Building the Continuum

Supporting Formation and Vocation in The Episcopal Church

Archive for the tag “Church Center”

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 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…

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