AS the man of God--the pastor of his people--stands before the annual Confirmation Class, to give it that teaching whereby the members are to be "sufficiently instructed" to confirm and be confirmed according to Church authority, he has there and then the solemn responsibility of determining the destiny of these souls, the establishing or unsettling of their faith, and their attitude, to a very large extent, for or against, religion. As the minister teaches, so the people believe. This is frequently true. The theology of the congregation is determined by the instruction of the pastor. The religion of the people and their views concerning it are in the hands of the ministry. The people do not sufficiently investigate. They accept what the priest offers, if they believe at all. This is true especially in preparation for Confirmation. The candidates come to be taught, and pliantly they agree to what they are told. Hence the responsibility. The more this is realized by the teacher, the purer will be his instruction and the more complete the needed teaching. Confirmation is unique for the priest as a teacher.
Looking at his Confirmation Class in the strange variety of its members, the faithful pastor has hundreds of questions to ask, and he ought to ask them. Ever solemnly and pressingly will arise these all-important and searching queries: Whence have these people come? Why are they here? What are the influences at work in bringing these, my people, to this point? Who are left behind? Why have they declined when some of them should have been the first to accept? These questions and many like them will come to the teacher's mind and heart as he views the "all sorts and conditions" of his Confirmation Class.
Considering the "makeup" of his Confirmees, the pastor should thoughtfully weigh well the private and personal influences connected with each member and, as wisely as possible, remove the hindrances and strengthen the aids of desirable personality. Each character has obstacles to be removed and assistances to be cultivated. Family associations, joys, sorrows, companions, accomplishments, gifts, education, business, past, present, future, etc.--all these and others must be considered, and without being too inquisitive, the teacher should know and understand every condition of the pupil so that the environments of the Confirmee may be cleared of every difficulty and improved by every aid.
Age is an all-important consideration in coming forward to Confirmation. I cannot discuss it here. It is a subject in itself. "Too young" or "too old" should, however, have no place in rejection or acceptance. The child of nine or the man of ninety are to be considered at this time, not as the youth or the nonagenarian, but as the individual to be blessed and to perform the Church's command.
People from the Denominations around us and from other parishes should not be accepted without some inquiry. Etiquette to our brother priest demands that we take not the lamb or sheep from his flock into ours without some reason for the change and consultation regarding it. Courtesy to the "Denominational Minister" will recognize that some notice ought to be taken of the transfer of allegiance. My own experience, founded on the practice of calling on the previous pastors of the candidates regarding their change of connection, has opened up for me the most pleasant of associations and the most cordial of friendships. It always pays to be the gentleman recognizing others.
But a most important consideration in Confirmation Classes is the absence of scores who ought to be present. We should look up all such persons. Show anxiety concerning them. Give assurance that you expected them to be forthcoming. A cordial invitation to come, a kind letter, an attractive book or leaflet, asking a discreet friend to use influence wisely and kindly, finding out the cause of the absence and acting accordingly, ought to prove the pastor's solicitude for the soul he is seeking to influence. Adopt every possible inducement to bring in those who are staying out.
Sometimes the best materials for our Confirmation Classes do not present themselves. We should seek them. Leave no stone unturned to find all such. You may have thereby "gained thy brother." In the pastor's visits to his parochial societies, to the Sunday School, to all organizations and church gatherings, at all services, every time and everywhere, in sermons and visits, and through newspapers, make reference to the coming Confirmation. Let the people hear and see and be convinced that Confirmation is on your mind and heart. They will catch your enthusiasm, and assistance most valuable cannot but be forthcoming.
While thus eager to "call them in" from every quarter, we must guard against the danger of persons joining the class, or known to be thinking of Confirmation, whose presence and character are dubious and may prove a hindrance. This point is delicate and difficult, but most painfully it exists. Very seldom is a Confirmation held without unkind judgment being expressed. Some one is heard to say, "So-and-so ought never to have been confirmed." "She was too young." "He is not fit to be a communicant." Rightly or wrongly, such opinions are uttered. The teacher should be fully prepared to defend "this, thy child," or "this, thy servant," whom he has presented to the Bishop, and not allow the aspersion of gossip to take away character when the knowledge of the pastor can carefully protect it.
