Building the Continuum

Supporting Formation and Vocation in The Episcopal Church

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Ministry with Children in The Episcopal Church

St. Thomas Episcopal Church
College Station, Texas

A story of faith, passion and wonder ….

by Robyn Szoke

In February of this year, C. Kirk Hadaway, the Staff Officer for Congregational Research and Diocesan and Congregational Ministries, presented some statistics to Executive Council. From 2004 to 2010, Church School enrollment in Episcopal congregations has declined by 33 percent. The number of child baptisms in Episcopal congregations has declined by 36 percent. Moreover, the Episcopal Church’s average Sunday attendance has fallen by 17 percent, while membership declined by 13 percent.

To begin to respond to these changes, it might be helpful to remember the hopes, the dreams, and the passion that the Episcopal Church had for children’s ministry and formation and, indeed, lifelong formation between 1985 and 2009.  Those years were an amazing time. They were alive with vision, ideas, and a commitment to the cultivation of formation – particularly children’s formation and formation within the household.

Looking back, it seems that the theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer helped to launch a grassroots mission movement for advocacy with and ministry to (and for and by) children. By 1990, this mission movement had really taken hold. That year, the Episcopal Church Center’s Office of Children’s Ministries began to gather children’s ministry specialists from around the nation. Their mission was to engage in deeper conversations about how best to serve children, including how best to fully include them in our worship communities and the prophetic notion of listening and hearing their voice.

The result of these conversations was that the Office of Children’s Ministries, along with 22 dioceses from all of the Episcopal Church’s provinces, developed and published a most amazing document: the Children’s Charter for the Episcopal Church. (In Spanish) Adopted by General Convention resolution 1997-B005, it provided a model – a standard of excellence – and accountability for congregational, diocesan, and provincial leadership.

Fueled by the publication of the Children’s Charter, the mission movement flourished. Design teams were created. Through the wisdom and hard work of provincial formation leaders, events were held, Charting a Course for Children in the Church which led to strengthening partnerships with the National Council of Churches and the Children’s Defense Fund. Through these teams and partnerships, we were able to hold events, gatherings, and conferences to advocate for children. In addition, a wonderful mission magazine was developed. Called Treasure Magazine, it was designed so that children ages 6 to 9 could read and learn about mission throughout the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.  At the same time the youth ministry office and young adult ministry office was also flourishing. Read more…

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What Sets My Heart on Fire

by Sophia Reeder

I attended the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Minnesota this summer. It was an event filled with faith and fun, an event in which I found God, found friends, and found myself. One of the common sayings during EYE was “Are you on fire?!” To which one would respond “I’m on fire, are you on fire?!” What we meant was on fire with the Holy Spirit. EYE, along with the myriad of other church events I have attended since eighth grade, served to foster my faith, helping it to grow by leaps and bounds. My faith is what sets my heart on fire.

The first church event I ever attended was during the winter of my eighth grade year. It was a weekend retreat titled Winter Conference, and it would change my life forever. After that weekend I was hooked. I was inconsolable when I had to leave behind all my newly made, but deeply forged friendships. I joined a social networking site for the sole purpose of keeping in touch with these friends, and was back again for the next retreat. Returning to my everyday life was like leaping headfirst into a pool of ice cold water. Interactions with my classmates seemed far different, and not near as genuine as interacting with my church camp friends had been. I couldn’t wait to go back. Since then I have lost count of the number of summer camps and weekend retreats I have attended. What I do know is how profoundly they changed me.

These events fostered not only my faith, but my character as well. I became more confident in myself, more open-minded, more compassionate. I discovered that I have a passion for public speaking, for using my words and my voice to change the lives of others. During these events there are always several talks given, usually by the older participants. I gave my first talk during 10th grade. I love being able to share my faith with others, to help them through difficult times in their lives, to watch them grow in faith as I have. My faith guides me to seek out and help others whenever possible, to treat my enemies as my friends, and to practice wasteful love and radical acceptance. This is what sets my heart on fire. Read more…

Manifesto for Learning

by Donn Morgan

Education in our church is not in a very good place. It is clear enough that change is needed, and many of us talk a lot about it. We sometimes perceive this change as something that we have no control over, and cast ourselves as victims playing out a tragedy. For example, when we attempt to understand and address huge financial challenges confronting us, we are often left in paralysis. We simply don’t seem to have sufficient resources to continue our mission of providing the best education at all levels of the church in the traditional way.

