by David Morstad
For many years, I worked for an organization that produced educational resources and provided consultation for families and faith communities. Our phone rang often, and it was usually someone with a particular need in their church. One caller was a woman whose family had recently joined a congregation where members her son’s age were preparing for confirmation. This is a significant rite of passage in many denominations and she saw no reason why her son, a 13-year-old boy with a developmental disability, shouldn’t be included in the experience.
This kind of call came to us nearly every week. In fact, questions around confirmation were by far the most common. For many, confirmation represents a watershed moment in Christian education. At adolescence, the learning expectations change and inclusion is not as effortless as it may have been in the case of younger children. As students mature and classroom approaches change, Confirmation instruction often tends to be more academically challenging and many pastors and teachers seek advice when it comes to intellectual disability. Typically, a pastor or parent would call, we would provide recommendations and resources, and everyone left happy.
Not this time.
Apparently, a mild disagreement between the pastor and the mother was emerging and we were being called to provide some guidance. “He’s hesitant to confirm my son,” the mother told me. “I know he’s going to be calling you, and I wanted to talk to you first and at least warn you.”
“If he calls, I’ll be happy to talk with him,” was about all I could say. And I waited. And he called. And I was so very pleased that he did.
What I discovered was a pastor who was actually willing to do everything it took to confirm the young man. But, in his mind, it had to be real. It had to be real instruction, with real expectations and real challenges. Built to fit the young man’s particular needs, to be sure, but real. Real interactions with his peers, real service to the community, and a real understanding of grace alone, faith alone and scripture alone as expressed in the young man’s own life.
Mom saw things differently. A dozen years of fighting for everything that other students got without asking had taught her to be apprehensive of instruction he would not understand, concerned about expectations frustratingly beyond his grasp, or simply afraid that this was one more situation in which he would be excluded from the social mainstream. All she really wanted was for her son to have his special day, wear in his white robe, stand at the front of the church with everyone else, and celebrate with family afterward.
Now, years later, I have no interest in an argument that one or the other had missed the point. They both saw the same point, but viewed it from two different places. Mom longed for a welcome that was not contingent upon intellect, while pastor envisioned a deeper encounter with the one who first welcomed us. Wisdom all around. We just need to talk.