Last week I took our three youth confirmands out to lunch. I have done this for the past three years as a way of encouraging the kids to continue what we have begun in confirmation classes and to help them see their role in church life.
But this year was a little different, because of the fact that I will be leaving. I won’t be around to be their pastor during the coming years. I always hope that the things I teach to them will stick with them long after confirmation is over, but I won’t be around to check on them or to remind them.
This has reminded me of an old Ietter I have. The letter is addressed to my grandfather from a former pastor who confirmed him. I think Grandpa was confirmed in 1922. The letter is dated January 26, 1926, soon after his 17th birthday. Apparently the pastor was a vicar when he was at my Grandpa’s church and confirmed him. Here is a rough translation of the letter.
My dear confirmand Andreas:
I have received the other letters from you and it makes me happy from the bottom of my heart every time I hear from one of my confirmands. Yet don’t be offended that I have not always answered. It is not always wise and in place for a pastor to write to the people in whose congregation he has served, because he could give the impression that he would like to sneak back into the congregation in which he served as a student. And it might not please the current pastor of the place to be writing to his members. That is why I have not answered. It’s not that I have forgotten you. I think of you often—with joy.
Yet this time I may not be silent. A young man who makes a request of the pastor who confirmed him—if he would be willing to get him a Bible—must be answered. It gives me great pleasure, dear Andreas, that you desire a Bible. I will be happy to send you one. Just read in it diligently, and you will have something in your life that reaches to eternity. Today people too often let the Bible gather dust. You, dear youth, do otherwise. And should it be God’s will that we meet each other again here on earth, you can show me a well-used and read Bible.
So far God has richly blessed me in my office. More than his servant has deserved it. Last summer I also received a call to another congregation, but my dear congregation here has not let me leave. Otherwise we are alive and well here in beautiful Illinois. We are very happy here. Give your dear parents my greeting, and to the others whom I confirmed. And keep writing, even if I may not also be able to reply. Greetings. F.W Henke
This letter is interesting for so many reasons. The first thing I note is his hesitancy to interfere with another pastor’s ministry. It’s not that he no longer cared for the people he formerly served, but the fact is that he wasn’t their pastor. I assume that the people whom I have served in Modesto will always be dear to me. We will hopefully maintain some contact with many of them. I do hope that those who read this blog will continue to do so. But I also understand that I will not be their pastor.
The second thing is his instruction for the Bible he would send to this young man. "Read from it diligently. If we meet again here on earth, I hope you can show me a well-read and well-used Bible." I think that would be the wish of every pastor—both for confirmands and for all his members. He hopes that after he departs those people would continue in their diligent reading and study of Scripture. He hopes and prays that these people would have in their hearts a deep desire to remain students of Scripture all the days of their life.
I always start out each year in catechism by showing the students old catechisms. Some of them are over 100 years old. I want them to see 1) that the study of the Bible’s teaching using Luther’s Small Catechism has been going on a long time and that their parents or grandparents studied the very same things and 2) to see how well-used these books were, even after confirmation class was done. I want them to see this as the beginning of a lifetime of study and I’ve told them that I hope someday to see their Bibles and catechisms as well-used as these. I tell them that I hope their grandchildren will someday see in these books a testimony to their life of devotion to and growth in God’s Word.
I don’t know if Pastor Henke ever saw my grandpa again. But I saw his Bibles and catechisms and hymnals. They were exactly as his pastor hoped.