My Confirmation by Evalyn Paulson

 

Now that confirmation time has arrived again, a good friend suggested that I tell you about my confirmation on June 8, 1930. This is my story.

 

As early as 1923, when I was in the third grade, we learned that our hometown, Salamanca, had 3 railroads – the Erie, the Pennsylvania, and the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh (B R & P). The city also had eleven houses of worship, but no Lutheran church. It still has no Lutheran church.

 

When I became 14 years old in September 1929, my parents, John and Augusta Jacobson, knew that I had reached the age of confirmation. It did not take them long to figure out a way for me to be confirmed in spite of there being no Lutheran church in town. I could take the train on Friday afternoons to Mt. Jewett, Pennsylvania, attend confirmation class Saturday mornings, and return to Salamanca Saturday afternoons.

 

Since my father was a locomotive engineer on the B R & P Railroad, his family was given passes for railroad travel. My mother’s sister, Aunt Amanda, who lived in Mt. Jewett, would be persuaded to welcome a young guest every weekend for nine months.  Therefore, these weekend trips would be free of expense. Figuring out the cheapest way to do anything in this year of the Great Depression was a part of every family’s life. And we survived.

My father had told me to take note in the Spring of the wild rhododendrons and azaleas that grew near the tracks, for he knew the forest well. His normal run was from Salamanca up through the Allegany Mountains to the top near Mt. Jewett and on to Punxsutawney, PA.

 

On Fridays, on my way to Mt. Jewett, I studied my catechism lessons to the sound of the wheels on the rails, perhaps an hour and a half ride. Coming back down the mountain on Saturday, I had more time to look for flowers, and animals, as well.

 

Our confirmation class met in the little social hall at the foot of the Mt. Nebo church hill.  We sat in a semi-circle facing Pastor Gustav H. Bomgren. Some of my classmates were confirmed in Swedish, and some in English, as I was. The pastor just switched from one language to the other easily.

 

As you can imagine, I was not particularly overjoyed at this phase of my life.  To spend Saturday mornings in class with a group of strangers was not something I was eager to do. But I did not question the wisdom of my parents. To be confirmed at the age of fourteen, was as natural a rite of passage for a Lutheran family, as entering first grade at the age of six. I can also report that these thirty strangers became my friends, and the memory of my confirmation day is an outstanding day in my life. In fact, we became so comfortable with each other that we met again in the church to celebrate two reunions – our 50th and 60th.

 

On that day so long ago, an important part of the service was the examination of the confirmands’ knowledge of Luther’s Small Catechism – all five parts. Each of us was asked a question and each responded. We were not told previously what question we would be asked. I am certain the pastor knew the ability of each of us to memorize. Therefore the questions must have been tailored to the ability of each. An easy question might be: “What is the 4th Commandment?” or “Tell us what the 2nd Article of the Creed is?” or “What are the 2 sacraments observed by the Lutheran Church?”. I do not remember what my question was, but I do recall the surge of relief when I was able to answer the question correctly.

 

We sat in our usual semi-circle at the front of the church facing Pastor Bomgren. Behind him was the wonderful altar painting, “The Ascension”, painted by the well-known Swedish artist Birger Sandzen. Incidentally, this painting was installed in 1929, and is still there. Mt. Nebo church now, though, is called Nebo Chapel.

 

Hymns were sung, the organist at the old pump organ contributed to the making of a joyful sound, the sermon was given, and the service was over. We had demonstrated our faith. We had each been given a gift from the church, The Holy Bible, with our names printed in gold on the cover. Next Sunday would be the proper time to take our first communion, according to the protocol of the Augustana Synod. My old Bible I handle carefully because pieces of the cover keep peeling off, but the hard covered catechism is holding together well. I thumb through the little book, and note the last sentence of the explanation of each of the three parts of the Creed, which I repeat here: “This is most certainly true.”

 

On the presentation page of our Bibles, Pastor Bomgren had written the chapter and verse number that he thought might be important to us. On mine he wrote Psalm 119. Verse 33 reads: “Teach me, O Jehovah, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.”

 

I wish I could show you my confirmation picture. Sixteen girls are there in white dresses of various styles, reaching just below the knee, and white stockings and shoes. Fifteen boys are dressed in dark suits, white shirts, and ties. We look as presentable as any class in any age. Since 1930 was one of the dismal years of the Great Depression, I believe our trim appearance is a tribute to our parents, who surely sacrificed and managed well in their devotion to their children and their church.

 

I am glad that I have had the experience of confirmation, that I had the unswerving strength and understanding of my parents, and that I was able to learn at least a little of what Martin Luther so fervently believed. I like to think that my confirmation has guided my faith to this day.