Confirmation and finessing the Pledge #AtoZChallenge

C is for Confirmation and finessing the Pledge. Third of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

My family went to Endwell’s Christ the King Roman Catholic Church, and one of the rights of passage into worshipful adulthood was Confirmation.

And sure enough, as my Confirmation approached in 1963, I was faced with a major adult-level decision at age 13: should I or should I not take “the Pledge?”

What is the Pledge?

The Pledge, in case you are wondering, is a promise made in church at the end of the Confirmation ceremony that you won’t drink alcohol until you are either 18 or 21 (your choice).

Exterior of Endwell’s Christ the King Church (1993). Photo by Molly Charboneau

Looking back, I thought the Pledge was a weird anomaly of our diocese or perhaps dreamed up by our fire-and-brimstone priest — since I’ve queried Catholics over the years and nobody seems to have heard of it.

But it turns out the Pledge was indeed a church policy dating back to the 19th century as a temperance effort to prevent drinking — and practiced widely Ireland, if not in the U.S.

My parents push the Pledge

So back to 1963 and my quandary. The New York State drinking age was then 18 — a mere five years away for me. But my 1950s-era parents wanted me to swear off alcohol until I was 21 — in front of them and the whole congregation.

Confirmation Day 1963. Posing in our back yard with a clear conscience after refusing to take the teetotaler Pledge. Photo by Liz (Stoutner) Laurence.

Seriously? That would put me halfway through college! Surely I would take a drink by then.

So my options were clear: Be honest and avoid the Pledge, or lie in church, take the Pledge and risk eternal damnation when I later broke my promise.

My decision was also clear: I couldn’t lie, so I would have to somehow avoid the Pledge when our Confirmation group stood up to say it. But how?

I finesse the Pledge

Anyone raised Catholic knows there are ways to get around most things without breaking the rules or risking an embarrassing confession. This was one of those instances — and fortune was with me on Confirmation day.

My parents were seated on the right side of the church, at the back. I was in a sea of teens on the left side, a few rows up — and from there I could keep a side-eye on my folks.

When it came time to recite the Pledge, I leaned slightly forward and made sure my head was hidden behind the girl to my right — so my parents couldn’t see my lips, which were firmly clamped shut.

Interior of Christ the King Church, Endwell, N.Y. (1993). Seating arrangements saved the day and helped me avoid taking the Pledge on Confirmation Day 1963. Photo by Molly Charboneau

I evade the inevitable question

Outside after the ceremony, there was a flurry of white gowns and picture-taking. But my mom was no fool, so she asked me outright, “Did you take the Pledge? We couldn’t see your lips during the ceremony.”

I responded with a Catholic evasion: “What are you talking about? Everyone took the pledge.” And that was that until I was 18 and went out for my first legal guilt-free drink with one of my high school girlfriends — no confession necessary.

Up next: Dion, the Dave Clark 5 and Dancing to Dick Clark. Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!

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32 thoughts on “Confirmation and finessing the Pledge #AtoZChallenge”

  1. This is my favorite post so far. And it’s only “C!” The only such pledge I know about is about sex (Purity Pledge.) I didn’t have to do either – you know us Liberal Lutherans! However such rules were certainly implied and expected!I love how you got around it, maintaining your integrity! Another faux pas of the institutional church that drove many away afraid of that lightening bolt!

  2. We didn’t have any pledge in Albany. Probably because most of us already had a few nips .ha ha Really didn’t ever hear of that and going to talk to my siblings about it. Of course I am a couple years younger than you. Really jealous of the wonderful home life you had. Your mom and dad were great parents . Stay safe Don Buell

  3. Molly,

    I’m not catholic so I appreciate you explaining these things to me a bit. I had to laugh at your cleverness. When I was a young teen one of my girlfriends’ mother had liquor in the home as well her brother’s ex-girlfriend who was several years older than us would buy us beer. No matter how clever I thought I was being I’m fairly sure my parents suspected me every time but never said a word. By the time I turned 14 I became a Christian and put drinking behind me. It wasn’t really a big deal for me to give it up because I really didn’t like it which I’m happy about. It’s noble for young people to commit to things such as this because helps to build good moral standing in my opinion, sometimes pledges get broken but God is forgiving. It’s up to us to seek His forgiveness and not repeat the same mistakes.

    Curious as a Cathy’s Looney Tunes A-Z Cecil Turtle Art Sketch. Happy A2Zing, my friend!

  4. Love your story and the way you managed the whole thing. Did you ever tell your mother the story? She might have had a chuckle with you.

  5. This made me smile. You sort of cheated, but more importantly, you kept the promise you didn’t make and stayed dry until 18, which is fantastic! Underpromise, overdeliver.

    The forbidden fruit is probably all the more attractive if you have to wait for it until you’re 21.

    Growing up in Switzerland (think neighbor countries: France and Italy, need I say more) nobody made a fuss about teenagers trying a sip of wine.

  6. What a great story! I ‘m amused at the idea of a choice between 18 or 21, as if that gave you some way to exercise free will. Learning to take any pledge, whether sacred or secular, is a major step to becoming an adult. And so is learning how to “finesse” those public and private promises. You may have avoided an official church confession, but did you ever confess to your mother? That might have needed some finesse too.

    1. I don’t think I did ever confess to my mom. She taught music at a parochial school, and I was probably afraid she’d use her connections to make me to take the Pledge privately 🙂 Better to leave well enough alone — especially during the teen years.

  7. Wow! I did not know about the pledge in the Catholic church. So interesting. And yes, clever you for figuring out how not to put yourself in a bind. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I don’t think the Pledge was required everywhere — but we had a conservative priest who seemed to come from the 19th Century, so he would have been all for it.

  8. All new to me – being brought up in community and Protestant churches. I’m happy you managed to make an ‘end run’ around the “pledge” thing. I’m not sure I agree with the philosophy of such pledges – especially encouraging young people to follow them. I think you were very smart in thinking the whole thing through so completely.

    1. I’m not sure the Pledge is required anymore, after some push back from parishioners who objected to introducing a secular vow into a religious ceremony. I agree with you (and them) that it’s out of place at church.

  9. Glad to see you’re back blogging. We didn’t have a pledge like this for my confirmation. I’m curious if it works overall.

    1. Yeah, she was a teacher who didn’t let much get past her. But by my teens, I had figured out workarounds like this one 🙂

  10. Raised in the Convegational church, no confirmation and no pledge. I didn’t drink until I was on my own, just my personal querk. I was, in fact, offered wine at home way before that and refused.

  11. My husband is Catholic and it was very new to me. I’m from the south and my Methodist religion was so different. He talks about making his confirmation and how the church was so different.

  12. Well done! To have thought it through at 13 shows you were mature enough to do the right thing, pledge or no pledge. I have a family bible that includes a Temperance Pledge, popular among Methodists. Not a single family member signed it!

    1. At last — someone else who knows about the Pledge! You’re the first person I know, outside of my hometown, who was required to take the Pledge.

  13. The pledge didn’t come with Confirmation for me but was heavily “sold” at my high school. I still can’t quite believe I evaded it despite being a goody two shoes and coming from a largely non-drinking family. I’d have waited for lightning to strike if I’d fudged my way through it.

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