Miters and smiling adolescents wearing misshapen ties and newly purchased dresses flooded my Facebook feed. It seemed to be confirmation season. My husband and I were both fastening our clerical collars as we prepped to leave the house and return to the church for the afternoon’s confirmation liturgy. The mom guilt combined with the clergy parent guilt was seeping in, and I looked over at my husband and queried, “Are you sad?” Without hesitation he said no, and then paused to ask me, “Why, are you?” I checked in with myself and realized that I was not sad, but admitted that I hoped Elias’ decision would not set a precedent for the rest of his siblings.
You see, our oldest child had chosen not to be confirmed. We suspected this might be the case as Elias has always been a deep thinker; reading voraciously, asking questions, pursuing his ideals with integrity and conviction, and during the pandemic he declared he was agnostic. There were at least three years when he regularly wrote letters to the head of Hershey corporation asking them to end child slavery. He canvassed the neighborhood on two different Halloweens trying to convince people to buy fair-trade chocolate. His ability to research an issue, combined with his intensity and focus, have always been defining characteristics.
When the discussion of confirmation came up, we told him he had to participate in the confirmation program so that he could make an informed, adult decision. So, he wrestled with the three legged stool. He reported back to the bishop his ethical dilemma around capitalism and student scholarships, incorporating scripture, tradition, and reason into his argument. He attended the retreat along with the other kids, eating s’mores and sharing aloud faith journeys.
And yes, deep down I hoped one of the adult mentors might have convinced him to invite the Holy Spirit into his life in a formal way. Or maybe even his good friend Josh with whom he plays guitar, shares song writing, and has walked neck and neck alongside as they served as acolytes–maybe Josh’s decision to be confirmed would rub off on him. Alas, when we were preparing the confirmation certificates my son affirmed his agnosticism and his particular struggle with Trintarian theology.
A few people asked me if I was embarrassed as a priest not to have my son confirmed. And, I never felt embarrassed. In fact, my husband said to me after the bishop laid hands on eleven other people, “I’m proud of Elias. He did everything right. He attended the program, participated meaningfully, and he supported the other confirmands in their process of discernment.” He served as a lector at the confirmation, as that is one of his many spiritual gifts, even if he doesn’t wish to fully embrace the fact that he is spiritually gifted.
I know that through baptism God has claimed Elias as his own. He was sealed by the Holy Spirit, one person of the Trinity (his own stumbling block) and marked as Christ’s own forever. As a priest I communicate that baptism is an indissoluble bond with God. We may not always turn towards God, but we are grafted to God forever through the sacrament of baptism. And, so it goes, Elias has been given so many gifts and he will use them to glorify God.
The presence of one of his godfathers at the confirmation was a reminder that we love Elias as he is. His godfather drove six hours to support the boy who decided to say not now, or not yet — or maybe even not ever! This gift of presence reminded me of that indissoluble bond of baptism. His godfather took vows to raise him in the faith, and chose to drink Mountain Dew to stay awake through the hills and highways of West Virginia, so that he could stand alongside the godchild he promised to support when we poured water on his head and sealed him with the Holy Spirit so many years ago.
The Holy Spirit has begun a good work in him and I am absolutely convinced that our prayers were answered at baptism when we asked God to “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” Indeed, Elias may have chosen not to be confirmed, but he has been graced by the Holy Spirit since the day his forehead was splashed with water.
Doris Buchanan Johnson says
As a priest overseeing our confirmation class over some years, I found too many parents taking this on as their own failure, accusing the church for not making them go through with their own confirmation.
Our confirmands went through six years of Journey to Adulthood prior to their confirmation classes and, yes, they were told that this was their adult consent to the promises their parents made in the early childhood. We also asked all of them to write to the bishop as to their reasons for or against continuing (a true surprise to him!) my iwn daughter was one of those who chose against continuing, yet a decade kater, she led her unchurched spouse to Jesus and both were confirmed . God as always in the lead!
Samantha Vincent-Alexander says
I love that his godparent still showed up. What a beautiful reminder of the promises of baptism and an inquiring and discerning heart!
Thank you for this beautiful essay. I read this as a Mom of two sons who are now 24 and 21 and who have not answered the call to return to church. They were happy participants as Sunday Schoolers, VBS campers, Youth Singers and Chime Ringers, Acolytes, Mission Trip Volunteers and even were confirmed…but alas, no interest in finding a church home. Our elder son has visited a few churches in his area and reports that “even the cool churches are judgmental and unwelcoming”
My hope, of course, is that their growing awareness of the imperfection of the church will not keep them away forever. The report from our sons is that the churches they have visited are boring or old, some have “bad music” – one said the clergy “wasn’t really feeling it.”
Authenticity is important to these kids. At our church we have had kids follow the same path as your son. They do the work, study the confirmation curriculum, attend the lock-in and share in the service project and then say “no” – not to God, really, because they still turn up at church, and participate.
I think they are saying no so that the church gets better.
We MUST listen to these young adults who are saying NO.
These young adults believe Church can be more – a life of faith is much more than saying yes to a Bishop.
These young adults are the future of the church. A resounding NO is a valuable gift to all of us, if we choose to understand how the Spirit is working in these kids to help us all grow closer to God.
Wishing your son all good things for his journey – and sending you a thank you for raising such an incredible son.
Tim Gavin says
I love this authentic and honest post. I also admire how you gave Elias room to question and discern his faith. I would be sadder as a parent and as a priest if my child just went through the motions and entered confirmation simply as a cultural milestone rather than a confirmation of faith. I ran confirmation classes knowing that some of the students were only there because their parents demanded it. That to me is more disheartening than a child who makes an informed decision to say, “No.”