There is a way to look at change, however, embracing the opportunities it offers and lifting up lessons learned and progress made. And educational study group in the Episcopal Church has produced one very good recent example of this approach, tracing the highlights of education and formation over the past forty years. It is entitled Legacies, Lessons and Lifelines.

The place and role of learning in the church, then, represent a systemic issue and raise questions of mission and purpose. This is true at all levels: for congregational Christian education; for dioceses, synods or conferences; for national offices; for seminaries; for schools and colleges; and for much more. It is among the whole church and all of its educators, Protestant and Catholic, conservative and liberal, traditional and emergent, small and large, rural and urban, that this vision of learning – and the conversation it engenders – must take hold. Only when all of us are involved in addressing these larger issues will we indeed be able to live faithfully and successfully into the church’s mission.

At the church-wide level, there is a diminution of the infrastructure once devoted to education. Whether speaking of curricular support for Sunday Schools or other educational programs for the young, or ministry in higher education, or seminaries – there are fewer connections between these important areas of ministry at the local or regional levels and the national, primarily because sufficient funds are not allotted to make these educational endeavors a top priority for support. Read more…

Needed: A Theology of Children

by Jerome W. Berryman

A 90% cut is not a budget cut. It is a statement.

Budgets are statements of values. The proposed budget for 2013-2015 appears to be a formal declaration of indifference for those who make decisions about funding the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church regarding our church’s theology of children!

At the same time, the real action is not at the “national” church. The real action is in the parishes, where you are.  On the same day the budget was released I heard about yet another Christian educator getting sacked. I also received an email from the rector of a church in Oxford, UK, where they are going to extend the west end to make a welcoming place for children with a Godly Play room, and when it is not in use it will be a place to welcome adults. There’s the future. When we welcome children we welcome Jesus and the one who sent him.

The theology is in the details and there is theology at work in this, unconscious though it may be.

It may be that we are struggling with a theology that advocates ambivalence (advocates unconsciously both a high and a low view of children at the same time), ambiguity (advocates unconsciously never being clear about what we mean by the word “children” when we talk about them), indifference (advocates unconsciously never talking about children at all), and grace (advocates unconsciously that children are a means of grace necessary for the church’s being, especially as the Kingdom).  I bring this up, because we need to make this unconscious theology more conscious, so we are no longer controlled by it. Read more…

Legacies, Lessons and Lifelines

“One faces the future with one’s past,” or so American author Pearl Buck once wrote.

As Christians and as Episcopal educators, we are clear that how we attend to history matters. In order to find out where we are going in theological education and Christian formation, we need to know where we have come from. We know that there are lessons to be learned. We recall the well-worn saying that those who forget history’s lessons are doomed to repeat them.

For those of us concerned about the future of Christian formation and theological education, we ask: what are the lessons to which we must attend? How might we best be informed by the Episcopal Church’s involvements in Christian education and formation? Are there particular lifelines that might sustain us in days ahead, especially if they are well attended to and furthered? What clues might we find about strategic moments, movements, and messages that we may pass on to strengthen our Church’s educational witness and daily practices in days ahead? Are there new directions we should pursue?

These are daunting questions. They underscore the purpose of this short document focusing upon “legacies, lessons and lifelines” in Christian formation and theological education as we have discerned them over the past half-century of the Church’s life. A study of theological education in 1967 – entitled Ministry for Tomorrow and known as the Pusey Report — called for major changes. It focused primarily on educating male clergy in ten seminaries, using a scholarly university model. Since that time, significant changes in church and society have prompted a need to reconsider the state and direction not only of theological education but of Christian formation as well.

