Towards the previous post…

… we have the following:  I’m starting my role as a confirmation mentor today.  At my church, 8th and 9th graders go through Confirmation, which involves a class (twice a month for 2 hrs or so, with homework!), concludes with membership, and includes meeting with a mentor at least once a month through the 6 month process.

Hauerwas and Willimon write about some experiences reformulating a church’s confirmation process in Resident Aliens.  The folks responsible for organizing the process asked themselves what the goal of the process was.  Answers like having the confirmands ‘join the church,’ ‘learn about the church,’ ‘learn about Christ’ were found unsatisfactory.  

Then someone, an ordinary Christian, said, “What we really want out of Confirmation is about a dozen youth who, in their adult lives, come to resemble John Black.”  She had named one of the “saints” of our congregation, an ordinary person who had lived his life in an extraordinarily Christian way. (p. 104)

This caught on, the point being that we want to produce disciples, those who know Christ, rather than know about Christ, who are involved in a way of life together, more than in discovering assent to  beliefs.  Their use of the word “ordinary” is very deliberate – chosen against a notion of ethics primarily done by the individual, needing the effort of a great man or woman.  Instead, ethics rightly done can only be done in community where it is precisely ‘ordinariness’ – the characteristic of those consistently faithful to the community’s way of life – that instructs us:

Learning to be moral is much like learning to speak a language.  You do not teach someone a language … by first teaching them the rules of grammar.  The way most of us learn to speak a language is by listening to others speak and then imitating them.  Most of the time we act as if morality is a matter of rules to be learned.  We seem to think that after we have learned all the right rules (Think for yourself.  First be sure you’re right, then go ahead.  Let your conscience be your guide.  Abortion is wrong. Love your neighbor), we can act morally.

No. You learn to speak by being initiated into a community of language, by observing your elders, by imitating them.  The rules of grammar come later, if at all, as a way of enabling you to nourish and sustain the art of speaking well.  Ethics, as an academic discipline, is simply the task of assembling reminders that enable us to remember how to speak and to live the language of the gospel.  Ethics can never take the place of the community any more than rules of grammar can replace the act of speaking the language.  Ethics is always a secondary enterprise and is parasitic to the way people live in a community.

So the church can do nothing more “ethical” than expose us to significant examples of Christian living.  In fact, our ethical reflection, at its best, is nothing more than reflection on significant examples. (p. 97)

The Confirmation program that was developed relied on mentorship, and the basic philosophy that we learn by looking over the shoulder of a significant example.  Required activities for the mentoring pair included:

  • reading and reacting to Luke together
  • attending and reflecting on services together
  • looking at and discussing the church budget together
  • attending a committee meeting together
  • explaining “Why I like being a (insert denomination) Christian”
  • attending a funeral and a wedding, and discussing where God was in these services
  • volunteering for at least 15hrs together

I kid you not, dear reader, not 24 hours after reading this, I was asked by one of our church staff (who, I later found out, was scraping the bottom of the barrel for volunteers) to be a mentor.  Excited enough at these prospects to suppress my worries about being a significant example, I said yes. At our meeting last week we were told we were to help the confirmands explore their faith, we were not to tell them what to believe, we were to help them talk out their own questions and find their own way…

Bummer.  So my plan now is to proceed on the Hauerwas-Willimon model and ignore what I was told.  I also need to figure out if activities like those described above are already being done through the confirmation class itself, and how many I can talk my confirmand and his parents into. Suggestions are welcome. Stay tuned…

UPDATE:  As I wrote this, he called me up to push our meeting back to next week.  Indicating, of course, that the greatest threat to all of this is not the dominion of principalities and powers, but the tyranny of the flute recital.

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