A couple of weeks ago, I watched a conversation unfold among a group of Christian educators that revealed a surprising attitude that I think many of us still hold deep in our hearts. It started when one of them asked what seemed at first glance like a pretty straightforward question: “At what age or grade do you confirm your youth?”
People had a range of opinions, of course, but as the thread went on, I noticed a disturbing thing. It may have been due to the way the question was asked, but the answers returned with some variant of the answer: “We get them confirmed at age X.” The ages ranged – 8th grade, sixteen, adults – but the formula stayed the same. We get them confirmed.
Do you see the problem, here?
Using language in this way suggests to me that many of us still see confirmation as something to be done to people, not something that people choose for themselves as a part of their faith development.
When we say, “We get them confirmed in 8th grade,” or “I believe in confirming 16 year olds,” what message does that send? What does it say about confirmation? What does it say about confirmands? And what does it say about God?
I think there’s still a perception floating around that confirmation is something that is done to people, particularly young people. It’s not what we consciously believe, but it shows up sideways when we say things like “We get them confirmed.”
So how can we change this perception? I do think that the language matters. I think we need to listen to what we say and catch ourselves in the act. And then we need to make the change. It may be an awkward construction, but what if we started saying, “We offer confirmation programs for people beginning in 8th grade” (or age sixteen or adults).
After all, doesn’t this more accurately reflect what we are doing? All we can do is offer a program, a chance to reflect, learn, and grow in faith. The confirmation itself should be between the confirmand and God.
[You might also want to read this reflection I wrote for Episcopal Café on If we did wedding preparation like confirmation preparation.]