Following is the Oral Defense Opening Statement defending the doctoral dissertation of Rev. Phil Booe.
COOPERATIVE CATECHESIS: A MODEL FOR EQUIPPING LUTHERAN PARENTS AND PASTORS TO CATECHIZE CHILDREN IN THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
Rev. Phil Booe
Oral Defense Opening Statement
In the Lutheran Church, as in many liturgical Christian traditions, there exists the practice of Confirmation. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (Chrismation) consider it a sacrament. For Lutherans and the protestant groups who have retained this rite, it is a symbolic religious milestone in a young person’s life. For Lutherans in particular, the Rite of Confirmation is supposed to be a public recognition that a child has not grown to reject the faith God gave him or her in baptism. It generally follows two to three years of formal study, which is catechesis. In current practice, a young person undergoes the rite of Confirmation after he or she has matured, studied his or her faith, and is ready to make a public confession of the same. This often coincides with his or her first reception of communion.
In both my personal pastoral experience and in the many conversations I have had with other pastors (of varying tenures) over the years, it has become apparent to me that the Confirmation system, at least in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is woefully inadequate and actually quite broken. Many children see confirmation as the end of learning about their faith. It has become a graduation from church. I have had many Lutheran parents tell me that after their child is confirmed they then give them the option of whether or not to continue attending worship or Sunday school. Overall, I have observed that in my ministry context many, if not most, parents have completely abdicated over to the church and the confirmation program their God-given duty to teach their children the faith.
What I believe has resulted is that children are exposed to basic Bible stories in Sunday School, as young teens they endure a couple of years of confirmation instruction where they review the Lord’s prayer, 10 commandments, the Apostles’ creed, and the sacraments of the church. Then, around age 14, they are confirmed. Five years later, they go off to college, the military, or the work force and they have not grown in their understanding or confession. Fast-forward 20 years, and—Lord willing—if the person has remained a member of the church, they are still operating on an 8th grade understanding of their faith. Imagine encountering the increasingly hostile world with a child’s understanding of faith? They are saved by God’s grace, but defenseless against the wiles of the adversary. With this happening over many generations, it is not hard to see why parents feel unequipped and unmotivated to teach their own children about the faith.
These are the circumstances that have weighed on my heart heavily over the past few years – and I am thankful for the opportunity this process has given me to explore other ways to go about catechesis.
In a field as subjective as faith education, my project was naturally qualitative in nature. Simply put, I wanted to get a better understanding of what parents in my own ministry context, and in contexts similar to mine, thought about catechesis and the role of parents and pastors in teaching the tenets of the faith.
Before I could accomplish that, I wanted to more fully understand the biblical perspective of catechesis and the roles of parents and pastors. I would say the epitome of what the Bible has to say about parents passing down God’s teachings to their children comes to us from Deuteronomy 6. Where parents are reminded that training up their children takes place over the course of one’s daily activities and is ongoing, not compartmentalized as it has become. As for the role of pastors, the scriptures were equally clear. The necessity for pastors to teach and defend good doctrine is nowhere better illustrated than Paul’s Pastoral Epistles.
Once I was convinced that I had a good scriptural foundation and biblical support for my position, I then searched the current academic literature to establish a good understanding of how catechesis had developed over the history of the church. I started broadly with the historic early church and then narrowed to the LCMS in particular. I also reviewed the writings of contemporary catechists and LCMS confirmation instruction material to determine how the decline of parental participation in catechesis was being addressed. Among other things, I determined that many people spoke about the problem, but few offered any concrete solutions.
After my literature review, I proceeded to conduct field research to determine how I might design a model of catechesis that helped to address the problem of parental participation and the graduation mentality of confirmation. The question in my mind was how the church might help reclaim the lifelong nature of catechesis and engage parents in the process along the way.
To accomplish this, I designed an online survey for parents in order to ascertain what barriers they felt prevented them from full participation in catechesis. I additionally wanted to learn what goals and expectations they had for Christian education prior to the Rite of Confirmation.
I solicited pastors in the 71 congregations of the New England District to help me find participants. While I had hoped for more participation, I was happy with the high level of participation by parents in my own congregation and with the many responses I received from parents and pastors of NED. I followed up the survey with telephone, Skype, and in-person interviews of the parents and pastors who were willing to participate. This data was evaluated and synthesized with the biblical and literature review to develop a new model.
From the literature review, the surveys, and interviews a model began to develop. My role was shaping the themes I saw emerging from the data. The result was a catechetical model that emphasized life-long catechesis. A model that involved the expertise the pastor as catechist brings along with the personal relationship and loving authority that parents as catechists bring. Although I may have personally desired to dispense with the Rite of Confirmation altogether, it was apparent to me from my research that not only was confirmation too deeply ingrained in the culture of the Lutheran church to leave it behind, but also rites of passage in general can be beneficial. Therefore, my model retains confirmation but lessens its emphasis.
In the end, I saw catechesis as a cooperation between pastors and parents that begins in early childhood and continues until the children are parents themselves and carry on the process with their own offspring. This model, Cooperative Catechesis, contained four stages.
In the first stage, parents take on the primary role and are supported by their pastors and congregations. I called this the equipping stage because it is during these formative years that parents equip their children with the basic building blocks of faith. These building blocks will be enhanced as the child grows and matures. There is a strong emphasis on memory work in this stage. It is also in this early phase that prayer and devotional routines should develop. This stage ends with the Rite of First Communion.
In the second stage, pastors take on the primary role as catechists with support from parents. This is the closest to the traditional confirmation instruction model used today, but is more personally focused on the needs of the child. Children enter this stage as they are developmentally ready, rather than at an arbitrary age. There may be formal classes or individual sessions, but this stage is called the enhancing stage because it builds upon the work accomplished in stage one. Concepts that children have merely memorized are now enhanced with meaning and context. Students are taught to think creatively and critically about their faith to take ownership of what they believe. Students are led on experiential learning and service events to demonstrate that their faith has practical aspects beyond just cognitive learning. This is in stark contrast to many confirmation programs today where the first year of instruction is often spend memorizing and reviewing the basics, which are more easily and effectively done earlier and at home. This stage ends with the Rite of Confirmation.
In the third stage, the now enhanced faith that the child has been equipped with, is explored further as he or she matures into adolescence. That is why I called this stage the exploring stage. Pastors and parents share the role of catechist. The life of a teenager is far removed from what they experienced only a few years previously. Two aspects that are especially new in this stage is a focus on apologetics and how to study the Bible. This third stage focuses less on giving teens the answers, instead teaching them how to think with a Christian mindset. This stage ends with the Rite of Farewell and Godspeed assuming the person is leaving the congregation for the military or school. If the person will be remaining in the congregation, another appropriate rite might be used.
The final stage is called the engaging stage. The student is now an adult and takes responsibility for his or her own continued catechesis. This stage is about encouraging them to continue active participation in their congregation and also, for those to whom it applies, preparing them to begin the process with their own children. This stage symbolically ends with The Rite of Christian Funeral to emphasize the lifelong aspect of catechesis.
As I seek to put this model into practice in my own congregation, a process that will likely take years, I am certain that improvements will be made. I am satisfied with the research I have done and I am pleased to commend it to the church at large.