By Kara Witherow, Editor
For thousands of South Georgia children and youth, the Conference’s Confirmation Retreat has been a crucial part of their confirmation journey.
Since 2002, hundreds of children have flocked to Epworth By The Sea each spring for worship, study, and fellowship with fellow confirmands.
But because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Confirmation Retreat was in limbo and organizers had to determine if and how to host the event.
“Now more than ever, youth are desperate to know the ‘why’ behind everything in our world,” said Suzanne Akins, associate director of Connectional Ministries. “This makes the Confirmation experience that much more vital. Being able to ask and find answers to the ‘why’s’ of their faith, their church, and their denomination is crucial to their spiritual journey.”
Thanks to computers and the creativity of a 2021 Task Force, the Confirmation Retreat continued on this year despite COVID-19.
Instead of 500 confirmands gathering in person this year, Akins created a digital version of the annual retreat and dubbed it “Confirmation: Reimagined.” While the content was packaged differently than in years past - with video courses, Zoom sessions, digital downloads, and Spotify playlists in lieu of speakers, small group sessions, and bands - the content was the same.
“We knew churches were going to try and bring back Confirmation classes after most missed a year,” Akins said. “We knew we couldn’t offer the supplement of a big retreat, so we sat down (by Zoom of course!) with our task force and figured out how to get the content straight to the local church leaders through digital mediums.”
Confirmands from St. Mary’s Road United Methodist Church in Columbus look forward to the Conference’s annual Confirmation Retreat and attend each year. Church leaders were grateful to have options with the digital content this year when gathering in person wasn’t possible.
“I was really excited when I saw that the Conference had put together Reimagined materials and that we could use them,” said Paula Shaw-Powell, St. Mary’s Road UMC’s Christian Education Team Chair. “The parents were motivated to have their children go through confirmation and the children were motivated to go through confirmation, too.”
Using the Reimagined curriculum, St. Mary’s Road UMC leaders and its six confirmands gathered via Zoom every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon for six weeks. They occasionally struggled through attention and Internet connection issues, but the confirmands persevered and took their vows March 14.
“We saw the determination in the kids to go through this so they could have their confirmation this year, together,” Shaw-Powell said. “We say to them, when they finish, that they know more about The UMC than the adults in the pews. They learn so much about being a Christian and the call to be a Christian in their young lives and what it means to be a United Methodist. I think that’s important because we have so many people who don’t think that staying in church is important. It is important, and the kids learn why it’s important.”
Even in the midst of the pandemic, Annie Paulk has seen creativity and connectionalism thrive.
As Tifton First United Methodist Church’s Director of Children's Ministries, Paulk has been a regular participant in the Conference’s Confirmation Retreat, taking groups year after year.
For her group, forging relationships is a huge component of the retreat, and she wanted to find a way to use the content, foster relationships, and stay safe.
“For me, personally, it is all about relationships,” Paulk said. “The retreat’s content helps them understand it on their level and helps them see how important relationships are – with each other and with God.”
She and Nichole Lawson, Perry United Methodist Church’s youth pastor, teamed up for a small retreat at Camp Jekyll on Jekyll Island. Using the Conference’s Confirmation: Reimagined materials and with in-person sessions led by Akins and Conference Historian Anne Packard, they were able to gather for their own mini Confirmation Retreat.
“It was amazing,” Paulk said. “(The kids) were so excited to be doing something. It met all of the ministry goals we were trying to reach. I love the connectionalism, and it’s so evident in that retreat. That connectionalism really empowers us to make a greater impact for the body of Christ.”
While Confirmation looked different this year, church leaders are grateful for the Conference’s creativity and the opportunity to continue the confirmation connection.
“It was really fun,” Shaw-Powell said. “It wasn’t Epworth, but it was great. This year was a unique year, and they still learned what it meant to be United Methodist.”