I’ve had plenty to write about these past six months but by the time I went to sit down at my laptop the energy and enthusiasm had waned. I’ve just passed my two year anniversary of retirement from employed work. I’ve been “refired” instead of “retired” and have focused on things that are important to me or give me joy:
Teaching, including a course I’ve developed for Seabury-Bexley’s Pathways for Baptismal Living that offers training in the requirements to be a licensed Lay Catechist in the Episcopal Church; mentoring an EfM group; and co-facilitating a youth confirmation class at my parish.
Learning. In the Spring of 2021 I joined others from my parish in taking the Sacred Groundcurriculum offered by The Episcopal Church. A group of us have continued to meet via Zoom, reading books and exploring how we can make a difference in action and awareness regarding racism in our communities. We are in the preliminary stages of bring The Witness Stones Project to our town through a collaboration of interfaith partners.
Genealogy has always an interest of mine; I have pretty much cataloged all my relatives from both the parents’ side and husband’s side. That’s a lot of generations going back to Anglo-Saxon areas of Europe: England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. And I’ve got my DNA now to prove it. Most of my (and John’s) ancestors either settled in the British colonies (now New England in the U.S.) in the 17th century.
The below is a response to an article recently posted on the “Covenant,” a project/blog of The Living Church. Many of us in The Episcopal Church acknowledge that this publication / organization is part of the conservative (ie: homophobic) branch of our denomination and articles are often cloaked in academia and theological discourse. Trigger warning (especially to my LBGTQ+ siblings): the article is written by a priest from a parish and school in Diocese of Dallas (Texas) that does not appear to be a welcoming place for all.
A parishioner shared this article with me, seeking my response as a person who has called Christian formation her vocation and profession for over 40 years in the Episcopal Church on the parish, diocesan, and church-wide level. In discerning my response, I felt it important to share with Fr. Jordan and “The Living Church” readership my thoughts in response.
My experience in the church and the academy is very different. Summarized in the Episcopal Church’s document Called to Teach and Learn, Christian formation (whom many still called Christian Education or Sunday School) is a catechetical process. We are “formed” by participation and practice of the Christian life of faith; a natural conforming and transforming process about which we (the Church) need to be intentional. We are “educated” by a process of critical reflection on participation in light of the gospel. We are “instructed” by processes by which knowledge and skills important to the Christian life of faith are acquired. In many ways our churches fail to embrace these three interrelated life-long processes, only focusing on the instruction piece for children as well as adults.
I’m not sure what was so great about the “older, better way” of passing along the faith – at least since my Baby Boomer days in Sunday School when the teacher was the “sage on the stage,” children were seen as empty vessels, and I had to memorize – not question – what well-meaning adults interpreted what God said. I believe we know what works better today. One example that comes immediately to mind is Godly Play, a method in which we engage the child in story, allowing their innate spirituality to wonder and embrace the mystery of God. Children truly “fall in love with God” in Godly Play. As a storyteller, I am not “forming” the children – God and God’s Story does that. As a child I was formed by God, surrounded by a community that loved me. How dare I assume to be the one forming (or needing to change) anyone.
It was fitting that I received a copy of Absalom Jones: America’s First Black Priestwritten by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones in early February, Black History Month. Exactly two years ago I wrote about Absalom Jones, sharing resources for learning about this man of faith, courage, and commitment. So it is fitting that I share a new resource for children (ages 8-12) close to his Feast Day – February 13 – that explores the history of this man and the context in which he lived and came from. The people of God are all people – all colors, all races, all languages – from all over the world.
One is immediately caught by the visually stunning cover of this book that shows what Absalom might have looked like today, surrounded by other people of faith who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, including the first Black woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara C. Harris, who died in March 2020. Illustrator, Christopher Michael Taylor describes his image on the cover as “a modernized and unique interpretation,” while each black and white artwork that begins each of the eight 3-page chapters can be described as “comic book realism.” They pop next to the text, engaging the reader in wanting to read on to see how a man, born a slave in 1746, earned his freedom and was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802.
One of my favorite moments when my 6-year-old granddaughter comes to visit is bedtime. Besides being tired myself after a long day of active and imaginative play with her, it provides us a moment to settle down into our nighttime routine of choosing some books to read before we snuggle up on “her” bed in our guest room. Praise be, she loves reading and being read to. And she has become quite the critic of children’s books.
Recently I received an advance review copy of Jennifer Grant’s new children’s book Once Upon a Time Not So Long Ago. Reading it ahead of time, I knew what its subject matter was and decided it was an opportunity for Miss M to share her thoughts with me. We began it like we do with all the books before opening the pages; looking at the cover we try to figure out what the book is about. “It’s a boy talking to his grandfather.” “I wonder what they are talking about?”
I usually update my curriculum charts every year in April or May. This year I am late; I’ve come to realize that in my “retirement” I don’t have the energy (or heart) to focus on this project that I’ve done annually for at least twenty years now. And I must admit my frustration – every year on social media groups that focus on Christian formation the same questions are asked: what are you using for your [fill in the blank] with [fill in the blank with an age group]. It is followed by countless responses of “use this,” “we like this,” or “I have heard this is good.” That is NOT how to choose a curriculum for your church programs, no matter the age.