I want to acknowledge that what we call Confirmation "Classes" are not always the best methods of giving instruction to some people. Certain individuals are not suited to be in a "class." A class regulation is not fitted for that individual. Private instruction to a person singly may be the only plan to be pursued. Adopt it. Go to any trouble to secure decision, and give the instruction in any possible way, time or place. Is the name "Confirmation Class" the best title to adopt? I doubt it. Better drop the word "class" and speak of "Confirmation," or "The Bishop's Visitation," or "Lecture," or "Explanation," or "Conference," than this word "class," which has associations for the child not always attractive, and for the adult surroundings which are not compatible with age.
In finding our material for the Laying on of Hands, we should ever remember the duty of sponsors, witnesses and parents to bring forward the children and persons with whom their names are identified in Holy Baptism. A letter to every father, mother, witness and sponsor at the Confirmation season, or a visit concerning it, is clearly the pastor's duty. If they do not remember the Baptismal injunction, "Ye are to take care that this child be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him," the pastor should remember and prove to the parties interested that he has not forgotten what the Church ordered. Now is the time to connect the past Baptism with the coming Confirmation. Examine your Church Register. Read over its pages of Holy Baptism. Note names of all adults baptized and as yet not confirmed, their witnesses and members of their respective families; mark the ages of infants baptized and if "years of discretion," according to your judgment, have been reached, tell the child, parents and sponsors of the promise made at Baptism now to be fulfilled in Confirmation. Lay stress upon it as an obligation to be honored, a fitting illustration of the Church's process of continuous connection. Holy Baptism is not a sacrament performed and then ended; it has its links with something else and with more than the one baptized; it goeth on to Confirmation and the "sufficiently instructed" for it, to the father, mother, God-father and Godmother.
One of the most beautiful and consistent experiences in my ministry was the coming forward to the chancel steps, after a morning prayer on a bright Lord's day, of a father and his two sons, and placing their hands in mine, the father said:
"My pastor, I have tried as a father to train up my boys in the fear of God and the ways of the Church. I now give them to you for their Confirmation and Holy Communion."
I have never forgotten that scene and never can. Would it not be well for us to have some official ceremony whereat sponsors and parents would fulfil this baptismal obligation and make real their vow of taking "care" that the baptized be brought to confirm and be confirmed?
The "candidates" (another word which I do not like) being found, where shall they meet for necessary instruction? This point is of some importance and influence. My preference is for the home of the pastor, his study or parlor. It will be less formal and more social, less of the "class" surroundings, more of the friendly association. Let the priest's house be a preparing place for God's Church. The two can work smoothly together, but I acknowledge that objections to it can be found very easily. Location is one obstacle. If the rectory is not adjoining the church, then there is a difficulty, but not irremovable. Size of room is another obstacle, but division of attendants at the instruction can overcome this. No matter what the difficulty, try to remove it and, by all means, stretch every nerve to have your home open for all Confirmees. It may be desirable to have different places of meeting. Under some circumstances it will be necessary. Hence arrange as best you can to give your instruction where the place will have some influence and significance. The home of a Confirmee is not unsuitable in which to assemble for one of the "instructions." I secured a whole "household" for Confirmation by such an arrangement. Reunions in different places give variety and may bring in some persons not before reached for the forthcoming blessing.
I doubt the wisdom of large Confirmation "classes" for instruction at the same time. All individuals are not alike and against some there may be personal antagonism, and in others un-suitableness of association. We cannot all be drawn to each other even spiritually. The size of the rectory study or parlor will be a solid reason for division (a strong reason for giving the instruction in the parsonage). The convenience of attendants for different hours will be another reason for separation. By wise selection and judicious distinctions the whole number can be classified into companies where points of unison can form a division more equal than if all are heterogeneously together.
The time for the "class" to be held is essential for its success, but alas! here there will be a painful variety and a sad clash between the Confirmation preparations and the German class, the French class, the music lesson, the dancing school, the office, store, factory, and dozens of other reasons why the hour named by the pastor will not suit one and another and another and another! Now and again, perhaps frequently, you will have the sweet experience of someone saying, so thoughtfully "I'll come any hour you wish!" How pleasantly that sounds! But the reverse! How the heart is chilled by the peremptory decision of even a young child positively asserting, "Oh, I can't come at that hour; that is when I go to my dancing school"; and dancing takes the lead of praying! We must prevent the clash as best we can and do all in our power to get in the members, and shape and mould them and instruct them to the utmost of our strength. Confirmation is so important that when the instruction time comes the pastor ought to give himself wholly to making its preparation his chief work at that time. If strength permits the priest, let there be a daily instruction on every week day and two on Sundays. We must do this work of preparation fully and thoroughly. Have two or three evening opportunities and three or four afternoons, and let the Confirmees select their own time. Two attendances a week will be sufficient for each person. The instruction should be the same upon all occasions for the week days. Upon Sundays the meeting time ought to be before or after services. The people have then come for worship, and being on hand, they can easily attend this Confirmation instruction. At all Sunday-School sessions, meetings, etc., bring in the point of that week's teaching, and it must have its effect. Easily you can say, "This week we are considering in the Confirmation instruction the subject of Regeneration," or whatever it is; then say something about it, and thus link, the great duty of that time--Confirmation--with everything which is transpiring. In rural churches all this must be different. The country priest has hundreds of difficulties of which we privileged city pastors know nothing. lie must adapt himself to the situation. Perhaps the city parson can sometimes adapt the situation to meet his own desires.
