Why does The Episcopal Church need “The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation”?
The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation (A082) was overwhelming passed in both Houses at General Convention in 2009. Just three short years later, those who drafted the proposed 2013-2015 budget seem to have forgotten this imperative to lift up the importance of Christian formation for all ages – children, youth, young adults, adults and older adults – in our congregations, dioceses and church-wide structures. It was a resolution that had endorsements from a broad range of networks: Forma, NOERC, Episcopal Camps & Conference Centers, Seminaries to name a few. The rationale for this resolution that the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Education and Formation presented still rings true today.
Sadly the statistics that are given here are now dated, but the numbers have only gotten more disheartening since 2009, with many dioceses and numerous congregations laying off lay and ordained staff in the areas of Christian formation.
- 30% of Forma members desired more Christian formation resources be made available for the local setting. (2008)
- 50% Forma members desired their dioceses to be supportive of local Christian formation (not including clergy formation programs) by providing a staff person and/or better communication and networking opportunities. (2008)
- Sociologist of religion have found a correlation between church growth and youth involvement that is consistent across different types of churches – liberal, moderate and conservative. In all these churches, the greater the youth involvement, the greater the church’s growth. Specifically, 58% of growing churches said the level of youth involvement was high. (FACT 2000)
- Christian education must be viewed holistically, not as a separate entity. Every aspect of a church’s ministry contains educational implications. Basic principles of teaching and learning include: involving everyone in the process, being sensitive to needs of participants, having a clear focus on what is to be communicated and accomplished, enabling participants to make connections between the subject matter and their own lives, providing opportunities to give expression to what they think and believe, and motivating them to put into practice what they believe. (Search Institute, 1993).
The explanation that followed The Charter continues to be a message for the church today:
Definition: Christian formation is the lifelong process of growing in relationship with God, self, others and all creation. In this process we are transformed into the people God wants us to be. As twenty-first century Episcopalians, we still long for the inheritance common to all Christians in all times and places-to be united in Christ, who calls us in the power of the Holy Spirit to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and bodies; to love our neighbors as ourselves; and to make disciples, baptize and teach. In our Baptismal Covenant, The Episcopal Church has gracefully articulated the way in which we answer Christ’s call. Lifelong Christian Formation describes the many processes by which we live into that covenant.
By this definition, lifelong Christian formation encompasses a broad set of activities, supported by a rich array of communities and institutions, serving people from cradle to grave. Without attempting to circumscribe the action of the Holy Spirit – who is always at work renewing the minds of Christian people – we acknowledge some common characteristics of formation ministries. Formation is unceasing-serving the individual’s emerging understanding of identity, community, authority and purpose in Christ throughout their lives. Formation is dynamic-encompassing learning, action and reflection. Formation is formal and informal-informing, forming and transforming both the individual and the community. Formation is hospitable-welcoming the “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)
Problem: As an institution, we have not entirely welcomed our Lord’s generous invitation to grow in knowledge and love of him. Our behavior does not always reflect our heart’s desire. For example, we have inadequately resourced our allocation of time, talent and treasures; we have failed to clearly articulate a vision and support for lifelong Christian formation; and we have insufficiently supported Christian formation in our daily lives and work places. As a church, our people suffer from a widespread lack of knowledge of the traditions that form the foundation of The Episcopal Church. And moreover, in our post-Christian culture, Christian formation has been given significantly less priority than our other community activities. We have also experienced a failure to address the formational needs of an aging church membership. We need to address and remedy culturally exclusive teaching practices and the lack of attention to the formational needs of non-English speakers. We also need to continue our ever-growing response to stewardship of creation that merits our attention and resources.
Vision for a transformed church: We affirm that lifelong Christian formation is foundational to the success of any church, and in the case of our own, is an integral part of the process by which we will rebuild The Episcopal Church. Our congregations will grow in numbers and health when they are supported by leaders – of all orders of ministry – who know their identity in Christ and are able to access their tradition for the purposes of proclaiming and living out the Gospel.
By prioritizing the Christian formation ministries of The Episcopal Church, we choose to invest in a language and practice – rooted in scripture, tradition and reason – that has the capacity to unify us in fulfilling the Great Commandment. We can make use of this common language to inform, support and reinforce healthy relationships in families and congregations. With it we can continually develop and renew those processes, programs and rites of passage that develop Christian ministers at all ages and stages. Through it we can hold each other accountable to grow in love, knowledge and depth of insight.