Foundations of the [Episcopal] Christian Faith

There was a time when dioceses created and published materials for their congregations for forming and empowering lay leadership. Granted, these were also times when adults regularly attended church, participated in adult education before or after worship, or attended traditional Wednesday night offerings of study. It was also a time when education was a priority exemplified in diocesan and church budget lines. In the 70s and 80s there was an educational focus on spiritual growth and discipleship with the creation of resources to assist that growth. Deja vu? Yes (and no).

One such program was offered during a Lenten season when I was a parish Christian educator. At the time, the Diocese of Connecticut had an “Education and Lay Training Committee” who’s task was to develop a long-range educational plan for training, educating, and supporting people in their Christian life in the secular world. The plan involved two parallel tracks. One was a learning component called “Foundations of the Christian Faith” and the other was a training component called “Ministry Review.” Both interlocked and supported each other. The Foundations course was designed to equip adults with “a grasp of the faith sufficient for intelligent and full participation in Christian life and ministry.” Written by clergy of the diocese – the Rev. Julia M. Gatta (now a professor at Sewanee’s School of Theology) and the Rev. Kirk. S. Smith (retired bishop of Arizona and currently visiting professor of Church History at General Seminary in New York City) – this eight week course followed a deliberate sequence of topics linking the proclamation of the gospel (kerygma) to sacramental practice.

Download the course’s Teacher’s Manual, although written in an “old school” format of lecture and discussion, this manual could easily serve as a jumping off point for any congregation seeking to develop a “Foundations of the Christian Faith” for newcomers, confirmands, or those seeking the deepen their understanding of what Episcopalians believe. More of a Leader’s Guide, the manual gives an outline of a session and some background on the readings. I found it easy to develop discussion questions to make it more interactive. Participants only need a Bible and Book of Common Prayer. Supplemental materials included books from The Church’s Teaching Series, a remarkable set of books published by Seabury Press in the late 1979. You can still find these titles used on Amazon or on a shelf in your dusty church library. Below is the syllabus with the readings assigned before each session. Many of the texts listed are very dated so I’ve also added more recent published texts that may be informative to today’s audience.

How might you use this resource and outline for developing your own congregational adult study?