Our current focus on history grows out of a mandate from the 2003 General Convention for a task force – which has subsequently been named PEALL, an acronym for Proclaiming Education for All – to undertake a comprehensive review of Christian formation and theological education in order to present recommendations to the 2009 General Convention. This is the first time the Episcopal Church has called for a systematic look at the broadest spectrum of its educational resources and practices. This includes education designed to advance the mission and ministry of members of every age cohort in a wide variety of cultural contexts. Today Christian formation is centered in congregations, diocesan program and schools, theological seminaries, ministry development groups, continuing education centers, and other initiatives. Read more…

Friendships Made through Mission

by Boyd Evans

Note: This is one example of how EYE impacts youth from local congregations and dioceses in connecting with one another and the wider church through mission. 

On Sunday, June 26 many of the groups attending the Episcopal Youth Event left for a three-day mission experiences.  Caitlin Peabody from St. John’s Cathedral along with Alexis Burnham, Patrick Dobbins and chaperone Boyd Evans from St. Stephen’s Oak Ridge joined a group totaling 51 teenagers (rising sophomores to college freshmen) and 30 adult leaders from the Province IV Southeastern Diocese to travel to Northern Minnesota for a mission experience at the Red Lake Nation.  This trip was coordinated by Cookie Cantwell and Beth Crow from the Diocese of North Carolina. The Red Lake reservation is home to the Ojibwe tribe of Native Americans.  The Ojibwe are sometimes referred to as “Chippewa” as this was the pronunciation of early explorers to the area.

On the five-hour bus ride from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Northwestern Minnesota, the youth and adults learned about the history of the Ojibwe in Red Lake and watched the video “Unseen Tears: A Documentary on Boarding School Survivors”.  Unseen Tears tells the story of how children of Native American families in the early 20th century were removed from their families and sent to off-reservation boarding schools in which they were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their native culture in an effort to assimilate them into American society. Tragically, many cases of abuse and neglect were documented from these schools as well as a loss of native language and culture for a generation of Native Americans. Read more…

Share your feedback on the budget

[March 8, 2012] The Episcopal Church Joint Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) has established a blog for comments on the draft budget approved by Executive Council in January.

“PB&F offers this blog as a place for the Church to comment on the Executive Council draft budget,” explained Diane Pollard, PB&F chair. “Concurrently, the purpose of the blog is also to give PB&F an additional way to hear the comments on the Draft Budget.” Pollard, a deputy from the Diocese of New York, stressed that the blog is open to all: bishops, deputies, alternates, clergy and lay people.

The blog was launched on Thursday, March 8 and will be monitored by PB&F members. This site is an opportunity to express your thoughts on a variety of areas covered by the budget: Program, Corporate, Canonical, Income and Expenses and other Comments. It is an easy means to share your opinions with those who provide oversight and development of the budget. Another avenue (if you will be present at General Convention) is to attend (and sign up to speak – early) at the Budget Hearings, which will be held 12:30-1:30 on Wednesday, July 4th in Indianapolis. Other hearings of importance to the budget will be held on Friday, July 6th and Saturday, July 7th from 7:30-9:00PM

Following the approval by Executive Council, the draft budget of $104.9 million was sent to PB&F for review.  In July the information shared on the blog as well as the testimony received at three General Convention hearings will help to inform the budget that is presented to General Convention for approval. PB&F will prepare a proposed budget which then will be presented at a joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops on July 10.  The final triennial budget will be approved by General Convention.

What Should our Denomination Provide?

by Lisa C. Brown

Here is my response to the recent release of the proposed budget for 2013-2015: The majority of churches in our diocese (Pittsburgh) do not have paid children or youth staff and have far more limited funds for curriculum and programming. Also, given that their programs are primarily volunteer-driven, it is likely that even though they stand to be disproportionately affected, there are simply fewer individuals with even less time to raise any sort of cohesive protest. The local congregation DOES depend on the structure of The Episcopal Church (Church Center) in providing easy-to-use and free resources.

