For the mutual claiming of the Christian community and the public expression of faith in Jesus Christ
This is a multiple-year, multiple-discipline approach to educating and nurturing in the Christian faith the whole of the young person from the beginning of middle school through graduation from high school. It spans seven years in order to accommodate the cognitive, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual changes in children during this time span. It is designed to engage them at their individual ages and stages of faith development as outlined by Fowler in his Stages of Faith, particularly the late Mythic-Literal Stage, the Synthetic-Conventional Stage, and the early Individuative-Reflective Stage (class lecture, 2-1-12); the curriculum acts as a catalyst for transition from stage to stage as well. Through its length of time it contributes to an adequate processing of the material by the student. The multiple disciplines represented by the breadth of the curriculum components will engage students with a variety of intelligences and experiences and allow for the expression of the various faith styles as described by Westerhoff: Experienced, Affiliative, Searching, and Owned (class lecture, 1-30-12). The multiple topics cover the essentials for the breadth of the Christian life and the particulars of the Reformed tradition, ensuring a solid foundation for a life lived as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
This curriculum replaces a traditional short, intensive Confirmation season with a long-term, intentional course of study, much like an apprenticeship. It works with parents and guardians over the course of time to train up their precious children in the way that they should go, acknowledging the reality that that can take a lot of time. It occurs in a time and format that is already established in the lives and schedules of the families and the church – the Sunday school hour. Therefore, it better integrates the student into the full life of the congregation as he/she is learning. The curriculum components are arranged in a cohesive, orderly fashion, building upon what was learned previously in a developmentally appropriate and logical way. The use of the same series for the junior high portion and the employment of the same class/component format throughout provides continuity to a group of people who are experiencing great upheaval and flux on many fronts, within and without.
“Affirming the Call” acknowledges the reality of the students’ church membership through the sacrament of baptism, declaring that baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit has engrafted the child into the body of Christ and he/she has been sealed with the Holy Spirit at that time in the process of unified initiation, as described by Browning and Reed in Models of Confirmation and Baptismal Affirmation (14-15). Therefore the students have the right – even the call – to participate in the life of the church, especially worship, throughout their training period. The public corporate emphasis is on the commissioning for discipleship and the reaffirmation of the students’ baptismal vows.
The many curriculum components are arranged in various ways for maximum fruitfulness. Several are grade-specific. For example, the themes are designated by grade, based on the development of the Christian life from its most fundamental point – love of God – to learning how to live the Christian life and one’s particular calling. The foci identify and instruct the students in matters that are important to spiritual practices
and the Reformed tradition. Topics are also arranged by grade. Beginning with the study of the Old Testament, the foundation is sequentially and carefully laid for being an informed disciple of Jesus. Last, the faith challenges are appropriate to the semester topic and also teach that the word of God is accessible to everyone and applicable to every reason and season. (The reading of the Gospel According to Mark was suggested by Rodger Nishioka during class discussion, February, 2012). Additional curriculum components are explained within the body of the Power Point presentation.
On the use of the Heidelberg Catechism during the eighth grade year: A catechism is a sound and useful tool that’s been grievously underemployed in the past several decades (at least in the Presbyterian church). It is invaluable as a basic, straightforward explanation of the faith, especially those versions which have been updated into modern English (such as the version of the Heidelberg Catechism listed in the PowerPoint presentation and The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English by Douglas Kelly and Philip Rollinson[ Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986]). When used in an informal setting, with the emphasis on the understanding of the knowledge and not the memorization of the answer, a catechism can be the best tool in a knowledgeable Christian teacher’s toolkit. It is great for prompting conversation and provoking thought, and should be used much more often than it is.
The use of a student portfolio in the confirmation process was suggested by Kathy L. Dawson in her booklet Confessing Faith (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2006).
The use of facebook to post “God-sightings” was suggested by Nick Setzer in a class presentation, February, 2012.
The people who make all this happen are grouped into teams (Rodger Nishioka, class discussion, 2-22-12). The Coordinating Team provides the oversight of the program, providing a diversity of input, spreading the responsibilities, and keeping the program from being personality-dependent, that is, hinging upon the presence of one person. The Teaching Team gives those with the gift of teaching additional opportunities to use their gift and a fruitful way to be with teens. The Covenant Partners are the spirit of this program. Drawn from the congregation at large, these volunteers undergird their student partners’ endeavors with prayer and encouraging words through notes, calls, emails, and the like, and hopefully develop fruitful, meaningful relationships with the students and with their parents. These are long-term commitments, to be lived out from the 6th-12th grades, but because the emphasis is on prayer and keeping in touch, and not on forced meetings, hopefully the length of term will not be off-putting.
On the topic of meetings, keeping the group meetings to a rational minimum may encourage parental participation and engagement. Individualized meetings with the students would be time-intensive but are so important for establishing and maintaining those crucial relationships between the shepherds and their lambs.
“Affirming the Call” serves to free up the Youth Directors and pastors for the activity they are most often called to and love: developing and maintaining relationships with students for the sake of the gospel. This curriculum gives youth workers more time and space to work on event planning and more time and space to personally engage the students, individually and corporately. The burden of keeping the Youth Program viable is diffused among many who hear the call and the joy of ministering to the youth is spread to a wider segment of the population of the congregation.