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.
Continue reading A Rebuttal: On Forming Human Children
In late 1999, the Office of Children’s Ministries of the Episcopal Church developed a process (Educational Inquiry) to help congregations fully live into lifelong Christian formation that included the voice of children. Built upon Called to Teach and Learn: A Catechetical Guide for the Episcopal Church (Un Llamado a Ensenar y Aprender) and Discovering Called to Teach and Learn (Descubriendo Uno Llamado) (by Joseph Russell) published in 1994, it involves a method of “educational inquiry” based on Appreciative Inquiry alongside the Children’s Charter of the Church and Authority of All Generations.
Continue reading An Invitation to Transformation
In August of 1998, a resource developed by the Rev. Ernesto Medina (then in the Diocese of Los Angeles and now retired in the Diocese of Nebraska) made its debut on the church-wide level. Entitled The Authority of Generations, this process became the foundation for the National Episcopal Children’s Ministries Conference held at Camp Allen (Diocese of Texas) in September 1998. Hundreds came from across the Episcopal Church to further explore a Children’s Charter for the Church and how to implement it on the congregational and diocesan level. Each morning, small groups of 8-10 people gathered across the main campus to pray, read scripture, sing, and share stories. All of this was grounded in hearing everyone’s voice on an equal level.
Continue reading The Authority of Generations
There was a time in the Episcopal Church (and Anglican Communion) that children could not receive communion unless they were confirmed (which at the time typically took place when one was twelve years old or older). That changed with the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that reaffirmed that through baptism, all are full members of the Church. Many churches still did not allow children to fully participate in the Eucharist. Children were still regulated to the “basement” and many adults, parents included, felt that children could not understand what Holy Communion was, so should not receive it. Many churches held “first communion” classes.
Continue reading A Children’s Charter for the Church
Recently I have been invited to give workshops in numerous locations on the basics; the core documents and key websites that I believe anyone involved in Christian formation with children, youth, or adults needs to know about. For January’s Forma Conference workshop, I put together a handout where they are all located in one place.
But for those who want the documents with more of an explanation – here goes. Think of it as a catechism for Episcopal educators: a question with some answers. These are the questions I am frequently asked, and how I respond:
Q. What is the curriculum authorized by the Episcopal Church?
A. The Episcopal Church does not have an authorized, published curriculum for any age. If anything, all of what is taught should be based on The Baptismal Covenant and An Outline of the Faith (also known as The Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer. However, the Episcopal Church, via a General Convention resolution and Task Force assigned for its implementation, created a seminal text: Called To Teach and Learn: A Catechetical Vision and Guide for the Episcopal Church (1994). Every church was sent one. Many churches put them on the bookshelf or in a closet and never opened its covers. You can download it here, as well as a companion piece written by The Rev. Canon Joe Russell, Discovering Called to Teach and Learn. The Spanish version is here. Continue reading A Back to Basics Q & A