Exactly six years ago today, Chickadee became a member of God’s family through the Sacrament of Baptism, and Turkey and Bunny were confirmed and received the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time. That year, April 1 was Palm Sunday, which was exciting, but it’s even more exciting to celebrate those anniversaries today on Easter Sunday!
I couldn’t not think of this exchange from Gilmore Girls this morning in church while Moose was being confirmed. I was pretty close to blubbering!
Sookie St. James: Not crying, right?
Lorelai Gilmore: Not crying. Keeping our cool so we don’t miss anything.
Sookie St. James: Tears get in your eyes.
Lorelai Gilmore: And you miss things.
Sookie St. James: So we’re not crying.
Lorelai Gilmore: Not crying.
Sookie St. James: [to Jackson] Not crying.
Jackson Belleville: Not crying.
Jackson Belleville: [to Luke] Not crying.
Luke Danes: What?
Lorelai Gilmore: No crying.
Luke Danes: I’m not crying.
Sookie St. James: Uh, oh …
Lorelai Gilmore: Hang in there.
Sookie St. James: Not crying.
Lorelai Gilmore: Crying a little.
Sookie St. James: Crying a little, but not blubbering. That’s what we meant when we said no crying. No blubbering.
Sookie St. James: On the verge of blubbering here.
Jackson Belleville: Not doing too well myself.
Lorelai Gilmore: [to Luke] Not you, too.
Luke Danes: I’m blubbering. You’re freaks!
Today was Moose’s Confirmation Day. He has worked so hard on memory work and sermon reports for the last two years, and has attended class faithfully every Thursday after school. We are so proud of him, and it was very exciting to see him confirm the faith that was given to him in his baptism, and receive the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time this morning!
In addition to being Confirmation Day, it was also World Autism Awareness Day. We made sure to have plenty of blue at our party, from the cake to the table runner, and even the plates and napkins. Many of our friends and family were able to join us, and it was a very fun time!
Moose was child number four to be confirmed…we’ll only celebrate this particular milestone one more time!
Moose’s Confirmation Day is rapidly approaching. I only wish that everyone in our congregation could know how hard he has worked to make it to this point.
I have some experience in the confirmation department, starting with the fact that I remember how much work my own confirmation classes, even though they were over 20 years ago now, were. I remember the sermon reports and memory work and service projects and classes…and I remember how much we complained about doing it all.
I have taught confirmation to two different grade levels at two different churches, as well. I got to hear the complaints about how much work it was, and how unfair it was that I expected so much, from the teacher’s point-of-view.
And more recently, I’ve helped four of my five children work their ways through a two-year catechesis program at our church. I have seen them each work, and sometimes struggle, and occasionally complain themselves as they went through the process.
I have never seen a student work as hard as Moose has.
When Turkey and Bunny began catechesis in 2010, at ages seven-and-a-half and six, respectively, it wasn’t without its challenges, mostly in the form of sermon reports. Their work was all over the place, literally and figuratively, and every week, I would sit down with them after church, and help them untangle their notes so they could turn in a completed sermon report that was both legible and coherent. Catechesis with children of such a young age is an adventure, but extra rewarding in its own way.
Ladybug had her own struggles when she began catechesis at age seven-and-a-half, again in the area of sermon reports. This time, the difficulty was mostly due to her dyslexia, and while her thoughts were fairly well-organized, her handwriting and spelling, especially at the beginning, were rough, although she worked really, really hard at it.
Moose actually tried to start catechesis with Ladybug in 2014, but he just wasn’t ready. So instead, he began his first year of class in 2015, just before he turned 10. He has had to fight every step of the way. The memory work, that came so easily to my other children, has been a major struggle for him. I think this is partly because I have always required the memorization of Bible verses, hymns, and poems in my homeschool, so the concept of memorizing the catechism was nothing new to his siblings. Moose, however, has never been required to do any memorization like that at his school, so it does not come naturally. And for someone who has struggled with speech, ever since he learned to speak, the physical act of saying the memory work has also been a huge challenge. He is determined, though, and has kept at it every week, even when it frustrated him (and to be honest, me as well, sometimes), and has faithfully said it every Thursday.
Sermon reports have been challenging for him in ways that were different from how they challenged his siblings. The physical act of writing isn’t easy for Moose, even though he has very nice handwriting and excellent spelling, and trying to keep up with a sermon is very difficult for him. Staying focused on one thing for so long, when there is so much else to look at in church, is also a huge challenge. Our pastor very kindly found a new kind of sermon report form partway through catechesis that made keeping up with them much easier for Moose, and he works very hard to fill one out most Sundays, but it still isn’t easy for him.
Even the act of attending catechesis has sometimes been a huge challenge. Neurotypical children struggle with paying attention to one more thing in the afternoon or evening following a long, often exhausting, day of school. Multiply that by, I don’t know, a zillion, and you can begin to understand how it has been for Moose. School can be an overwhelming place…bright, oftentimes loud, and draining socially. And then to go almost immediately to catechesis, where he has to continue to focus, and especially on days where he has things like book reports and standardized tests hanging over his head…I really wish there was a way for people to understand how draining that has been for him, but how diligent he has been in spite of it. There have been days where I’m not really sure he’s been paying attention in class (although he almost always is), and days where I’m sure he’d rather be anywhere else, but he has never complained about going. In fact, he always wants to make sure we get to church early, because he can’t stand the thought of being late to class.
So I wish that when he stands up there on April 2, in front of our congregation, and confirms his faith, and receives the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time, everyone in the church could know how hard he’s worked; how much harder it has been for him than for any other child I’ve ever known. I wish they could appreciate his dedication to studying the Catechism, and to doing all the things he needed to do. I want them to know how important doing this has been to him…he simply wouldn’t have done it at all if it wasn’t.
Confirmation Day, on April 2, falls on World Autism Awareness Day. This is a departure from our church’s regular Confirmation Day on Palm Sunday. There were scheduling conflicts that pushed it up a week, and I can only assume that God had a hand in that, and did it for Moose…allowing his Confirmation Day to fall on his day, a day where we already celebrate who he is because of and in spite of autism.
In addition to being Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion of Christ, today was also Confirmation Sunday, and it was Ladybug’s turn to be confirmed and receive the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time! She has worked very hard on memory work and sermon reports for the last two years, and we’re very proud of her!
After church, we came home and got ready for her party. We had candles in her favorite color (purple), her favorite punch, and even more cake. It’s all cake all the time in the Markel household this month! She was thrilled that so many members of our church family were able to stop by and celebrate with her!
This was a big milestone, and a very exciting day for our little Ladybug!
Let me be Thine forever,
My faithful God and Lord;
Let me forsake Thee never
Nor wander from Thy Word,
Lord, do not let me waver,
But give me steadfastness,
And for such grace forever
Thy holy name I’ll bless.
Lord Jesus, my salvation,
My light, my life divine,
My only consolation,
O make me wholly Thine!
For Thou hast dearly bought me
With blood and bitter pain.
Let me, since Thou hast sought me,
Eternal life obtain.
And Thou, O Holy Spirit,
My comforter and guide,
Grant that in Jesus’ merit
I always may confide,
Him to the end confessing
Whom I have known by faith.
Give me Thy constant blessing
And grant a Christian death. Lutheran Service Book #689
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.