The nine teenagers stood in a line, each draped in a white garment, facing the altar. “You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism?” the pastor asked. “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me,” each responded.
I sat in the congregation and watched as parents, baptismal sponsors and other family members stood behind the ninth-graders of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Wichita, Kan. The nine knelt and were blessed. Hands rested on their shoulders, reassuring them of their support.
Like countless young people before them, they were reaffirming baptismal promises made years before. The rite of confirmation is in many respects an act of coming of age.
Cultures vary in how they prepare young children for the duties and responsibilities of adulthood. In bat and bar mitzvahs, Jewish girls and boys are recognized as adults and are personally responsible for following Jewish commandments and laws. In Hispanic cultures quinceanera, with origins in Mayan and Aztec civilizations, celebrates the 15th birthday of a young woman. A quinceanera party includes a candle-lighting ceremony, a spiritually significant event that also marks her entrance into adulthood. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters in some African tribes separately go into seclusion so parents can teach their children about their heritage and prepare them for greater responsibilities.
Regardless of the culture, a rite of passage traditionally marks a turning loose of childhood and taking on more adult responsibilities. But in American society, rites of passage often fail to lead young people into responsible adulthood. Instead they make a U-turn and head back to adolescence, often with the encouragement of adults. ... For too many adults, embracing adolescence has become a desirable and acceptable lifestyle. Illicit relationships, rude behavior, unconcern about what’s good for kids—their own and others—not only have set poor examples but have contributed to society’s ills.
Is it any wonder that many young people, despite their vows to God, reject the faith of their parents or simply drift away? Why should I keep my promises, they ask, if adults don’t keep theirs?
That Sunday I thought about the families, sponsors and those of us in the congregation: What is our responsibility to these and other young people? Are we living up to what’s expected of us, what we’ve vowed to do?
Yes, those nine teens will have doubts and disappointments that will test the limits of their faith. But supporting hands behind them—in their community of faith and beyond—have an obligation to show them how to live with faithfulness to their vows, service to others and forgiveness when they fail. It’s the complementary part of confirmation vows that can easily be overlooked. It’s the obligation adults have, regardless of their faith, to live responsibly and with integrity.
As the confirmands knelt, the pastor prayed that the gifts of grace—wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord, and joy in God’s presence—would increase in each of them. They had vowed their faithfulness: “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.”
So may it be for them, I silently prayed, and so may it be for us.
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