The World Has Changed. Have you?
This would normally be the time that we would be posting pictures of all the celebrations and iConfirm services across the country. Instead, everything has changed and I imagine that like our church, there have been indefinitely postponed services and questions about how to honor the journey we were on with our CnC classes.
40 Simple Practices for Lent
These simple practices for Lent were shared with me and I think they would be an excellent addition to your next CnC class as we enter the season of Lent!
The 40 Simple Practices for Lent are by Sarah Bessey (all rights reserved)
Day One :: Participate in an Ash Wednesday service in your town. Receive the imposition of the ashes and consider your mortality. Read Jan Richardson’s Blessing for the Dust.
Day Two :: Download an app like Common Prayeror pick up a prayer book like Eastertide by Phyllis Tickle and begin to pray the daily offices at morning, midday, and evening. Do this throughout Lent.
Day Three :: Choose something to fast for the remaining days to remind you of your dependence on God. Something like the traditional meat or alcohol, sugar or caffeine or even social media. (One year, my friend Rachel gave up sleeping in. Another friend gave up complaining, another gave up cynicism, another unnecessary spending.) Be creative and honest about your dependencies. Look for ways to channel that energy into something generative and healing. P.S. you don’t have to fast on Sundays!
Day Four :: Pray for your friends and for your enemy/ies by name. Bless them, one by one. Think of the person you most struggle to love and pray for them as a beloved child of God.
Day Five :: If you normally listen to a podcast or music or watch TV, choose silence for the day.
Day Six :: Unfollow or mute five social media accounts that make you feel angry, afraid, or envious.
Day Seven :: Read Psalm 51 three times out loud in a different Bible translation than you usually read. Here’s the Message for instance.
Day Eight :: Step outside and walk/ride/drive/motor/wheel to a spot with trees or water.
Day Nine :: Repent. The kingdom of God is at hand. Read Amos 5 while you’re at it.
Day Ten :: Make a list of 40 things, experiences, or people you’re thankful for.
Day Eleven :: Look at your bookshelves and ask yourself: where are the women? the people of colour? disabled voices? LGBTQ+ voices? the ones who come from a different tradition? Ask yourself, “who is forming my spiritual life? and whose voices are missing?” (P.S. You could even join us for Field Notes Book Club as a start.)
Day Twelve :: Think of five people who inspire you or others on social media. Amplify their voices or buy their books, send them an encouraging note or share their work with a friend.
Day Thirteen :: Donate 40 things to a charity or thrift shop.
Day Fourteen :: Educate yourself about whose land you are living on by visiting Native-Land.ca and learn something about the people. If there is a learning centre nearby, plan a visit.
Day Fifteen :: Bring your own bags to the grocery store and your own mug to the coffee shop or work.
Day Sixteen :: Read a poem. Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese is one of my favourites but there are many.
Day Seventeen :: Skip the Internet for a day and turn off notifications on your phone.
Day Eighteen :: Invite someone over to your home and cook them a simple weeknight meal. If they are also a believer or comfortable with the practice, pray for one another together at the table.
Day Nineteen :: Speak words of forgiveness out loud to yourself for that thing you’ve been holding onto for too long.
Day Twenty :: Send an encouraging email to your pastor or priest and tell them how much you appreciate all the extra work they are doing for Lent and Easter prep. Drop off a coffee or a gift card or a note.
Day Twenty One :: Light a candle and meditate for five minute, bringing yourself back over and over again to one word you need to cling to right now (example: beloved).
Day Twenty Two :: Plant a tree or a flower. Take a moment to be grateful for this world. Place your hands in the dirt and rejoice.
Day Twenty Three :: Tell someone you trust the truth you’ve been holding back.
Day Twenty Four :: Ask for help with something or for a three-minute quiet hug from someone you trust.
Day Twenty Five :: Read or listen to the Gospel of John. Write down a verse that you like or want to remember in your journal.
Day Twenty Six :: Go outside late in the day and don’t take a single picture, just look, while the sun sets. Or stare out a window for at least 5 minutes and consider what you notice.
Day Twenty Seven :: Write a lament for injustice you or people you love have experienced, modeled on the Psalms of Lament. Bury that piece of paper at the base of a tree or in a garden so that your grief and lament can nourish the soil of a living thing.
