Is Formation Important to the Church?

Gleanings from Church Visitations

My travels take me to many dioceses in The Episcopal Church. In 2010 alone I’ve made presentations for the Episcopal Dioceses of Bethlehem, Rochester, Hawaii, North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, plus events in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and California. I’ll soon add Oregon and San Joaquin to the list this fall. Several themes and questions emerge from all these trips. I’ve also participated in ecumenical events and networks. The questions are the same, with perhaps a few tweaks in the responses:

  • Is Christian formation important in the [Episcopal] Church?
  • How does the [Episcopal] Church measure up when it comes to promoting life long Christian Formation in 2010?
  • What will the future of the Church be?
  • Are there mandates for guiding the Church in being more intentional about Christian education in the future?

Depending on who you speak with or what diocese or congregation you are in, the answers to all of the above range from “Yes” to “No” and “It is a high priority” to “It’s just given lip service.” Some congregations are innovative and provide engaging opportunities for growing in knowledge and the mission of Christ, while others still focus on education for children in a 1950s model of coloring and pasting, pizza and games for youth (if there are any), and passive adults who have never opened a Bible, let alone read it on their own. Some just choose to “entertain” because they feel it is the only way to grab folks’ attention. After all – we need to be fun! (Is that what Jesus calls us to do?)

Some denominations put more emphasis (read: staff and funding) in the area of support and resources. Despite budget cuts in all denominational and publishing areas, the ELCA still sets the bar in making education a priority. The Presbyterian Church is not far behind. And I would give kudos to the United Methodist Church. Something they have in common is their high regard for educators in their churches. They have standards for professional Christian educators and they make sure they are compensated and recognized for their expertise. They require continuing education – and then offer vehicles for obtaining the CEUs needed each year. As a denomination, the Episcopal Church continues to pass the buck, if there even is one for education.

Gone are the days when Mom stays home to take care of the kids and volunteer 40 hours at church for the Sunday School, Women’s Club, Altar Guild and Rummage Sale. Mom (or Dad) is lucky to have the time to volunteer an hour or two on Sunday mornings to teach or lead youth group (forget about the time to plan ahead). And the leadership in many churches fail to recognize that the paradigm has shifted about how we learn, what it takes to put a quality program that is holistic together, and the necessity to move away from the clerical model in which “Father knows best” (and I don’t mean Dad).

As Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, we are living in the midst of a new reformation. She quotes Bishop Mark Dyer as saying every 500 years the church has a rummage sale, and now is the time for us to clean out what’s been laying around. What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to re-energize and invigorate. What do we need to do that is authentic, creating a new paradigm?

At the 2009 General Convention, the Episcopal Church endorsed two resolutions that did not get much publicity after the initial press releases. For many, they were resolutions supporting what we thought we already believed in. For others, it was a celebration of a time long in coming, when mission and formation were at the center of who we are as a Church. Fourteen months later, I wonder how many leaders (bishops, priests, deacons and laity) remember these statements?

The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

This is an intentional opportunity for the entire Church to engage in conversation about how God invites, inspires and transforms us through education, liturgy, service and mission.  Read more here.

Five Marks of Mission

Adopted throughout the Anglican Communion, these are areas we are called to live out in our teaching, practice, and everyday living.

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

One of the events I participated in this summer was a “symposium” sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School. I have a previous post about this event sharing what trends this group of educators saw in the Church. Another area of energy focused on the needs of Christian educators. This list was long, and frankly, depressing. Educators have a passion for their work and ministry and continue to soldier on, despite oft-times being powerless in a clerical system, marginalized in leadership settings and structures, and asked to do more with less.

All of this has been reinforced in my travels this year. Listening to the volunteer and paid Christian educators it is obvious they are committed to this ministry. They seek resources and connections. They desire more communication from their “national” church staff. They desire more support from bishops and other judicatory leaders as well as their congregational pastors and governing boards. They desire seminaries to offer courses for laypersons as well as practical tools for ministry to those who aspire to ordination. And it’s not all about money. It’s about respect and collegiality.

If the Church is to have a future, we need to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what it means to be formed in the image of God. We need to create safe communities for conversations on difficult issues. And if we support educators by offering local training, resources, support and validation we will be able to help all ages articulate their faith in a multi-cultural, post-post-modern world. Living out documents like the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and the Five Marks of Mission will be central foci for what we are to be about.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.

  • Any ideas how we can move forward?
  • How are you supported (or not) in your formational ministries?
  • Your thoughts?
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One thought on “Is Formation Important to the Church?

  1. Our clamoring for a better world will produce results when our children are spiritually grounded, accustomed to wondering, and happy at creating. How many societal ills would NOT exist were we to pay more attention to the children?

    Like

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