It is always desirable to devote one or more sermons to explain Confirmation, its duty and blessing. Such an address might be based upon the following outline or something like it:
1. Something we Do.
2. Something we Promise.
3. Something we Receive.
4. Something we Become.
A clear and simple explanation of these truths can bring out an instruction not easily forgotten.
Begin every "class" with solemn Prayer. Make the Prayer very real. The Veni Creator, page 519 of the Standard Prayer Book, is most suitable; the Prayers in the Confirmation service adapting them to instruction are very effective. Throughout the Prayer Book will be found "just the thing" for the souls you have now in charge. Make a careful selection of such Prayers and have them prepared for the instruction. Silent Prayer is always effective. Prayer makes the instruction solemn, what it ought to be; it lifts up Priest and Confirmees--Catechist and Catechumen--to God, enabling us to forget the human, and rest altogether upon the Divine. The more we can instil this conviction into the minds and hearts of our Confirmees the purer and more searching must be our instruction. It will be deeper and yet loftier. Few duties require more Prayer than Confirmation preparation. Often at the Throne of Grace will accomplish more to reach the heart than hours of formal, dogmatic teaching.
Reading the Confirmation Service together is most helpful, and familiarizes every Confirmee with the Act of Confirmation as preparation for its accomplishment. Head it once a week at least during the preparation.
Which is the best way to instruct Confirmees? The Church is right when she gives us a Catechism--Questions and Answers--as her method of teaching; and where we can carry it fully into practice, we will not attempt any other to the exclusion of the catechetical. A little of all kinds can be adopted, but the searching and pointed Question eliciting the direct and correct Answer must be the best process for bestowing the needed information.
The Subjects of our instruction, what shall they be? Why, of course, what the Church directs. Read the Exhortation to Sponsors: "As soon as they can say The Creed, The Lord's Prayer and The Ten Commandments and are sufficiently instructed in the other parts of the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose." This is clear. Obedience to its direction will prove its wisdom. An adroit "fisher of men" will have no difficulty in finding the Church plan the best and most suitable.
As the space allotted to this article will not allow elaboration of its points, I can henceforth but give the merest statement of suggestions regarding what can be done in preparation for Confirmation.
But, oh, let us not forget the preparation of the heart! "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." Mental preparation is indeed all important; but divorced from heart-preparation it is as the body without the spirit--dead. The information given must be in-forming--moulding the Catechumen's inner life after the image of Him who created it. The truths imparted to the hearer must be lifted up from the dead level of mental propositions to a living perpendicular which shall be, as it were, a ladder on whose rounds the instructed may ascend to the Christ and with Him continually dwell.
A syllabus of the Instruction you propose to impart, written or printed, for every Confirmee will prove your preparation for the duty, and, it is hoped, interest the members to study some, if not all, of the subjects suggested.
I would not devote the entire session of instruction to one topic. Variety is effective. Different subjects may arouse interest and will assuredly give comprehensiveness to the teaching.
Steer clear of long sermonic lectures; be simple and definite. Be positive; you can be so wisely.
An address on Terms or Names is always useful and necessary. "Justification," "Sanctification," and all such words should be used and explained just as the Church in her Catechism gives us the model: "What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?" "Repentance" and "Faith" are in the same model of instruction carefully stated and defined. A list of such terms can be most profitably made out and explained.
Explain your point and then ask some questions on it. This will draw out replies. Once the ice is broken in answering questions, there will not be difficulty in securing sufficient discussion.
A series of questions carefully written out with answers concisely appended will form a very helpful aid for necessary instruction. Number them, and asking Confirmees such and such a numbered Question, and the members having the Answer on the papers in their hands, the replies can be read out readily and confidently.
