God forgive us

My wife has assumed responsibility for a new parish and she was doing some housekeeping in the office.  Among the things she discovered was “A Form of Confession for Boys an Girls.”  Wow.

It’s old and yellowed, but I have a feeling it isn’t old enough, let alone dead and gone.  This little gem, which is probably less a page of text reads as follows:

SAY: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

THEN SAY: Bless me Father for I have sinned.

THE PRIEST WILL BLESS YOU.

THEN SAY: I accuse myself of the following sins since my last confession which was (say when).

NEXT TELL THE PRIEST YOUR SINS:

_____I have not always said my morning and night prayers.

_____I have not always said my prayers carefully.

_____I have sworn.

_____I have used bad words and language.

_____I have laughed at religion and holy things.

_____I have missed the Holy Eucharist on Sunday when I could have gone.

_____I have not behaved as I should in Church.

_____I have cheated in my school work.

_____I have cheated in games.

_____I have been unkind to others.

_____I have been unkind to animals.

_____I have tried to get my own way.

_____I have been lazy.

_____I have not made a preparation for Holy Communion.

_____I have not gone to confession when I should.

_____I have not obeyed my parents and teachers.

_____I have fought with others.

_____I have hit others.

_____I have been selfish and not shared what I have.

_____I have thought I was better than others.

_____I have been impure and unclean alone or with others.

_____I have eaten too much.

_____I have stolen.

_____I have told lies.

_____I have talked unkindly about others.

_____I have taught others to do wrong things.

_____I have not kept the fast days.

_____I have hated others.

_____I have made fun of people.

_____I have been cross and unpleasant.

_____Anything else.  (ARE YOU, SERIOUS?!?  SORRY, THAT’S NOT IN “THE FORM”)

NOW SAY: For these sins and all other sins I cannot remember, I am sorry and ask to be forgiven and ask you, Father to give me penance, advice, and forgiveness.

LISTEN TO WHAT THE PRIEST SAYS.

AFTER YOU HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN AND BLESSED SAY: Thank you, Father.

LEAVE THE CONFESSIONAL, SAY YOUR PENANCE IN CHURCH, AND THANK GOD IN YOUR OWN WORDS FOR FORGIVING YOU.

Let me be clear: As the old proverb says, “confession is good for the soul.”  The need for it arises naturally and organically out of an experience of God — presenting itself when needed and in ways that bring us closer to God and remind us of God’s love.  That’s why some churches have a sacrament of reconciliation.

But note the emphasis.  The purpose is to provide a place for people to name the things they have done which impede the work of God’s love in their lives.  It is not a sacrament of blame-laying, guilt-inducing misery and it is not about a God who is trying to trip us up over violating divine law.

But this isn’t the way to teach children to assume moral responsibility, nor is it an effective way to teach children to love God.  A form of this kind is no sacrament at all, in fact.  It’s the product of neurotic adult preoccupation relieved of its guilty conscience by projecting its own darkness onto another generation.

It’s also a fantastic way to create a generation of legalistic neurotics who rummage through their lives, looking for ways to feel guilty.  The rest of the children subjected to this ritual will probably never darken a church door again.

God forgive us.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.


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