Blogging “Blue”: Lifelong Christian Formation and Education

This is a tenth in a series of posts on the “Blue” Book for General Convention 2012. Previously, I blogged about Health. Next up is Music (SCLM). Please see my index of General Convention 2012 resolutions, with a summary of the 7WD position on them.

LifelongNot having seen formal statistics, my sense is that the vast majority of Episcopal congregations have zero adult formation (classes or small groups, that is). Too often, we fail our goal of offering lifelong formation, and of course people can’t take part in something that isn’t offered. Experience suggests that great adult formation is transformative, for participants who take part in offerings and for whole congregations. This would be a good thing to think about for our church. We cannot imagine our church has much of a future if our lay leaders are operating with an eighth-grade spiritual education. These are solvable problems. Clergy can find programs that work even without much prep time, if time is the issue. Or even better, clergy can empower lay leaders to take up the helm of small groups and courses. We need to take more seriously our lifelong formation. All of us. (That goes for clergy too, who should be engaging in regular professional development and education programs.)

That editorial digression aside, here are the resolutions.

A041: Amend Canon I.17. Likely vote: YES, but hoping for an amendment.
As you’ll see in a moment, there are proposals afoot to remove confirmation as a requirement for many positions in the church. Partly to replace confirmation (where it was, falsely, assumed that people would universally learn stuff in preparation for the laying on of hands) this change would require instruction in the “history, structure and governance” of the Episcopal Church for many lay leadership positions. In general, I whole-heartedly support the thinking here. I’ll leave comments on confirmation to the next resolution, but requiring specific formation in Episcopal Church distinctives makes sense. However, I’d much prefer to see something added about Anglican theology here. Sure, we can’t cover the fullness of our theology, but then again, we’re not going to do a full church history course. Surely we could require some basics in our sources of authority and in our views about grace, sanctification, and soteriology. At the very least, I’d like to think that vestry members would know a bit more about “scripture, tradition, and reason” than the bumper sticker slogan of the three-legged stool.

A042: Amend Canons: Canon I.1.1(b), Canon I.1.2(a), Canon I.2.5, Canon I.4.1(c), Canon I.4.3(d), Canon I.9.7, Canon III.4.1, Canon IV.17.3. Likely vote: YES.
This gets rid of confirmation as a requirement for pretty much every church office. If passed, office-holders will need to be “adult communicants” as opposed to “confirmed adult communicants.” I’m glad to support this, which simply makes real our teaching of 30+ years that baptism is full and complete initiation into the Body of Christ. If there is concern that people will somehow sneak into major leadership, see the previous resolution, which requires some formation in Episcopal identity and polity. That’s actually a higher standard than we have now, since lots of folks are confirmed with almost no preparation. Please note: this does NOT get rid of confirmation as a sacramental rite of the church. Clergy will still encourage people to experience the grace of confirmation, I hope. The passage of this resolution helps us to clarify and amplify our baptismal theology. I’m all for that.

UPDATE: See my subsequent post, “Further thoughts on Confirmation.”

A043: Amend Constitution Article I, Section 4. Likely vote: YES.
This is just like the previous resolution, but it makes a similar change in the constitution. Because changes to the constitution require two successive General Conventions for approval, this change is broken into a separate resolution. The canonical changes can be approved right away in one General Convention.

A044: Review Confirmation Requirements in Title III. Likely vote: YES, with some reluctance.
In the previous changes, the process leading to ordination is left untouched. That is, people seeking ordination as deacons, priests, and bishops would still need to be confirmed. This resolution asks that a study group look at the question of whether we should eliminate the requirement for confirmation for Holy Orders. On the one hand, I think it makes sense to study this. In some ways, it would make sense to get rid of the requirement for confirmation, period. On the other hand, this will have some pretty serious ramifications for relations with other Anglican churches and with other churches as well. Why touch this third rail? Why not maintain the requirement? Left to my own devices, I’d leave this one alone for now, since we have plenty on our plate as a church, and relations are already tense on things that we consider more essential. In other words, I don’t think this is a ditch to die in. But I end up thinking a study might help clarify these questions — so long as the conclusion is not foregone before the study begins.

A045: Express Gratitude to the Consultation on Baptismal Theology. Likely vote: NO.
I am grateful for every lay person and clergy person who serves the church. And yet we do not need to pass resolutions thanking them. This resolution thanks the Consultation on Baptismal Theology. Surely they have done great work. But can’t our Presiding Officers send them a lovely letter, instead of involving 1,000 people in a token resolution? To be crystal clear: my only reluctance is the need to streamline General Convention and keep us focused on the things we MUST do. I have nothing but appreciation for the Consultation on Baptismal Theology. Thanks, folks!

