What kind of impact does Confirm not Conform have once confirmation is over? This is the first in an occasional series to answer that question.
Yesterday, I had the great good fortune to talk to Katherine Scott. Katie is one of the very first people to go through the Confirm not Conform program back during its pilot phase in 2006-2007. As a 17-year-old senior, she and three others at St. Paul’s in Benicia were confirmed by Bishop Beisner in the Diocese of Northern California; now, as a 23-year-old, she is co-facilitating the adult program being offered by St. Paul’s.
“St. Paul’s has always been a big important part of my life,” she told me. She started attending at the age of 3 and has during her 20 years of ministry there been an acolyte, lector, lay Eucharistic minister, and, once, a preacher among other roles.
As a teenager, Confirm not Conform helped her “really think about what I believe.” She remembers watching the clip from the Matrix, about whether to take the blue pill or the red pill; she remembers picking J.K. Rowling as her favorite heretic and writing a creed as a class. She remembers looking through the concordance for a passage on love and standing in front of her congregation to recite Romans 13 – “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.” She told me that standing in front of her congregation to teach on Scripture “had a level of comfort for me that I don’t have anywhere else.”
And now she’s teaching the congregation again, co-leading a Confirm not Conform program for adults. Teaching it has allowed her to “go through it again with a new perspective.” Watching the participants begin to open up about their thoughts and beliefs and doubts, she says “you see this chain reaction” as people begin to explore what they may not have even known they were thinking or questioning.
In her work as Sales Manager for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, she says, “I’m very aware that when I tell people I go to church that a lot of people have a stigma about it. I want to be ready for that.” Through Confirm not Conform, Katie says she learned that “it’s ok to believe what you believe and to respect what others believe.” What I realized, talking to Katie, is that Confirm not Conform models hearing beliefs respectfully rather than out of fear or a need to control it; in so doing, participants learn how to do that in their own interactions with others.
Katie agreed. When she does talk to people about what they believe, rather than reacting negatively, “They think, ‘oh well that’s really interesting.’” Confirm not Conform, she explains, provides safety that extends beyond the classroom and into the personal life and daily interactions of the world beyond the church. Confirm not Conform, she says, is a “mold breaker of what people think about religion.”