Youth Confirmation is not a lesser rite

I had a really interesting conversation about a week ago with a veteran youth minister who has taken a new position. It seems that this new congregation commonly refers “8th grade confirmation.” Not youth confirmation. 8th grade confirmation. “Was 8th grade confirmation radically different from 9th grade confirmation?” I asked. It wasn’t, but 8th grade confirmation was for 8th graders only.  Heaven forbid a 9th grader should try to participate.

This actually highlighted for me an issue I have with referring to “youth confirmation.” To do so strongly suggests that youth confirmation is somehow different from adult confirmation. Is it? I don't think so. I believe confirmation is about expressing an affirmation of your Christian faith, whether you are a youth or an adult. So why do we call out “youth confirmation” as if it was a different thing altogether from confirmation for adults?

I suspect this is actually a problem of language rather than theology. We use “youth confirmation” as a shorthand for “confirmation program specifically designed for youth, offered at the time in their life when we have traditionally invited our younger members to stand in front of the church and affirm their faith.” Which would be pretty unwieldy.

But language has a funny way of shaping what we believe about a thing, so that in our minds youth confirmation does become something different from confirmation for adults, with different expectations for what youth must do to be confirmed, and a different understanding of the function of confirmation itself. I fear that when “Youth confirmation” changes from a descriptor to a category in our minds that we may think of it as a lesser rite.

In Confirm not Conform, we have programs for youth and adults, not because one is better or more important than the other, but because youth and adults are at different stages in their lives, with youth claiming leadership and adults exploring their faith in new ways. I’m glad we decided to call the programs Confirm not Conform for Youth and Confirm not Conform for Adults. And I’m glad there’s so much crossover between them to demonstrate that one is not less than the other. The fundamentals are the same: owning and articulating your own faith.  And that’s what confirmation is about, whether you’re in 8th grade or 80 years old.