Confirm not Conform meets with national success

Posted on August 26, 2008
Confirm not Conform class of 2007Confirm not Conform (CnC), a 16-session confirmation program developed by St John’s, Oakland, is now being used in congregations nationwide. The program is grounded in the idea that youth believe something and the church needs to hear it.

St. John’s, Oakland, has offered CnC for the past decade. Thanks to the encouragement of the Reverend Rosa Lee Harden and Every Voice Network, the program went national in 2006. A group of 20 pilot parishes from across the U.S. tested CnC to see if it would work outside of its San Francisco Bay Area birthplace. The response was enthusiastic, even in congregations that were skeptical at first.

Laurie Brock, associate rector of St. James, Baton Rouge (Louisiana), heard about CnC at a conference for youth workers in Kanuga. “I went expecting yet another ‘groundbreaking new approach’ to Confirmation, like so many others I’ve seen during my ministry. What a surprise to discover this one truly was a new approach that respected teenagers as thinking and reflective members of our faith community, complete with questions and opinions.”Chris Craun, associate rector at St. James, West Hartford (Connecticut), says, “What’s interesting, with the vestry, is we had a day of thinking about the past year, and for people on the vestry who weren’t even mentors for the program, the high point of the year was CnC. That’s very telling about how it involved the whole congregation. People want to do it again.”

Youth want to do it again, too. Annie Pierpoint, now in her 20s, went through the CnC program three times before deciding she was ready to be confirmed. “The first time I went into a confirmation class was when I was in 7th grade. I just remember being a little p.o.’d because they all started the class and it seemed like the tone was ‘all right, welcome to confirmation class. You’re all going to get confirmed.’ I had a lot of questions.”

The Rev. Scott Denman, rector of St. John’s, says, “A really important concept for CnC was how could you really take confirmation seriously if the assumption was ‘you’re going to be confirmed’?” Rather than conforming to parental expectations that they would be confirmed and be done with it, youth must make the decision for themselves whether they are ready to take that step in faith.
After Pierpoint went through the program the first time and decided at the end that she didn’t want to be confirmed, “I was kind of shocked and pleasantly shocked that my choice not to get confirmed was not that big of a deal, I was still accepted by my community. In typical teenager fashion, I was kind of hoping people would be shocked, and it really got me thinking: Wow, this is a community that really cares about me.”

The second time through the program, she assisted with the class but still decided at the end that she wasn’t ready. The third time, she decided she wanted to be confirmed. The entire class served as her sponsor, presenting her to the bishop for her confirmation.
Kellor Smith, Director of Family Ministries at St. John’s, has been part of CnC from its beginning. She says, “It’s not about being confirmed but about them sorting out what’s right for them. To have a situation where there are options and kids are taught to think and to think out of the box is huge for me. I think it’s really important to put kids out of their comfort zone and do it in a safe place. I want church to be that safe place.”

Preparing the curriculum for national distribution took a major investment of time and resources. Molly Darling, Associate Rector at St. John’s, who had created and taught an adult version of CnC, took on the task of transforming the church’s brief class notes into a detailed curriculum that can be used by any congregation. “St. John’s knows how powerful CnC is – not just for the students, but for the whole community. They feel it’s part of their call as a Christian community to make it available to the whole church,” says Darling.
Taking the program national has been an exciting step for St. John’s. Smith says, “The more kids that are touched by this program in my opinion, the better the world’s going to be because they are going to have self confidence and they’re going to have a relationship with God and Jesus.”

Denman adds, “I hope that it creates a whole new generation of honest, faithful, engaged, empowered people that are going to change the world, that they associate relevance with the church. They experience that, and they see their honest place in that, a necessary place in that. And that they engage the adults and the broader church, so the youth model advocacy: they had an impact on us; who have we had an impact on?”

Annie Pierpoint for one. “What has stuck with me the most is a commitment to a spiritual journey. It’s not a commitment to an Episcopal journey, but to a journey and to think about it. It just so happens that to me I have returned to Christianity and to the Episcopal Church and I have fallen in love with it all over again. I don’t think my journey is successful because I returned to the church, but because I was honest and committed to it.”

Why should other congregations use Confirm not Confirm? Pierpoint answers, “Yes, it’s a confirmation program but imagine being able to stand there and give your child this gift of their own voice in the world and in the community. It starts with an opportunity to find a voice in the church. It starts small, but it leaks over. You are giving your child a voice, not just in your community and the church, but the tools to develop a voice in the world and that is so important. They can’t learn this in school. I can’t think of any other places that can teach a kid to think about faith and to consider the world. Why not? It’s awesome.”

For more information about Confirm not Conform, contact the Rev. Laura Toepfer, Interim Director, at laura@confirmnotconform.com, or at 510.339.2200. Or visit their website at www.confirmnotcomform.com.