Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Quaker Confirmation

Quakers do not have Confirmation, but I think we should.  For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Confirmation is a process for young people in the church to become a member of the church.  In many denominations, this occurs when the young people are between 12-14, though it can happen earlier or later.  After a series of classes, the church has a special liturgy for the confirmands to make a statement of faith and the church to welcome them.  In some denominations, like the Holy Roman Church, Confirmation is a sacrament.

Friends do not have any outward sacraments, and I am not suggesting that we create a sacrament of Confirmation.  I think there are good reasons, however, to have a Quaker version of a Confirmation class for our high school group in Atlanta Friends Meeting, culminating in an invitation to become a member of the meeting.

For Friends, membership is a way of establishing mutual support and accountability between the individual and the meeting---the Friend makes a commitment to be a part of this faith community and support it spiritually, physically, and financially.  In return, the meeting recognizes that the individual is a part of this spiritual community and the meeting is responsible to care for and encourage the person in body and spirit.  Membership is not required to be involved in the life of the meeting, but there are certain positions and committees on which one cannot serve unless one is a member.

In Atlanta Friends Meeting, we have many teenagers who are part of the meeting, but not many of them are members.  As these teens graduate from high school and begin thinking about college and finding jobs, they will most likely move into a time of transition.  This may result in moving to another place and they may not find another meeting to join for a decade or more.  Having a class on what it means to be a member of a Quaker meeting and encouraging them to become members of Atlanta Friends Meeting is a way to provide support and accountability for these young Friends during this time of transition.

Ideally, a Quaker Confirmation class would include the following:

  • An overview of Quaker history, including the different branches of Friends and the Testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Service)
  • A discussion of what occurs during Quaker worship
  • A workshop on Faith and Practice and Quaker business process
  • Invitations to participate in business meeting and to sit in on a committee meeting
  • A panel on what it means to be a member and why one would consider membership
  • An explanation of the process for membership, with an invitation to apply for membership
Ultimately, the process for membership for those in the Confirmation class would be the same as for anyone else in the meeting, as set forth in SAYMA Faith and Practice, p. 34.  The individual would write a letter to the Ministry and Worship committee, indicating why they feel drawn to the Religious Society of Friends.  Ministry and Worship would then set up a clearness committee to meet with the individual.  Once the committee is clear to recommend membership, it would report back to Ministry and Worship, which then makes a recommendation to business meeting.  The business meeting would hold the recommendation over for one month and, if all approved, welcome the individual into membership.

Some caveats:  First, I think we may need to call it something other than Confirmation.  When we discussed the idea of having a class like this in our Ministry and Worship committee, there were some who came from liturgical traditions and balked at the word Confirmation.  Second, it would have to be very clear that this is an invitation, and the teenagers are not required to become members of the meeting.  Third, if the class is interested, it might be a good idea to have time for visiting other kinds of faith communities, to give the class an opportunity to see whether another path might be a better fit for them.

Regardless of what the meeting decides to call it, I hope that Atlanta Friends Meeting will consider some form of Quaker Confirmation.  I recommend holding the class at least once every four years for the high school group, and preferably every other year, to give the teens two opportunities to consider whether they want to become members.  This is a way for everyone in the meeting to engage in intergenerational conversations of what membership means, and for the meeting to provide support and accountability for the teens as they consider their next phase of life. 

[Written for my Practicum in Liturgy on Weddings, Funerals, and Confirmation.]