Clay Smallwood is gifted at many things, but at the top of the list is his enthusiasm for and giftedness in leading confirmation for our students and their parents. Clay absolutely believes in the power of confirming one’s own faith rather than “just going along and believing what one is told to believe in church or by parents.” In confirmation, “students choose for themselves to be followers of Christ.” Or maybe they don’t—at least not yet. But either way, students are given the tools to understand what it means to be a Jesus follower, to choose to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to see the evidence of God’s grace in their lives.
Over the span of five months, 8th-12th grade students and their parents move through the confirmation process, studying The Apostles’ Creed as well as The Greatest Commandment, the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, and Methodist church history. Confirmation kicks off with a retreat weekend, giving students an opportunity to get to know their fellow confirmands better, encouraging trust and conversation in the small groups that they will keep for the remainder of confirmation. Confirmation classes then take place each Sunday, and because this is a course that requires a high level of commitment for a high level of discipleship, all participants, including at least one parent for each student, are expected to be present at each class. At the culmination of confirmation classes, students will have interviews with our clergy, where they will have the opportunity to share what they have learned and come to believe. Finally, on Confirmation Sunday, students will have the opportunity to claim their faith in front of their church family, and their church family will have the opportunity to celebrate their decision and welcome them officially as adult members of our congregation.
Students learn very quickly the importance of this journey. As 11th grade confirmand Katherine Reiley explains, confirmation asks you to “become more independent because you are taking your faith into your own hands and stating it as your own. But you also become more dependent as you lean on your confirmation group and leaders to help you learn and evolve into a strengthened Christian.” The fact that this process is both a declaring of one’s own faith and collaborative was echoed by other students as well. Andrew Ellis, an 8th grade student, explains, “The best part of confirmation is that you meet weekly with other people your age who want to be committed to God. I also love talking with my parents and having a long, in depth conversation on the way home.”
Clay also tells students from the beginning that it’s important to ask questions along the way. Katherine has learned that “it’s okay to question because it means we are growing, and one of the gifts that comes from not knowing everything is that God gives us people who can fill in the blanks. And for things we don’t understand now, God may have a moment planned out down the line when things will suddenly make sense. That’s faith. That’s following Christ.”