The Course

  1. The Meaning of Salvation:
    • Scripture: Acts 2:14, 22-36 – the early Church preaches the fact of the Resurrection; 1 Corinthians 15:1-19, 35-44 – theology of life after death; John 11: 17-27 – eternal life now.
    • The Catechism: “Sin and Redemption” (BCP 848-49) and “Christian Hope” (BCP 861-2)
    • Prayers: Collect 1 for Easter Day (BCP 222) and Collect for Easter Thursday (BCP 223)
    • Optional Text: Understanding the Faith of the Church by Richard A. Norris (New York: Seabury Press, 1979) – chapters 6, 7, and 13
    • New text suggestions: What Does it Mean to be Holy Whole? by Timothy Sedgewick (New York: Church Publishing, 2018) and The Way of Love: Turn (New York: Church Publishing, 2018)
  2. Initiation into the Body of Christ
    • Scripture: Acts 2:37-42 – conversion and baptism; Romans 6:3-11 – Baptism / participation in Christ’s death and resurrection; 1 Corinthians 12 – initiation into the Body of Christ, the Church.
    • The Catechism: “Holy Baptism” (BCP 858-59)
    • Book of Common Prayer: Baptismal Liturgy (BCP 298-314)
    • The Catechism: “The Church” (BCP 854-56)
    • Prayers: For All Baptized Christians (BCP 252) and Collect for Easter Thursday (BCP 223)
    • Optional text: Liturgy for Living by Charles P. Price and Louis Weil (New York: Seabury Press, 1979) – chapters 8 and 9 (the link is to the 2000 revised edition, so it’s still in print)
    • New text suggestions: Being Christian by Rowan Williams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) – chapter 1 on Baptism and Pilgrim: Turning to Christ (New York: Church Publishing , 2016)
  3. The Holy Eucharist
    • Scripture: Exodus 12:1-20 – the first passover; Matthew 26:17-19, 26-29 – the old passover and the new; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; 10:16-17 – the Eucharistic tradition
    • The Catechism: “The Holy Eucharist” (BCP 859-60)
    • Book of Common Prayer: “Concerning the Service of the Church” (BCP 13-14) and one form of the Great Thanksgiving (BCP 315-409)
    • Prayers: Collect for Easter Wednesday (BCP 223) and Collect for Maundy Thursday (BCP 221)
    • Optional text: Liturgy for Living – chapter 14 and “Eucharistic Doctrine: Windsor Statement (1971)” in The Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (Cincinnati: Forward Movement 1982) – pages 12-24
    • New text suggestions: Being Christian by Rowan Williams – chapter 2 on Eucharist and Pilgrim: The Eucharist (New York: Church Publishing, 2016)
  4. Sacramental Church
    • Scripture: James 5:13-16 – anointing and prayer; John 20:19-22 – those whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven; Isaiah 54:4-10 – Yahweh, the Bridegroom of Israel
    • The Catechism: “The Sacraments” (BCP 857-58); “Other Sacramental Rites” (BCP 860-1)
    • Book of Common Prayer: Reconciliation of a Penitent (BCP 446, 449-51); “Laying on of Hands and Anointing” (BCP 455-56); and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” (BCP 422-32)
    • Prayers: Collect for Advent 3 (BCP 212) and Of the Incarnation (BCP 252)
    • Optional texts: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Confession and Communion” (Cincinnati: Forward Movement) which is chapter 5 of Life Together; Liturgy for Living – pages 258-62 (Anointing) and pages 249-56 (Marriage)
    • New texts suggestions: Liturgical Resources 2: Marriage Rites for the Whole Church (2018 General Convention) and “The Faith We Proclaim: Beliefs”in Welcome to a Life of Faith in the Episcopal Church by Megan Castellan (New York: Church Publishing, 2019)
  5. Spiritual Life and Development
    • Scripture: Romans 8:14-17, 26-27 – prayer in the Spirit
    • The Catechism: “Prayer and Worship” (BCP 856-7)
    • Book of Common Prayer: “Concerning the Daily Office Lectionary” (BCP 934-35) and “The Calendar of the Church Year” (BCP 15-33)
    • Prayers: Collect 4 (BCP 394) and For Quiet Confidence (BCP 832)
    • Optional texts: The Meaning of Prayer by Michael Ramsey (Cincinnati: Forward Movement, 1965) and Liturgy for Living – chapters 12 and 16
    • New text suggestions: Being Christian by Rowan Williams – chapter 4 on Prayer and The Way of Love: Pray (New York: Church Publishing, 2018)
  6. The Bible
    • The Catechism: “The Holy Scriptures” (BCP 853-54)
    • Prayers: Collect for Proper 28 (BCP 236) and Collect for Epiphany 2 (BCP 215)
    • Optional texts: The Bible and You (Scriptographic Publications) or Introducing the Bible by William Barclay (London: Bible Reading Fellowship, 1972 – link goes to the 1997 25th anniversary edition);
    • New text suggestions: Being Christian by Rowan Williams – chapter 3 on Bible and Pilgrim: the Bible (New York: Church Publishing, 2016)
  7. The Anglican Way
    • Book of Common Prayer: The Nicene Creed (BCP 326); “Preface to the Ordination Rites” (BCP 510); and “The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” (BCP 876-77)
    • Prayers: Collect for Ordinations (BCP 515) and For the Unity of the Church (BCP 818)
    • Optional text: “What Then is Anglicanism?” in Anglicanism by Stephen Neill (Penguin Books, 1958; Oxford University Press, 1978)
    • New text suggestions: The Anglican Spirit by Michael Ramsey (New York: Seabury, 2004); A People Called Episcopalians by John Westerhoff (New York: Church Publishing, 2014)
  8. Faith in Practice
    • Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16 – show forth your light; Matthew 25:14-30 – parable of the talents; Ephesians 4:1-16 – varieties of gifts
    • The Catechism: “The Ministry” (BCP 855-56)
    • Prayers: Collect for Proper 6 (BCP 230) and For All Christians in their Vocation (BCP 256)
    • Optional text: Power from on High by Robert Gallagher (Ascension Press, 1982)
    • New texts suggestions: The Way of Love: Go (New York: Church Publishing, 2018) and Pilgrim: Church and Kingdom (New York: Church Publishing, 2016)

Images by DDP and Nick Gardner on Unsplash

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