Ok, I went a bit crazy talking about Altar Calls. I thought I went way overboard, but thankfully my friend Cindy has kept me grounded and let me know I didn't go incredibly overboard. I must say, having an altar call at a funeral shocked me. I understand and appreciate people getting the chance to discuss how Christ has changed their lives, but a funeral is all about the person who now gets to enjoy eternity with God. In my case I hope it's a big party for people.
So, if you kick altar calls out of the running, how do we have conversations about Christ and when is it appropriate to make a public commitment to Him? How can we take the next step from simply showing up Sunday mornings and deciding to commit every action of our live to Christ?
A lot of protestant churches have huge baptism ceremonies. Adults make a commitment to wash away their sins through water (sometimes dunking their entire bodies in a lake or pool or something) and entering into a new life. Episcopalians and Catholics do this when you are a baby. We are born into sin but welcomed into a pure life with our birth sins washed away. For all intents and purposes we start life with a clean slate and with a recognition that the entire community, all Episcopalians in the world, will do whatever we can to raise the child to understand Christ's teachings.
The Episcopal and Catholic churches have something called Confirmation (yeah, it's got some longer official name, The Sacrament of Confirmation if you're curious). With us crazy Episcopalians it happens when you are pretty close to 16. At 16 you become an adult in the eyes of the church, though the Wikipedia article has far more details than I knew about it. Some adults who are new to the Episcopal Church also go through the process. Others attend simply to be reminded of what they agreed to so long ago.
In the Episcopal churches I've attended we have a weekend where we dive into church history and learn all about what it means to be Christian and an Episcopalian. Other churches have programs over the summer to get this information in. Catholic churches have years of this to make sure we really understand what we're getting ourselves into. There's one Sunday a year where the bishop (like a state representative, in our case Virginia has three of them, one will visit each year) comes and welcomes these confirmants (too many big words in the church, don't get me started on the terms used for people becoming a priest) into the Church community (Church with a big "C" meaning all Episcopal churches everywhere).
I've also attended a Bat Mitzvah (I only knew girls, boys get a Bar Mitzvah) which is similar to confirmation. Truthfully though, the Jews have this down far better than we do.
I'm beginning to think that we need to reinvent how we treat the sacrament of confirmation within the church.
Right now most teens I know go through the process because either
- Their parents are making them do it, or
- Their friends are doing it.
I know of a few people who really recognize and dive into the commitment they are making to Christ only to forget within a few years that they even made this life change. Many, many more, me included, don't even see it as a life change. It's another step we take because we're supposed to.
I wonder what it would be like if we changed that up. What if confirmation class was less about church history and more about what it means to fully live as a follower of Christ? What if every confirmant was required to spend 100 hours serving in the community? What if every confirmant was required to share their story of how Christ has changed their lives… with friends outside the church?
Jesus accepted each of us the moment that we accepted him. He's loved us unconditionally since the day we were born. What if confirmation was all about finding practical ways to understand His love and to share it with strangers, our friends and our enemies?
P.S. Someday I'd like to be a bishop for one reason only, because they get to wear cool purple shirts. Yeah, I only hope when god strikes me down He makes sure my family is safe a long way away from me.