Turkey and Bunny recently began catechesis at our church. Watching their reactions to this process has caused me to reflect on my own confirmation experience, and I have to say, I like the way they’re doing it better. In fact, I’m coming to believe that younger catechesis, perhaps beginning somewhere between second and fourth grade, is better overall. I really like that our church, catechesis isn’t age-based; it’s on an individual basis, when the pastor, parents and child think the time is right. But I realize that not every church (especially larger congregations) can do everything on a one-on-one level, so I think it would be beneficial for more congregations to look into starting the catechesis process at an earlier age, for several reasons.
- First, is the obvious reason–not linking confirmation to graduation, which is a problem many churches, especially churches with attached dayschools, face. It’s quite tempting for a child to think that because a stage of their life is ending with a school, and their work at that particular institution is complete, the same must be true of church. This can end with children grudgingly attending church with their families, or refusing to go at all. Of course, the parents play a huge role here, but it makes the parents’ job easier if their children haven’t equated confirmation with graduation in the first place.
- Second, at a younger age, children are less likely to see classes at church as a chore. I remember when I was in confirmation class, my friends and I would pretty much have rather been anywhere else than at church. Maybe that’s simply a testament to my own immaturity at the time, but I think it’s fairly typical of junior high age children. They have so many commitments at that age, and school work takes up so much of their time, that the last thing they want to do is attend another class. Yes, they need to learn to make church a priority, no matter what else they have going on, but trying to emphasize that point at a tumultuous time in their lives when they’re feeling naturally rebellious is not the best way to accomplish that goal. But younger children aren’t that cynical yet–they still view learning as exciting, regardless of the subject material, and church is no different.
- Children are also more amenable to memorization at a younger age. Just like their excitement about learning, they tend to enjoy seeing just how much they can remember. Memorization is also easier for a younger child, because of the sponge-like nature of the child’s brain. It can be intimidating for young children to see how much memory work they have to do, but once they realize that they *can* do it, it’s been my experience that they approach memorization with an enthusiasm that isn’t usually seen in older children or adults.
- Younger children are also more likely to talk to their parents about what they’ve learned in catechesis, answer questions about what they’ve learned, and ask questions they may have. We all know how much junior high children like being in the same room with their parents, much less talking to them, but younger children haven’t yet felt that embarrassment, and they like to talk and share. This is a great opportunity for catechesis to enter the home, and involve the whole family in conversation and learning.
- It’s also beneficial to catch children before the hormone-filled years of junior high settle in. When trying to teach a group of junior high children, you realize that their focus is on who likes whom, what the latest fashions and hair styles are, and who has the most status. The changes that each child is experiencing can also wreak havoc on their ability to concentrate, make them self-conscious about asking or answering questions, and cause conflicts in relationships with other students in the class. Younger children don’t face as many of these problems, and are better able to focus on the true reason they are in class.
- Younger catechesis also helps children to see their role in their congregation from a young age, which in turn helps them to realize that belonging to a church is a life-long process, with every member of the body needed in order for the church to function. The longer you make children wait to become active in congregational life (even if it’s simple things like being an acolyte), the less likely they are to stay involved following confirmation. People, including children, need to know that they are needed in their church, and we should strive to encourage the fact that they are just as important to the body of Christ, and their individual church, as anybody else is, including adults.
- Beginning catechesis at a younger age also gives children an opportunity to get to know their pastor, other church workers, and possibly even elders and board members from early on. This helps them build relationships with trusted adults in the church, and again emphasizes that church is for people of *all* ages, and that there are many different ways they can serve in the church, whether they decide they would like to be on a board or committee someday, or if they realize that they themselves are being called to a career in church work.
- Finally, and most importantly, children should not be denied the opportunity to go through the catechesis process, and ultimately receive the Sacrament, simply because of their age. This goes back to my preference for catechesis on a case-by-case basis, but I think that if a child is ready to go through the classes at a young age, can understand the material, and complete the requirements, than he or she should absolutely be allowed to become a catechumen, regardless of age. As Lutherans we know that the Sacrament is all about what God does for us, anyway, so making restrictions on it based on age, rather than faith, seems completely contradictory to me. We should rejoice when a young child realizes his or her sins, and wants to receive the forgiveness that we as adults experience in the Lord’s Supper, rather than patting him on the head and telling him that he needs to wait until he is old enough.