Tag Archives: formation

Why Certification?

For numerous years, those who call the ministry of Christian formation and education as their vocation in the Episcopal Church have lamented the lack of equity and standards within our church. When the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors (NAECED) was formed almost 15 years ago, one of its purposes for organizing was to develop standards for the certification of Christian educators. This past weekend I was privileged to attend a gathering of stakeholders (representing a variety of threads that have been working toward this goal) at Virginia Theological Seminary. I am beginning to have hope. 2017 Update: NAECED has now become Forma.

Our ecumenical partners have long recognized the importance of lifting up and acknowledging the ministry of Christian educators with certification. APCE (Presbyterian Church USA) and CEF (Christian Educators Fellowship of the United Methodist Church) have led the way. And while they have struggled to live into their levels of certification and continuing education requirements for those members who choose to follow this route, they have paved the way for us.

Why certification?

  • Validation and Credibility – Are educators valued as equals to other staff members in a congregation? Are their education and gifts accepted?
  • This is a Career Path chosen by many – Do we want future generations to find this a rewarding career in which one can earn a living?
  • Feeling isolated – Is there a system in which one can turn when searching for continuing education and support?
  • Variations across dioceses and polity – Can there be standards for pay and benefits commensurate with education and experience on a national scale?
  • Need for consciousness-raising – If the church truly thinks education is important, why doesn’t it treat educators with the same passion?

In 2009, General Convention endorsed the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. Theologically trained and experienced Christian educators can help the church live into this vision. Can the church help lift up the ministry of those who are ready to partner and make this vision a reality?

Statistics have shown that churches that focus on lifelong formation have more engaged communities than those that just focus on Sunday School for children.  In the Episcopal Church, is lifelong formation an agreed upon norm? Is discernment for lifelong committed Christians the norm?  In our post-Christian world, adults are coming to the church without any grounding in faith. For many churches, 6th grade (or Confirmation) is the graduation point; parents who are not formed in faith will not realize the validity of engaging their children into their searching and discerning years. We need to be focusing on discipleship. An “educated” educator in a congregation who has been mentored by respected leaders of the church will continue to grow and learn alongside his or her peers as well as those with whom they share ministry.

The conversation has just begun. But there is definite energy and momentum around a Certificate for Leadership for Lifelong Christian Formation. There is more work to do and many more conversations to be had.

2017 Update: Many certificate programs now exist through Forma. You can learn more about each here:

Lord, please let our small mustard seeds of daily service grow into great shrubs of change and trees in whose branches the birds can nest and in whose shade our children can rest and feel safe. Marian Wright Edelman

Oscar Romero

This week we celebrate the anniversary of the assassination of Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador. On March 24, 1980 he was gunned down while saying Mass in a hospital chapel during that country’s civil war. Once a lightning-rod for criticism because of his support for liberation theology, Archbishop Romero today is seen as a champion of human rights.

President Barack Obama will visit his tomb during his visit to El Salvador this week, a gesture that some say is U.S. recognition of the slain human rights activist’s cause. Romero spoke out against repression by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army during the Central American country’s 12-year civil war in which at least 75,000 people died. The government and leftist guerrillas reached a peace treaty in 1992. “It’s historic,” said Congresswoman Lorena Pena, a former guerrilla fighter with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a rebel group-turned-political party. “It’s a recognition of our pastor who was killed for fighting for justice, for democracy and human rights.” (Washington Post, March 19)

I often like to share the Prayer of Oscar Romero when I speak at events focused on Christian formation. To me, his words resonate the role that we have as Christian educators in our world today:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

It is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction

Of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying

that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about,

we plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted,

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation.

In realizing that. This enables us to do something,

And to do it very well. It may be incomplete,

But it is a beginning, a step along the way,

An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

Between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


Where’s Waldo?

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing anything. Today has been a ‘day off’ (Ha – still did laundry, had a couple of phone meetings, and succumbed to check my work e-mail). And I knew posting here has been long overdue. So, here’s a check-in.

