Reflection by Patty Meyers, D. Min., Ed. D., president of CEF
The great artist Michelangelo believed that inside a piece of marble an angel waited to be let out for the world to see. In order to free it, the sculptor had to chip away any part of the marble that was not a necessary part of the sculpture.
Potters know that in each lump of clay is a potentially great piece of art. They also know that it is easy to “mess up’ a piece and that the piece they envision may not turn out the way that they intend. All kinds of things can affect the outcome.
One thing that potters can count on is interaction with the clay. The metaphor of the potter in Jeremiah 18 is a good example, but I want to focus on the partnership between the potter and the clay.
The clay cannot form itself into a beautiful pot. The potter must work with it. Potters get clay on their hands, under their fingernails, and long after washing, it can dry the skin and the scent of the clay may linger on the hands. Certainly the potter changes and shapes the clay but the clay changes the potter too. Pot and potter are interdependent with each other. Potters aren’t potters if they don’t work with some type of clay. Pots cannot come into being without potters.
In her seminal book, Fashion Me a People, Maria Harris asserted that as potters “fashion” clay, so Christian educators “fashion” people. God calls us to co-create the future, to make disciples, to mold the clay of human beings into the beautiful works of art that God intends each person to be. Christian educators work with the stuff of the earth – humans – to fashion people as God intends them to be.
How are you working to shape others in the image of the Divine? I believe that Christian education and faith formation is a holy calling and as much an art form as sculpture or pottery. I don’t think that anything more beautiful exists that a person whom God shapes, molds and changes into the full potential with the help of those who teach and learn.
As the pot changes the potter, so those with whom we work will change us. For better or worse, life will change both. Jeremiah 1:4 says that the potter formed a marred vessel into a new one, shaping it in the say that seemed best. As you work with God to fashion a people, may the Holy One and you create something beautiful.
Reviewed by Patty Meyers, D. Min., Ed. D., president of CEF
“What does it mean to be a person of faith in a violent world?” Dr. Mai-Anh Le Tran asked. It’s a powerful question for Christian educators, pastors, parents, neighbors and friends. That’s not the only hard question she asked in her book, Reset the Heart, Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope.
Gripped by the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, she also asked:
These probing questions and others were fresh for her as she stood in the rain with other people of faith outside the Ferguson city hall grief-stricken, bewildered, in a public display of witness, lament, and liturgy. What does it mean to teach for faith formation in a time such as this?
We too easily get caught up in hand-wringing that we mis-educate. Perhaps we think that the problem is too big to tackle and don’t pull together the resources available to at least start to make a difference. We must not lose the potential for the community to come together in a redemptive way and be swept away by our despair. Death does not have the last word in Christian theology, resurrection does. She calls it “resurrectional, insurrectional hope,” inspired by Paulo Friere’s “pedagogy of conscientization,” which led to a “pedagogy of hope” as a generator for justice with love.
The death of Michael Brown was one of several acts of violence, followed by deaths in New York, Baltimore, more recently in Charlottesville, Virginia and more than will be enumerated here.
These are real questions for real people of faith that convicted me as I read. Knowing Mai-Anh as I do, I knew that she would not leave readers in despair, though that is an appropriate response to the violent times in which we live. As a person of faith and a Christian educator, Mai-Anh draws on the collected wisdom of scholars and theologians with her agenda for “teaching toward resurrectional, insurrectional hope, communicability, redeemability, and educability.” (p.11)
This is not “pie in the sky, airy fairy” hope, this is the work of people of faith whatever our roles are. This book is rich in its challenges, its conversations with students, laity and clergy, with utter faith that violence will not have the last word in the church or in the streets. This age need not be known only for its violence but for the faithfulness of people who reset their hearts. As the song from “South Pacific” (1) says: “You’ve got to be carefully taught” to hate…and if we can learn to hate, we can learn to love. As Rob Bell proclaimed in his book of the same name, we know the rest of the story: “Love Wins.” (2) And eternal life begins right here, right now, when love wins.
Hope is foundational for humans to “know, be, do” (the domains of learning). If we are serious about being part of the solution and not part of the problem, if we truly care about faith formation, we will join Mai-Anh Le Tran in unlearning violence and relearning hope, to which she called Christian educators in the book’s title. Without hope, there is no reason to get up in the morning. Hope is the message that people desperately need. Let’s get to work!
CEF President, Patty Meyers, shares the story of two people who were instrumental in forming her faith. This essay will be part of a book celebrating the 50th anniversary of CEF. To submit your story honoring those who impacted your faith, email email@example.com.
Tacy and Wilbur were the pillars of the church in which I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They were lay persons, not clergy. Tacy was my childhood Sunday school teacher. Wilbur taught the adult Bible study. They sang in the choir and played in the band. Their children were mostly grown-up and their hearts seemed to expand for others. I called them Gram and Gramps though we were not biologically related. They both instilled in me a love of the Bible. They helped form my faith in God and helped it to expand as I grew.
