“March 18, 19, and 23.” I can still hear my pastor’s voice saying those dates. I first heard him do so in August 1987. He was referring to March 1989, when two years of confirmation classes would culminate in my public examination (March 18), my confirmation (Palm Sunday, March 19), and my first communion (Maundy Thursday, March 23).
His full sentence was something of a scare tactic, but we all understood that he meant it tongue-in-cheek: “March 18, 19, and 23—nothing but death will prevent you from being present in church on March 18, 19, and 23, 1989.” He began the first few confirmation classes with that solemn announcement. We were to understand that confirmation should take priority over life’s other matters.
A Peculiar Approach
I don’t suppose every pastor begins confirmation class that same way. Pastor H. had a peculiar approach. What else was unique? He parsed the “beatitudes” as “Be—Attitudes,” the attitudes that we should be. He wrote “baptizo” on the blackboard in Greek letters, telling us about the meaning of “baptism.” It means “wash,” as in washing our sins away (for example, when we fail to “be” the right “attitude”!)
And then there was the slogan that became a song. It began simply as a statement, with no hint of any melody. “Do not be afraid to let your shadow darken the doorstep of your church each Sunday.” Week after week the slogan grew, until finally it became a song, to the tune of “From All That Dwell Below the Skies.” Three decades later, I’m not sure I recall the first two lines accurately, but the second half still rings true in my ears:
Please let your shadow come this way
And darken the church door each Sunday!
At Grace serv’c’s are at eight and ten fifteen
With Sunday Schoo-ool in between!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Nothing Unique about Teaching Most Important Parts
Unless this was all the clever doing of broadly influential seminary professor, I’m guessing your confirmation pastor didn’t have the same peculiarities as mine. But that’s okay. There’s really nothing unique about teaching most important parts. Every pastor should stick to the same script.
I mean, of course, the Six Chief Parts of the Christian faith, as set forth in Holy Scripture and summarized so succinctly in Luther’s Small Catechism:
- The Ten Commandments
- The Apostles Creed
- The Lord’s Prayer
- Holy Baptism
- Confession and Absolution
- The Lord’s Supper
All gimmicks aside, those are the six topics that my confirmation focused on week after week for two years. Thirty years later, those are the lessons that remain.
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments 3500 years ago. They continue to keep us in check when we drift into error, to show us our sin and our need for the Savior, and to guide our lives as Christians.
The Apostles Creed was written in the early centuries of the Christian Church. Then, as now, the congregation uses it as a baptismal formula. Still today, people around the world are put to death because they refuse to forsake the one true faith expressed in those words.
The Lord’s Prayer, after 2000 years, remains a model for how to approach God’s throne of grace. In various seasons of my life, one or another of the seven petitions has seemed the most meaningful to me. It really is a one-size-fits-all prayer!
Then there is Holy Baptism, that washing by water and the Word that cleanses us from all sins. Thirty years ago, I was learning the basics. Since that time, I’ve become a father and brought six children to the Lord’s font.
The longer I live, the more I sin. The closer I become to Christ, the more aware I become of what is sin. I appreciate Confession and Absolution all the more. Confirmation was not a “graduation” but rather an “initiation” into an informed membership of the church.
The Lord’s Supper, too, satisfies the soul more and more each time it is received. Meanwhile, I understand it less and less. Christ’s body and blood are truly present for the forgiveness of my sins, but how this happens, I really do not know. God speaks. It is. And I am—forgiven!
The Next Thirty Years
March 18, 19, and 23—or, this year, it all happens in April. Minor details shift, but the fundamental cycle continues. Another cohort of confirmands will be received into communicant membership at my congregation. Among them is a young lady named after the same congregation where I was confirmed: Grace. She’s my firstborn.
What will she remember thirty years from now?
The same thing as her father, I suppose, minus a silly song.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschool children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean and Professor of History and Philosophy at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.