Last week our town hosted the annual Bix Beiderbeck Jazz Festival along the Mississippi River with New Orleans and River-style bands from all over the country. A number of churches (not the Episcopal Church, of course!) observed the festival by having “jazz masses” of one kind or another, and so my wife and I attended a large Lutheran to check one out.
The place was packed for the 8:45 as well as 10 a.m. services. The eucharistic liturgy was straight out of the new Lutheran Book of Worship with the mass settings and hymns all done in a jazzy manner led by a fine group from Chicago (who, by the way, were obviously believers as well as musicians!). We’ve actually visited this church before and have commented before (jazz or no jazz) that “these folks actually seem to enjoy being there on Sunday mornings and worshipping together!”
This time my wife observed, “It would be hard to convince me that a lot of their obvious commitment and joy doesn’t come from their early formation — and that two-year confirmation instruction Lutherans are so famous for.” I’ve thought about that for several days and think there’s a lot of truth there.
And it’s not only the confirmation instruction! Lutherans typically pay attention to Christian education, to children’s sermons and participation in the liturgy, work hard at campus ministry, and — of course — at least here in the Midwest, have a marvelous network of Lutheran colleges as well. You might call it “cradle to grave catechesis.”
Episcopalians often describe confirmation as “a sacrament looking for a theology.” Maybe so, but providing solid Christian formation for young people entering, or living through, adolescence is absolutely essential. Maybe more widespread use of things like the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,” “Godly Play,” “Journey to Adulthood,” “Happening” and other such programs will turn things around for younger Episcopalians.
I guarantee you, “business as usual,” with six week (if that) confirmation classes will not!