Category Archives: General Convention

Christian Education in The Episcopal Church: A Brief History

EpiscopalSSPinThe following is an entry I contributed to “The Encyclopedia of Christian Education” ed. George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport (Rowman & LIttlefield) that was published in 2015. This three volume set is a comprehensive resource of 1,200 entries by 400 contributors that most likely can be found in a theological library or institution. I also wrote entries for “Fund for Theological Education,” “Denominational Publishing,” “Ecumenical Publishing,” and “Division of Christian Education for the National Council of Churches.” My hope is that this gives those of you who work in Christian educational ministries in the Episcopal Church some context into the roots and history of education from our denomination.

The Episcopal Church is rooted in a history of preparing individuals for proclaiming the gospel locally and internationally since it was established in 1789 as an American denomination. The creation of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society in 1835 had led to the establishment of a Board of Missions and then, later in the century, A General Board of Religious Education and a Joint Commission on Social Service. In 1919, the General Convention directed the Presiding Bishop and Council to administer and carry on the missionary, education, and social work of the Church, building upon the corporate model of business that much of America was following. Continue reading Christian Education in The Episcopal Church: A Brief History

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All Our Children

AllOurChildrenLogoMy children, now grown, attended public schools before heading off to college. However, my son did attend private school for four years as we sought to provide him the accelerated education he needed at the time. We were fortunate to have the resources to give him that experience for his fourth thru seventh grade years. Not all children have those choices. As parents, we volunteered in and outside the classroom (in our local public schools) knowing how our help supported the teachers and enhanced our own understanding of the issues facing children in our community. Continue reading All Our Children

Bread for Life

The Tenth Sunday of Pentecost: Proper 18 —John 6:24-35

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, center, celebrated the opening Eucharist of General Convention. Photo: Sharon Sheridan/ Episcopal News Service
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, center, celebrated the opening Eucharist of General Convention. Photo: Sharon Sheridan/ Episcopal News Service

For the next few weeks, our Gospel readings will be focused on bread. Last week we heard the story of the feeding of the five thousand, miraculously accomplished through the division of five loaves and two fish from someone who was willing to share their food.

No matter how we might explain that miracle, it is a story of abundance. Every Sunday we celebrate that abundance of God’s love here and in churches all around the world. Some gatherings are small, some large. My job takes me to many places around the country in which I have had the opportunity to worship in many settings. From a large, ornate cathedral brimming with people to a few people gathered in a circle under a large tree, the eating of bread and drinking of wine – from one loaf and from one cup – symbolize our unity through time and space.

I got to experience a daily Eucharist along with an average of 3,500 people in July at General Convention. Each worship service involved 36 to 40 deacons, two to six vergers and a dozen altar guild members. They used one-and-a-half cases of Taylor Tawny Port and 96 loaves of bread from a local bakery. The elements were distributed by 144 Eucharistic ministers at 12 stations.[1] Not quite one loaf and one cup – but we were one in Christ. Fed with the bread that lasts forever.

There’s another particular church I have visited in San Francisco that many of you may have heard about. St. Gregory’s of Nyssa was built in 1995 in a not-so-great neighborhood of Portero Hill across from a brewery. Their mission statement is “to see God’s image in all humankind, to sing and dance to Jesus’s lead, and to become God’s friends.” Their liturgy is fully participatory and all are welcome–especially strangers—to communion. The sanctuary is incredible: the saints dance high above, depicted by Mark Dukes, a local IMG_3571African-American iconographer, who painted the entire rotunda with a mural of ninety larger-than-life figures, ranging from Teresa of Avila to Malcolm X and King David, dancing in a circle led by a dark-skinned, risen Christ. And as they move in their space, singing and dancing, they move from an area where the Word is shared to the table, where the gather around, centered below the dancing saints. Continue reading Bread for Life

Resources for Discussing Racism

circle-312343_640I have written about the VUCA World since attending a conference many years ago (Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes) that featured Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future. His research and predictions struck a chord with me and I continue to be reminded of his predictions as they are being lived out today – even though he spoke of these issues emerging in the future. The future is just as much a part of our past and present as they will be fifty or one hundred years from now.

Redding Voice offers a good overview at New Leadership Skills:

Bob also spoke about his earlier book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present – look for what you have in common, not what you are polarized about. The Book of Provocation, written for the Episcopal Church, is a product of IFTF and CEEP. Bob said “Faith will live in the space between judging too soon and deciding too late.” The Book of Provocation highlights 15 sources of provocation for the Episcopal Church from the custom ten year forecast map. For each provocation the author suggests dilemmas that are likely to be raised for Episcopal churches if this forecast comes to pass, as well as discerning questions for church members to consider.

This VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) can also lead to opportunities (vision, understanding, clarity, and agility) in the present moment. Several polarities are being lived out in our country today that he names: the Rich/Poor Gap, Polarizing Extremes, and Urban Wilderness.