Day Twenty Eight :: Sign up to a monthly supporter of a ministry or non-profit that you feel doesn’t get enough love or attention. Even $5 a month matters. Look for a way to turn your anxieties about the world into real, positive work.
Day Twenty Nine :: Donate some of your in-good-condition books to the library. Recycle any books with toxic or abusive theology in your home, get rid of them.
Day Thirty :: Go to a church or a concert or an evening prayer service and sing your heart out.
Day Thirty One :: Read Psalm 139 out loud.
Day Thirty Two :: Wake up early to pray for persecuted Christians around the world including our LGBTQ+ siblings.
Day Thirty Three :: Imagine God looking at you with infinite love and tenderness, kindness and mercy.
Day Thirty Four :: Try to meet or get to know a neighbour.
Day Thirty Five :: Buy (or collect from your pantry) a bag of groceries and drop it off at the Food Bank.
Day Thirty Six :: Write out by hand Matthew 11:28-30 and tape it to your mirror.
Day Thirty Seven :: Memorize the Jesus Prayer - “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” - in the morning and pray it throughout the day. Consider switching the word “sinner” for “your beloved child” and see how that changes things.
Day Thirty Eight :: Write a short one-page letter to your younger self at a time when you felt most vulnerable or afraid or sad to encourage her that despite difficulties and challenges, she is never alone or forgotten. Tell her what you wish somebody would have said to you in those days.
Day Thirty Nine :: Every time you become aware of your body in any way - positive or negative - speak kind words to your body or say, “I bless and love my body.”
Day Forty :: Sing the kids’ song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” but switch the pronouns to feminine ones: “She’s Got the Whole World in Her Hands.” Notice how it feels to use a feminine pronoun for God.
Imagine how God would mother you today, how it would feel to be held in the hands of God, and open yourself to those possibilities.
Bonus :: Think about the past forty days and choose one practice to carry forward.
And now it’s Holy Week! (you could begin to plan a way to celebrate Easter Sunday with friends or family - the time of lament and repentance has nearly ended, it’s time to celebrate with a good party!)
This may be the time in your program year of Confirm not Conform when some of your youth are tallying up absences to class sessions. The newness of the commitment may have worn out a bit. Schedules get tighter and tighter. It is a perfect time to remind our participants who we want to hold ourselves accountable to...
We just shared Session 10 this past Sunday - the session on how we help. I was blown away by the passion and interest the youth had in issues and concerns of the world. It wasn't just their knowledge of the issues, but the reason they felt accountable to making the world a better place. At the recent Rooted in Jesus Conference I had the chance to hear the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Seminary, The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas speak. She shared a personal story of seeing two kids in need in her home town. For decades this has been an image etched in her mind. In the work she does, she consistently remembers feeling accountable to those kids and has lived her life with this belief; "Never withhold from another what you wouldn't withhold from yourself."
In the next opening or closing of your CnC session, ask your youth to meditate on a memory or an image they have seen in the news that depicts who they feel accountable to in making a difference in the world. Leaders - who do you feel accountable to in the work you are doing? I am grateful for your ministry in Confirm not Conform!
As we enter into the Advent season and begin to look East, I wanted to share a story from one of our East Coast participants of Confirm not Conform. This also reminds us of what we are looking forward to as some of us come to a mid-point in the CnC year.
From Pastor Jen Miwok at United Church of Underhill in Vermont:
In June, UCU held two exciting celebrations to mark new chapters in the faith lives of many within our church family.
On the evening of Saturday, June 22, seven senior high youth participated in a special “iConfirm” service, the culmination of their confirmation program, which began in February. The service was a part of the Confirm not Conform curriculum used in the class. It recognized the faithful discernment process of each student, whether or not they ultimately chose to join the church. As a part of the service, each student memorized, presented, and taught on a passage of scripture. They were accompanied by their mentors, who met with them periodically throughout the confirmation process, and were presented with special gifts: Lectio Divina Bibles, handmade stoles signed by their mentors and families, and bookmarks with excerpts from their memorized passages of scripture. Afterwards, families, friends, and church members gathered for a celebratory cookout and game night on the church lawn.
Then on Sunday, June 23, we welcomed eight new members into the life of the church through baptism, confirmation, and reaffirmation of faith. See the next page for brief bios of our seven confirmands and two new members. The confirmation bios include references to the scripture passages each youth memorized. As pledged during the June service, please continue to keep all of our new members in your prayers and care!
