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Churches find their own ways to move forward with Confirmation

Posted: May 6 2020 at 08:47 AM
Author: Diane Strzelecki, NIC Communications Specialist

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Kennilworth Union and other churches are choosing to hold Confirmation Service online.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and official restrictions regarding in-person gatherings, many NIC congregations and pastors have wholeheartedly continued their worship services, Bible studies, devotions, and/or prayer ministries in some form of online setting. While many are weighing the pros and cons of conducting an online confirmation service, some congregations have moved forward in creative “virtual” ways to honor this important rite of passage. 

The Rev. Katherine Paisley, senior pastor at First UMC in Oak Park, continued Confirmation classes as the pandemic unfolded, hoping to provide her youth with a sense of normalcy, and with the idea of celebrating Confirmation in a virtual setting. Some, like the Rev. Char Hoffmann, senior pastor at Antioch UMC, are considering waiting until small gatherings are allowed and creating a video for a wider audience. And some have decided to table the process for when church life is somewhat back to “normal.” 

For Paisley, doing things virtually has worked out really well. She shares the work of confirmation with her son Donny, Interim Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries. 

“As soon as this hit, we realized that we couldn’t finish up in person,” Paisley said, noting that her three students continued their Confirmation class via Zoom meetings with fun yet meaningful activities designed by Donny, who also serves as her technical expert. Despite not being able to meet for outings or breakfasts, the confirmands’ mentors stayed in touch with their students via text or phone calls and attended the Zoom meetings with them. 

“Moving into a virtual experience was fairly seamless for us, mainly because Donny helped me translate what we wanted to do for our class into the realm of Zoom,” Paisley said. “Our students have really bonded in the process.” 

While developing their online Confirmation service, the Paisleys wanted a similar type of experience as an in-person rite of Confirmation: it had to be interactive, participatory, and meaningful. “The kids needed to make their profession to the church and the church needed to respond with their profession of help,” Paisley said. “Also we wanted each confirmand to have a leadership role in the service along with their prayer partner/mentor.”

Oak Park’s Confirmation service held Sunday, May 4, also contained clips of interviews between the mentors and the students regarding what they have learned in class and how they would like to serve the church.  

“We did the basic service from the hymnal to confirm the youth,” Paisley said “Our sound engineer for the day (Donny) unmuted the youth, their parents and sponsors for the response time of that part of the worship service. When it was time for the congregation to pledge their support, we unmuted a number of our folks -- but not all, the timing would be too confusing.”  Once the service was over, they had an open mic opportunity for everyone in attendance to offer their congratulations. 

Christine Hides, who serves as a UMC Deacon at Kenilworth Union Church, said the logistics of their online Confirmation service were determined by the technology already in place.  

“We’ve been livestreaming on YouTube for years, so when the pandemic happened that didn’t change—the worship service looks very much the same for the congregation,” Hides said, noting that they added a Zoom video conferencing component for their April 19 Confirmation service. 

“Prior to that worship service there was a Zoom call for confirmands and their families. And then the pastors blessed each student individually and by name, and a photo appeared for every student,” Hides said. “There were two parts to it: more of an online gathering and then the part that doesn’t have an interactive component because it’s all on YouTube.” 

“Adding the Zoom meeting and blessings were meant to make it more personal and more interactive when we can’t be in person,” she said. With 43 confirmands, the church ran up against Zoom’s 100-person limit, so they had to place restrictions on “attendance.”

“There were grandparents who wanted to log in but by the time we had the confirmands and the mentors you could overfill your Zoom meeting,” Hides said. 

She added that the Zoom blessing was livestreamed to YouTube via an unlisted link (necessary to protect minors). Using the YouTube chat box, they were able to include the congregation’s response to the question of supporting the confirmands in their faith journey. 

“When the congregation was asked to respond with their pledge of support for the confirmands, the chat box filled up with ‘we do,’ ‘we do,’ ‘we do’!” Hides said. “I got a little teary-eyed—I didn’t expect to get so emotional about a chat box.”

Some pastors like Katie Voigt and Char Hoffman are considering postponing the service until the more restrictive gathering guidelines are lifted.  “I’m hopeful that by the end of May we can have a small gathering in the sanctuary and send the video out farther into the community,” Voigt said. 

Her church is still finalizing their plans, but Hoffmann feels their Confirmation service will be handled in a similar fashion.  “We were planning on Confirmation on May 31, which will be after this last social distancing date, but probably before we will be allowed gatherings of multitudes,” Hoffman said. 

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Carson Gerhardt participates in Confirmation class via a Zoom video conference meeting.

For Kingswood UMC in Buffalo Grove, the migration to Zoom for Confirmation classes made sense. “That was somewhat easy, as a lot of these kids are in already in e-learning – which is a positive but also is a negative as they are in e-learning all the time,” said Clayton Edwards, Minister of Youth Ministries. “What we did was migrate it into a 35- to 45-minute meeting. We talk about where they are, what’s going on – I think that helped connect them a little bit –and then I utilize the Zoom breakout rooms and split the group up to three or four students per ‘room’.”

Kingswood had already moved their traditional Confirmation Sunday a week later due to the timing of General Conference. Once the pandemic gained momentum and the Governor issued the first Stay-at-Home order, Edwards and Lead Pastor Rev. James Preston found themselves focusing on the logistics of weekly and Holy Week online worship before they began considering Confirmation.

“When we started talking about how to do a Confirmation service, James and I realized that we were uncomfortable with the idea of an online service because a big piece of Confirmation is the ‘laying on of hands’,” Edwards said. "Both he and I felt that that is a huge component—it’s one of the main pieces, along with the family being present—and so we didn’t feel comfortable doing that virtually. That’s when we starting thinking about postponing.” 

They’ve discussed how once the Stay-at-Home order is lifted and they can gather in some numbers they would hold the service—right now a July or August date seems possible—but they would probably use gloves when laying on hands. “We’re navigating it in a way that we can gather with a small group of people,” Edwards said. “We’re not opposed to filming that portion of it and posting later but we really feel like we should really lay hands on those youth as they are confirmed but do it in a safe way with gloves and that sort of thing. And we know that’s going to look weird, but we’re just in a weird time.”

NIC's Director of Communications Anne Marie Gerhardt’s son Carson is an eighth grader and member of Kingswood’s Confirmation class. He's been participating in the Sunday Zoom meetings from the kitchen table.

“Carson seems to be engaging in the conversation but obviously it's not quite the same as meeting face-to-face. We are not sure when the Confirmation service will be held and it's one more 'rite of passage' Carson, who is also graduating from middle school, is missing out on this spring,” Gerhardt said. “But even if the Confirmation service is postponed later this summer, we know Kingswood will make the service meaningful and Carson will be prepared to confirm his faith in Jesus. We look forward to celebrating then!” 

Edwards said there might be a deeper question for this time in the life of the church. “How do we do ministry and make it authentic but at the same time as pastors and ministers our call is to protect people and do no harm?” he asked.  

Hides noted that one argument for holding out for in-person Confirmation is how theologically important it is to the church. “We must continually ask ourselves how we can meaningfully involve the congregation in all that we do virtually,” she added.

“Whether or not a church wants to attempt [online Confirmation] is determined by how your congregation perceives things,” Paisley said. “It’s important to think creatively how you can use technology to create an experience that meets the objectives of Confirmation but in a different way.”

While students will be pledging their faith this spring and into the summer, the pandemic dictates that it will be a different experience for each community, congregation and class of confirmands. But one important fact remains: God is with each and every student, parent, ministry leader, and pastor in the process. 

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