For many of us, it’s been over a year since we’ve been in our church buildings for any purpose. No indoor gatherings have moved meetings, coffee hours, formation opportunities, and even worship -have all occurred digitally. The pandemic has kept us apart from one another physically in so many ways, especially those of us who live in colder climes who don’t have the space or weather to meet outdoors for worship. As we look to the warmth of spring, more of us armed with our vaccinations and our local map turning from red to orange (will we every see yellow or green?) will be coming out of our hibernation to rise and shine. Easter will take on new meaning; a renewed life in meeting in-person that will be a different/new normal.Continue reading Returning Home: Celebratory Grief & Imagining the Future
For my entire life I’ve been a Christian educator. Whatever you may call it: Sunday School, Church School, Religious Education, Christian Education, Education or Formation Hour (the names have changed throughout the years depending on the understanding and purpose of what we are “doing” with/for children on Sunday mornings), I believe we have come to a turning point. For some this may be a reckoning moment that things may never be the same again in our churches – at least on Sunday mornings. Welcome to the future – it is today.
In the various denominational Christian formation Facebook groups I participate in, the big question that is being asked with a variety of responses are: How are you going to hold Church School (or whatever you happen to name it) when we go back to our buildings? How do we keep our classrooms clean? How will we get small children to wear masks? How much hand washing will be required? Fill in the blank with your most pressing question of bringing children (and youth) back to church when September rolls around and / or your church building opens for worship.
Yes, parents are overwhelmed with home-schooling and distance learning. Doing formation at home has added to that burden, even though many churches and educators have found creative ways to send materials to homes such as “lessons in a box” dropped off on the family front porch, using Zoom for telling Godly Play stories, or emailing a lesson with creative ideas to do together as a family using stuff easily found at home such as crayons, glue, scissors, markers, paper, or LEGO-bricks. But how are we engaging everyone in a household together that isn’t seen as another “thing that has to be done”? How are we helping form disciples to learn about and follow Jesus during this time?
Perhaps parents want to simply drop their kids off for Church School while they have some peace and quiet in the sanctuary. We want life back the way it was before COVID-19. I live in Connecticut about 50 miles northeast of New York City. We were part of that first “gigantic red circle” you saw on the nightly news in March and April. Thankfully, our state governments took things seriously and we have been social distancing, wearing masks, and washing out hands since March. We entered Phase 2 of our reopening in mid-June and will not be going to Phase 3 in mid-July as planned due to the rise across the rest of the country. For the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, our church buildings remain closed for worship with some doing socially distanced worship outside with families sitting far apart on blankets or their own lawn chairs while masked (12 feet apart). I don’t see us worship inside our buildings anytime soon – even with our “numbers down.” Oh how I wish the rest of the United States had learned from our hard experience this spring.
Let’s face it, we are now living in a new normal, which means Church School needs to reinvent itself now. And expect a resurgence this fall, if we ever get a handle on the ever-increasing rise in cases across our nation.
I’ve written about this plenty of times (see my 5-parts series Christian Formation in a Changing Church post five years ago, particularly Part 3 about a new ecosystem). In recent months on this site since we’ve been figuring out how to support one another while in quarantine I’ve suggested numerous resources. Looking back on what we’ve been doing and what we can be doing, I suggest this:
The Church and Christian Formation leaders are called to:
- Focus on the spiritual nourishment of our congregations for all ages. For me, this means worship. Liturgy is formation. We hear God’s Story alongside (if the preaching is good) our own story. But worship needs to be accessible to all as family units sit spread out in the sanctuary, with chairs set at a distance or pew spaces roped off. Theresa Cho of Still Waters wrote an excellent article: Children in Worship: It’s More Than Coloring Sheets and has numerous pieces about creating intergenerational worship. We need to focus on how we can engage all ages safely in worship before planning how we will open up classrooms to small group learning. After all, segregated learning / formation is a relatively new phenomena in the Christian tradition (as well as Jewish and Muslim).
- Support households (of all ages) in learning scripture and praying at home. That might mean making sure every household owns a Bible and prayer book (or has access to both via the internet – but let’s get away from our screens!). If someone else reading or praying is an access point to families, develop a calendar with links for them to hear scripture (such as The Bible Project’s Church at Home or Godly Play stories told on YouTube) and prayer (such as The Mission of St. Clare or Praying with Children. Create your own videos of instruction for families and individuals to guide them how to use (and read) their Bible as well as tools for prayer. The Church has failed in many ways to teach adults these skills and tools. Here is an opportunity.
- Recognize that not all have the technology or time to engage. Those who need to put themselves at risk as they are front-line workers and those do not have the option to work at home (especially our siblings of color what are disproportionately sick and dying of this disease) need our support. How can we put our faith into action by helping food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and any number of services that are being overtaxed? It is easy for our (predominately white) congregations to want things back to normal when there are plenty of Black, Latinx, and Asian folks struggling to survive.
As a leader in your faith community, how will you set an example for re-envisioning the future?
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.Continue reading Faith Formation in a Changing Church
There has been an uptick of inquiries in my inbox as well as voice mail, all essentially about the same question: “Can you help us figure out what to do with our (fill in the blank: children, youth, adult, formation, education, Church School) ministries program?” The difficulty in responding is that I don’t have an answer. Nothing that is a quick fix. Nothing that hiring a children’s minister, youth director, or Director of Christian Formation can solve (at least not on their own). It can only be addressed through community discernment – lay and clergy leaders with parents especially – working together.
Here’s an example of some of the statements raised, after the initial question:
- Children aren’t coming to Church School.
- Parents are disengaged with talking about faith at home and don’t support their attendance in class (or worship).
- Our teachers don’t like the curriculum we are using (read between the lines . . . What curriculum can you recommend that volunteers like that is easy?)
- Youth are bored.
- We keep reading about putting things online – but who has the time to figure that out?
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 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