For numerous years, those who call the ministry of Christian formation and education as their vocation in the Episcopal Church have lamented the lack of equity and standards within our church. When the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors (NAECED) was formed almost 15 years ago, one of its purposes for organizing was to develop standards for the certification of Christian educators. This past weekend I was privileged to attend a gathering of stakeholders (representing a variety of threads that have been working toward this goal) at Virginia Theological Seminary. I am beginning to have hope.
Our ecumenical partners have long recognized the importance of lifting up and acknowledging the ministry of Christian educators with certification. APCE (Presbyterian Church USA) and CEF (Christian Educators Fellowship of the United Methodist Church) have led the way. And while they have struggled to live into their levels of certification and continuing education requirements for those members who choose to follow this route, they have paved the way for us.
- Validation and Credibility – Are educators valued as equals to other staff members in a congregation? Are their education and gifts accepted?
- This is a Career Path chosen by many – Do we want future generations to find this a rewarding career in which one can earn a living?
- Feeling isolated – Is there a system in which one can turn when searching for continuing education and support?
- Variations across dioceses and polity – Can there be standards for pay and benefits commensurate with education and experience on a national scale?
- Need for consciousness-raising – If the church truly thinks education is important, why doesn’t it treat educators with the same passion?
In 2009, General Convention endorsed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. Theologically trained and experienced Christian educators can help the church live into this vision. Can the church help lift up the ministry of those who are ready to partner and make this vision a reality?
Statistics have shown that churches that focus on lifelong formation have more engaged communities than those that just focus on Sunday School for children. In the Episcopal Church, is lifelong formation an agreed upon norm? Is discernment for lifelong committed Christians the norm? In our post-Christian world, adults are coming to the church without any grounding in faith. For many churches, 6th grade (or Confirmation) is the graduation point; parents who are not formed in faith will not realize the validity of engaging their children into their searching and discerning years. We need to be focusing on discipleship. An “educated” educator in a congregation who has been mentored by respected leaders of the church will continue to grow and learn alongside his or her peers as well as those with whom they share ministry.
The conversation has just begun. But there is definite energy and momentum around a Certificate for Leadership for Lifelong Christian Formation. There is more work to do and many more conversations to be had.
Lord, please let our small mustard seeds of daily service grow into great shrubs of change and trees in whose branches the birds can nest and in whose shade our children can rest and feel safe. Marian Wright Edelman