When I was twelve I began my confirmation into the church. In a class with eight other twelve-year-olds, we met on Tuesday afternoons for a couple of hours with the pastor. We stayed in a room decorated with mulberry, rust, and pine green accents. It was cold and always smelled of a craft store with its synthetic flowery stiffness, fake frosted berries in vases, and mini sepia portraits of past ministers. They sat in rigid chairs, unsmiling, staring at us from the past, some of them with a wife in a frilly blouses standing behind them. “Behold us,” their eyes seemed to say, “for we are the church.”
The eight of us sat at a conference table directly under the overhead lights while Pastor Ahearn presided at the head. We read large portions of the Psalms each week, along with post-Reformation church history (no-one cared about pre-Reformation history for some reason), and learned rudimentary apologetics.
There were eight of us and one pastor in the low room behind the sanctuary. As very young aspiring members of the church, we were talked to regularly about our attitudes, our compulsive eye-rolling, and our desire to grow up too fast. One Sunday School teacher told me she liked that I was a soft-spoken young lady and the soft speech of women was a virtue in this day and age. I couldn’t for the life of me explain the ire that rose up in me.
“Thanks,” I said and gave her a tight smile. I ran off to the women’s bathroom with my friends so we could laugh our heads off at being “soft-spoken.”
It’s likely we deserved every talking-to that came our way.
Confirmation was always on the verge of a disaster. Our gentle and generally unflappable Pastor Ahearn was probably least suited to give lessons to a group of half-grown children who’d been equally preparing for adult faith and sarcasm.
As it was, we cracked.
* * * * *
After two and a half hours of Bible and church history on an afternoon in late January we stood up, stretched and rubbed our eyes, and went to stand in a circle with the other confirmands and Paster Ahearn. We bowed our heads as Pastor Ahearn extended his hands to a kid on either side of him. He motioned for the rest of us to do the same. We grasped each other’s hands and bowed our heads while the pastor began: “Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank you for…”
With that first sentence a strange thing happened. Someone snorted. There was a split second of silence. Pastor Ahearn resumed his prayer–”We thank You for each fine young woman and fine young man in this room”–but it was too late. The giggles had descended. After a few seconds I was horrified to find I couldn’t stop. None of us could. I opened my eyes and encountered the watery gaze of my peers, puffing and blowing to stop more giggles from erupting. I shut my eyes fast. The pastor went on relentlessly and so did we. “And we thank You for bringing each young person here to study every week in preparation for their confirmation…”
The praying went on.We giggled on. If the ground had opened up to swallow all of us, I would not have welcomed it more. Tears ran down my face. I opened one eye. My friends’ faces were teary and bloated. I sighed heavily through my giggles.
“Amen,” he intoned.
The giggles vanished. We dropped our hands and stared at one another with red-rimmed eyes. Pastor Ahearn smiled vaguely at us and wished us a good week and reminded us about our homework on Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.
Then we all filed out and into the dark parking lot where our parents were waiting in their cars for us.