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.
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?
As a former mentor for Education for Ministry (EfM), every fall I would introduce the concept of writing one’s spiritual autobiography for this adult formation seminar program. Sharing one’s spiritual autobiography builds a group faster than anything else. And it provides the individual the chance (some for the first time) to reflect on where God has (or has not) been throughout the stages of their life. It is a humbling experience to have another person share their spiritual autobiography with you. Even if they just share portions, it is an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with something so sacred.
Public Narrative is another project from Harvard University that has also gotten some traction in spiritual circles. It was used as a focal point at the 2009 Episcopal Church’s General Convention. Marshall Ganz, lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explains, “Public narrative is woven from three elements: a story of why I have been called, a story of self; a story of why we have been called, a story of us; and a story of the urgent challenge on which we are called to act, a story of now. This articulation of the relationship of self, other, and action is also at the core of our moral traditions. As Rabbi Hillel, the 1st Century Jerusalem sage put it, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?””
Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, is another person who taps into the notion of “My Story, God’s Story, Our Story”. His shared Christian praxis, includes scripture and tradition as part of one’s educational foundation.
The Jesuits give an excellent definition of a spiritual autobiography: “A spiritual autobiography focuses less on the people, events and experiences of a person’s life and more on what these people, events and experiences meant for him and how they formed him or shaped the course of his life. It allows the writer to communicate who he is as a person and what is important in his life. Yet the process of crafting a spiritual autobiography demands that he communicate this to himself as well. It demands that the writer look within himself and that he ask himself the very questions he hopes to answer – Who am I? and What is important in my life? It demands that he look long and seriously at the people, events and experiences of his life, his struggles and conflicts, his strengths and weaknesses, and the decisions he has made. Yet it is in seeking to understand these seemingly disparate facets of his life that he gradually comes to understand them in all their interrelatedness. More importantly, it is there that he will often discover God in his life, not simply as his Creator and Redeemer, but as One who has been present and actively ‘at work’ in his life, inviting, directing, guiding and drawing him into the fullness of life.”
This year’s EfM focal point for creating one’s story is through a process called “Stepping Stones”. Jenifer C. Gamber, an on-line EfM mentor, has created a video explaining the metaphor to those who are discerning the moments of shift and journey in their lives.
There are a variety of ways of gathering one’s thoughts about your own history with God. You can develop a time-line, thinking about the historical events that occurred during your life and placing your thoughts, feelings, location and other personal events alongside it. Put together some photos – personal or magazine clippings that resonant with you for different phases of your life. Or following the model of Godly Play, create an Object Box containing mementos and artifacts which have had meaning to you throughout your life. Download this document to give you some other ideas.
“Each person has a history because of his or her own experiences. But not until the person’s history is expressed does it have life. The telling generates the story, giving it form and meaning. Once expressed, a person’s history becomes concrete and actual. It becomes something that can speak to the self. You do not have one history but many.” (Common Lesson Year D of the EfM materials.)
Tell your story however it suits you. Allow your story to be part of God’s story. After all, you are part of God’s history and re-creation of the world each and every day.