In the days of my parish ministry many a young middle-aged parent in the church spoke dismissively of confirmation courses for 8th and 9th grade young people and raised questions about the value of "Sunday School." Some disparaged the church's effort to teach the faith to young people. "It's too academic," some said. "The world is too much with us," others said. "Television and radio with their secular biases are too seductive for the pious approach of the Church and Sunday school."
I saw very different signs in the young 9th graders who came to me weekly to learn the elements of Christian faith, the teaching of the Bible, and the history of the "Congregational Way" of church life.
These efforts to teach the Way of Jesus, were "too elementary," some said, "too simple." "Not challenging," some said. Yet I encountered in those 1970s and 1980s classes of 14-year-olds a surprising seriousness about the business of God, the challenge of the life of service of the "journey with Jesus," that "life on the trail" those three years with the Master.
When it came to their own personal commitment and decision to follow Jesus, it was serious business. When occasionally a serious young person would say, "I'm not ready," or "I am not sure of Jesus and His Way", I tried hard to take them at their word saying, "Well, confirmation is your public act of committing your life to Jesus, and we are not asking you to stand up and declare something you don't believe. You can wait and take that step in high school, or at any time in the future."
Some brave young people seriously decided. Their end of the year paper on "Why I am a Christian" became "Well, I am not ready to be a Christian."
They had the chance to be honest, to see that they were not being asked to make a show by saying that they were not ready.
Sometimes parents were dismayed and embarrassed to have their child not declare the Christian faith to be theirs. They were not ready to have their son or daughter be that serious as to decline or wish to wait.
In these later years, it has been a singular joy to have former confirmation young people - now in their 50s and 40s - declare that Confirmation was important to them. One repeatedly declares, "It laid my brick foundation."
And now a study has come to hand from Harvard University - of all places - that a significant study of theirs "found that religious parents have lasting, positive effect" on adolescent children.
Harvard's School of Public Health published important research by Tyler J. Van der Weele and Ying Chen "which evidences the positive role played by traditional religion on the development of youth and their health and welfare."
Their study "analyzed data from more than 5,000 children and concluded that teens with religious or spiritual practices lead happier and healthier lives in their 20s and beyond." "....The study specifically found that a religious upbringing greatly helps adolescents navigate life's challenges by providing them with an inner strength that brings about many positive outcomes in young adulthood (including processing and giving expression to emotions.)"
"Concluding that 'the effects of a religious community are profoundly positive' the study states, 'there is evidence that religion is an important social determinant of health over life-course.'
"By setting boundaries and standards for children, 'religion provides directives for personal virtue to help maintain self-control and develop negative attitudes toward certain behaviors.'"
There's much more. But, what an encouragement to us who are trying to live this life and pass it on to those around us.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES