The unbroken line. This time I didn’t just sing it, I experienced it. I had a vision of millions upon millions of disciples, journeying together toward God’s kingdom over two thousand years, following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Forward through the ages, in unbroken line;
Move the faithful spirits, at the call divine;
Gifts in differing measure, hearts of one accord;
Manifold the service, one the sure reward. (#555 The United Methodist Hymnal)
On a recent Saturday night, thirty-six middle school confirmation youth moved in unbroken line. One by one, they stood up before several hundred friends and family to recite their personal creeds.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth
- God makes the impossible possible by creating and loving you and me.
- God is my holy rock and keeps me going when the going gets tough.
- God is the creator of space and time, of plants, water and soil.
- The power, love, wisdom and forgiveness of God will follow me all my days.
- God demolished the darkness and created the light.
How did the confirmands know what to write? They are being raised in Christian homes by parents who make it a priority to attend church and learn what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ. How will the faithful spirits keep moving in unbroken line unless someone teaches them?
The father of a family who recently joined the church said, “The reason we are here is because our elementary age son won’t miss Sunday school … ever. He gets us up on Sunday morning and says, ‘I want to go to Sunday school because Mr. Wells is the best teacher ever. He teaches me about Jesus.’”
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord
- Jesus is always there for me. He teaches me how to live life. I aspire to be the person he wants me to be.
- Jesus is so selfless that he gives me a perspective to serve others, not myself.
- The Lord forgives everyone who asks for forgiveness, which I do often because I am not perfect.
- Jesus is like my tour guide in this world.
- Jesus is human. He knows our struggles and helps us in our weakness.
Some say that the church, as we know it, is dying, that the unbroken line is not only frayed but virtually severed. The United Methodist Church continues to shrink in the United States. Smaller churches struggle to pay the bills, many congregations are no longer sharing the gospel in relevant and compelling ways, the youth are gone and we’ve become distracted from our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Yet as I listen in rapt attention to thirty-six articulate, passionate teenagers share their statements of belief, I have great hope for the world. Young and idealistic as they may be, these youth also get it. They know who Jesus is because of the modeling of their parents, the teaching and love of many adults who are committed to children’s and youth ministry and the example of caring individuals who know them by name, draw out their gifts and empower their faith.
Wider grows the kingdom, reign of love and light
For it we must labor, till our faith is sight.
Prophets have proclaimed it, martyrs testified,
Poets sung its glory, heroes for it died.
I believe in the Holy Spirit
- Faith in the Holy Spirit gives freedom to tackle problems.
- The Holy Spirit brings out the good inside us.
- The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right decisions.
- The Holy Spirit fills our heart with God and gives us guidance.
- The Holy Spirit surrounds us day to night and night to day.
The only way to move forward through the ages in unbroken line is to claim the power of the Holy Spirit to be fire illumining our steps from out in front and wind blowing us along the Way from behind. Cultivating the Spirit in the lives of our children and youth is imperative for the kingdom of God to grow wider, higher and deeper. When the Holy Spirit is moving, the joy of life in the Spirit is infectious, empowering light to shine into the darkest corners of our world.
I believe in the holy catholic (universal) church
- The church is a place where you can feel safe and get to be who God created you to be.
- Christianity is about our relationship with God, Jesus, and how we spread the Word.
- Other places inspire, but the church puts service in a context outside of ourselves. It’s not about us.
- Church is where you can go without being judged.
- Every time I go to church I learn something new.
- The church is my family.
During confirmation weekend the unbroken line grew even stronger. On Sunday morning infants were baptized, the reactions of each one demonstrating the uniqueness of their creation. First-graders led the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer, adults confessed their faith for the first time and were baptized, and the choir sang their own creed, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
The confirmands processed in, wearing red stoles bearing the imprint of a dove and carrying candles to remind them of their light-bearing call. Clergy invited the confirmands to remember their baptism and invoked the power of the Holy Spirit in their life. After worship an octogenarian recalled her own confirmation sixty years before and rejoiced in the unbroken line.
Not alone we conquer, not alone we fall,
In each loss or triumph lose or triumph all.
Bound by God’s far purpose in one living whole,
Move we on together to the shining goal.
I believe in God’s purpose for my life
- The best way to give back is volunteering.
- My purpose is to show compassion in order to make the world a better place.
- I believe the Christian life is the healthiest way to live. I will stay close to the Lord.
- I am not the best Christian I can be, but with God’s help I can be a better Christian.
- Going out and helping people is what it means to be a Christian.
What more fitting hymn to send us out into the world than Forward through the ages, in unbroken line; Move the faithful spirits, at the call divine. The only way the line will remain unbroken is if we are willing to empower the next generation to be the church in new ways. What are you doing to encourage, mentor and coach our children and teenagers and give them opportunities to exercise leadership in the church now?
Are you willing to give up your own preferences and “sacred cows” so that worship engages our youth in more compelling ways now? Are you providing creative opportunities for youth to participate in Bible study, missions, outreach, and spiritual disciplines now? Most important, is your congregation so focused on your vision and mission that you naturally walk alongside our youth as they discover God’s purpose for their life now? Do you believe that youth, too, can become change agents in our world now?
Faithful spirits, moving forward through the ages. A place for everyone in unbroken line. Changing the world, growing the kingdom. I believe now.