Provide Bibles, pages numbered, Prayer Books, and Hymnals for every attendant, but urge the members to bring their own books. To know the places in their own Bible and Prayer Book is always helpful; it will create interest; the result may be everlasting. An occasional marking with pencil some emphatic passage never fails to secure attention.
If you can decide on some one instruction book on Confirmation for the members, let each one have a copy.
Do not hesitate to use plentifully the "Confirmation Tracts" of which you approve. A constant circulation of Confirmation literature is necessary. It pays, and is an advertising of the Confirmation always successful. The tract on the parlor table (they should be scattered around) will give some instruction which may not be altogether lost and cannot otherwise be effected.
There are many occasions when you can use profitably the pens of some Confirmees. To those of them who have the time and ability give notices to be written or an important explanation you want remembered. For instance this: "Regeneration is a change of state, Conversion is a change of heart." A person writing out a dozen of these is not likely to forget the distinction; and the person receiving the paper and asked to preserve it by keeping it in Bible or Prayer Book will retain a reminder explaining an important Church Doctrine.
As the "class" proceeds from day to day, from week to week, something is certain to arise suggesting a point of which an instruction can be made securing effective attention. When I was a child in the Confirmation class of our Irish Parish Church, I was asked by the Curate--the Rev. William Phipps--I can never forget his sweet influence upon my life and character--to read Hebrews 2:16. I did so, and, without knowing why, I made a strong emphasis on the word "Angels." Immediately my loved friend and never forgotten Pastor said most effectively to me, the boy, "I thank you; Campbell, for suggesting that thought. You see. Angels and the seed of Abraham are brought out in contrast, or Angels and Humanity." And then he gave us a delightful teaching on the Angel race. I had not the slightest idea of suggesting anything! Perhaps it was his thoughtful way of correcting my undue emphasis--a fault clinging to me from Dublin to Omaha! Many are the years which have passed on since then, but that scene in my Confirmation preparation for the Apostolic hands on my head, of the great master of logic--Archbishop Whateley--has never been effaced, and is as fresh this morning on memory's tablet as if it were now occurring.
Minute instruction should be given regarding the actual administration of the Rite. Where to sit in church, Dress, Prayer Book open in hand, Reverently coming forward to Chancel, Where to stand and kneel, How to respond, Hold the head. The Confirmation vow, The Personal Wish at Confirmation, The Confirmation Offering, The watchful eye and attentive ear to all the Bishop says, and the many other points suggesting themselves, should be carefully noted by the Pastor from time to time. As wisely as possible the Teacher should be ready for everything, providing for all that may arise.
A preparation service is very needful. I always hold one, illustrating by my personal action the rising from the pew, the walking forward, the standing, kneeling, and all the points necessary for the administration of the Rite.
The Church requires that the Clergyman presenting the "class" should hand the Bishop the names of the persons to be confirmed. That should be prepared alphabetically and numbered. I find it profitable and personal to have the Confirmees come to the Vestry Room before the Service, be introduced to the Bishop, and with their own hands sign their names on the list and in the Register. Put the numbers opposite the names in pencil so that if there are absentees there may not be erasing when the record in ink is made. Let the Confirmees kneel when they sign. That will make it mean something. Read for each Confirmee before signing, "Do ye here," etc.
The Bishop should give certificates duly signed and dated, leaving space for the Pastor to have his name also inserted. It is a memorial of value that should be prized.
Prepare most carefully for that "First Communion !" Oh, what a solemn act that first "Blessed Sacrament!"
Secure, as far as may be judicious, some friendly acquaintance between the Confirmees. They ought to know each other. I understand the difficulty. Still, try to secure the friendship. 'Tis hard and delicate to effect it, but make some attempt. You may succeed.
Let the date of Confirmation be annually observed with a Holy Communion celebration.
There ought to be a "Class" Organization, President and Secretary. Hold them together.
Some Offering for the help of the Church should be made yearly by the "classes." How much might be accomplished in this way! "Confirmation Anniversaries" can be successfully utilized in many directions.
"All Saints' Day" should have special commemoration of the departed who were confirmed in the Parish or Mission.
We must close here, but numerous are the many other particulars which could be mentioned in the right preparation for a Blessed Confirmation. Happy is that man of God who, having finished the instruction of Confirmees, lives to see its practical accomplishment in the lives of loved and consistent Communicants.