There is often a hurried last minute feeling as we launch into the rhythm and routine of fall. Then all of the sudden you look up and it’s October. I hope that for many of you who have started the CnC program this fall, you are feeling like you understand the format and the ways to connect it with your community and context. The last two pieces of our Quick Start-Up Guide encourage you to do two things:
1. Schedule time to review the program. You may have noticed that the curriculum is very complete and thorough. So much so that it can feel like you can just turn to the Session right before your class and teach. I encourage you to give yourself a chance to get ahead of the game. Spend at least 30 minutes reviewing the material for a session so that you can interact with it with the participants. After class, see what is coming up next and stay ahead of it! Reviewing the upcoming lessons will help you understand the road map of the program.
2. Don’t panic. Or to be more Biblical about it, Fear not. Take a deep breath. Let go of the need for things to be perfect. Let go of any anxiety about how much you have to do. Take one step at a time. It’s going to be all right. Remember: We’re here to help.
Please contact me if you have any questions, if you are navigating any obstacles, or if you just want to tell me how awesome everything is going for your congregation! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Time is Near!
I had lunch this week with a mom of one of our youth’s and was encouraged that she felt like Confirmation gets to be put on the “Mama-Do” list. The list where she possess a limited, but powerful few cards that get to be drawn on to have her youth participate in something that she feels is worthwhile. The youth, can obviously have whatever feeling she may have, but has to at least try whatever the “Mama-Do” ask is asking. I did remind the parent that the program is called Confirm not Conform, but was also glad that she trusts the process and is willing to put her own weight behind it. We start our class sessions in September! Here are a few of the next steps we will be taking - a continuation from our July 12th blog post…
It is time to - plan an informational meeting for parents and youth.
Although it is better to have a meeting ahead of the first session, it is far better to have one after the program starts than not have one at all. This meeting is generally an hour long. More information can be found in the Getting Started Guide. At the moment, don’t worry about details; just get a potential time on the calendar.
I will be sure that I - Review the Commitment Pledge.
This can be adjusted for your needs, but have a sense of what you are asking (or want to ask) of participants, parents, and your faith community. The Commitment Pledge can be found on page 6 of the Quick Start Guide.
Then I will Plan our communications.
Take a few minutes to write down who needs to be in the loop: parents, youth, church leaders, youth ministers, and others. Sketch out any immediate communication needs: what they need to know, when they need to know, and how you will contact them.
Stay tuned for the final to-do tasks for a successful start to your Confirm not Conform year.
And always reach out for ideas or help - email@example.com
We can always start earlier - Have our Confirmation program lined up a year out, put on our informational session with parents and youth, get the congregation excited about a new intergenerational opportunity, and have the calendar set. But it is also not too late! July is the perfect time to feel the ease of summer and start putting into place the essentials for a strong and engaging year of formation for the youth and adults of your faith community.
To help, over the next three weeks, I will break down the check list for the Quick Getting Starting Guide for Confirm not Conform. Follow along! Doing just a few things each week will make you feel confident and ready.
Give yourself a 1 hour block in the next week when you can read through the Getting Started Guide. Grab your highlights and take some notes on what needs to be done next. Maybe read it in your favorite sunny place - pour yourself an iced tea. Invite a colleague to read it with you and plan together.
Get a sense of the sessions. Take a look at the Table of Contents to get an idea of the flow of the lessons. Don’t worry about scheduling them at this instant. What you need to know right now:
• Each session as written is 90 minutes long, but can be divided into smaller chunks.
• Each session document starts with information about what you need to have or do to set up that particular session. You will need some time in advance to gather material and to prepare the space.
• Session Materials to print out and copy are at the end of each individual session, not in a separate file.
• You will not need to prepare content, but we strongly encourage you to review the session content before you lead the session.
Basically, take a deep breath. Everything you need to know and prepare for is clearly written out in the materials.
If the date for your first session is imminent...Print out Session 1 or pull it up on your
eReader and take 10 minutes to look through it. Write down the items you need to have for the session. Schedule time to gather those items after this hour is over. Do not go scurrying off in a panic!
Stay tuned next week for more easy to check-off-your-list tasks. And always reach out for ideas or help - firstname.lastname@example.org
Just to tell you where I’m coming from: I’ve been teaching CnC for probably 10 years now. Every year I’ve talked the talk about how youth and parents need to make a commitment to attend CnC classes. Yes, youth are busy; yes, they have soccer and drama and all the rest. But if they want be part of the CnC program, they need to make the commitment to be there.