Diminishing funds at the church-wide level will trickle down to adversely impact diocesan level funding (if that even exists at all). Churches already struggling to keep their formation programs afloat will be even more heavily dependent on volunteer efforts to develop their own curriculum and program ideas. Financially fragile parishes will be offered even less in the way of free curriculum and programming. Small parishes will have fewer opportunities for their youth to join with other youth in national or diocesan-wide efforts designed to bring youth together. Larger and more financially stable parishes – such as ours – will face a heavier burden of supporting not only their own ministries but those of less capable churches in the Diocese. Finally, in the long term, even large parishes with thriving, self-sustaining children and youth programs, will become more and more of anomaly, their youth essentially orphaned by the greater Episcopal church.

These are the areas I feel we will be missing:

(1) Identity as Episcopalians and members of the Anglican Communion Common formation materials and programming, large gathering opportunities such as EYE, youth representation at national conventions, training conferences for children’s ministers and educators… all of these help shape our identity as Episcopalians and should be cultivated by The Episcopal Church. So many people are not born into the Episcopal tradition. If we don’t help our youngest members form a strong Episcopal identity, when faced with the inevitable transitions of modern life as adults, these individuals will feel no particular compulsion to seek an Episcopal church to meet their spiritual needs. They will be far more likely to church shop, regardless of denomination, based on factors of proximity and general impression. Episcopal allegiance will not be a priority, thus ultimately our membership will suffer.

(2) Advocacy in the Media and General Public Again considering that many individuals are not born into the Episcopal tradition, The Episcopal Church has an essential role in ‘branding’ our denomination in the eyes of the public. While the budget to support a public ad campaign, for example, would not fall under the heading of ‘formation’, cutting formation will lessen the ability of our youth to act as successful witnesses – or spokesmen, to put it in advertising parlance – for our faith. Unfortunately, Christianity in general is often depicted in the media in a way that is counter to who we are as Episcopalians. We need a strongly shared Episcopal identity – and we need to develop it in our children and youth – to enable them to differentiate our denomination and all that it stands for from other less tolerant, more extremist sects. Most people can’t spell the word ‘Episcopal’ yet alone define the kind of Christian an Episcopalian might be. Read more…

Being Part of the “Larger” Church

2010 Provincial Youth Ministry Coordinators

By Lydia Kelsey Bucklin

I was 15 years old when my life was changed by the Episcopal Youth Event.  Coming from the small diocese of Northern Michigan, most churches were too small for youth groups, and even diocesan events were small and few in number.  My dad was a priest in the diocese, and I was nervous about joining that community.  EYE, however, sparked my interest.  An opportunity to travel to another city and meet youth from all over the Episcopal Church sounded exciting.  I felt like an outcast in high school, and struggled with depression and low self-esteem.  I needed to get away, and I could not have entered a better community than the Episcopal Youth Event in Terre Haute, Indiana.  There, on the campus of Indiana State University, I felt accepted for who I was.  I interacted not just with other teenagers, but with adults who were genuinely interested in me and were glad I was there.

Sixteen years later, I have a vocation in the Episcopal Church, serving as the Missioner for Children and Youth and on the Communications team in the Diocese of Iowa.  I am pursuing a Masters in Divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School.   I also serve on the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and Education.  It may seem like an exaggeration to say that I would not be who I am today if I had never attended EYE, but it was definitely a transformative event in my faith journey.

As a youth, I returned from EYE committed to finding my place in the church.  I became a camp counselor and got more involved in diocesan events.  I became an advocate for social justice at a young age and pursued a career in social work.   I know many others, too, who, because of the ways the Episcopal Church impacted them at a young age, have had their lives changed.  For this reason I feel the need to speak up. Read more…

Connectedness

by Susan Genereux

Formational events on the diocesan and nationally are essential for building and keeping a sense of community and belonging for young people. Children, youth and older adults are essential for the health of the Church. My husband served a church that had not participated in any diocesan or national event for many years. The had no sense of connectedness or Anglican identity. We watched the congregation come alive with a sense of confidence and purpose as they became more involved in diocesan and national events–most especially the young people! The Church must be made to understand how important formational events are.

Why is it the when the Church needs to cut back they immediately cut money from ministry that directly impacts young people? I guess they don’t understand that if they don’t minister to the youth the Church won’t have a future because the young people will go to whatever church does provide spiritual growth for them.

Sue Genereux is the former Missioner for Children and Youth for the Diocese of Iowa

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