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At Holy Trinity, we recognize that one of the best gifts God has given us is each other. We believe we were made to love and support each other and to learn together. Because of this, the foundation of our congregation's learning is inter-generational. Our Faith Formation Team helps plan events and programs for all ages to Grow Together in Faith.
This will be my last column written on behalf of the Faith Formation Team. It has been a joy to work with this group over the past two years, on the intergenerational GIFT ministry, on the visioning process, and most recently on the revamped Children’s, Youth and Adult Forums and Confirmation Class. Along the way, we have had two successful Vacation Bible Schools, an All Saints’ Saturday celebration, two Confirmation Camps, an Easter Vigil, and a Christmas pageant (with another on Sunday!).
Holy Trinity is a congregation that cares deeply about the Christian formation of its children and youth, and is also committed to lifelong learning. Bible studies, movie nights, retreats, and other adult formation programs are well and steadily attended. Special events like the lectures on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation are eagerly received.
Too many people to name, including all the past and present members of the Faith Formation Team, step up to make these things happen day in and day out. And the rest of the congregation strikes a remarkable balance between making your wishes and opinions about Faith Formation clear, while also gamely pitching in to give the latest idea a try – and most of the time, having fun and learning something in the process!
We have been glad to see the renewed participation in the Forums in response to the changes that were discerned in the visioning process, while also being aware that there are still many beloved traditions that have fallen by the wayside during the interim period, and many new and exciting possibilities that Holy Trinity might want to explore once the new Pastor has arrived. So, as I transition out of this ministry, my farewell message is – keep up the good work! Keep being curious, keep learning, keep teaching each other, keep being involved, and keep being open to new things.
This coming summer, the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering will be held in Houston, TX. Groups of youth from Holy Trinity have attended these youth gatherings in past years and have had wonderful experiences of fellowship, service, and growth in faith. We hope to send another group in summer 2018.
A number of “alumni” from Detroit 2015 and New Orleans 2012 are still in the congregation, including several young people who are now in college. On January 7, the first Sunday of the new year, we plan to hold a forum for adults and youth in which several of those alumni have the chance to witness to the congregation about how the Youth Gatherings impacted their lives. This will be the beginning of the process of planning and preparation for the 2018 group to go.
Thanks to the generosity of the congregation and the good work of prior cohorts of youth, we have a significant amount of funding (more than $8000) already accumulated that we can put toward the trip if the congregation chooses to do so. This will hopefully take the fundraising pressure off and allow the preparation for Houston 2018 to focus more on the actual experience that those who attend will be having. Nevertheless, I’m sure there will still be some money needing to be raised, so be prepared!
If you are interested in perhaps attending as a chaperone, please let the Faith Formation Team know, and get ready to hear lots more about the Gathering. Thank you in advance for your support and prayers!
Pastor Grace and the Faith Formation Team
Our faith formation programs are off to a great start in fall 2017! You’ve probably noticed a lot more children at the 8:30 service, and we celebrate the presence of these young Christians in our community, and give thanks for the parents and grandparents who are bringing them, and the teachers who are helping to pass along the faith!
We had a terrific All-Ages Forum on October 8 (make sure to check out the “vines” on the gathering area wall before they’re taken down next week!).
We also want to make sure that everyone knows about the upcoming Celebration Dinner for everyone involved in children’s and youth formation, from 5:30-7:30 PM on Friday, November 10. Childcare will be provided and parents, teachers and supporters will have a chance to reflect together on how things are going, learn from each other about best practices in teaching children in a faith context, and generally have a conversation in complete sentences! The Faith Formation Team will provide a main dish (including gluten-free), and attendees are invited to bring a salad, side dish or dessert. We hope that you’ll come!
