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 eight 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. They know what it is to have lockdowns and active shooter drills. 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 parent or grandparent. Here are some of their thoughts:
Kendrick Castillo was a high schooler, not four years older than me. His school was attacked by a school shooter and the shooter came into his class. Kendrick tackled the shooter and in doing so saved the lives of his classmates. Kendrick got shot and lost his life… this was not the first time I’d heard about school shootings in Colorado. According to the Denver Post, we’re #10 in shootings since 1999. That scares me. How can there be an all benevolent and protective God if terrible things still happen? Didn’t Jesus sacrifice himself so that we don’t have to … so that Kendrick didn’t have to? I have come to believe that Jesus is the representation of people like Kendrick Castillo who give up their lives out of the pure holiness of their hearts in order to save other people.
I have found in confirmation, that God is present. He is, always will be with us, and around us. This year my grandfather grew very ill. When I first found out about this I went to write him a card. As I thought about what to say, I remembered the verse I’d memorized at my school, and realized it was a perfect verse to tell my grandfather. “Do not fear for I am with you … I will strengthen you and help you.” I feel God directly told me these words in order to comfort my grandfather near his death.
I believe humans can use the peace and love that God bring … to help deal with their anger and frustration and things that we worry about daily. God’s presence is very peaceful, calm and relaxing, helps you learn from your mistakes, and helps you with your daily struggles…
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?
Maybe it’s the words that kept emerging in the statements; words like “stress” and “hard stuff” and “suffering” and “bad emotions” 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.
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 feel like church is a safe and great place to be and I have people who love and support me there.
In my faith journey now, I believe that church is a place for people to come as their second home, a place where people can go to feel welcome regardless of race or any other distinguishing factors.
Church is a place for worship and a comforting place to visit. Our church specifically gives back to people in need.
The church is the best community to listen to your worries and questions.
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 Emma contacts you to be a mentor or prayer partner, please say yes.
To what did these young people set their hearts? This:
God gave me the gift of being athletic, determined, creative. Every time I use these skills, I am honoring God.
I believe Jesus was inspiring, kind and courageous and that he always loves and accepts people who are broken, tired, and need his love, hope and help. I also believe that Jesus has even more lessons to teach us for a better and deeper understanding of life.
I give my faith to God and to my church community at this time in my life. I dedicate myself to being a caring person. Whenever I see people, I give a smile, love everyone for who they are, express myself with my art and my words, and help those who speak a different language who are in need. I strive to be loyal, and to help others even if they don’t seem nice, because they still need help.
I believe I will try to help others work through tough times and help lead them to success.
I will learn more about God and ask questions.
I don’t have to believe all the things in the Bible in order to have faith. I will look for people who represent Jesus; and support my faith in church and the many wonderful people it embraces.
Faith is definitely a way that I want to live my life, and spread the gospel when I am at church or in Denver, as well as when I am anywhere on the globe.
I will join this church and participate in activities which help support the community. I may not attend every Sunday service, but I will be present in this church through mission trips and community service.
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.