A046: Commend Continued Development of Lifelong Christian Formation. Likely vote: NO.
This resolution commends a bunch of organizations and programs. For reasons similar to the previous resolution, I am resistant to resolutions that simply express “yay, you!” Moreover, I wonder when it stops. This one thanks NAECD (now called Forma). They’re awesome. But does this mean the SCLM needs to bring forward a resolution to thank the Vergers’ Guild? Or Altar Guilds? Particularly troublesome, I worry that certain programs are called out, while others are not. We do not need to use resolutions for awareness raising, particularly of church programs. This is not the venue. If passage of this is intended to influence the budget (which would be good, since formation was gutted in the draft budget), then here again, there is a process to make our priorities known to the Program, Budget, and Finance folks. This is not that. While I agree with every single thing this resolution says, I think its passage is not helpful when we step back and look at the whole picture.

A047: Develop an Electronic Learning Community. Likely vote: NO, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.
This one asks for an budget line of $210,000 to build an electronic learning community to share resources — and knowledge about resources — among Christian formation leaders. I completely agree with this aim. However, as I read what is written here, it seems to me that a simple blog or even social media could do everything that’s listed. I do not see the need for a specialized technology investment. I’d rather see a group of folks do something grassroots this triennium. Then if they need resources to support their work, let’s get them what they need. A more entrepreneurial approach will yield a cost-effective, highly collaborative solution. That all said, if I’m missing something, I am eager to be instructed about this (or any other resolution, for that matter).

11 Comments so far

  1. Stefani Schatz on May 29th, 2012

    RE A047 :: And … isn’t one thing of the many great things that Forma DOES do is maintain website, blog, and FB presently – without this resolution? Thanks Scott for more helpful “cribbing”!

  2. Sharon Ely Pearson on May 29th, 2012

    Thanks for your review and comments. As a member of the Standing Commission who developed these resolutions, I feel the need for some clarification. In addition to ‘thanking’ several organizations, A046 is to lift up the need for leaders in our church to continuing their education, even leading to the certification of those who lead Christian formation programs in our congregations. And as a Forma member also, A047 is to provide a comprehensive website on the ‘church-wide’ website. Forma is a totally volunteer run organization and it’s website doesn’t come close to what is needed as far as vetting and serving as a ‘hub’ for The Episcopal Church for Christian formation resources, data base of consultants and best practices, and links to all the good sites that exist. In all my travels around the church, there are many, many who are seeking one place that can serve as a hub for Christian formation resources. And the formation websites at episcopalchurch.org leave a lot to be desired.

  3. Chris Arnold on May 29th, 2012

    Hi Fr Gunn,

    I’ve responded. Thank you for talking about this! I’d missed it.

    http://openthouourlips.blogspot.com/2012/05/scott-gunn-has-been-working-his-way.html

    -Chris

  4. Nancy Davidge on May 29th, 2012

    Re: A047 (and similar resolutions):

    I’d like to advocate for continued cooperation between the denominational resources of our church and the various agencies and organizations. Rather than continuing to build silo’ed resources (or new websites), I encourage committees and agencies to explore what already exists and establish partnerships.

    The Episcopal Church Foundation’s ECF Vital Practices (www.ecfvp.org) of which I am editor, exists to provide a home for resources directed at congregational leaders. We offer that ‘one place’ Sharon Ely Pearson mentions in her earlier comment for congregational leaders to look to for resources. Our resources come from across the Episcopal Church; we curate content developed by other Episcopal groups with the goal of making it easier for people to find the resources they need by visiting one centralized website.

    I encourage all who have resources to share with others in our church to consider adding them to the content we have curated. With limited resources, it makes sense to use them for creating content and then partnering with existing websites for distribution.

  5. Laura on May 29th, 2012

    I will be VERY curious to see how these resolutions play out.