Meanwhile, I couldn’t resist sharing this blog post from the past week:
Rules for children in the worship service: One. If you find that you're sitting in front of a child and they can't see, lean to the side. Two. If the children seated behind you are rustling papers, hand them a crayon. Three. If there is a baby that is crying, offer to take it from its parent and walk to the back of the church and rock it for a while. The parent really needs a break. Four. If the teenagers are whispering give them some Smarties. The rustling and crinkling will replace their whispering. Five. If an adult complains to an usher about the noisy children near them, offer to trade seats with that adult and then apologize to the parents of the children. Six. When a child is running around giving everyone high-fives during the time of passing the peace/greeting your neighbor, make sure to give them an extra fun high-five, and then high-five the next five adults that you see. Seven. If a child has worn tap shoes to church and is dancing on the wood portion of the floor, slip the sheet music for "The Entertainer" to the pianist and roll with it. Eight. When the children can't hear because an adult around them won't take off their puffy jacket and it keeps squeaking and distracting the children, offer to help them off with their jacket and go hang it up for them where it goes. Nine. When the three-year-old insists on standing on the front pew turned backwards looking at the rest of the people, give the child a pair of very dark glasses. That will prevent the child from catching any adult's eye, which would lead to distracting them. This will protect the adults who as we know have very short attention spans and are easily distracted. Ten. When a child in front of you is very squirmy, and then they finally turn around and you realize suddenly, "Oh, it's Jesus!" take it in stride and play Got Your Nose till he turns around to the front again. (From Cindy Beal, Justice and Peace Consulting)
In God’s peace,
As anyone knows who has been paying attention, there has been quite a lot of change, and some degree of conflict, at Holy Trinity over the past few years when it comes to the matter of Christian education. Starting in just a couple of weeks, we will be returning to what hopefully feels like a more familiar format for Sunday morning classes, but without losing what we have learned since 2015 about what works and what doesn’t.
A part – perhaps a surprisingly large part – of the conversation has been about what we call things. Most people are used to calling the educational experience that happens on Sunday mornings “Sunday School,” at least for children. (There are quite a few churches where everyone, regardless of age, has a “Sunday School class” they belong to.) At Holy Trinity, the adult classes have been known as “Adult Forum” while the children went to Sunday School.
The origin of “Sunday School” was in outreach to the urban poor in the 19th century. Before compulsory public education, children worked in mills and factories from a very early age, and Sunday was their only day off, so charitably inclined church folks organized Sunday Schools so that these poor children could at least learn the three R’s along with the Lord’s Prayer and the catechism.
With the advent of public schools and child labor laws, Sunday School then morphed into a class for the children within, rather than outside of, the church. But it has really only been for about three generations that the “standard” way of forming children in the Christian faith has been to put them in a classroom with other children their own age, and “teach” them about it.
As serious Christian belief has become increasingly marginalized in our modern culture, the idea of “Sunday School” has become associated in many people’s minds with small-mindedness, anti-intellectualism, and, frankly, downright bigotry. (The media does not help in this regard, by giving all the attention to the most extreme forms of Christian bigotry, and very little to the quiet majority of Christians who are doing our best to love and help our neighbor.)
All these factors have added up to a movement away from the classic idea of “Sunday School” as many remember it from the Baby Boom era, when churches were booming and classrooms were bursting at the seams. It is now understood that mimicking the experience that kids have in school Monday-Friday is not the best way to form them as faithful, adult Christians, and that each church has to discern for itself what is the method that will enable all of its members to continue to grow in faith throughout their lives.
All this is background for why, for the 2017-18 program year, you will hear the church leadership and the Faith Formation Team refer to our Sunday morning classes for children and youth the same way we refer to our adult classes: as Forums. Children’s Forum and Youth Forum will join the Adult Forum as flexible, open-ended arenas for learning, questioning and exploring the biblical story. Using a lectionary-based curriculum called Living the Good News, all ages will dive deeper into the readings that we hear every Sunday, and encounter God in Scripture in age-appropriate ways. Between services on the second Sunday of the month, we will use the all-ages features of the same curriculum for a Forum that brings everyone together in the same way that we have enjoyed in the GIFT program.
