Creating Burning Bushes: Supporting Faith at Home

burning_bushThis was a presentation given at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) 2017 annual conference held recently in Washington, D.C. 

How can congregational leadership bridge the gap that takes place between what happens on Sunday morning church and home (or school or work) the rest of the week? Even if one were to attend worship every Sunday of the year, that would account for less that 1% of waking hours – and we know the average worshipper is not in church every Sunday. Family life today is full of carpools, running around, juggling a multitude of activities (chosen and mandatory).

View the Prezi presentation online: Creating Burning Bushes: Supporting Faith at Home and on the Road and read some of the commentary that accompanied each slide below:

Many parents are searching for ways to nurture their children in the life of the Christian faith. They come with honest questions and look to the church for answers. Others, realizing their lack of biblical and theological background, turn their children over to the church and the church school – because they want it done right, by the experts. We cannot assume that parents know what to do with their children in regard to nurturing them in a life of faith. They may bring them to us to be baptized – but what happens after that? And more and more, that is nothing. We are lucky they return for times other than their child to participate in the Christmas pageant, show up in their Sunday best on Easter, or reappear when confirmation age rolls around.

If a parent is active in the life of a congregation, is committed to nurturing her or his spiritual life, and is willing to struggle with questions of faith and life and the mysteries of God, she or he will be able to be the kind of parent who enables a child to grow in faith. It requires commitment, trust, action, silence, and listening.

John Westerhoff offers five guidelines for sharing faith with children. We can keep these in mind in supporting parents (i.e.: providing resources – as well as how to use them):

  1. Telling and retelling the biblical storyimg_0563
  2. Celebrating family rituals
  3. Praying together
  4. Listening and talking with one another
  5. Performing faithful acts of service and witness

Our Episcopal liturgical tradition offers much. We have our seasons of the church year, sacraments, music, prayer, and lives of the saints to learn from and experience. How do we prepare our congregation to learn about these practices? Do we do baptismal preparation besides the 15 minutes prior to the service? How do we help families practice seasonal traditions, including the saints, at home? Especially during Advent, Christmas, Lent and the seasons of Easter and Pentecost? How do we help them mark the holy mysteries in their daily life? What “tools” do we use in Christian education settings or worship that can be transferred and continued at home?

pewterpeaceprayerHow do we help families (this could be singles, seniors, couples, grandparents, youth, children) learn and practice rituals of our faith?

  1. Table blessings – repeated, created, and sung
  2. Telling and/or reading Bible stories
  3. Bedtime rituals – books, poems, and prayers
  4. Prayers – Thanks, Wow, Gimme, Oops, Don’t Forget, and Please Remember
  5. Seasonal – planting, watching, tending, and harvesting
  6. Daily rituals – bathing, getting ready for school or work, ministry to others – nursing home or the elderly once a month with your child
  7. Stories of loss – pets and loved one – memorial services
  8. Blessings of comings and goings
  9. Seasonal holidays

How do we share the milestones of our lives in the context of worship as well as at home and on the road? How do we recognize these in the life of the worshipping community? How do we send forth individuals with a blessing or prayer in the midst of a transition?

“Children who participate regularly in intergenerational settings (they worship with their parents and attend an intergenerational small group at least twice a month) and children who have no regular opportunity to be in intergenerational Christian settings (they regularly attend Sunday school and children’s church during adult worship, but do not participate in an intergenerational group. The children in the intergenerational sample were more aware of their relationship with God; they spoke more often and more reciprocally of that relationship than did the children in the non-generational sample.” Holly Catterton Allen (Lifelong Faith Journal, Spring 2009, 5)

img_0569The Church is one place where multi-generations gather. Intergenerational Christian settings are authentic, complex learning environments, made up of individuals at various stages in their Christian journey, teaching some, learning from others, as they participate in their community of believers.

How do we engage in mission? Can we do this with all generations? Yes! But we need to connect these experiences with our faith: Talk about it before, during, and after. Where did you see Jesus? How were you changed? What will you do differently in the future because of your experience? What did your experience tell you about God in the world?

How do we connect our daily practices to our faith? A Christian practice is a cluster of activities, ideas, and images, lived by Christian people over time, which addresses a fundamental human need in light of and in response to God’s active presence for the life of the world in Jesus Christ.

img_0562We hear of Christian parents who feel incompetent to nurture their children spiritually because they themselves were not nurtured as children. They lack experience and knowledge. Yet, they want their children to have what they did not: spiritual formation in their home where the faith is lived. How can the faith community help parents learn to talk comfortably with their children about their faith?

  • Getting comfortable with faith-talk
  • Faith-talk starters such as Conversations To Go (from Moonjar), or seasonal To Go handouts from Candle Press.
  • They do not have to know the answers

Lastly, as church leaders we need to do more than email materials or hand out activities. We need to engage with adults (and youth and children) in creating their own meaning and making – if THEY build it, they will use it. Keep it simple. Give them all they need. Show them what they’ve got (why not use announcement time instead of a boring list of calendar events?), and help them practice it before they go home.

Download the resource list: creating-burning-bushes-bibliography

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