What Do These Words Mean?
by Louise Westfall
Every young person who completes the confirmation journey at Central is expected to prepare a personal faith statement, regardless of whether or not they choose to be confirmed. These never fail to move me for their honesty, thoughtfulness, and originality. None of them sound like the Apostles’ Creed, and they are just as likely to describe the questions and doubts that remain as to say with the certainty of Martin Luther “Here I stand.”
And that’s a good thing, I think. The word “confirmation” comes from Latin “to set the heart.” And these young people have done that; they have set their hearts…but not in concrete. There’s too much life ahead to be anchored now in one theological perspective. Their faith will be shaped as they continue to grow and experience the heady joy of full sails as well as the challenges of stormy seas. I hope they write a hundred faith statements before their final destination. You and me too! Far too many of us adults forget that confirmation is not “graduation” from learning to be Jesus’ followers, but one step in a never-ending journey. So first I want to say to these ten young people, thank you taking this step. It’s been a joy to walk with you. And to the rest of us, let their example inspire us to consider what we have set our hearts upon now, a little farther down the road.
As I read and re-read these faith statements, several things stood out for me, which I’d like to share using the words of the confirmands themselves. The first is that these precious young people are coming of age in a particularly challenging time. It’s impossible to overstate the consequences of the pandemic on their lives. Some have had Covid themselves; they’ve experienced Zoom classrooms and cancelled field trips, mask mandate and vaccination controversies and quarantine. Pervasive gun violence and mass shootings have shaped their young lives; they know what it is to have lockdowns and active shooter drills. Some of them participated in peaceful demonstrations for racial reckoning and justice. They have grown up with social media and are savvy about its potential for both benefit and harm. Some have already been touched by the death of a close family member, parental divorce, mental health issues; and every single one of them came to the confirmation journey with questions.
Maybe it’s the words that kept emerging in the statements; words like “stress” and “hard stuff” and “suffering” and “fear” that make me believe the church community’s role in confirmation is more important than ever. All the young people expressed appreciation for the mentors who shared this journey with them. Many of the mentors remarked on how much the confirmands had taught them. Friendships were formed. Someone has noted that faith isn’t so much “taught” as it is “caught,” and these youth have had some good pitchers. Thank you to these special men and women who gave heart and soul and time to “be with” these youth, persistently scheduling around their full lives.
Far too many of us adults forget that confirmation is not “graduation” from learning to be Jesus’ followers, but one step in a never-ending journey.
But even if you weren’t a mentor or a prayer partner, don’t ever underestimate your role in creating a community of caring and acceptance, where faith can be tended. How are you doing? Well, listen:
I believe the church is a place where there is no judgment, where people can feel comforted and safe. As a family we did service projects which taught me about giving to others that had less than I had. Right now in my faith journey I do not believe in god, [but] I still feel like the church helped me grow.
I was baptized at Central and have been coming here my whole life. I love this church because of all the amazing people who call Central their spiritual home. All these people have helped teach me and guide me on my spiritual journey.
There is a place, a safe, warm place, where we go to tend our fire. It’s not just there for when it’s out, it’s there for us when we feel. We can feel anything there, and we can speak to our fire, and to our fire-giver and to the first flame. Anyone can come–regardless of flame color, regardless of how we tend it, regardless if we even know that our flame is really there.
At Central I found a new perspective…I learned that not only do we have to try to look for light and meaning in our own lives, but to help our community find these things as well.
I am not ready to join the church; I have more questions and will seek for more answers. [But I have] deep gratitude for Central and its kind and loving atmosphere that allows me to choose my own spiritual path. All the memories I have at Central have been filled with laughter and joy throughout my life.
[I cannot join the church at this time, because I am not sure of my beliefs]. I’m so glad I was raised in this church, for the community that it offers, the connections and friendships I’ve made, the joyous people I’ve met, all of it.
It’s clear that Central nurtures people of all ages by holding space for their questions, doubts, and unorthodox viewpoints. In the final analysis, what could provide more fertile ground for faith than a community less concerned about people knowing the “right beliefs” and more concerned about people knowing their essential goodness and how beloved they are by God–demonstrated through love and acceptance by God’s people? Keep up the good work. And when you’re asked to be a mentor or prayer partner, please say yes.
To what did these young people set their hearts? This:
I believe God wants the church to create a home for everyone, and its people to help those around them who might be in need.
I believe God wants us to make mistakes so we can learn from them–just like in the Old Testament text: “a time for everything” …God wants us to learn and grow and create beautiful paths for the future.
Today I would like to accept and acknowledge my faith in God and the Bible. I believe Christ is the foundation to my religion. I believe he is someone I can speak to and ask for help through prayer. He opens up new chapters of my life in faith and other aspects of my life. I feel God shows all people love and compassion, and helps us show others love and compassion.
I believe God wants all of us to make a change for the better…I will use the talents God has given me to make an impact in our community.
I hold my fire…and want to use it how I can. I will share my fire, my light, my warmth, my hope.
I am far from finished with my faith journey and still have a lot of work left before I finally understand fully what I believe, but I think I’m on my way there.
I plan to nurture my continued spiritual growth by keeping an open mind and staying open to new ideas and new possibilities as well as continuing to grow in my life.
Friends, what do these words mean?
They are the North Star to guide these beloved young people into the wild world; and—by God’s grace–the one by which they will find their way home.