It’s only been a couple of weeks since (reportedly) 1,300 Episcopalians and friends met in Atlanta, Georgia for what was subversively called Episcopalooza or “General Convention with workshops, but no legislation.” The brainchild of Bill Campbell, former Executive Director of Forma: The Network for Christian Formation this conference brought together various cohorts within the Episcopal Church (and beyond) to explore formation, evangelism, preaching, leadership, mission, stewardship, and communications. A massive undertaking with a lot of behind the scenes work from many individuals, it was the Church at its best. Worship was extraordinary, workshops were inspiring and informative, creativity was abundant, and Jesus was proclaimed. Even the hotel staff got in on the action and “rooted for Jesus.”
It was too much to digest and while I got to see LOTS of friends and colleagues, I missed many opportunities to network or attend presentations because I couldn’t be at two (or three) places at once. Thankfully, many presentations were live-streamed via Forma’s Facebook page and many were recorded so that even those unable to be present could be fed by the experience. My take-aways and learnings:
Formation & Evangelism
This term is now part of our mainstream vocabulary. It didn’t seem that long ago when “formation” was only for those on the ordination track and people balked when we started using this in place of education. The broadness and impact of formation was visceral at Rooted in Jesus. Everyone was on the bandwagon; we cannot work in silos when it comes to being formed into disciples of Jesus no matter what our passions are. It was exhibited at this conference – how can we exhibit this in our congregations, dioceses, and church-wide bodies? Without the pedagogy of formation seamlessly embedded in all our ministries, every new idea will be short-lived and seen as a fad. Remember that Decade of Evangelism that came and went?
I commend to you a presentation given by Lisa Kimball (Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning and the James Maxwell Professor of Lifelong Christian Formation at Virginia Theological Seminary) and Patricia Lyons (evangelist and author of What is Evangelism? and Teaching Faith with Harry Potter) that weaves together how making disciples includes the marriage of formation and evangelism. Quoting John Westerhoff, “Faith is caught, not taught” and Maria Harris’ curricula for the Church (Koinonia, Leiturgia, Didache, Kerygma, and Diakonia) their presentation energetically showed how the Church can do this by being a catechumenal community. They spoke of soil and seed / macro and micro; our souls are bigger than our local congregation. While their presentation was not recorded, one example of this was mentioned in an article on Building Faith entitled Carpe Sacramentum! and another is a webinar Lisa gave for Building Faith: Reimagining Adult Formation.
There were only a few opportunities for all participants to join together. One was the Diocese of Atlanta’s Revival, but that was an event in itself! Watch it here. And there was worship. At it’s best. Two Eucharists were held, both filled with amazing music, prayer, and preaching. Listen to House of Deputies President Gay Jennings here. And experience the Closing Eucharist in the video below. The mix of jazz, traditional, and Latinx music was uplifting. If the sermon audio is’t clear enough in the video, you need to listen to Mark Jefferson here. The Eucharistic prayers and intercessory prayers were formative and fit the setting. All Saints’ Atlanta offers them to download here.
I offered two workshops (“A Christian Formation Toolbox” and “Confirmation as Baptismal Renewal”) and was part of a panel regarding the “Confirmation Collaborative.” I will post about each one separately in the days to come along with my slides and handouts.
Even if you weren’t at Rooted in Jesus, you can have access to many of the resources. Many workshop presenters shared their handouts to all here. A Pinterest page was also created with recommended resources, books, and blogs.
Jesus and Caesar
The Rev. William Barber, chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and President of Repairers of the Breach was featured in a conversation with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to a SRO crowd. Later that day he spoke to a filled auditorium, challenging us (the Episcopal Church in particular) to stand up for the poor and witness to the injustices in our nation today. You can watch it here, which is followed by a panel discussion and then the Diocese of Atlanta Revival with Bishop Curry.
My main take-aways: We are formed by good preaching. Evangelism needs to be connected to formation pedagogy. To be rooted in Jesus means claiming our voice as his disciples and putting our faith into action – not just words.
Upon leaving Atlanta, many participants cried out, “Let’s do this next year!” It may take the planners and various organizations a year to recover, but I look forward to going back to the Annual Forma Conference as a stand alone event next year. So mark your calendars: January 26-29 with a return to Albuquerque with a focus on “spirituality.” And perhaps the 2nd triennial Rooted in Jesus in 2023.