Tuesday morning as we walked out of a meeting at Augustana Lutheran Church, I turned to Pastor Justin Nickel (who is basically the little brother I never had) and said “Hey Justin, your girlfriend is in my confirmation class that starts tonight” Looking over his shoulder he said loudly “ADULT confirmation for anyone who might be listening. ADULT confirmation”
Sometime people ask me questions I have absolutely no authority to answer, which, of course, doesn’t keep me from doing it anyway. Here’s an example: “What should the Lutheran Church be doing so we don’t die?” Answer “I don’t know…re-catechise the adults? Most of the people in the pews have NO IDEA how beautiful and dangerous their own Lutheran theological and liturgical tradition is” That, and get rid of the pews.
I say all of this with the fervor of an adult convert. See, in 1996 after almost 10 years of not entering a church, I unexplainably found myself spending Wednesday nights in the basement of St Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland, California.
See, I was raised in a sectarian and somewhat fundamentalist tradition called the Church of Christ. Not the gay-friendly liberal United Church of Christ. Nope. The Church of Christ; which can only be described as “Baptist-Plus.” When I left at age sixteen I did so with a vengeance and a pesky little drug and alcohol problem. Ten years later, on those church basement Wednesday nights of catechism and confusion, I had been clean and sober for about four years. So when Pastor Merkel said that God brings life out of death, that we are all simultaneously sinner and saint; when he said that no one is climbing the spiritual ladder up to God but that God always comes down to us; when he said that God’s grace is a gift freely given which we don’t earn but merely attempt to live in response to…well, when he said all of this, I already knew it was true. God had completely interrupted my life. I was perfectly happy destroying myself until God said “That’s cute, but I have something else in mind.” God picked me up from one path and put me on another. I knew everything Pastor Merkel said was true not because I was choosing to adopt some foreign ideology as my own, but rather because I had actually experienced it all to be true. I had undeniably experienced God’s grace and now I was hearing a historically-rooted beautiful articulation of what I had experienced in my life, all in the form of Lutheran theology.
It changed everything. At the same time I was in the Adult Confirmation class at St. Paul I was also attending liturgy every week, which was equally as unexplainable. I had never in my life experienced liturgy and it felt like a mysterious and ancient gift handed down from generations of the faithful. It washed over me. I kept thinking, “I want to go back and do those things and say those things again,” but I had no idea why.
That’s how I fell in love with Lutheranism.
This past Tuesday, 16 years later, I led the first Adult Confirmation Class at House for All Sinners and Saints. There are 12 people, some who had only entered a church maybe 5 or 6 times in their whole lives before coming to HFASS, some who, like me, had left their conservative upbringings for a decade or so before returning to church and some who never left at all. We sat in my living room eating Chinese take-out and telling our faith stories. It was all so Holy and so Hilarious that I just can’t stop thinking about it.
I just feel like the luckiest person.
And just to be clear: Justin Nickel is NOT dating a Middle Schooler.