Part of my Monday ritual is checking in on the various projects I oversee as I plan the week ahead. This week’s list:

  • Travel to Chicago for the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes annual conference. I’ll be participating in the “Smart Network” for Christian formation that will feature Sam Portaro speaking on young adulthood. I’ll also be representing Church Publishing Inc. at our booth, hosting our sponsored luncheon about the Emergent Church with Stephanie Spellers, and facilitating a breakfast table conversation on Confirmation.
  • Begin to organize and upload my monthly newsletter, “Living IN-Formation,” due out on March 1st.
  • Prepare presentations for my trips to the Diocese of Arizona’s Children’s Ministry Summit (next weekend) and the Bishop’s Conference on Christian Formation in the Diocese of Southeast Florida (the following weekend). And that includes 4 workshop presentations, 1 keynote address, 1 sermon, and sending stuff for display. At least I will be in warmer locations!
  • Making sure all the articles for Building Faith are teed up for the next two weeks. If you’re wondering why I’m not blogging so much here on Rows of Sharon lately it’s because I write about four articles a week for that one now!
  • Making sure my weekly (at least) reflection on the coming Sunday’s lectionary readings is posted on The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education’s website.

Mix all that in with caring for my parents and helping plan our daughter’s October wedding, it’s a little overwhelming to think of witty items to post. If something strikes me in my travels, I’ll post them here. But most likely you’ll find them on Building Faith.

I’ll be doing lots of people watching in airports in the coming weeks, but I try not to stand out in a crowd. One of the books my kids gave me for Christmas for my airport amusements is a pocket “Where’s Waldo” book. I’m not usually dressed in red stripes, with a walking cane or a backpack – but I usually have a lime green suitcase in town filed with electronics (laptop, LCD projector, Kindle, i-pod touch).

So if you’re wondering where I’ve been (at least at this web location), hopefully I’ve given you some other avenues in which to follow me.

And of course, there’s always Facebook and Twitter!

Music and Memories

I Love to Tell the Story

I recently posted an article on Building Faith regarding the importance of teaching hymns and church music to children as a means to teach faith while creating memories that last a lifetime. (Building Faith is the new on-line community that I administer, which is probably why my postings on this site have diminished in recent months). For many of us, the Christmas season brings back lots of memories, and they are often triggered by music. Music brings us together and can create instant community; the recent flash mob in the mall in Philadelphia singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus has been a YouTube and Facebook phenomena.

This past Sunday my congregation held its annual Service of Lessons and Carols. We listened to the readings of the prophets as well as God’s announcements to Mary and Elizabeth. The church was filled as together we sung familiar hymns such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The choir was was comprised of voices of all ages, some perhaps singing songs just learned and others singing ones learned long ago. My parents attended with us – and yes, my Alzheimer-stricken mom was singing away. Sometimes with the words – but definitely la-la-ing in her falsetto right on key. Music is a memory that stays with us.

The previous week my parents were at our home for the usual Wednesday night dinner. I don’t remember what our conversation was about; probably joking and talking about when grandchildren would be home for the holidays. Suddenly my mom began singing, I Love to Tell the Story.

Now this hymn was not part of my childhood repertoire and I did not learn it until I was an adult involved in Christian education. It’s not even in Hymnal 1982. (However, it is in Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal for the Episcopal Church.) The hymn had its first impact on me at a ground-breaking Episcopal Christian Ed conference in 2003 in which I participated as part of the design and implementation team – Will Our Faith Have Children? Christian Formation Generation to Generation – in Chicago. Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina was keynoting, and sang the song with a passion. I can still picturing him bouncing around the stage, his Bible (or Prayer Book) held high in his hand. The importance of being able to share the Christian story – the story of Jesus and His love for us – is at the core of what it means to pass on faith to the next generation.

Jump ahead 10 years, and my mom’s singing this song at my dining room table. We never knew she knew it. She was adamant that she learned it in Sunday School . . . the tiny Baptist chapel she walked to in her neighborhood (that part was from my memory of her stories from my childhood). The chapel still stands today in our town, now someone’s home. Whether it be Away in a Manger or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, wouldn’t we rather have our children sing these songs to the next generation instead of Jingle Bells or Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer?

How do you love to tell The Story?

How are we teaching our children hymns of their faith that will remain with them when we have long been gone?

Is Formation Important to the Church?

