“I just hope that it will help me start to build a personal relationship with Jesus and God because it’s just a really hard thing to start if you’re just thinking about it by yourself and it’s really good to connect with people and to try to build on that throughout your life. So I feel like it’s really a start or more deep thinking about religion. Like not just go to class, get confirmed, and be done, but it’s really the start of making your religion the center of your life and really helping it drive you.”
—Teen Confirmand, St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Colorado Springs
While the question I get asked most frequently about confirmation relates to curricula, resources are rarely the key to effective programs. What I have found in listening to the stories of teens, parents, and program leaders from congregations around the country that are providing powerful ministry with young people is the importance of relationships. It is most often the relationships rather than the content that equip young people to claim their own call to follow Jesus.
Confirmation – when a Christian claims their relationship with God and place in the community of the church with the help of the Holy Spirit – is perhaps best expressed through relationship, in walking with and learning from each other. As we take a fresh look at the confirmation process in the Episcopal Church, intergenerational mentoring relationships can help young people to claim their full participation in the body of Christ and enrich the faith lives of entire congregations.
When Jesus teaches his disciples about their task as Christians in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he does not present a theological treatise but instead he shares a story of a person who cared for a hurting and neglected neighbor and then tells his followers to “go and do likewise.” While our default thinking about confirmation preparation typically involves questions of content and curriculum, social science research backs up Jesus’ teaching methods. That research shows that learned spiritual behaviors, such as compassion, forgiveness, or devotion, come from seeing those behaviors modeled by trusted people with whom they have a lasting relationship. This modeling of care for the other, illustrated by mentors in their care for confirmands, also teaches confirmands that we are not independent Christians, but part of an interdependent body of Christ. Christians cannot be followers of Jesus alone.
As a model of incarnational discipleship, which is supported by both our scriptural tradition and social science research, mentoring allows adult members of the congregation to live more fully into their own baptismal call. They are given the time and space to share their lives, their stories and their brokenness with young people who are in the process learning to claim their own embodied faith and identity. The passing down of faith from one generation to the next enriches the faith-lives of both the confirmand and the mentor, which then enriches the whole church.
Mentoring embodies the spiritual practices and teachings of faith traditions and, as part of confirmation preparation, helps equip young people to “go and do likewise.” Before embarking on a mentoring program, churches need to explore the best practices suggested by secular mentoring research. One organization that has been doing this kind of research for 25 years is the National Mentoring Partnership. Its goal is providing mentoring programs the tools that “deliver on the promise of being a powerful driver of support and opportunity for young people of all ages.”
The partnership suggests the following six best practices for any mentoring program involving youth to maximize positive outcomes:
- RECRUITMENT: Recruit appropriate mentors and mentees by realistically describing the program’s aims and expected outcomes.
- SCREENING: Screen prospective mentors to determine whether they have the time, commitment, and personal qualities to be a safe and effective mentor. Similarly, screen prospective mentees and their parents or guardians about whether they have the time, commitment, and desire to be effectively mentored.
- TRAINING: Train prospective mentors, mentees, and mentees’ parents (or legal guardians or responsible adult) in the basic knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to build an effective and safe mentoring relationship using culturally appropriate language and tools.
- MATCHING AND INITIATING: Match mentors and mentees, and initiate the mentoring relationship using strategies likely to increase the likelihood that mentoring relationships will endure and be effective.
- MONITORING AND SUPPORT: Monitor mentoring relationship milestones and child safety and support matches through ongoing advice, problem-solving, training, and access to resources for the duration of each relationship.
- CLOSURE: Facilitate bringing the match to closure in a way that affirms the contributions of the mentor and mentee and offers them the opportunity to prepare for closure and process the experience. (National Mentoring Partnership, 2015)
Several commonly-used confirmation curricula, such as My Faith, My Life, Making Disciples, and Confirm not Conform, already incorporate mentoring and offer a sturdy structure that follows these best practices for holistic and embodied teaching of faith and discipleship.
Intergenerational mentoring makes sense of confirmation, this “rite without a theology,” empowering young people to claim their full participation in the body of Christ and enriching the faith lives of all who participate in them. As mentors and mentees walk together on the journey toward the owned discipleship of confirmation, they invite the whole church, from generation to generation, into the understanding that confirmation is an invitation into a fuller relationship with God and each other.
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Winter 2017, Special Issue – Youth Confirmation, Vol. 29, No. 2, page 12-13