See you in the Forums! In God’s peace,
As we prepare for the kickoff of the “program year”, the Faith Formation Team is working on recruiting teachers for our children’s, youth and adult programs in Fall 2017. A comprehensive sign-up sheet is posted in the gathering area, including job descriptions for teachers. If you are contacted as someone we are inviting to teach, please give the idea your prayerful consideration. If you are feeling called to teach, please get in touch with a member of the Faith Formation Team!
Here is the job description for a Lead Teacher:
Commit to either teaching, or finding a substitute, every Sunday that classes are offered for the semester. Check website for materials; download the appropriate materials for your age group; and make sure enough copies are made. Plan and prepare the lesson; or, delegate the planning and preparation to your assistant teacher by mutual agreement. Check with teachers of other age groups to determine who will lead Opening. Arrive at church no later than 9:15 on Sunday, and stay until the beginning of the 11:00 service. Remain in your classroom after Opening for the duration of the lesson.
However, when I attended a workshop in Maine on Monday for Faith Formation professionals, I realized that there is a lot missing from that description. It is an excellent rundown of the teacher’s practical responsibilities, but it misses the actual point of the whole exercise. My colleagues at the workshop rebuked and taught me by example.
Here is a list of qualities that leaders mentioned during a brainstorm on what to look for when recruiting teachers to work with children:
And here is the list of “What our Parish Offers You” for prospective teachers at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Windham, ME (hint: Holy Trinity offers all these things too):
Does any of this sound like a description of you – or the person you’d like to be – or something you’d like to be involved in? If so, God just might be calling you to the ministry of faith formation, and we would be overjoyed to welcome you into the joy of this work! In God’s peace,
Second Sunday of the month (between the 8:30 and 11:00 services): All Ages Learning
Other Sundays – the following groups will meet:
All groups except the Adult Forum will focus on the lectionary readings for the day, the same scriptures that will be heard and preached in worship.
We are actively recruiting teachers for all classes! Sign-up sheet for children and youth on the wall in the gathering area; for adults, talk to Linda Edwards. We have carefully and extensively discerned the desire for these programs, and we need everyone to pitch in to make them happen!
On Behalf of the Faith Formation Team
Last month in this space, we described the plan for Christian education for all ages that will be implemented beginning this fall. This plan emerged from the Faith Formation Team’s meetings with our consultant, John Roberto, in the winter and spring. Numerous members of Holy Trinity attended those meetings and contributed valuable input to the plan. As we move toward making it a reality, the team wishes to continue to be in communication with the congregation.
This coming Sunday, June 18, after the 9:30 service, we invite you to an open forum on “(Re-)Forming Faith Formation” at Holy Trinity. We will present the plan as it currently exists, take questions and feedback, and give information about how everyone can be involved in making it a success. If attendance and interest are sufficient, we can conclude with breakout sessions for those who are interested in faith formation for children, for youth, and for adults, respectively. (If attendance is light or we hear from many who can’t make it on the 18th, we plan to offer the same forum again on the 25th.)
A number of people who were involved in Christian education at Holy Trinity in the past have told me that the tradition here is for parents to be primarily responsible for their children’s program of formation. Parent involvement and commitment is certainly essential if children are to grow up with the kind of “sticky faith” that we all hope and pray for. But the goal of faith formation for all ages is not just sticky faith but the building of intergenerational relationships and a community of mutual support. Parents are overworked and families are stressed. A truly successful and sustainable program of faith formation will involve all generations in the teaching of children – not just for the children’s sake, but for the sake of the older adults who teach them and thereby build relationships with them and deepen their life of faith.
The plan for the coming year includes a much more robust program for adult formation as well as periodic whole-church events building on the strengths of the GIFT model. Please stay after church on June 18 to learn the details and find out how you can get involved!
On May 12, the Faith Formation Team and several other parish members met with John Roberto, the nationally-recognized consultant who has worked with Holy Trinity before, for the second time. We went over and refined the draft of a plan for learning and growth in faith for the congregation. We were grateful for all the feedback we received on Plan #1, which helped us to make it more attainable and more tailored to the parish’s needs.
