The below is a response to an article recently posted on the “Covenant,” a project/blog of The Living Church. Many of us in The Episcopal Church acknowledge that this publication / organization is part of the conservative (ie: homophobic) branch of our denomination and articles are often cloaked in academia and theological discourse. Trigger warning (especially to my LBGTQ+ siblings): the article is written by a priest from a parish and school in Diocese of Dallas (Texas) that does not appear to be a welcoming place for all.
A parishioner shared this article with me, seeking my response as a person who has called Christian formation her vocation and profession for over 40 years in the Episcopal Church on the parish, diocesan, and church-wide level. In discerning my response, I felt it important to share with Fr. Jordan and “The Living Church” readership my thoughts in response.
My experience in the church and the academy is very different. Summarized in the Episcopal Church’s document Called to Teach and Learn, Christian formation (whom many still called Christian Education or Sunday School) is a catechetical process. We are “formed” by participation and practice of the Christian life of faith; a natural conforming and transforming process about which we (the Church) need to be intentional. We are “educated” by a process of critical reflection on participation in light of the gospel. We are “instructed” by processes by which knowledge and skills important to the Christian life of faith are acquired. In many ways our churches fail to embrace these three interrelated life-long processes, only focusing on the instruction piece for children as well as adults.
I’m not sure what was so great about the “older, better way” of passing along the faith – at least since my Baby Boomer days in Sunday School when the teacher was the “sage on the stage,” children were seen as empty vessels, and I had to memorize – not question – what well-meaning adults interpreted what God said. I believe we know what works better today. One example that comes immediately to mind is Godly Play, a method in which we engage the child in story, allowing their innate spirituality to wonder and embrace the mystery of God. Children truly “fall in love with God” in Godly Play. As a storyteller, I am not “forming” the children – God and God’s Story does that. As a child I was formed by God, surrounded by a community that loved me. How dare I assume to be the one forming (or needing to change) anyone.
In the early 1980s when I began my ministry as a Christian educator, I “met” Verna Dozier in an article published in SHARE, a quarterly publication of essays distributed by JED (Joint Educational Development)of which the Episcopal Church participated. It was during those years that the Episcopal Church regularly sent free materials to all Episcopal churches. Lucky for me I found the packets of shelved envelopes of articles in the back of a Sunday school closet that hadn’t seen the light of day in a long time. In one of those articles, “Affirmations of a Christian Educator” my vocation was just that – affirmed – by Ms. Dozier in the opening section:
As I introduced the group to the Confirmation Collaborative. Basically, anyone who is gathered to discuss best practices of confirmation as well as share stories and struggles about making this catechetical time a catalyst for ongoing faith formation in our congregations. One of our discussions centered around having mentors for confirmands. What does this entail? Who does the choosing? What do mentors actually do?
Gail Sheehy, the author who did pioneering work about the various passages of life, recommends some tasks to consider during the fifth decade of life. She said that some of the most important work is in having and being a mentor. Will Willimon writes in Making Disciples: Mentor’s Guide:
As noted in a previous post about results of The Confirmation Project and the Confirmation Collaborative, curricular resources are not the key to a good confirmation “program.” However, many churches still depend on written materials, programs, and “lessons” to form the basis of their confirmation program with youth. When the press release of the Confirmation Collaborative came out, many got in touch with me about what new resources (aka curriculum) we were going to develop, including The Living Church. Somehow I feel that the whole point of the Collaborative was missed. Sadly, the Church automatically goes to default when formation and confirmation are discussed.
While the Living Church initially requested information from me about what new materials are in the works to be published, I was glad to see that their article did focus on the process in “Raising Confirmands in the Way They Should Go.” I think I would have appreciated the title “Raising Confirmands in the Way WE Should Go, but it takes awhile to move that needle. In the article, Lisa Kimball states:
“They don’t want the teacher in the front of the room lecturing about those things,” Kimball said. “They want to be learning pedagogically and be more engaged in participatory ways.”
Over the past several months, The Way of Love has always been on my desk in one form or another. As part of the Presiding Bishop’s Working Group to create resources for the Church based on the seven practices of following Jesus. It’s been fun (and quite a ride) working with a creative bunch of Christian educators from across the Episcopal Church. I’ve created two particular resources for Church Publishing: The Way of Love for Families and An Intergenerational Gathering for the Way of Love. I was also excited to work with Mary Bea Sullivan of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama in bringing her Living the Way of Love: A 40-Day Devotional to publication in record time.
Many have asked for children and youth ministry resources for The Way of Love. You can certainly adapt the Families and Intergenerational materials I created above to fit your needs. Gratefully, many of you have been creating your own, or tweaking what exists to fit your ministries. Keep checking back to The Way of Love “official” website where seasonal resources are continually being updated and offered. Much of The Way of Love is created for “open space” sharing, meaning if you have created something – submit it to The Way of Love email addressor through this form. Those of us (myself included) on The Way of Love Working Group will review and be in touch if this is something shareable on the website so others can learn and use also.
Are you aware of these newly posted resources? Chris Sikkema has been Traveling the Way of Love. His first episode focused on Bless. Join him in the second episode from Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he focuses on Rest. Love the Tetons!
Resources for Eastertide are now available, with a focus on Go. Here you will find images to use as well as ideas for evangelism – yes, going out into the world to spread the Good News of Jesus in the neighborhood. If you tapped into any Way of Love resource during Lent, there is a “Test Kitchen” of Life Transformed on Facebook, where you can share how you are practicing Go and hear what others are doing.