Gleanings from Church Visitations

My travels take me to many dioceses in The Episcopal Church. In 2010 alone I’ve made presentations for the Episcopal Dioceses of Bethlehem, Rochester, Hawaii, North Carolina, Southwestern Virginia, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, plus events in Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota and California. I’ll soon add Oregon and San Joaquin to the list this fall. Several themes and questions emerge from all these trips. I’ve also participated in ecumenical events and networks. The questions are the same, with perhaps a few tweaks in the responses:

  • Is Christian formation important in the [Episcopal] Church?
  • How does the [Episcopal] Church measure up when it comes to promoting life long Christian Formation in 2010?
  • What will the future of the Church be?
  • Are there mandates for guiding the Church in being more intentional about Christian education in the future?

Depending on who you speak with or what diocese or congregation you are in, the answers to all of the above range from “Yes” to “No” and “It is a high priority” to “It’s just given lip service.” Some congregations are innovative and provide engaging opportunities for growing in knowledge and the mission of Christ, while others still focus on education for children in a 1950s model of coloring and pasting, pizza and games for youth (if there are any), and passive adults who have never opened a Bible, let alone read it on their own. Some just choose to “entertain” because they feel it is the only way to grab folks’ attention. After all – we need to be fun! (Is that what Jesus calls us to do?)

Some denominations put more emphasis (read: staff and funding) in the area of support and resources. Despite budget cuts in all denominational and publishing areas, the ELCA still sets the bar in making education a priority. The Presbyterian Church is not far behind. And I would give kudos to the United Methodist Church. Something they have in common is their high regard for educators in their churches. They have standards for professional Christian educators and they make sure they are compensated and recognized for their expertise. They require continuing education – and then offer vehicles for obtaining the CEUs needed each year. As a denomination, the Episcopal Church continues to pass the buck, if there even is one for education.

Gone are the days when Mom stays home to take care of the kids and volunteer 40 hours at church for the Sunday School, Women’s Club, Altar Guild and Rummage Sale. Mom (or Dad) is lucky to have the time to volunteer an hour or two on Sunday mornings to teach or lead youth group (forget about the time to plan ahead). And the leadership in many churches fail to recognize that the paradigm has shifted about how we learn, what it takes to put a quality program that is holistic together, and the necessity to move away from the clerical model in which “Father knows best” (and I don’t mean Dad).

As Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, we are living in the midst of a new reformation. She quotes Bishop Mark Dyer as saying every 500 years the church has a rummage sale, and now is the time for us to clean out what’s been laying around. What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to re-energize and invigorate. What do we need to do that is authentic, creating a new paradigm?

At the 2009 General Convention, the Episcopal Church endorsed two resolutions that did not get much publicity after the initial press releases. For many, they were resolutions supporting what we thought we already believed in. For others, it was a celebration of a time long in coming, when mission and formation were at the center of who we are as a Church. Fourteen months later, I wonder how many leaders (bishops, priests, deacons and laity) remember these statements?

The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

This is an intentional opportunity for the entire Church to engage in conversation about how God invites, inspires and transforms us through education, liturgy, service and mission.  Read more here.

Five Marks of Mission

Adopted throughout the Anglican Communion, these are areas we are called to live out in our teaching, practice, and everyday living.

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

One of the events I participated in this summer was a “symposium” sponsored by Episcopal Divinity School. I have a previous post about this event sharing what trends this group of educators saw in the Church. Another area of energy focused on the needs of Christian educators. This list was long, and frankly, depressing. Educators have a passion for their work and ministry and continue to soldier on, despite oft-times being powerless in a clerical system, marginalized in leadership settings and structures, and asked to do more with less.

All of this has been reinforced in my travels this year. Listening to the volunteer and paid Christian educators it is obvious they are committed to this ministry. They seek resources and connections. They desire more communication from their “national” church staff. They desire more support from bishops and other judicatory leaders as well as their congregational pastors and governing boards. They desire seminaries to offer courses for laypersons as well as practical tools for ministry to those who aspire to ordination. And it’s not all about money. It’s about respect and collegiality.

If the Church is to have a future, we need to focus on the mission of Jesus Christ. We need to understand what it means to be formed in the image of God. We need to create safe communities for conversations on difficult issues. And if we support educators by offering local training, resources, support and validation we will be able to help all ages articulate their faith in a multi-cultural, post-post-modern world. Living out documents like the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation and the Five Marks of Mission will be central foci for what we are to be about.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.

  • Any ideas how we can move forward?
  • How are you supported (or not) in your formational ministries?
  • Your thoughts?