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.]


  1. I agree with this..other Christian denominations have a path to membership (and responsibilities of being a community member) that is more clear, due to the rituals which communicate this (the offering plate, for instance, is a weekly reminder that the church seeks donations; the young people experiencing communion and confirmation). I think the educational mission of Quakerism aligns with the model described here.

  2. Ashley, I agree. In my current meeting, I suggested that we invited the older teens to sit in on discussions with adults... and folks in their mid-twenties who have returned to the meeting after college.

    Our younger folks already assume some responsibilities for the life of the meeting (library circulation, care of younger children).

    In other meetings, we've had sessions on "the meaning of membership" which included teens. Associate members were expected to make a decision between the ages of 18 and 26. ("I'm not ready to decide quite yet" was an acceptable response.) The teens in that meeting took a "meaning of membership" retreat with other attenders of the meeting, so it wasn't age-specific as much as discernment for those of us who were considering membership. I found (at the tender age of 30-something) that the teens really thought about their commitment. We visited other churches together from time to time.

  3. What a fine, complete package of ideas. Thank you!

    This theme has been shared around Pacific and North Pacific Yearly Meetings for a few years.

    I wrote about it at http://jtblog.lindajohansen.com/2013/09/12/if-meeting-is-a-muscle-quakerism-is-a-full-workout/#more-86.

    I'm not sure all of what's being tried in Seattle. Eastside FM has been using a written curriculum with multiple worksheets. I think this is for older elementary ages. I know it points to the same ends you're seeking.

    There may be a more experiential program for the youth in University and South Seattle Meetings. A Quaker day camp is planned again for this summer. The Friend planning that is from South Seattle FM, but it's open to children of other meetings.

    Besides the four blog entries I linked to, Western Friend had a piece on Coming of Age. It was by a Friend from San Francisco Meeting.

  4. The education and care & counsel committees at UFM are just beginning to discuss doing something like this. I like your list of content. We have been thinking that it might also have a service project component. Nancy H.

  5. I think this should be a primary content for middle school Friends, so they are invited to join at the beginning of high school.

  6. I deeply disagree with this thoughtful notion. Confirmation is indeed a ritual wherein a person has read and agreed with the dogma, theology, and Creed statements of a religion. Quakers do not have a Creed, on purpose. They are not bound by trite ritual, on purpose. The Elders of Balby said, "We do not lay these things before you as a rule... For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life". George Fox, of course, said "There is one, Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition". He did not say involve yourself in the weary trappings of conventional religion and don the mantle of rote recitation of faith. Quakerism is mystical and the core concept of continuing revelation speaks against convention and for ongoing spiritual authorship of our lives. Please kindly reconsider this.

  7. My Meeting has "associate membership" for children, but some time after turning 18 (well, there's some leeway for 17 year olds too) you're expected to go through the same membership process as convinced Friends do. Many Meetings with this system expire the childhood membership some time between ages 18 and 25.

    My husband and I just went through the membership process (members as of last week's business meeting!), with him having been an associate member since birth. When I described it to my mother, I used Confirmation to draw the parallel. Given how common expiring childhood memberships seems to be these days, I think we do have Confirmation, but we (rightly!) don't expect a 13 year old to be prepared to make that decision. At last month's business meeting, there was some question as to the committee's recommendation of full (not associate) membership for a 17 year old. The committee thought she was ready, but it ended up being a moot point since she turned 18 after her clearness committee meeting and before business meeting.

    I was Confirmed in the Catholic Church at age 13 because I couldn't tell my parents I didn't believe it. It took until my mid-20s to find a denomination where I can comfortably make a faith commitment. I definitely think the Anabaptist traditions have it right to wait until adulthood.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone! In part because I am at the end of the semester, I haven't had the chance to respond to each individually, but I have been reading them. I appreciate your thoughtful responses, both for and against this idea.


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