In addition to their service at the church, they were caregivers for my family. Whatever my parents knew about parenting they learned from Tacy and Wilbur. They were generous with their time, their home, and other resources. They provided child care and support for my siblings and me in numerous ways. Wilbur taught me that men could be kind and gentle, that they could listen and wipe away tears instead of causing them. Tacy taught my mom to crochet the most beautiful beaded doilies and how to braid hair. I loved to watch Tacy take down her braids at the end of the day and brush her soft gray hair.
My mother said that Tacy decided the day I was born that I had the fingers of a pianist, and so I did. They gave me my first piano when I was five years old. I’ve never been without a piano and have been a church musician most of my life. I started teaching Vacation Bible School at age 14. They modeled being faithful to God, to each other, and all God’s children. Because I found such comfort on their back porch swing, I have always had one in my homes. I even named my beloved Chihuahua Tacy; if it had been a boy, its name would be Wilbur.
I could tell many stories about them. I have only one photograph of them, taken Easter Sunday 1969, which I keep near my desk to look at every day. They were both “promoted to glory” in the early 1970s but I shall never forget them. They were very important to my faith formation and my development as a woman of God. Neither they nor their children likely knew how important they were, but their faithfulness is legendary.
Blog post submitted by The Rev. Stacy Johnson Myers, Minister of Christian Education, First Congregational Church, River Falls, Wisconsin.
Several years ago I was talking with a group of second grade Sunday Schoolers about Zacchaeus. I asked, “Why do you think the people were surprised Jesus wanted to go to Zacchaeus’ house?” A child answered, “Because they thought Jesus would go to Moses’ house.” I paused for a moment, or probably two. Then I remembered our lectionary-based curriculum featured Moses in the previous lesson. On Monday morning I gathered construction paper, scissors, and glue sticks and made a pictorial timeline—individual pictures representing specific Bible stories. From then on I could point out in a visual way that “Moses is way back there”; “Jesus is way up here.”
The timeline worked wonderfully. It helped my students gain a perspective of time and the progression of the overarching biblical story. They learned how individual Bible stories, events, and people fit together. It also helped my students learn to interpret the art and Bible stories.
Fast forward many years: the timeline is still in use in Sunday School, Wednesday School, and Confirmation, in my church in River Falls, Wisconsin. We decided to commission a new set of images from a professional artist. The result is Picture the Bible.
Picture the Bible is a set of 36 collages that tell 36 different Bible stories, from creation through Pentecost. The images are beautiful and engaging. They portray details of stories but are not overly laden with symbolism, so they can be quickly embedded in children’s imaginations. The Picture the Bible images have had a dramatic impact on the whole congregation’s biblical literacy and interpretive skills.
Recently we completed a set of 36 student engagement pages to correspond to each image. The pages reflect an approach to biblical study that intentionally occupies the intersection of daily life and the Bible.
The goal of the pages is not to “tell learners what to think.” Rather, the goal is to provide a variety of “conversation centerpieces” designed to engage learners and leaders in authentic conversation about their lives, the world, and the Bible.
For example, the page dedicated to Slavery in Egypt poses:
Then, learners and leaders talk about this Conversation Centerpiece:
“Conversation Centerpieces” put Bible stories into their own cultural contexts and connect them to learners’ lives. The pages include Martin Luther King’s mountain top speech; Ruby Bridges; carbon-14 dating, architecture, Dr. Seuss, constellations, and a wide variety of other images and topics. The student engagement pages are flexible, can be used by a wide variety of ages, are colorful, and packed with ideas.
For more information, please visit www.picturethebible.org; follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/picturethebible; or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Congregations may purchase art reproductions, books featuring the art, a CD of images for projection in worship, and permission to download and print the student engagement pages.
One of the great benefits of Picture the Bible is that it is truly intergenerational. The images engage young children, teens, and adults, drawing together people’s lives and the Bible—a central goal of faith formation.
Laura Stahl is Director of Children’s and Family Ministries at First United Methodist Church, Duluth, MN (The Coppertop). She formerly served in similar capacities at United Church of Two Harbors (MN) and Aley United Methodist Church (OH). She lives in Two Harbors, Minnesota with her husband Dale. Together they have four foreign exchange daughters from Germany, Belgium (Flanders) and Jordan.
As the number of families in worship increased, it was time to move away from activity bags with crayons and children’s bulletins to more engaging worship resources that reflected the theme, scriptures, and/or season of the church. Over time the Family Worship Resource Table has grown to include resources for toddlers through elementary-aged children. Staff and office volunteers help to keep the activities fresh and rotate holiday and seasonal books and extras into the mix. Below is a list of our worship table resources. For more pictures and seasonal activities, please download this Worship Activity Table Primer.
Children’s Bibles –Spark Story Bible, Deep Blue Story Bibles, Children of God Storybook Bible and others
Basket of Books – board books, books for preschoolers, seasonal books (Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, Pentecost, All Saints/Halloween, Thanksgiving)
Toddler Busy Boxes – homemade from large plastic canisters. I removed the center from the lid and added a slotted felt piece. Inside are large items that toddlers can drop in and remove from the box. Items are XL Pom Pom, Felted characters, small stuffy, large wooden doll pin, chunky heart.
