Category Archives: General Convention

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.

Resourcing for the Future

The last two decades have seen dramatic political, economic, social and cultural changes affecting virtually every dimension of American Christianity. This new environment has definitely had its impact on Resource Centers and will demand new thinking and new models, practices and technologies in order to support and address the needs of the congregations and judicatories we serve. Addressing the spiritual needs of all generations will continue to be a challenge as we have also been impacted by lower budgets, increase of the cost of goods and more dependence on digital technology.

Many of us have seen fewer visitors to our Resource Centers. We are called upon to be out and about with those we serve, bringing resources (and our expertise) to the local congregation. We are learning how to put our collections online, develop more comprehensive websites, and engage in social media. And more of the resources, especially curricula and faith formation materials are available digitally – either downloadable or totally online.

In September 2009, CNN published a story, “The Future of Libraries: With or Without Books”:

“Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas. ‘Loud rooms’ that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.”

The Digital World

The relevant Resource Center of the future will be a marketplace for ideas. Forward-looking directors (and their judicatories) will create a conversational loop with its clientele. Being active on Facebook, Digg and Twitter they will share the latest news, resources and trends in ministry. As digital books replace traditional printed publications, the role of a Resource Center Director will be one of discernment and vetting much more than in previous decades.

As Phyllis Tickle states, we are entering into a new Reformation[1]. The cultural changes brought about by the Gutenberg Press had an enormous impact on Christianity. That new way to interact with a surplus of content never before accessible to the common masses is not that different than what we are experiencing today. Today social interaction is a form of content itself. It is up to Resource Centers to take an active role in the creation and collaboration within this ethereal user generated content. Our role is to offer our expertise and guidance in how congregations and individuals interact with all that is now offered via the web (and more), much of which is not in keeping with our traditions and theological perspectives.

Many of us are digital immigrants (those of us born in the era of rotary telephones and manual typewriters) who are trying to catch up with “digital natives” (those who have always had desktop and palm-sized computers).[2] John Roberto of Lifelong Faith Associates has spent a great deal of time and energy in recent years imagining what faith formation would look like if our churches fully embraced using 21st century technology. One of the ways he has shown how this can be done is through “curating” resources via the Faith Formation Learning Exchange. I have also tried to build such a resource site through my work with Building Faith: An Online Community for Christian Formation Leaders. 

What does this mean for today’s Resource Centers?

Today’s Resource Center needs to be agile and collaborative. We need to be in partnership with our ecumenical brothers and sisters. We need to be in touch with the local congregation by building relationships and offering easy access to new ideas and materials that have been vetted by experts – us! And we need to keep abreast of what excites people, how they learn in today’s world and what the trends are in the world around us that has such an impact on our church.

One of the resolutions to come before the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Indianapolis this July will ask the church for funding to create such an “Online Resource Center” in order to “Build the Continuum.” During its work over the past triennium, The Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Education and Formation saw the increase of decreases – churches and dioceses cutting back on budgets and positions that help “resource” the church. The local congregation now depends on volunteers already strapped for time to search out curricula, best practices, training and ideas. If The Episcopal Church wanted to support folks in their ministries, providing an online clearing house of vetted links, resources and networking options would provide the vehicle for such collaboration.

What will the future hold? 


[1] Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books, 2008)

[2] These terms come from Julie Anne Lytle in her article, “Moving Online: Faith Formation in a Digital Age” (Lifelong Faith Journal, Spring 2020) and in her forthcoming book, Faith Formation 4.0: Cultivating an Ecology of Faith in a Digital Age (Morehouse, 2013).

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