At this time of social distancing and the cancellation of many milestones of a young person’s life (graduation from high school or college, prom, senior activities, sports, performances, driver’s licenses, confirmation, etc.) there is a need to acknowledge such loss. The Confirmation Collaborative, a group of Christian formation leaders in The Episcopal Church who come together in person and virtually to live out its mission, recently met via Zoom to talk about the various projects we are working on. We chose instead to focus on creating a source that might assist churches and youth in this time of sadness and grief.
Below are some of the ideas that were generated. It should be noted that these should occur through individual expression and/or online gatherings (zoom, Google classroom, etc.). If at all possible, gather young people together in advance (online) for their input and creation of any liturgy or expression you may choose to construct. Invite them to offer contributions in word, image, music, or any expression they may find unique to their own personality or the group’s identity.
About six months ago I was invited to the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia (western Washington state) to deliver a keynote address for their annual Better Together Christian formation event. I was asked to speak about where I saw the church heading in the future based on my 40+ years of experience in formation, drawing upon what I had seen and learned along the way. I entitled it Faith Formation in a Changing Church: Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future. My intention was to share a little history of Christian education in the church through the lens of four generations of my family. I planned to talk about my perception of how the church needed to adapt to a new reality in the twenty-first century. How would my granddaughter (a fifth generation – the Alpha generation) be formed in faith?
Little did I know that much of my preparation in talking about the “future” would become the present. A week before I was scheduled to fly to Seattle, the area became a COVID-19 hotspot. Twenty-four hours in advance, Bishop Rickel made the decision to cancel all diocesan events where more than fifty people would be present. I cancelled my flight and said a prayer.
With most of us in the United States (and world-wide) staying safe by staying at home, we are now worshiping virtually with our faith communities via Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, church websites and other platforms. While meeting in this way has proved wonderful for staying connected with the practice of coming together for Sunday services, weekday prayers such as Compline or Morning Prayer, not being in our sanctuaries together has been hard.
We have experienced that the Church is not a building but a community gathered in prayer. We’ve also realized that our homes can also be places of prayer. So as we near the end of our Lenten journey and prepare for Holy Week, perhaps it’s time to create a prayer space at home that is available anytime of day or night to anyone in your household. In the midst of the chaos of homeschooling and worries of this world right now, working together as a household to build a home altar or sacred space may be an excellent way to create order and peace.
It is quite simple and can be done with what you already have at home most likely. Find a surface in a low traffic area such as a window sill, small table, portable tray table, or book shelf. I find it helpful to have it in a quiet area (usually this is on a shelf above my desk so it is always in sight) where there is little “action.” The pictures below are from my new area in my living room – no television or computers in this room!
What do these three things have in common? Plenty! Julian was a Roman Catholic born about 1343 CE and lived during a time of upheaval. The people of Europe were full of anxiety due to the Black Plague, the Hundred Years’ War, and a papal schism. They were yearning for a personal, experiential faith that spawned a growth in Christian mysticism. Not her actual name (which remains a mystery), she is known as Julian because she lived (as a recluse) at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the parallels with our world today.
At the age of thirty she became gravely ill soon after Easter. A week later her parish priest visited her, bringing her a crucifix. “Look at it, and be strong,” he said as he gave her last rites. Although she was very weak, she was able to look at the figure of Jesus on the cross, receiving insight into his suffering and love for us. Later she described how the room seemed to go dark as she felt she was about to die, but no longer felt any pain. Over the next twelve hours she saw wonderful things in her mind, as clearly as if they were real. She soon got well and wrote about her fifteen visions (shewings) in what is now called Revelation of Divine Love.
There are a variety of reasons why families are often unable to attend church: sports, travel, illness, school related activities, and so much more. Often our communities have been affected by natural disasters: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, or snow storms. These are usually isolated areas of our country depending on the circumstance. However, March 2020 (and most likely longer), communities across the United States (and world-wide) are living with a new reality of many houses of worship cancelling in-person services to protect the health of all.
It has been no surprise to me that Christian formation folks have been at the forefront in sharing resources and ideas for supporting households who are staying at home. Many ideas that have been shared are not new, but are coming to light as the need has arisen for so many. New collaborations are forming to determine new ways to use social media and virtual gatherings for worship, prayer, Bible study, and simply being present with one another as a faith community. With large thanks to Forma and my colleague Mary Hawes’ (Church of England) Growing For Growth, below is a curated list (which will be updated regularly – so you may want to bookmark this) of ways to help parents, children, and youth focus on the reality that God is with us – no matter what.