Twelve years old. Weekly Saturday morning Confirmation class, 1964. Pastor (the only name the kids ever knew for him) in black pants and black clergy shirt, looking like little less than God Almighty. He strode commandingly, back and forth, back and forth, in front of 45 anxious, insecure adolescents, lecturing. We sat in those hard, wooden, straight-backed chairs with the little 12”x12” writing arms attached, textbooks and written homework open. Even when we went on weekend Confirmation retreats at the Lutheran Bible Camp, the set-up was exactly the same. Nothing in the least bit casual about Confirmation. Better read that textbook, and take notes in class. Lots of notes. There would be a final exam at the end of the year. If you didn’t pass -- “B” or better -- you wouldn’t be Confirmed. “C” allowed one to take the exam again. Oh joy.
As he paced and lectured, he asked a question without even looking up. Being absolutely certain I knew the correct answer, I raised my hand. Since he wasn’t looking, and no one else raised their hand, I finally and quite confidently announced my answer.
“NO!” he said as he turned on his heal and pointed his amazingly large finger directly at me. Then he held his Bible straight out at arm’s length and looked me straight in the eye. I withered inside like a grape into a raisin as he said again, “NO!” Turning again on his heal, he asked the class the question a second time. No one dared raise their hand. This was remedied by our having to listen to the same lecture a second time. All of it. When this was completed, every single one of us knew The Right Answer.
Miraculously, when the final exam came, I correctly answered enough of the questions about the Bible and Lutheran doctrine, and could recite out loud the whole of Luther’s Small Catechism (including the meanings, of course), that I was confirmed as an Officially Approved Lutheran.
At age 13, “being confirmed,” as we called it then, was all about The Right Answers. It had very little to do with belief, or faith, a growing relationship with Jesus, or flat-out awe toward God. Actually, for most of us, it was really all about the rite of passage into the adult world by being allowed to wear girdles, nylons, and high heels (girls); and a man’s suit and tie which the boys had to learn to tie properly themselves (boys) -- most of which was hidden by the modest uniformity of white robes with wilting red carnations pinned firmly on front. On Confirmation Day, we were told that we were now adult members of the church -- though we were still treated like pesky kids and couldn’t vote on any church matters. Nevertheless, we were in the congregational big leagues.
Actually, just the high school Luther League.
This is typically when Lutheran kids and their families stop coming to church. Parents are confident that, now being an Officially Approved Lutheran, their kid’s got religion. Parental duty fulfilled.
(more to come)