Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Proposed Structure for Catechesis

Here's what I'm kicking around for catechesis for this year. Feel free to read and offer any feedback.

What is Catechesis?

Catechesis is the Lord’s way of teaching us how to live with the faith that has been given to us. This happens throughout our entire lives as Christians, from baptism until we die. Our chief catechists are our parents, which is why each section of the Catechism begins “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

How are parents catechists? They model the faith for their children. They also set aside time for daily family prayer and devotions. Fathers are pastors to their families. In a father’s absence, or should he abdicate this God-given role, mothers, godparents, and older siblings take up the slack.

As a congregation, we have chosen to supplement this lifelong catechesis—at home by parents and in the Divine Service—with time of intentional catechesis by the pastor. This cannot replace the work done by parents, nor is it intended to. These years should lead to confirmation, which is the opportunity for a person to profess the faith the Lord has given to him at baptism.

Who is ready for catechesis?

Anyone 5th grade or older who can recite to me the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, who regularly attends the Divine Service is ready to begin catechesis.

Who is ready for the Lord’s Supper?

Forcing children to wait until they have reached an arbitrary age or until they have acquired a certain amount of knowledge teaches falsely about the Lord’s Supper that it is a reward to be earned. It is not. It is a gift that can only be received freely. It bestows the forgiveness of sins that all Christians desperately need. Moreover, it helps us in our daily struggle against sin.

The Lutheran Confessions indicate that in order to prevent a person from receiving the Lord’s Supper to his condemnation, no one is admitted to the fellowship of the altar without being examined and absolved. Those who know their need for forgiveness, who know what Jesus offers in His Supper, and who know the basic texts of the catechism are well prepared for the Lord’s Supper.

I expect all children to be receiving the Lord’s Supper prior to confirmation. In many cases, I expect them to be receiving the Lord’s Supper before beginning catechesis. The Lord’s Supper is for their benefit, and it’s simply wrong to deny it to those who would receive it for the forgiveness of their sins.

Who is ready for confirmation?

There is no fixed number of years of this intentional catechesis. Confirmation asks of a person that he confess he would rather die than depart from the faith given to him by God. It’s like a wedding; if you’re not ready to say “until death parts us,” you’re not ready to be married.

Catechumens who have been life-long attendees at the Divine Service and who have been going to Sunday School regularly will find catechesis easy and will probably be ready for confirmation much sooner. Others may find catechesis more difficult and may find the process takes a few years.

A person is ready for confirmation when he demonstrates a desire to live as a baptized child of God. He will know his sin and his need for a Savior. This means he will be present for the Divine Service. He will take advantage of opportunities like Sunday School and Bible Class. He will avail himself of private confession & absolution. He will demonstrate a life of repentance and faith.

As the called steward of God’s gifts and the one charged with watching over your salvation, I will make the decision regarding readiness for confirmation. There will be two dates per year for confirmations: the Easter Vigil and the Festival of the Reformation. Those who seem ready will be notified a few months prior to confirmation.

What will our relationship be?

Parents determine how well this works. You also determine our relationship as catechists.

  • If you want your children to grow up well instructed in the Christian faith, these years of catechesis will be worthwhile, and you and I will be allies in this endeavor.
  • If you love what God does for you and your children in the Divine Service and in regular opportunities for growth (like Bible Class, Sunday School, Luther League, and Catechesis), these years of intentional catechesis will be fun, and you and I will be allies.
  • If you struggle with how best to have daily family devotions and want to be a better example of the faith to your children, I will be your ally and a valuable resource.
  • If attending the Divine Service every week is not a priority for you, it will not be for your children, and you and I will be adversaries during the time of catechesis.
  • If having daily family prayer and devotions is not something you value for your family, catechesis will be difficult for your children and you and I will be adversaries during this time.

Schedule

Catechesis will be Wednesdays from 7:00 until 8:30, beginning September 30.

We will meet every Wednesday, except 1/6 and 3/31.

We will not meet when inclement weather cancels school.

Format

7:00-7:45 Service of Prayer and Preaching

7:45-8:30 Classroom discussion

Parents and baptismal sponsors (godparents) are encouraged to attend with their children.

*During Advent and Lent, and on other Feasts and Festivals, a service of Advent or Lenten vespers or a Divine Service will take the place of the catechetical service.

Requirements

Learn by Heart

There will be a Learn by Heart assignment each week. Catechumens will recite the memory work to the pastor each week. By the conclusion of catechesis, a catechumen will know the Small Catechism by heart. This will be much easier than you think J.

Homework

Each week before class, the catechumen and his parent(s) should read through and discuss the Bible lesson for the following week.

Sermon Reports

Every time a catechumen hears a sermon preached, he should answer these three questions. These should be able to be answered in a sentence apiece. Sermon reports should be placed in the sermon report box under the mailboxes at the conclusion of the service. Don’t make this harder than it is. Don’t work on this at home; do it during the sermon.

  • What was the Law?
  • What was the Gospel?
  • How does this apply to me?

Do not summarize the sermon.

Retreat

We will go on a Fri-Sat retreat in the spring. We will need 1-2 chaperones. These must be parents. If we don’t have volunteers, we can’t go.

Materials

  • Workbook—Each catechumen is required to purchase a workbook each year of catechesis. ($20 this year)
  • Bible—Each catechumen will receive a Bible from the church.
  • Small Catechism—The Sunshine Circle provides each with a catechism.
  • Notebook & Folder
  • Pen or pencil

12 comments:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . said...

