“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” quipped George Bernard Shaw. And one way this illusion commonly happens is when we use a word, assuming everyone else understands the word the same way we do.
I wonder if this is something that happens in our congregations when we announce that people are getting confirmed. What do we want the word “confirmation” to convey to our hearers? I know that I want to convey respect, maturity, and the passing on of leadership. I want it to convey something significant about the participants’ life of faith. That's just me. What do you mean when you talk about confirmation?
And what are people in our congregations hearing when they hear the word “confirmation”? What images does it raise for them? Is the word active or passive? Positive or negative? Significant or immaterial? Does it bring back memories of meaningful conversations, or of going through the motions? Does confirmation give a person authority and self-determination, or is it something that simply should be done?
And how do these varied definitions and understandings of confirmation affect the way our congregations greet those who are confirmed? If by confirmation, we mean to give confirmands a greater level of authority and leadership and others don’t, how do these mixed messages affect those we confirm – and our whole congregation?
I think it might be a very interesting exercise, before you have your next confirmation, to ask your congregation directly: How would you define confirmation? What does it mean to you?
Perhaps this could be a Sunday forum, which will allow room for discussion. Or you could ask people to put cards with their definition in the offering plate to review and expound on further at a sermon or presentation. Or you may have another way to explore this topic.
But if you do explore what people mean by confirmation, I suspect you will find that when confirmation does roll around, the experience will be richer for your whole congregation. And the chances are better that communication will actually take place.