As I mentioned during the announcement time on Sunday, in 2017-18 the plan is to build on the strengths of both the former “Sunday School” program and our recent intergenerational learning experiences. We plan to offer a consistent schedule for Christian education, with programs every Sunday. Most Sundays, those programs will be offered for at least three different age ranges: children (possibly divided into older and younger groups), youth (confirmation and high school), and adults. Periodically, all ages will come together for seasonal celebrations, service projects, or other faith experiences.
In order to provide focus and consistency, we will be using a curriculum (Living the Good News) that is based on the lectionary, the series of weekly readings we hear in church. Thus, each week each age group will experience a lesson or activity based on the same passages of Scripture, so (grand)parents and children will be able to discuss together what each group learned that day. The curriculum also provides all-age lessons, which we can use if we wish. Conversely, if an important parish meeting must take place, the adults will not miss out entirely because they will still hear the lessons of the day and be able to pick up where they left off the following week.
In addition, we will create a designated area of the church website for faith learning at home and on the go. Images, texts and activities will be posted weekly that will encourage all ages to engage more deeply with the Bible passages we have encountered at church on Sunday. Families can incorporate these resources into their daily devotions, and those who travel frequently can use them to stay in touch with the church community.
We remain committed, with the help of Holy Trinity’s new pastor, to moving in the direction of a more comprehensive plan of spiritual growth and learning, which would look more like the original draft that many of you have read and commented on. All of the pastoral candidates, when shown the plan, were enthusiastic both at its content and at the clear commitment to Christian education that it demonstrates, and were excited to work with us to put it into practice over the next 3-5 years.
We hope to continue to integrate worship, service and learning, and to explore the possibilities for community building on Wednesday nights. We recognize that there is a demand for grandparent/grandchild activities, and a need for more reflection and planning about how to fully integrate children into worship for both their own and their families’ sake.
Opportunities for feedback and conversation about the proposed 2017-18 plan will take place over the summer, before the planned implementation it in September. Please do not hesitate to be in touch with us if you have more to say!
Pastor Grace Burson
For the Faith Formation Team
Heidi Roberts Morrison
Last week I shared John Roberto’s Faith Formation Plan (Version 1.0) for Sunday mornings. Thank you to those who provided feedback either electronically or in person. We will add your ideas to our discussion points when we meet with John again on May 12/13th. If you did not get a chance to review the first Faith Formation Journey post, it is on the website.
As part of our meeting with John in February, one topic of conversation focused on areas where we could expand our faith formation opportunities. One that was identified was Wednesday night. Are there ways we can add to what is already established on Wednesday night to provide additional ways for people to gather to grow in faith? The goal is to expand the opportunities without taking away from the Wednesday night service that is enjoyed by a core group of people.
One of the goals of Wednesday nights would be to support those whose Sundays are now filled with other events. The times of a commitment free Sunday mornings are long gone (How many remember the Blue Laws? Many times I wish they were still around to remind us to relax on Day 7.) The proposal would create opportunities, outside of Sundays, for people to gather in worship, learning and fellowship. This article discusses the possible rewards and the challenges with expanding Wednesday night faith formation.
The second goal of Wednesday night is to create more missional expression events. John Roberto describes one aspect of missional faith formations as opportunities for people who are currently on the outside looking in at religion. These people might be spiritual, but not religious, or unaffiliated with a specific denominations and are looking for faith formation opportunities that are less structured than Sunday mornings. (Note: A second aspect of missional faith formation, not included in his proposal, is finding ways to take our faith formation programs outside of our walls and into the community. Meeting people with they live. The scary idea of evangelism.)
The following is what John Roberto is proposing for Wednesday nights in Version 1.0.
o View Wednesdays at Holy Trinity as a missional expression:
o Expand Wednesdays at Holy Trinity to include worship and a shared meal experience by beginning with a meal at time TBD and then moving to worship or beginning with worship at time TBD and then moving to a meal. The whole experience would be over by 7:30 pm.
o Promote this experience to families with children who do not attend Sundays regularly, high school youth, college students and young adults in the area, and more.
o Develop pathways for the people who participate in Wednesdays at Holy Trinity such as offering the basic faith formation classes for those interested in exploring the Christian faith.