I like what you have done. You lay it out there as one should. There is a problem in the culture, esp what I see in my church, that confirmation is a rite of passage instead of being a faith building program (so to speak).
I also agree with you about the Lord's Supper, it should be readily available once a child understands what it is all about.

hannah said...

Jeff,

Interesting views on confirmation. A couple of questions:

What will your service of prayer and preaching entail?

what about children whose parents don't attend church at all but wish to be confirmed?

will you implement other methods of teaching?

prayeramedic said...

Too bad you aren't closer. I would come to your confirmation class. I'll keep sticking to Pr. Lasser's AIC on iTunes podcasts for now. ;)

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

Hannah,

Good questions.

The SPP is a new service in the hymnal, modeled, I believe after earlier catechetical services. There's a reading or two, some catechetical preaching, responsive reading of parts of the Catechism, and prayers, sandwiched between an OT and NT canticle, with a litany at the end. It's a good service, and people find the canticles catchy.

So far I don't have any young catechumens whose parents aren't at least members (attendance is another animal). All catechumens need sponsors, especially when parents are absent or negligent. I'd be sure to find some capable sponsors in the congregation to play a paternal role toward the catechumens.

I'm not sure what you mean by other methods of teaching. There are lots of catechetical opportunities: adult Bible class, midweek Bible studies, Sunday School, Luther League (for kids before intentional catechesis), all of which take varying approaches to teaching.

Jed said...

Hey Jeff,

I like it. My DCE intern and I had a conversation about this yesterday and settled on the exact same prerequisites for first communion and starting confirmation. Now we're working on hashing out the details for confirmation classes. We're also trying to anticipate what to do if there are students who want to be confirmed but who don't have parents in the church. How do we give them a good example of what to do with their kids even though they aren't getting it modeled at home?

God's blessings as you continue in His work!

WM Cwirla said...

Looks good!
I've been kicking around the idea of confirmation at 18 as a true rite of passage into adulthood. The bit about "suffering all even death" might have a bit more meaning as they take their place among the adults and confess Christ for themselves.

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

Bill,

I've been intrigued by that idea of older confirmation since I heard Stuckwish propose it. Waiting until a later date to ask young adults if they'd prefer to die rather than depart from faith and the Church makes loads of sense.

We have this strange thing in our constitution that only those over the age of 18 are allowed to vote in the parish. I'm sure the rationale behind it is that you're nto really mature enough before then to make decisions for the congregation. Waiting until a similar age for confirmation as a coming-of-age would seem natural (especially if the kids are already communing).

Is anyone doing this?

Father Robert Lyons said...

Dear Pastor Hemmer,

Thank you for your valuable post. A query, if I may...

At what point does willful neglect of Confirmation become grounds for closing the Lord's Table to a communicant? At some point, obviously, an individual has to make a mature commitment to Christ, otherwise their continued reception of the Eucharist would begin to take on the wrong connotation.

Blessings,
Rob+

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

Rob,

Good question. I'll have to think about it (and it'll be a while before that situation presents itself). My initial thought is to say that if a person hasn't begun this time of intentional catechesis by the time most others are completing it (so, now, 8th grade), it becomes a matter of concern.

Is this a problem for any parishes which have had first communion for a while?

Anonymous said...

Jeff,
As your neighboring Pastor to the north I share your thinking about possible early communion. But when I've thought about it I see something more in the traditional, post-confirmation, first communion. You say, "Those who know their need for forgiveness, who know what Jesus offers in His Supper, and who know the basic texts of the catechism are well prepared for the Lord’s Supper."

Many non-LCMS visitors to our church are "well prepared" based on that statement. But we don't allow them to commune because rather than being committed to the teachings of our church they hold to other teachings. Will unconfirmed children be in a very different situation? Many of them even if they know the bits of basic teachings you describe clearly hold to teachings contrary to those of the LCMS in their minds as I've had discussions with them in confirmation.

Just a thought.

Steve Jacobsen

Pastor Jeff Hemmer said...

Steve,

Thanks for the input. I would classify unconfirmed children and non-member visitors in different categories. The baptized but not confirmed child is a member of the parish; the visitor is not. If not a baptized Christian, teh visitor has nothing in common with the child. If a baptized member of a different denomination, however, then the visitor has publicly affirmed his belief in what that denomination teaches.

So, while no unconfirmed child, nor any confirmed member of this parish, believes perfectly as he should or is free from all false teaching, he is not publicly confessing (by his church membership) that he disagrees with us.

No one is made worthy for the Lord's Supper by having perfect doctrine. But some are excluded from our fellowship who are aligned with a different public confession.

Susan said...

About age 18 to vote -- that is sometimes in constitutions because congregations enter into contracts, which minors may not legally do.

About closed communion -- my pastor emphasizes that the Christian lives from the Word received. The reason we do not commune those who are members of a different denomination (even if the individual has a true & right confession) is because faith lives from the Word. If the Word taught in another church is heterodox, that will be damaging to the faith of those who are hearing it. It is important that the faithful pastor encourage visitors to be connected to a pulpit where the preaching is pure, so that true faith might be strengthened within the person.

So how then can we say that we do not know what the kids in our own congregation believe? They are being shaped by the Word being preached to them. True, they will hold to errors, just as the adults in the congregation will not be free from sinful beliefs. But if we believe that faith lives from the Word, then we kinda gotta accept that the children in our congregations believe what we believe. We kinda gotta accept that their "amen" to the preaching and to the absolution and to the Pax Domini really means "yes." If those children are attending regularly, don't we assume that the true & right preaching they are hearing is creating a true & right faith within them?