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Why it Matters – Lisa Kimball

Why does an ecumenical, well-funded research project on adolescent confirmation matter?

I recently returned from the 2014 Episcopal Youth Event, Marked for Mission, at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. It was impossible to participate in the 5-day extravaganza and leave despairing about the state of the church. It was clear the young people and supporting adults (including 42 bishops, key denominational lay leaders, young adult missionaries, and hundreds of dedicated youth ministers) had gathered to celebrate what God is doing in their lives and to recommit themselves to God’s mission throughout the world. Apparently no one got the memo that the church is dying.

Among my roles at #EYE14, I staffed an exhibit area for Virginia Theological Seminary and the Center for the Ministry of Teaching that I direct. Recognizing young people today are at the heart of the Maker Movement, with little patience for passive learning, I wanted my “table” to be as collaborative a space as possible. As The Confirmation Project gets underway, I wanted to know what active teenagers in the Episcopal Church actually say about faith and confirmation.

Trusting the universal appeal of Legos and the Harry Potter-inspired confidence in quill pens, I invited passers by to respond to two questions, “What builds your faith?” and “When you hear the word “confirmation,” what do you think?” Here are two images of the rich data I collected:



I have long believed in the value of confirmation as a season and act of intentional faith development: an opportunity for robust faith formation/discipleship AND a particular moment in time when the gathered people of God ritualize a confirmand’s choice to walk in the Way of Jesus. I have believed confirmation, at its best, is life-changing and world-shaping as young people emerge from the experience prepared to join God’s mission with their baptismal vocations. The problem is that until now, I have only glimpsed the dimensions of such a transformative confirmation experience. Too often the rhetoric of confirmation failure has drowned out the stories of success. Yet, despite it all, there is something resilient about confirmation. Here are some of the qualities of a vital confirmation process that youth at #EYE14 identified:

… confirming not conforming, affirmation, commitment, connection, getting a chance to begin again, another step in the right direction, moving forward, special because it is my choice, God time, being challenged, becoming part of something bigger than yourself, being part of a larger community with a purpose, reformation and discovery, to claim my faith as a Christian for myself, renewal of baptismal vows, grown up decision to follow Christ, “It will be OK!,” learning our faith story, understanding how scripture relates to my daily life, learning about our traditions and why we do what we do, a mature profession of faith … acknowledging a commitment to follow Christ, understanding what that means, and publicly proclaiming it.

The opportunity to collaborate to study resilient confirmation practices in five Protestant denominations in the United States excites me! It is a privilege to work with a team of practical theologians who love Jesus and respect young people. I am tired of the church’s esoteric theological debates on confirmation, cynically described within my (Episcopal) tradition as “a sacrament in search of a meaning,” at the expense of young people’s lived experience (see quotes above).

This research project matters to me because it will collect real data to inform and inspire improved adolescent discipleship practices. I trust it will deconstruct the question, “To confirm, or not to confirm?” I am confident the issue isn’t whether the church should practice confirmation but whether what we are offering young people is worthwhile enough to merit their full attention. I want the study to equip our churches to offer confirmation processes that discern and affirm the trajectory of Christian vocation in each person’s life. I will know the Project has been successful when young people across our churches participate in confirmation because they eagerly and freely chose to do so, not because they were pressured into it.

Written by The Confirmation Project Steering Team Member Lisa Kimball.  Meet Lisa.

One Response to Why it Matters – Lisa Kimball

  1. Terri Elton August 8, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Lisa –
    Thanks for your reflections…and for bringing in the voices of young people. I love what you did at your church’s national gathering event, I appreciate what they bring into the conversation. Hearing SO MANY young people’s voices is ONE of the many things I look forward to gaining in this research project.

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