Author(s)McAlilly, Christopher T
Contributor(s)Maddox, Randy L
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AbstractDoctor of Ministry
American Methodism existed without a rite of confirmation from 1784 to 1965. This study seeks to understand the distinctive problems and possibilities emerging from Wesleyan theology and Methodist history that inform our engagement in the broader Protestant conversation about rites of initiation and the formation of children and youth. After taking a brief look at the current landscape of youth and religion in American life through the lens of practical theology and sociology, this study turns to important historical and theological questions: How did the rite of confirmation emerge in the West in general and in the Church of England in particular? Why did Wesley remove the rite of confirmation from the 1784 Sunday Service? What were the consequences for American Methodism? Why was it reintroduced? How should we approach confirmation now? This study argues that John Wesley was not oblivious to questions of initiation. However, the removal of a rite of confirmation suggests that he was less interested in a single ritual event in which one received a bestowal of the Holy Spirit or made a one-time profession of faith. The burden of his ministry was to create thick communities of discipleship formation and to motivate and incentivize continued participation in the way of salvation through the means of grace in Spirit-filled community. This end, that is, this aim—continued participation in the way of salvation through the means of grace in Spirit-filled community—must shape all Methodist theological reflection and liturgical rites of initiation.