On May 12 and 13 we meet with John to provide feedback on his Version 1.0 proposal and to develop Version 2.0. If you’re interested in joining us for these sessions, please let us know. We would love to have you share your ideas. Prior to that meeting, we are asking the HTELC community to review his proposal and to provide us feedback we can use to make informed decisions in developing Version 2.0.
You can post your comments here or email them to Scott Carson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Pastor Grace (PrGrace@htelc.com).
Even better than those options, on Sunday, May 7, swing by the Faith Formation Team table in the Gathering Area and share your ideas in person.
“Faith formation are the practices and opportunities—such as praying, worshiping, learning, celebrating, and serving–that engage an entire community in lifelong Christian formation and ongoing spiritual growth. It is not a trendy program, a one-stop-shopping curriculum, or a quick fix.” Lower Susquehanna Synod (http://www.lss-elca.org/resources/what-is-faith-formation/)
Over the past several months, the Faith Formation Team has worked with John Roberto, founder of LifeLongFaith Associates, to continue the process of defining, evaluating and adapting Holy Trinity’s faith formation programs to meet the needs of the current and future members of our faith community.
The changes made in April 2015 caused a sense of loss, hurt and frustration. When the changes were made (Yes, I (Scott Carson) was one of those people who recommended ending Sunday School. More about that at the very end), there was never the thought that GIFT was going to be the sole faith formation event. But, life at Holy Trinity got a bit confusing starting in the fall of 2015 and further work was put on hold.
Our goal to develop a holist short term and long term plan has been guided by the Ministry Site Profile (MSP), Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT), Transition Team data, conversations, surveys and research.
Some have wondered if the middle of the call process is really the time to be going through this process. Our thought is that we do not want to pass this work on to our new pastor. It would be unfair to him or her to take on such a task on their arrival. If we wait until he or she is settled in, then another year will have passed. Do we want the new pastor to provide insight, recommendations and guidance as we implement the plans? Absolutely. But it should be a program we developed.
The output of our meetings with John is a Faith Formation Plan (Version 1.0) to consider. Below is the Sunday portion of John Roberto’s proposal. He made other recommendations concerning Wednesday nights (building programs around the existing worship service) that will be shared for your thoughts next week. On May 12 and 13 we meet with John to provide feedback on his Version 1.0 proposal and to develop Version 2.0. If you’re interested in joining us for these sessions, please let us know. We would love to have you share your ideas. Prior to that meeting, we are asking the HTELC community to review his proposal and to provide us feedback we can use to make informed decisions in developing Version 2.0.
You can post your comments here or email them to Scott Carson (email@example.com) or Pastor Grace (PrGrace@htelc.com).
The following are my (Scott Carson) thoughts:
My prayer is that we become a congregation that John Roberto describes in his book Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century: Engaging All Ages and Generations: “Some congregations are intentionally intergenerational. They make their intergenerational character a defining feature of their community life, ministries, and faith formation. These churches make it a priority to foster intergenerational relationships, faith sharing, and storytelling; to incorporate all generations in worship; to develop service projects that involve all ages; and to engage all generations in learning together. For these churches, being intergenerational is a way of life. It is an integral element of their culture. It is who they are!”
As a science teacher I understand that at times I must do direct instruction and teach students Newton’s Laws of Motion, but the true learning happens when my students must apply those laws in an experiment. I think the same is true with our faith formation. Yes, there are times when we need to directly teach the 10 Commandments or the Good News of Jesus, but I feel the conversations we have about how we try, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to live our faith our more important. My favorite type of faith formation takes place in the kitchen, talking with our youth about life as I’m cutting bread for coffee hour.
If you’re interested in learning more about John Roberto’s approach to reimaging 21st century faith formation, please visit his website.