  6. Wendy Claire Barrie on May 29th, 2012

    Scott, I would urge you to reconsider and vote yes for AO47, the resolution calling for a church-wide formation website. As Vice-President of Forma, I am excited by the recognition we have received in the many and varied conversations regarding the de-funding of formation at the denominational level, AND I think it’s really important that we be clear about what Forma is and what we can reasonably expect to take on. Forma has an entirely volunteer board, most of whom have more-than-fulltime jobs within and outside the church, we spend 70% of our budget on an annual conference, and our website and listserv, while valuable and important resources, are intended for our paid membership of about 400 who are lay and clergy, volunteers and professionals, responsible for and/or passionate about some aspect of lifelong Christian formation. We are not able to take money directly from The Episcopal Church or from Executive Council while maintaining our independent voice and identity nor has funding been offered to us by either entity at any time. AO47 would go a long way to connecting congregations, dioceses, and individuals with best practices, vetted resources and other essential information that will help the Church grow and thrive.

  7. Scott Gunn on May 29th, 2012

    Laura, me too.

    Sharon and Wendy, I agree that a website for Christian formation folk is a great idea. It could list resources, provide discussion, and offer a way to share best practices. My question is whether or not this resolution is the best way to do that. Why not get some passionate people together and use some of the free site-building tools out there? Or partner with one of the church organizations, such as ECF? If none of those will work, I’m all for this. But I generally think our church’s track record at six-figure technology investments does not suggest that we’ll build the best possible site.

    I’m glad to be reminded that A046 calls for continued education and development. As you’ll see in this series, I am resistant to General Convention being used to send messages. If I vote no on some of these, it will have nothing to do with the content of the resolution. However, as in all things, I am grateful for this conversation. If someone can make a case that General Convention is the best way to do these things — and not just the way we’ve always done it — I’m all ears.

    Chris, and others, further thoughts on confirmation coming soon.

  8. John Sandeman on May 29th, 2012

    Scott,
    I am a fan of confirmation. In my ecperience those going through it HAVE learned “some basics in our sources of authority and in our views about grace, sanctification, and soteriology.” And about scripture and authority.
    Plus they have been encouraged to take thasks of serving in Sunday School, youth groups, food distribution and the like.
    A second concern is that TEC is making this decision by itself – confirmation has been part of Anglicanism since Cranmer. Surely this is a change that should be discussed with the whole communion, before TEC goes ahead(the same could be said of “baptismal theology” as well – surely that should have proceeded with discussion with the whole communion?

  9. Scott Gunn on May 29th, 2012

    John, you raise a valid concern. I continue to press for a theological rationale for confirmation. Why should it be required for vestry membership, theologically speaking? Should it be required for admission to Holy Communion?

    I suppose rethinking of confirmation because the more ancient practice is to have a unified rite of baptism and chrismation.I think making confirmation “optional” is theologically coherent.

    That said, it poses challenges within our Anglican family, and it might be one thing too many at the moment.

    I am not some kind of anti-confirmation zealot. Only someone who likes things to make sense.

    See my further reflections, written since this post:
    http://www.sevenwholedays.org/2012/05/29/on-confirmation/

  10. Jenifer Gamber on May 30th, 2012

    Scott, I’m thankful to hear that you do see the necessity of a hub where Episcopal educators can find sound resources for their ministry. I hear from colleagues that the most visible resources in the marketplace for Christian formation are not consistent with Episcopal ethos, making it difficult to find sound materials. And it takes a significant amount of time to search them out. An existing website tool might serve the needs of such a site well. It would still need to be designed, populated, and maintained with ongoing searching for and vetting of materials. It takes human resources to curate such a website. The Center for Spiritual Resources as an example of a curated site for spirituality. The director is at least part-time, and may be full-time at this point. The director — Robbin Whittington would know. The CSR website is here: http://thecsr.org.

  11. Melody on May 30th, 2012

    I think a hub for Christian formation resources for the Episcopal Church is a great and important idea. I join Scott in wondering why so very much money is needed to do this. It costs significantly less than that to design a pretty amazing website.

    And while I agree that it will take human resources to design, populate, and maintain the site, I am not sure that the work will be that extensive. I think there are already a lot of people who have done some of the research necessary, and it’s mostly about finding it and putting it together. There are plenty of resources in the marketplace for Christian formation that fit well, with little or no adaptation with the Episcopal tradition. The CMT (Center for the Ministry of Teaching) at VTS (Virginia Theological Seminary) does a yearly review of children’s curriculum detailing their scope, methodology, and theological leanings. There are lots of very competent clergy and lay leaders who have adapted popular children’s and adult curricula, such as Alpha, so that it is sufficiently Episcopalian, and who have discovered which other mainline curriculum are already perfectly usable. It would be a great start, and wouldn’t require replicating effort…