so we have created a way to celebrate a profession of faith in the midst of the life of the church for someone who grew up in the church. I think it is a good practice, mostly because it is a way to teach the foundations of faith and allow young learners to ask questions in spaces where it is safe to do so.
When I went through confirmation, it was with the group I had been in Sunday School with for the last six years. It was the last time I was with any particular group of people for such an extended period of time besides my immediate family. Even our girl scout troop was only together for five years. And I wonder why I don’t have concrete ideas of permanency. I haven’t even been with my husband that long yet.
Anyway. As I was saying. Confirmation.
I learned about the church, worship formats, Wesleyan heritage, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, Welch’s Grape Juice, and other Methodist factoids. The class had a journal that I remember using for at least four months. We went on a Confirmation Retreat to St. Simons Island and Savannah, Georgia where we learned about John Wesley and the birthplace of Methodist in South Georgia. (Not exactly the way it happened… but South Georgia is pretty proud that Wesley walked under the Live Oaks and through the Spanish Moss there.)
All of our work and class-time culminated in a service of Confirmation during the Main Eleven O’clock Worship Service. We were all supposed to dress in white and sit together with our mentors on the very front row and then go up and kneel at the altar while we were confirmed before all the church. I didn’t have anything to wear, and my mother was still in her ‘make a dress for Kathy rather than go buy one’ phase. Good white dress material is hard to find. However, my very best friend growing up had lost her grandmother a year or two before then, and she still had some of the fabric from her collection. In the collection was a beautiful white fabric that hid a tint of purple depending on how you looked at it in the light. My mother took that fabric and made a beautiful dress out of it for me to wear when I was confirmed.
I still have that dress. It’s in the bottom of a drawer somewhere or in my collection of dress-up clothes, and I know it doesn’t fit anymore. It is still a really nice dress. I have been saving it for something. I don’t want to give it away. I want to keep it for my daughter, perhaps, or make a baptismal gown out of it for my children, or make a quilt out of it for my children. My children, of course, that I don’t have yet. I have moved that dress at least seven times since I grew out of it if not more.
I wore this dress for the first time that auspicious Sunday when I was confirmed. Kneeling at the altar, celebrating with my family, parents, sister, aunts and uncles, mentor Nancy, and fellow confirmands, I was celebrated as a full member of my church. As the Senior Minister and other teachers laid hands over me and prayed for me and my faith journey, I remember that moment as special, even if I don’t exactly remember all the details.
I would leave that church in a few short months because my father was being re-appointed. I went back a few times whenever we were visiting my grandparents, but my membership had moved on. The most recent time I went to worship at that church was for my Grandmother’s Memorial service. I read Isaiah 35 in the midst of the service which was a celebration of Janet’s life, love, ministry, and service in her church, community, and family. My membership began at that church, I was baptized at that church, confirmed when I returned, and now I could share a small part of my ministry with the gathered community present in worship.
Now I have been entered into a different membership. Friday, June 20th I was commissioned as a Provisional Elder in my conference of the United Methodist Church. Now, for those who are outside the process, this can get quite confusing, but, it provisionally places my membership in the conference, beyond the local church. In effect, it extends the mission of the church by naming me as a member of the gathered community rather than a specific church family.
Part of the commissioning service includes the Bishop laying hands on each individual being commissioned and praying over them by name. After examining us by asking us questions about our beliefs and willingness to serve the United Methodist Church, Bishop Goodpaster pressed his hands on my shoulders and invoked the Holy Spirit to be present and poured out over my ministry, sending me out to “proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God, and to equip the church for ministry, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
My commissioning continues my call from my confirmation. From the laying of hands and the invoking of the Trinity at my baptism, through the confirming presence of the Spirit in my youth, to my submission to the call of God for me to be a pastor, God has been working in my life through others so that I can fulfill my call as a servant to the Church in God’s world.
I didn’t necessarily feel any different after the Commissioning service was over, but I did feel a great sense of relief along with a continued sense of responsibility to the Church. I don’t have to appear before the Board again this coming March, but now I have begun a new journey of discernment and growth.
Part of me still wishes I could have it more simple: wear a white dress and celebrate my faith. But my faith begs to be lived, not merely celebrated. God calls me to wrestle with the Word and help to build the Body in faith. It is a weighty call. I shall be courageous.
PS. Turns out I found that dress… and can put it on… kinda. Don’t worry. It doesn’t actually fit. Thought I’d share anyway. Sorry for the wrinkles. Check out those puffy sleeves!