Toddler Meal Prayers or Prayer Books
Writing Utensils – crocks of pencils* and colored pencils* on table; bags of crayons in baskets, 1 pen & 1 dry erase crayon in each Elementary zip case
Felt Mosaic packs – In each bag there is one piece of felt with lots of little squares or other shapes of felt. I have some repeating suggested pictures for church seasons and regular services like communion. I also make pictures that go with the sermon/scripture theme* of the day.
Preschool Clipboards – Holds preschool age Children’s Worship Bulletin* (online subscription so I can choose scripture or theme)
Elementary Packs – zip pencil packs contain 1 pen, 1 dry erase crayon, 1 small white board, 1 Pocket magazine, 1 Children’s Worship Bulletin*.
Church Wi-Fi sign (Children’s Worship Bulletins have a game code that coordinates with the topic)
Writing Pads & Bookmarks – I collect colorful scratch pads that charities mass mail for fundraising & change them with the season. Curriculum bookmarks, Camp Registrations, and other resources for the taking.
Preschool Leaflets – leftover class leaflets (aka “bulletins”) that fits the theme or from the week before.
*I download and copy Children’s Worship Bulletins and switch out some pictures for the Felt Mosaics at the end of each month. A regular office volunteer folds the bulletins, and switches out the bulletins and Pocket magazines. Volunteers also sharpen pencils, check crayons and straighten books. I spend a very small amount of time checking the Toddler Busy Box and occasionally add seasonal items.
Rev. Lisa McGehee is an ordained deacon serving Good Shepherd (Richmond) as Associate Minister. Her specialties include Adult Discipleship and Communications.
Small groups, bible studies and support groups are opportunities to meet people where they are on their faith journey. At Good Shepherd UMC (Richmond) our Discipleship ministry has grown from seasonal studies to multiple groups meeting weekly, including a new grief support group and a Mental Wellness Ministry. What steps can you take to grow a vital Discipleship ministry so that people can develop their relationship with God and live as faithful disciples in the world?
We are excited to see not only the development of these new initiatives but how lives will be transformed through the healing grace of God.
One of my favorite summer reads so far is The Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams © 2016, Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Few could argue that both spiritual leaders have suffered greatly throughout their lives, but when these octogenarians got together to celebrate their birthdays, they giggled like a couple of kids. The book is drawn from conversations held during a week in Dharmasala.
Each chapter contains golden nuggets mined from their years of experience. From beginning to end they model the way that people of faith who practice different religions can live together peaceably and joyfully without any type of diminishment. They echoed something that Vaclav Havel said to the U. S. Congress more than 30 years ago:
The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility. Accessed 6-23-17, http://www.azquotes.com/quote/126500.
The two declared that “lasting happiness…resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope you will find it.”
Their conversation ranged from scientific research to faith to human experience, from the reality of suffering and the obstacles to joy to chortles of glee amid a world full of fear. In the final section of the book they name “the eight pillars of joy”: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.” The book also includes “joy practices.”
It’s a delightful, thought-provoking read. I recommend it.
CEF Board President
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Angelina Goldwell is the DRE for the First UMC of Olympia (fumcoly.org) . She received her Masters of Divinity from the Claremont School of Theology in 2012. She has nearly a decade of experience doing ministry with all ages and is particularly focused on intergenerational ministries. She's also shared an "An All Ages Lent" on our site.
Download the session outline
Intentionally scheduling all-ages or intergenerational events are crucial for strengthening the bonds of the church family. Church is one of the few spaces where different ages can intermingle with the explicit goals of growing in relationship and learning from one another. Intergenerational events also model for children and youth that faith formation is a lifelong process because they are able to witness adults engaged in learning. For the adults, I believe it’s important to provide them with opportunities for creative learning. Adult faith formation sometimes gets boxed into an endless series of book/video studies. Intergenerational discipleship time together is an extension of worshipping together. When planning an intergenerational event I believe it is important that what happens at the event echoes and reinforces what happens in the worship setting by using a parallel flow, containing parallel thematic elements, etc. Here you will find a session outline for an All Ages event to take place during a Discipleship/Sunday school hour.
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CEF Member Blog/Website Roll:
Dr. Gladys Childs, https://www.gladyschilds.com
Rev. Laura Darling, http://www.confirmnotconform.com
Bradley Fiscus, https://smallerchurch.blog/
Melanie Gordon, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/children
Mrs. Delia Halverson, http://deliahalverson.com
Suzanne Harris, ReadTHEBookMinistries.com
Dena Kitchens, www.dbkadventures.com
Rev Jeff Lowery, http://www.jefflowerymusic.com
Minister Denise Marshall, www.wordinscript.org
Mrs Anita Millar, http://www.johncmaxwellgroup.com/anitamillar
Dr. William Randolph, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/older-adults1
DeDe Reilly, https://dedebullreilly.wordpress.com/
Mrs Kim Reindl, www.pomegranatece.com
Daniel Schlorff, www.schlorff.com
Hanna Schock, www.picturebooktheology.com
Rev Cindy Serio, www.m-sfm.org
Rev Lynne Smith, http://ngfcc.org
Christine V. Hides, www.ChristineVHides.com
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