|Messiah Lutheran Church||
6201 W Patterson Av
Chicago IL 60634
"what?" "Are you kidding?" "Are you sure about that?" "Oh, come on Mr. Wendt, you must be joking!!!" "Why would you think that?" "Did you really study this?"
The pastor who confirmed me, Pastor Wilkening, would often use such interrogative questions when teaching our catechism classes. His booming voice would make his questions sound even more intimidating, especially when you weren't quite sure of the answer (and even, at times, when you thought you were sure!)
Some of the Elders even questions Pastor Wilkening, as to whether he was being too hard on us after overhearing his teaching style one evening.
None of us had the privilege of attending a Lutheran Day School. But, our instruction was fairly thorough at Hope Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were all required to attend Sunday School in 56h-6th grades, where we studied the Red Book. "When God Chose Man", which covered God's plan of salvation from the Bible.
In 7th-8th grade, we were required to attend Thursdays night catechism class from 6:30-8:30 pm, except during summer and school vacation breaks. Our memory work, which consisted of the Catechism and the proof passages, was said to our parents in order not to use up time in class (or should I say, "interrogation session"?)
Rather than objecting to the required memory work, my parents fully supported Pastor Wilkening in his role in assisting them in instructing me in Luther's Small Catechism. I still recall, coming home late from a track meet in 7th grade, during finals week and thinking that I had a perfect excuse to get out of confirmation class that evening. But my mom insisted that I go to class, as usual, "no ifs, ands, or buts!"
We were also required to fill out extensive study guides, outside of class, which Pastor Wilkening would send to us in the mail. In addition, Mr. Jamo, our Sunday School teacher, made sure we stayed on track in our regular Sunday School attendance, where we would study from the Green Book, "When God Chose Man", as well as discuss Pastor Wilkening's sermons.
We were supposed to be confirmed on Palm Sunday that year, according to our church's tradition. However, because we didn't have our memory work completed on time, our confirmation date was pushed back over a month later to April 23, 1978. Pastor Wilkening knew that our understanding of the catechism was much more important than following a church's tradition!
From the way I have described him, you might get the impression that I didn't care for Pastor Wilkening and confirmation class. But, the fact is, I loved Pastor Wilkening and his class! In spite of his rough exterior, I could tell Pastor Wilkening really loved us and enjoyed teach our class. He would often break out in laughter at our antics and responses to his questions.
I still can remember just how much I wanted to please him, and how much awe and respect I had for him, as my Pastor, and how good it felt to have the correct answers in his class. I cherish the memory when he took me aside, one time and praised me for how I answered him in that evening's class. "Keep it up, Mr Wendt! God has His hand on you! He gave you a good mind! Use it!"
But most of all, I loved how Pastor Wilkening instilled in me a love for God and His Word, my Savior, and the Christian Church.
Although, I don't ever recall him encouraging me to go into the pastoral ministry (perhaps, he reasoned that I would fall in line with my brothers and follow my dad in becoming a physician), I recall how proud he was when I visited him at Jefferson Park Lutheran Church, here in Chicago, during my first year at Seminary, the year before he died.
I witnessed first hand that SUnday the joy and love he exuded to his members of Jefferson Park, as he handed out little candy-canes to his members, before and after church (it was Advent season).
And, once again I heard his booming voice from the pulpit, declaring the Good News of the Gospel! The same voice that would often interrogate me to make sure if I knew the right answers in catechism class!
You see, as touch as Pastor Wilkening was on us – looking back on things, I now understand that he was touch on us because he loved us. His motivation for those "interrogation sessions" in catechism class was so that we would be confident on the Day we took our Confirmation Vow, and remain confident in our confession of the Christian faith in the midst of all the challenges that would threaten our faith in our lifetime.
So that we would be convinced that the teachings of the CHristian faith, as expressed in Luther's Small Catechism, was indeed "most certainly true," and not just in our heads but in our hearts as well!
This month, on Pentecost Sunday, May 19th, four of our 8th graders will be affirming their baptismal faith in the rite of confirmation. ALthough, my methods may not be the same, and my voice pales when compared to the booming voice of Pastor Wilkening's I pray that they too will one day also see that the motivation behind all the extra class sessions, sermon notes, and expectations that I gave them was similar to that of Pastor Wilkening's motivations for being so rough on me and my fellow classmates — that they too will be confident of their faith when they take their confirmation vows, as well as throughout their lifetime.
Jeffrey, Justin, Justina, and Marcus (and all the confirmed and yet to be confirmed members of Messiah) – may He who began this good work in you bring it to completion until the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a joy and privilege to be your pastor!
This is most certainly true!
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