As we have watched young black men die and our cities have been filled with events of violence, hatred, and polarity the Church has again named the sin of racism that is alive and well in our society. At the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, three resolutions were put forth regarding resources for discussing racism and anti-racism training. And funding was provided for the creation of new resources in the triennial budget.

But what about now? What is available for our congregations to delve into this fall as a new program year arrives? Here are a few that are available to begin the conversation, according to each resolution: Continue reading Resources for Discussing Racism

Educators ARE Advocates

Over fifteen years ago I was invited to participate on the design team for a national church event. At the time I was working part-time in a congregation and serving on a diocesan children’s ministries committee. While I had attended numerous church-wide conferences before, I had never been invited to actually be part of the planning process for one of such magnitude. It was an Episcopal child advocacy conference, held in conjunction with the annual Children’s Defense Fund conference in New York City. I recall my first meeting and while we went around introducing ourselves, I remember stating that I did not consider myself an advocate for anything – let alone children. Seasoned leaders smiled at me, telling me I was an advocate in the fact that I was an educator and cared about children’s ministries.

Through these past years I have  learned the importance of Christian educators advocating for the least of these – children – as well as the ministry that is often overlooked, easily dismissed and defunded as one that will always be around due to the good hearts of many – Christian education. I have also learned that I have a voice, and with research and colleagues working together Christian educators can make a difference.

Education and advocacy go hand-in-hand. Teaching is about advocating for knowledge and creating a hunger for learning and exploring one’s gifts. At the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held July 2-12 in Indianapolis, many of us learned the power of networking, collaboration and uniting together in one voice. From the disheartening proposed budget that was announced on March 1st that cut 90% of the funding to our church-wide office of Formation & Vocation, through the final days of General Convention when a new budget was adopted that put almost all of the funding back, Christian educators have been lobbying their representatives to General Convention, sharing their concerns and passions.

How did this happen, especially when so many have lost their positions on congregational and diocesan levels in recent years? A few examples, from the individual to the groups involved:

Educators rallied. A group of 50+ formation leaders throughout the church representing all ages and a variety of ministries asked to be part of an advocacy group. Within that, individuals were creative in finding ways to spread the word about the importance of Christian formation on a denominational level. Much of that work can be found at Building the Continuum. Josh Hill (Connecticut) encouraged dioceses to share a book about the future of formation with all of their deputies.

Networks across the age level agreed to work together and not compete with one another, knowing that together our voices would make a difference. Gone were the days of pitting youth leaders, Christian educators, campus chaplains and young adults against each other for funding.

Individuals contacted those in positions of power. The resolution that came before Convention was submitted by a deputy who had listened to a local educator (Dontie Fuller of Indianapolis) and asked for some funding to be restored. The Education Committee took the resolution (D037), reworded it and it resulted in being part of the final budget.

Educators attended and spoke at committee hearings (Missy Morain, Wendy Barrie, myself and others) as well as hearings sponsored by Program, Budget and Finance (Wendy Barrie with Lyle SmithGraybeal and Randall Curtiss – Forma Board members). Each person who spoke was articulate and professional. We answered questions with facts and experience. Due to our witness, those in leadership positions turned to us as the “experts” during meetings, asking for our thoughts when a question occurred during their discussion.

Social media was used for communication, mobilizing and networking at a moment’s notice.

Educators stepped into leadership positions. Many took their place in the councils of the church, being elected or appointed to decision-making bodies of the Church. Having formation leaders members of numerous Standing Commissions (Keane Akao, Janie Stevens, Laurie Bailey and myself), Executive Council (Fredrica Harris Thompsett), elected deputies from their dioceses allowed the voices of many to be represented at all levels of decision-making. Educators on the Education Committee who asked questions that got to the heart of the matter and strategized to fill the podiums in the House of Deputies at the right moment included Debbi Rodahoffer (Kentucky), Anne Kitch (Bethlehem), Barbara Ross (Oregon), Tom O’Brien (Southeast Florida), Kathy Munson-Lutes (South Dakota), Jenny Ogleby (Vermont), Karla Woggon (Western North Carolina) and Vicki Garvey (Chicago). Bishop Porter Taylor of Western North Carolina co-chaired the Education Committee and was a consummate advocate for formation. And many others too numerous to mention.

Networks and organizations wrote Position Papers and Talking Points to the issues, include Sue Cromer (Chicago) with the Young Adult Network, Shannon Kelly (Ohio), and the Episcopal Council for Lifelong Christian Formation with MaryLou Crifasi (Southern Virginia) and Cindy Spencer (Olympia) spearheading their statement. Wendy Barrie (New York) took the lead for Forma, showing how important an organization can be if it speaks out in boldness, truth and love.

Learnings for the future:

  1. Christian educators need to advocate for their ministries.
  2. If formation leaders don’t put ourselves in positions that influence decision-making, others will make decisions for us.
  3. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. For our future and generations to come.

Sine die. Let the ministry continue. 

Learn the outcomes of formation-related resolutions at Building the Continuum.