Reprinted with permission from “Good News,” the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese
of
Connecticut.

 

Will our faith have children?

Answer lies in focus on Christian formation for all ages

 

The Rt. Rev. James E. Curry

In mid-February, 600 leaders from across the Epis­copal Church gathered in Oak­brook, Illinois with a sense of urgency about recommitting the Church to the care and nurture of children and youth. We dis­covered that the Church must focus on Christian formation for all ages.

 

I was part of a seven-person team of Christian educators from Connecticut who attended, “Will Our Faith Have Chil­dren?” a national conference on children’s ministry and Christian forma­tion.


The title of the conference was meant to be provocative. In a time when the Church’s mission and ministry compete with other activities and values in our culture for the time and energy of people, many parishes have seen their ministries for children and youth dwindle in size and funding. In a time of heightened anxi­ety in our society about the economy and international relations and the continu­ing threat of poverty, disease and terror for the children of the world, we are right to be concerned about the future of all chil­dren.

We took as our starting point the three­fold declaration of The Children’s Char­ter of the Episcopal Church: (1) Nurture of the Child, (2) Ministry to the Child, (3) Ministry of the Child. Our team also car­ried with us the renewed commitment of this Diocese to children and youth.

Possibilities for nurturing children in the Christian faith are bound closely to continuing spiritual formation and nur­ture of adults in the faith. The Rev. Robin Szoke, national staff officer for Children’s Ministry, and her leadership team realized very early in the planning for this conference that the question, “Will our faith have children?” needs to be addressed in the context of Christian formation for all Christians over their whole life span.

 

The Children’s Ministries Office produced a video for this conference, based on interviews of adults and children at five cathedrals that asked them four ques­tions: Do you believe in God? How did you first learn about God? How do you tell others about God? and, Why do you go to Church?

The collage of responses, interwoven across generations, spoke to the joy and desolation of the modern human experi­ence and to frustration and hope in de­veloping life in Christ. Children spoke of how much better the world would be if we only knew Jesus better. Adults won­dered out loud about why the cross, and suffering, have to be at the center of our lives. As we discussed the video in com­munity, it tapped our own hopes and fears, providing us an opportunity to share our own stories of faith and forma­tion.

Each conference participant chose an area of concentration, a seminar group, which became his or her core community for the event. Sharon Pearson was the fa­cilitator for the seminar on designing and using curriculum resources. I was one of the coordinators for the seminar on bish­ops in Christian education and forma­tion. Other members of our team partici­pated in seminar groups on Christian initiation, biblical storytelling, leadership development for teachers of those who teach others to teach, faith formation, keeping cultural identity, leadership de­velopment of teachers of adults, and com­munity hospitality and the discernment of gifts.

The 18 bishops in my seminar group realized to our chagrin that there is no national committee to provide the theo­logical groundwork or oversight for min­istries in Christian education and forma­tion. As Christians and Episcopalians we are all called into mission, yet the church has woefully inadequate ways of nurtur­ing children and adults in faith for living out the covenant we made with God at our Baptisms.

We concluded that Christian formation to meet the developmental needs of people across the life span must be at the core of  the life and work of a church on mission. As a first response to this need, my colleagues and I will bring a proposal for the creation of a House of Bishops Committee on Christian Formation to our spring meeting in March.

 

Our diocesan team met before we went to Illinois, had caucus meetings while at the conference, and will continue to meet back in Connecticut. Many of us will be involved in designing a Bishops’ Confer­ence on Children and Youth next year.

Our experience in Oakbrook under­scored the opportunities and barriers we face in bringing Christ to the children of our society and the children (of all ages) of our church into deepening and forma­tive relationship with Christ.

 

The conference reinforced a compre­hensive understanding of Christian for­mation that is already at work in this dio­cese. Two years ago the Commission on Ministry was reorganized to provide equal emphasis for the support and nur­ture of the ministry of all ministers of the church: the laity, deacons, priests, and bishops. This has meant the creation of a sub-committee on the ministry of all the baptized which is known as the Disciple­ship Task Force. As we begin to live into the vision of our diocese as God’s people, on mission, the Discipleship Task Force is being asked to help lead this diocese into creative, sustainable, and challeng­ing ways to uphold and form people on mission in Jesus Christ.

The Commission on Ministry will be using the video that sparked our discus­sions in Oakbrook as a starting point for their annual retreat this spring. The ques­tion, “Will our faith have children?” touches our deep anxieties, but also calls forth an equally deep affirmation.

The God of love and redemption is call­ing the church beyond itself to proclaim God’s faithfulness and live out God’s pur­poses: new life and hope and reconcilia­tion for all the children of the world through our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

The video “Will our Faith have Children?” (in VHS or DVD format) and a four-part study guide is available for loan from Bishop Curry’s office.

 

You may also purchase the video (in VHS or DVD format) from Episcopal Parish Services.


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