The below is a response to an article recently posted on the “Covenant,” a project/blog of The Living Church. Many of us in The Episcopal Church acknowledge that this publication / organization is part of the conservative (ie: homophobic) branch of our denomination and articles are often cloaked in academia and theological discourse. Trigger warning (especially to my LBGTQ+ siblings): the article is written by a priest from a parish and school in Diocese of Dallas (Texas) that does not appear to be a welcoming place for all.
A parishioner shared this article with me, seeking my response as a person who has called Christian formation her vocation and profession for over 40 years in the Episcopal Church on the parish, diocesan, and church-wide level. In discerning my response, I felt it important to share with Fr. Jordan and “The Living Church” readership my thoughts in response.
My experience in the church and the academy is very different. Summarized in the Episcopal Church’s document Called to Teach and Learn, Christian formation (whom many still called Christian Education or Sunday School) is a catechetical process. We are “formed” by participation and practice of the Christian life of faith; a natural conforming and transforming process about which we (the Church) need to be intentional. We are “educated” by a process of critical reflection on participation in light of the gospel. We are “instructed” by processes by which knowledge and skills important to the Christian life of faith are acquired. In many ways our churches fail to embrace these three interrelated life-long processes, only focusing on the instruction piece for children as well as adults.
I’m not sure what was so great about the “older, better way” of passing along the faith – at least since my Baby Boomer days in Sunday School when the teacher was the “sage on the stage,” children were seen as empty vessels, and I had to memorize – not question – what well-meaning adults interpreted what God said. I believe we know what works better today. One example that comes immediately to mind is Godly Play, a method in which we engage the child in story, allowing their innate spirituality to wonder and embrace the mystery of God. Children truly “fall in love with God” in Godly Play. As a storyteller, I am not “forming” the children – God and God’s Story does that. As a child I was formed by God, surrounded by a community that loved me. How dare I assume to be the one forming (or needing to change) anyone.
It was fitting that I received a copy of Absalom Jones: America’s First Black Priestwritten by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones in early February, Black History Month. Exactly two years ago I wrote about Absalom Jones, sharing resources for learning about this man of faith, courage, and commitment. So it is fitting that I share a new resource for children (ages 8-12) close to his Feast Day – February 13 – that explores the history of this man and the context in which he lived and came from. The people of God are all people – all colors, all races, all languages – from all over the world.
One is immediately caught by the visually stunning cover of this book that shows what Absalom might have looked like today, surrounded by other people of faith who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, including the first Black woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara C. Harris, who died in March 2020. Illustrator, Christopher Michael Taylor describes his image on the cover as “a modernized and unique interpretation,” while each black and white artwork that begins each of the eight 3-page chapters can be described as “comic book realism.” They pop next to the text, engaging the reader in wanting to read on to see how a man, born a slave in 1746, earned his freedom and was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802.
One of my favorite moments when my 6-year-old granddaughter comes to visit is bedtime. Besides being tired myself after a long day of active and imaginative play with her, it provides us a moment to settle down into our nighttime routine of choosing some books to read before we snuggle up on “her” bed in our guest room. Praise be, she loves reading and being read to. And she has become quite the critic of children’s books.
Recently I received an advance review copy of Jennifer Grant’s new children’s book Once Upon a Time Not So Long Ago. Reading it ahead of time, I knew what its subject matter was and decided it was an opportunity for Miss M to share her thoughts with me. We began it like we do with all the books before opening the pages; looking at the cover we try to figure out what the book is about. “It’s a boy talking to his grandfather.” “I wonder what they are talking about?”
I usually update my curriculum charts every year in April or May. This year I am late; I’ve come to realize that in my “retirement” I don’t have the energy (or heart) to focus on this project that I’ve done annually for at least twenty years now. And I must admit my frustration – every year on social media groups that focus on Christian formation the same questions are asked: what are you using for your [fill in the blank] with [fill in the blank with an age group]. It is followed by countless responses of “use this,” “we like this,” or “I have heard this is good.” That is NOT how to choose a curriculum for your church programs, no matter the age.
I have always believed that the Season of Easter is a time to plan and look to the future in all manner of things. Depending on where you live in the northern hemisphere, it is a time to think about planting: mapping out your garden, starting seeds, or actually putting plants into the ground. For me it was also about evaluating the past academic year in secular education or the Church.
I’ve written and shared plenty of ideas on how to evaluate your programming and curriculum. I’ll soon be posting new curriculum charts for children, youth, and adult formation. And by popular demand, I offer the Christian Formation Planning Calendar for 2020-2021 (Pentecost 2020 thru August 2021) in two formats for you to adapt to your own context and needs.
Column 2: Sunday Readings appointed for the day (following the Episcopal version of the Revised Common Lectionary). This is not the same as the ’79 BCP lectionary or the standard RCL. Episcopalians like to tweak and amend! Track 1 and Track 2 are offered when applicable.
Old Testament / Hebrew Scripture reading
Psalm or Canticle
New Testament reading
Column 3: Observances
These can be civic (governmental holidays) or religious (Christian mid-week observances)
Space to fill in your own local practice
Column 4: Church Events
For you to fill in with your church’s events or notes for the day
Column 5: Notes
Space for your notations
Don’t forget to plug-in your teacher trainings and workshops, conference opportunities, seasonal projects for Advent and Lent, pageant and play rehearsals, mission trips, VBS, recognitions and presentations, school vacations and holidays, and social activities. As requested, you can download a pdf version or a Word version.
Stay tuned in the coming days for the updated curriculum charts. A lot has changed in the past year with numerous new resources and a few that have been discontinued. Certainly our lens may have changed a bit in what we choose to use and adapt with new questions to ask: How can I use this resource if/when we cannot meet face-to-face and in person on Sunday (or any other time)? How is this resource adaptable for use at home and online?