Tag Archives: Church

Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 1

Over the next several days and posts, I will share a presentation given at the 3rd Annual “Spring Training for God’s Mission” Day 2015 for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, March 21, 2015. 

THe-broken-Church-X2Part One:
How Did We Get Here?

The world around us is changing – is our church changing for the context in which we now find ourselves? However, we must remember that the gospel message has not changed at all – but how we share it and the methods we use to engage others in following The Way needs to meet people where they are – children, youth, and adults.  In order to understand where we need to go, we need to understand why we do what we do today and where we have come from.

A little history . . . since the time of Christ there have been times of transition that influenced and were influenced by theology and educational praxis (how we learn and practice) of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: (1) Apostolic Age – first four centuries – disciples went forth into communities to share the gospel in a world that did not know Christ; (2) Christendom – 4th→10th/11th centuries – Christianity became part of the “state”; (3) Middle Ages in which the Church, as an institution, held a monopoly on the gospel that left lay people “in the dark” → leading to the Reformation, a transitional time of being drawn back to the roots of Christianity for the people; (4) Modernity [the Age of Reason when answers were sought to all questions] – 17th→20th century; and Post-Modernity = Today. And we are in yet another transitional time. Read more: Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence. Continue reading Christian Formation in a Changing Church: Part 1

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.

Trends from a Think Tank

Ponderings from a Christian Education Think Tank

A gathering of what I would call the “cream of the crop” Episcopal Christian educators gathered at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in early August. We represented the diversity of formational ministries in the church: lay & ordained, small church, large church, seminaries and other church-wide bodies. We gathered to explore what the future might be for faith formation in the Episcopal Church.

Getting together such a diverse group of folks, many who had never met each other was a daunting task for those of us who were on the planning team. But all who gathered were open to explore new possibilities, make new connections and learn from one another. Egos and agendas were left at the door (if there were any!)

We told stories about our passions and struggles as educators working in the Church.

We listed the needs that we experience and desire for ourselves as well as the greater Church.

And we discovered the many resources that do exist if we connect with one another and share across our disciplines.

We shared what we saw as trends occurring in the communities in which we serve.  Some of the overarching themes included:

  • An uncertainty about the future . . . what will this thing we call “church” look like 20-30 years from now?
  • Churches seem to search for programs to solve their “problems” instead of dealing with the “big picture” of the importance of holistic lifelong formation and what it truly means to be a disciple of Christ.
  • Navigating between the relationships of those who are called to ordained ministry and lay ministry in the church. There is a continuing sense of clericalism and lack of openness to lay professionals working in the church.
  • There is a great loss of professional positions for lay (and clergy) in the church in the area of Christian formation.
  • We talk about the importance of adult formation but spend the least amount of time and money actually doing anything about it – rhetoric vs. praxis.
  • There is tension between leadership in the “emerging-type” church models and with those in traditional positions regarding how leaders should be “trained.”

What next? Strategies were developed for those who wished to go the next step. A report will be forthcoming this is the press release from Episcopal Divinity School.

Stay tuned.

What trends do you see occurring in the field of Christian formation in the church?

Changing Times – a Future Trend?

For my parent’s generation, Sunday was the day to go to church and visit family.

Blue Laws were in existence – stores were closed and folks basically took the day off. It was a day families headed to church together for worship, education, fellowship, youth group and the Sunday night potluck supper.

Times have changed. There are lots of choices. And time is a commodity not to be wasted. There is much to do on that “free day” of the week that has now taken precedence over what  Ozzie & Harriet and the kids would do on Sunday.

In today’s world, many of us work at home, at the office, at the store on Sunday. Or, shopping at the Mall, and sports – attending and participating in Soccer, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Cheerleading, and yes, even Marching Band is a sport.  And don’t forget those who just want to sleep in – it’s been an exhausting week.

So what’s a church to do? How can we provide Christian education classes when those who do come are only willing to give 60 minutes (2 hours tops) to the Sunday morning ritual.

Worship is important and is at the heart of Christian formation. So providing opportunities for families to worship together should be a priority. After all, education is formation and “praying shapes believing.” Lex orandi, lex credendi (Latin loosely translatable as the law of prayer is the law of belief).

I’ve noticed a new trend (which may be not-so-new in the South). Having education for all ages during the week! What a radical idea! This one just came through the news service: Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida bridges the gap between Sunday services and teaching youth that faith fellowship should be constant. In many communities I visit (again, in the South and Midwest – i.e. the Bible Belt), Wednesday nights are traditionally saved for church events. Schools and sports are not scheduled on these nights.

Here are some examples:

  • First United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas A Wednesday evening program providing food for the body and soul, Mid-Week Manna is an all-church Christian education program which meets September through December and January through April. F.R.O.G. and Tadpole, children’s activities, and meal service begin at 5:00 pm. Adult Christian education classes start at 6:00. Classes offering and instructors vary by semester. Many of the music groups are scheduled to rehearse on Wednesday evenings as well. Come find your place! For more information contact any clergy or ministry director.
  • Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Elwood, Nebraska. Midweek Christian Education meets Wednesday of every week from 6:30-8:00pm. Children ages 3 through high school are welcome to attend!
  • First Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida has Wednesday Evening Fellowship that begins with a congregational dinner at 5:30pm. At 6:30pm, Ages 4 – 5th grade gather for a variety of activities centered around faith in practice, Youth Fellowship meets and a Bible Study is held for adults. Once a month, all gather for Pot-Luck and Praise in which all gather together for singing.
  • Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Saint Charles, Illinois offers a special mid-week program for children in grades K through 5 called Adventure Club which works in close cooperation with the children’s choirs and follows a rotational format that explores a Bible lesson through drama, arts & crafts, study and games. This program is growing into an alternative to regular Sunday School classes for families with busy schedules and as an enrichment opportunity for students enrolled in Sunday School. It also features low cost healthy meals for children and families and after the meal time an opportunity for prayer, meditation and worship under candlelight in the sanctuary.
  • St. John’s Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina offers Wednesday Night Suppers and Formation. The evening begins with a 4:30pm Holy Eucharist and children’s music and rhythm classes, followed by Christian formation classes for all ages. A family supper begins at 6:00pm, with additional adult formation and youth bible study at 6:30pm. Choir practice is a 7:pm.

How might these ideas prompt you to change your church’s pattern of offering education?

Discipleship & Milkshakes

Refreshing. Surprising. Transportable.

Last week I was at a gathering of Christian educators at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of our purposes was to dream about what the future of Christian formation might be in The Episcopal Church.

We discussed trends and tensions, personal and institutional needs, resources that we already have (and might not know about) as well as what we are being called to do. Over and over again we came back to discipleship. Programs and resources are simply vehicles, but it is through personal story, following Christ and being authentic to the Gospel that will keep Christianity alive.

Carolyn Chilton, of Richmond, Virginia shared a story in relationship to a marketing research project about milkshakes.

In visioning the future of Christian Formation in the church, what do you want Christian formation to do? What job do you want THIS milkshake to do?