Category Archives: General Convention

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.

To blog, to tweet, to pin, to dream

Rows of Sharon seems to have fallen off my radar screen (in a way) as other social media and writing assignments have usurped by on-line time. So here’s how I’m making up for lost reflections here.

It’s an interesting world we live in today, and as a digital immigrant, I’m having fun learning all the ins and outs of the various avenues that seem to open up each day. I’ve just succumbed to linking my personal e-mail (via gmail) to Google+. I’m still not sure what the enhancement will be to being part of “circles” yet, but as they say, “You’ve got to be in it, to win (participate) in it.”

For those who’ve told me they can’t keep track of all the blogs, websites and other digital pieces I manage, I figured I’d run down all of them here in one place. Not just to share with you, but to list them all in one place.

E-mail – that goes without saying. Being a remote staff person for Church Publishing (I am one of many as more and more of us can easily do our jobs using today’s technology in which we are a simple conference call, “Go To Meeting,” or “Web-Ex” connection away.

Blogs – That’s where the time gets eaten up. I oversee many of these; some more intensely than others. Building Faith is sponsored by CPI and has an article posted everyday. Thankfully, I have a cadre of great educators who contribute an article or two each month. Otherwise, all articles come from me – either personally written or searched for from other avenues in the public sphere. I also post weekly to the site that corresponds to my book, The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education. I list the lectionary readings for the coming week with some reflection questions for personal or group use. There are some for my work with the Standing Commission on Christian Formation and Education: The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation & Education and Building the Continuum.

Facebook – of course! What started as a simple way to keep connected with friends (which it still is) has become a major way in which I share resources, ideas and information with colleagues, educators and others. I administer several Facebook groups – professional and personal. There’s one for each of the blogs I administer, my church (where I’m Jr. Warden),  St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut, plus I share oversight with others from CPI for Church Publishing, Living the Good News and Weaving God’s Promises. Thankfully, many of the blog postings automatically are set to also post to their particular FB pages, so I don’t need to manually make all the connections work all the time.

Twitter – You can find me at @rowsofsharonp. I’m amazed that I have 254 followers! Most days my blogs posts are simply pushed to Twitter and if I come across an article or new resource, I tweet that. At events I’m more active, such as the recent Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity Conference this past May in Washington, DC. I expect I’ll be tweeting at Kanuga’s Christian Formation Conference next week and during July at General Convention. Follow me!

Pinterest – This is the latest one in which I am still learning and adding from time to time. At first it seemed this was a social media site for collecting and sharing recipes, the latest fashions and shoe styles. None of which I have the slightest interest in. However, I do try to keep my bibliographies and book lists up to date for when folks ask for recommendations. And lately I have not been doing well at that. So . . . why not create a virtual site that directly links to books, categorized by topic and ministry category! Check it out and let me know what titles you believe should be added to each “board.”

LinkedIn – I’m “there” too, but it’s pretty static. I’m not looking for a job and the conversations seem to be a bit of a stretch. So no efforts going into that one.

Christian Formation is an Art, not a Science

This past week all (fill in the blank) seems to have broken loose with the release of the proposed triennial (2013-2015) Episcopal Church budget. Facebook has been a-flutter, blogs are bouncing from site to site as each builds a case for re-evaluating how numbers were assigned various departments and ministries. And yes, I have added to the mix with my opinions in a variety of forums.

It is about how we can best do the mission of the church, which is ultimately reconciling all to God through the re-creation of a whole and holy world. Whether it is from the “top down” or from the “grassroots,” I believe how we become followers of Jesus Christ involves Christian formation. Not Sunday School. But formation.

I’ve been traveling this past week, and upon my return attempted to attack the piles of paper on my desk to sort through what needed to be recycled – either into the bin or my files (no, not the round one on the floor). I came across this editorial which I had torn out of a past issue of The Christian Century. It was an article that captured my attention, and one I thought might come in handy for further thought in the future. It seems now is a good time to share it.

John Henry Newman, the recently beatified English cardinal, said that the church is shaped by the dynamic interaction of three elements: worship, theological reflection and institutional governance. As he saw it, these three activities work in creative tension. Left to themselves, each sphere becomes corrupted: worship tends toward “superstition and enthusiasm,” theology towards “rationalism,” and governance toward “ambition, craft and cruelty.”

Those churchly iniquities are common enough. Those who walk away from church might be categorized according to what wounded them the most: the rigidity or chaos of the liturgy, the sterility of the theology or the character flaws of the leaders.

Yet Newman’s scheme omits one element that is crucial in the life of the church: people skilled in the everyday practices of faith. If a church does not form people who live in Christ and display some measure of forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, care for the Earth, solidarity with those who suffer and perseverance in distress, then no liturgy or theology, however rich, and no governance system, however inspired, will save the church.

In recent decades, Protestants have adopted the Roman Catholic language of “formation” to draw attention to this dimension of faith. Though it is still rare to find a Protestant congregation advertising for a “director of Christian formation,” the concept has become clear enough: the church’s goal is not to pass on information about the Bible or doctrine, as important as that is, but to form people whose lives embody the good news of God’s love encountered in Jesus.

The resources for faith formation have grown enormously in this period, both in number and in variety, yet the task remains somewhat elusive. In part that’s because everything the church does – from arranging the nursery to welcoming new members to organizing potluck dinners – is formative in some way. Churches that succeed in formation tend to be ones that artfully use all aspects of church life – committee meetings as well as formal instruction programs – as opportunities to deepen and extend people’s faith.

Formation is elusive also because one can never predict how it will happen. Why does a particular Christian practice catch people’s hearts and lead them to incorporate it in their hearts and lead them to incorporate it in their lives and articulate its Christian meaning to others? Encouraging formation is an art, not a science, and the result is always bound up in the mystery of grace.

So formation is a matter of grace. In his article “Faith forming faith,” Paul E. Hoffman describes how a new Christian’s commitment to hospitality unexpectedly shaped the witness of an entire congregation. The moment could not have been planned. Yet, as Hoffman shows, the groundwork for it was laid by an ongoing program of adult formation. Formation comes by grace, as do all good things. And – to quote Norman Maclean in A River Runs Through It – “grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

In The Episcopal Church, intentional Christian formation just doesn’t happen. It takes a community. It takes engagement with our Baptismal Covenant and all that those promises mean in our daily lives. It is one thing to recite what we believe, it is another to learn how to reflect upon on beliefs according to what is developmentally appropriate.

Several visions have been studied and shared in recent times about how The Episcopal Church can continue to live into being a Church that embraces the ministry of all the baptized. One is the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. Read how the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Education and Formation recommends the Church continue on this path on Building the Continuum. Join the conversation.