I’ll Have What HE Is Having!
When you see someone doing something inspiring and joyful, you want to join in the festivity. Or you see someone going through a complicated situation, and it is the same situation you are going through, but they have a different attitude, a quiet confidence, a hope, calm, and peace about them, and you can’t help but wonder, “How? They’re going through the same thing I am?”
It’s like going to a Mexican restaurant for the first time, and you don’t know what to order. Then the double doors to the back of the house swing open with gusto, and a guy walks out with giant oven mitts in his hand, carrying a cast iron skillet that is sizzling and popping and still cooking as it approaches your neighbor’s table. The smells of chicken, peppers, onions, and garlic burst forth in an olfactory celebration! You stop the waiter on his way back to the kitchen. “Excuse me, what was that?” His eyes brighten as he declares with pride, “Those are my grandfather’s fajitas, our house specialty. He has been making his family recipe for years. You should try them––you won’t be sorry!”
He leaves, and you can still hear the fajitas sizzling––you know in your heart that is what you are going to order. When your waiter comes back, you proudly declare, “I’ll have what he’s having!”
Al Phillips and his family have been leading confirmation training for 21 years. Fidelity in Christ! “I’ll have what He is having!”
The Christian faith and those living in it with their whole heart should inspire us. That is what confirmation is all about. We want these 74 young people to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, breaking the bread, and prayers. We want them to watch us as parents, priests, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth pastors, choir members, readers, greeters, flower guild members, prayer teams, worship leaders, and sextons. So that they see us in love and adoring Christ and think, “I want what they’re having!” What are we having? The Joy and Hope of Christ daily lived out!
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. ––1 Peter 3:15
Watching Bishop Edgar instruct the confirmands on the sacramental nature of what was about to occur in the service was inspiring, and he memories of my confirmation flooded back into my mind. Bishop Salmon laid his hand on my head, and my view of reality was never the same. Roughly three years later, I responded to the calling of the Holy Spirit to become the youth pastor at St. Philip’s. The thought that the 74 young people sitting in the Parish Hall were about to receive the same blessing I had received made me smile. This is why I am a youth pastor! The young people sitting in their dresses and blazers are in a war, entering deeper into a battle that has been going on for ages. Our duty as the elders is to remind them of that and then guide them to the places where they can receive training and care for the wounds of their souls.
Discipleship starts in the home and with weekly attendance to the Church’s sacramental life! If you want your kids to follow Jesus, then you and your spouse had better be the ones to lead the way. After that, in her wisdom, the Church guides families to Sunday School, VBS, and Youth Group! The Bride of Christ teaches, molds, and forms the patterns of life that become the firm foundation for a journey of discipleship that will last a lifetime. Confirmation is not a singular moment in our lives but a daily reminder to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.
I have been involved in youth groups for two decades––two years in St. Louis before I moved to Charleston and three years as a volunteer leader at St. Philip’s before taking over as the full-time youth pastor for the last fifteen years. I am what the Rev. Jeff Miller would call a “Lifer”! When I took over from my predecessor, Chris Thompson, I knew God was calling me to something greater than I could imagine.
I redesigned the youth room. I spent two weeks by myself praying, cleaning (six-year-old candy found under couches must be removed with a scraper), painting, laying flooring, redesigning the bar, and laying out the space into its current format. Everything is a sign pointing us to Christ and a sacramental life. I pulled several 24-hour days in that room on my swollen knees, laying tile, and praying that the black flooring would be a sign to the youth who walk upon it: “Put darkness underfoot.” The dull gray color on the wall with the blue sky breaking through in patches would show them that there is color beyond the grayscale. On the wall to the right, the giant water droplet with the complete confirmation service written inside it would remind them that Christ is the living water and that they made a vow to the King of Kings. As they look to their left, they will see a painting of St. Philip on the wall to remind them that as Christians, they are not alone, that they have a great cloud of witnesses around them cheering them on and encouraging them to keep their confirmational vows! If they pause and look around the room, they will see the writing on the gray wall.
The writing is Scripture verses that former youth groupers who have graduated from the program leave as a legacy and as a signpost to point the next group in the right direction. The very last youth group of the season meets with joy and sadness. As our seniors graduate from the program, we have a special moment for them. We recreate their confirmation service.
Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.––Acts 13:3
Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”––Acts 14:22
Those verses from Acts are the backbone of what we do every May. We call the seniors up, lay hands on them, anoint them with holy oil as we make the sign of the cross, and then every leader and underclassman lays hands on the seniors, and we each take turns praying for them. We present them with a gift and then give them a big black Sharpie tell them to go and leave their mark! They find a space on the wall, ceiling, windowsill, etc. and write their favorite Scripture. They sign it, date it, and move forward to go and make disciples in college. We are called to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, and no matter what season of life you are in, the Gospel should be your focus. Let’s all return to the upward call of Christ and remember our vows at confirmation.
Parents of this year’s confirmation class, I want to encourage you and warmly invite you to send your kids to youth group on Friday nights. This is the Way!
p.s. Someone once asked me, "Do you go right in and read the Scriptures that the seniors wrote on the wall?" I answered, "Nope, I wait until after the staff meeting the following Tuesday, and I go in and seek out the newest legacies. I read them as tears fall from my war-softened eyes! Here are a few pictures to illustrate what I have found in the past!"
p.p.s. I was taking a photo with some of our new confirmands, and our new Bishop photo-bombed us! I thought, “I love this guy!”
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