And now my daughter is old enough to be in CnC and I’ve had to walk the walk.
My daughter is a competitive gymnast. She has practice every day and meets on many weekends. And if she took CnC, she might not be able to compete in some of the big meets. She might be left out of certain team events that she could succeed in. There was a real possibility (or maybe just a threat) that if I took my daughter away from gymnastics in order to go through the CnC program, it might hurt her prospects. (I kind of feel that ought to be in capital letters, you know: It Will Hurt Her Prospects!!!)
But I realized if I thought this program was important enough for other parents and other youth to make the choice and commitment to attend, I had to do the same thing.
When I went to talk to my daughter’s coach, I got a some push-back on the fact that she was going to miss a few classes. I finally said to them, “Listen: if we were Jewish, and I said I was taking her out of class for a religious observance, would you be giving me this kind of resistance?” They said, “Well, no.” It’s a very strange thing how if we practiced some other religion, sports teams might be more accommodating. But I just don’t think we’re used to thinking of ourselves as needing accommodation for our religious observances, maybe because we already get the holidays off, or maybe because it just doesn’t occur to us that others should or would be willing to accommodate our faith.
If you’re getting concerns from your parents about how for this reason or that reason, their kid can’t participate in CnC, first of all, you’re not alone. We get that every year. And every year, Scott Denman tells them straight out, “If you can't make a commitment to come to the classes, then CnC is not for you; we don’t want to put you in a position where you’re torn.” People aren’t used to that coming from a church.
I often ask, “OK, where’s the real conflict?” Are we talking about how your kid is going to be 40 minutes late to every class? Then that’s not going to work. If there’s 18 things conflicting with CnC, then I can’t help you. But if there’s one thing, let’s talk.
But often it’s not the scheduling conflict that’s the real issue. One father once said to me, “I have no ego in my kid being at church, but I do have my ego in them being in sports.” Being in sports or a performance or whatever—there’s something that seems like achievement in that; getting confirmed, especially when the parents are used to a “do whatever and you’ll still get confirmed” kind of program—well, there’s no real achievement in that. Or at least it doesn’t look like achievement. And then they get to the iConfirm service and realize what their kid has actually accomplished and they’re so surprised. It’s like the mother on the CnC video [unavailable today] says, “I saw this young man I would have liked to have known, even if he wasn’t my own son.” And they don’t even know that that person is right there in front of them. [The son in question is an elite soccer player, by the way.]
There was one other mother who had decided that her son was just too busy to be in the CnC program. They were driving home after the information night, and she was going on and on about how he had this to do and that to do and she didn’t think it was going to be possible, and the son finally said, “Mom, I could really use some God in my life.”
We say all the time that you can do whatever you like with the CnC program. But on this one, you really need to challenge yourself and your parents—it’s more the parents than the youth—that making the commitment is important. If they can’t make the commitment, that’s fine. But then they’ll have to do the program another year. It’s what’s fair to the church, to you as a leader, and to all the participants. The commitment everyone makes is what ensures you’ll get all the good out of Confirm not Conform.
Written by Kellor Smith and posted on the original CnC Blog on 09/12/10. It is reposted with minor edits.
My name is Christopher Craun. I have been an ordained Episcopal priest since 2006 and I serve as Rector at St. Michael & All Angels in Portland, Oregon. I am excited to join the Confirm not Conform team! I was raised at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Oakland, California. St. John’s is a church that values youth in such a way that every time I walked into the sanctuary, I felt like I belonged. It’s no wonder at least five of us who grew up in that youth group have become ordained pastors. It is a church, like I imagine many of your churches, where questions are encouraged, unconditional love is given, and social justice is at work.
From this place, Confirm not Conform was created.
I am so honored to be given the opportunity to engage with faith communities across the country who are using CnC or are interested to learn more about it. I hope that you will help me by sharing your favorite moments and sending me your photos so they can be posted to our social media outlets. I would love to create networks to brainstorm our best approaches and practices to continue to offer spaces for the next generation of youth looking to belong to your faith community.
Confirm not Conform
Confirm not Conform provides a safe place for people to explore the breadth of the Christian tradition, to ask questions and express their doubts, and to discover what they truly believe.