The Children’s Ministry team at my church tries to think outside the “usual” box as often as it can. Last year, they joined the Prayer Ministry team to plan, prepare for and oversee an intergenerational Lenten experience, something they called Generations of Prayer. Each Wednesday evening, all were invited to begin the event with a soup supper, during which one of the pastors would share a scriptural passage and study on prayer that included a table-top activity to match their study, usually aimed at children. Various activities were lined up each evening to appeal to different ages, though most people despite their age wanted to do everything offered!
The idea was for people to experience prayer in a wide variety of ways: creating something to take home to help in personal devotions, leaving something to share with the gathered faith community throughout the week and especially on Sunday mornings, and growing in their relationship with God. Weekly activities included designing individual prayer bracelets, making a personal Lenten prayer center to take home and use (candle, devotional, journal), weaving a fabric wall hanging for the congregation to tuck in personal prayer offerings/requests (which the Prayer Team used to pray with each week), cutting out fabric and writing on prayer flags to hang over the entrance to the church’s sanctuary, designing and writing prayers to shut ins. We offered persons the opportunity to write a prayer in sand, writing prayers to share on posters, dropping pebbles into a shell bowl of water, taking away a prayer they most needed that day, creating prayer books of images to use in meditation, sitting in a quiet nook with a prayer shawl, lighting a candle for someone/something, creating icons using various faces of Christ.
Our mission project for the season of Lent was the challenge from our senior pastor to take a small, ceramic piggy bank (available in the foyer of the church) and decorate it. Then use it throughout the season of Lent and return it on Easter, decorated and filled with “change” going to No More Malaria. They were our Pigs on a Mission and never did a congregation have more fun! (They continue to this day, inspiring their owners to remember and pray for others, and collecting offerings for whatever the present challenge.)
Each year I choose a “word for the year.” This year the word is peace. How we need it – in every aspect of our lives – from the intrapersonal to the universal! As I pondered the word peace and how it is needed everywhere, I thought of all the words associated with Advent. I think that the Advent words are good words for the whole year.
We light candles for peace, hope, joy and love. Our world is in great need of every one. In the center of the advent wreath is the Christ candle. Christ is the light of the world. As each week of advent leads to lighting the Christ candle, which stands in the middle of the circle so too does the Light of Christs lead us into what is often a dark world. The advent wreath is a circle. It has no beginning nor end and reminds us that the Alpha and Omega has no beginning nor end, not begotten by anyone.
The great theologian Georgia Harkness wrote the hymn, “Hope of the World.” Take time to read the words. We have reason to hope for peace and work for peace and justice. We sing “Joy to the World,” but do we sing it from our hearts? There’s a good little video on youtube that may inspire you: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNDtHdG5mVk. It’s good for children of all ages. “What the World Needs Now is Love” sang Deion Warwick. Yes, the world certainly needs love, but will we have it without peace in our hearts? In our relationships? In our families, communities, nation, and world?
Do you have a word for the year? What is it? Why did you choose it? Let’s chat. I pray that peace will be with you every day of this year.
‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house
the only ones stirring were Tacy and me (there better never be a mouse!).
Everywhere I look is a mess to clean up;
the best sight I see is my full coffee cup.
The aroma, the taste, the warmth as it goes down
is enough to pull a smile to my lips from a frown.
With Tacy on my lap, the prayer candle lit,
pen in my hand to turn thoughts into writ,
I’m grateful for blessings, yes blessings galore,
as evidenced by all the stuff on the floor.
On counter tops and chairs, tables and more
awaits all the clean up when I start my chores.
But for now on this day after Christmas I pause
to give honor and praise to the One whose birth is the cause
of the season’s celebration, the mess, etc., et al,
the One whom I worship,
One-in-Three, Three-in-One, One for All.
Patty Meyers December 26, 2015 China Grove, NC
“If religion once served as a sacred canopy of meaning, we since seem to have grown quite comfortable living under a naked sky.”1
By Scott Hughes
Scott is Director of Adult Discipleship for Discipleship Ministries and CEF Board Member, has a blog series over on the Discipleship Ministries Website. Here's a sample:
Who are you? No, not “What do you do professionally or where are you in school?” Not, “What generational demographic or ethnicity or country or sub-culture do you most align yourself with?” I mean, really, who are you? Certainly, answers to those other questions are important and play a role in who you are, but underneath those questions what makes you, you?
To go one step further, does what you do reflect your deepest held beliefs? Are your beliefs and actions in alignment? Do you know your purpose in this life?
Perhaps I’m laying it on a little thick with all the questions. But these are some of the questions that can haunt us if we’re still long enough. On the other hand, answers to these questions can give us our deepest convictions and perspectives for viewing the world.
These are difficult questions, because the answers may seem, not just difficult, but too fluid to really nail down. One day we check the “married” demographic check mark; and the next, “divorced.” Or we’ve gone from “employed” to “unemployed” or even “retired.” It seems only yesterday we checked the box with a lower age bracket than our birthday now suggests we fit. Determining our identity and our purpose seems elusive. Some seek fulfillment through work; others, through spirituality. Might religion, specifically United Methodist Christianity, have anything to offer in developing identity and purpose? I believe it does. I hope you’ll follow this blog as we explore this topic together – Forming a religious identity “under a naked sky.”
Scott Hughes is Director of Adult Discipleship for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. He is also a CEF Board Member. Check out his blog here. This biweekly blog will be exploring issues around identity creation. Each short blog post will have reflective questions for church leaders and for individuals.
1. Porpora, Douglas V. Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in American Life. Oxford University Press, 2001; p. 96
By Patty Meyers
legend noun; plural noun: legends
a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.
"the legend of King Arthur"
myth, saga, epic, tale, story, folk tale, folk story, fairy tale, fable, sagas, mythos, folklore, lore, mythology, fantasy, oral history, folk tradition;
urban myth, "Arthurian legends"
an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.
"the man was a living legend"
celebrity, star, superstar, icon, phenomenon, luminary, leading light, giant;
Both of the above definitions apply to the proposed book to be offered by CEF members and friends at our 2018 CEF Conference. It will be our 50th anniversary so we think that this is a great time to gather stories (legends) about some of the Legendary Christian Educators we have known.
You are (everyone is) invited to write an essay about an important Christian educator who has influenced your life and work. S/He need not be famous or infamous. S/He need not be an author or somebody famous. However s/he must have made a lasting impact on you, the author, and/or others in their faith formation.
Who is the best Christian educator you have known? What made that person so good at the work? Was the person a volunteer or a paid staff person? How long have you known the person? Do you have a photo that you can include? That would be great! If not, don’t worry. Tell us anything you can about your “legend.”
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, those saints who have gone before us, who have helped us to be the people that we are today. Most of these people are unsung heroes. We’d like to sing their praises in a collection of essays about them.
Our goal is to have it written, compiled, edited and published in time for our 50th anniversary celebration in 2018. That is not so far away as it may seem. It takes time to write, compile, edit, print and publish a book. This is a serious attempt to honor those Christian educators who have made a difference in people’s lives.
Start thinking now. Start jotting down memories and notes to yourself now. If you have ideas and don’t think that you can write an essay, please contact us. Help is available. This is a project of your CEF Board. Patty Meyers is our compiler and editor. Send her your ideas, questions and essays to firstname.lastname@example.org. You will continue to hear more about this in the coming months. Watch your CEF website for updates.
Patty Meyers is a CEF Board Member, Ordained Deacon in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, and Professor of Christian Education and Church Music at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer and Charlotte, North Carolina. Follower her on Twitter: @pinkmeyers
By Christine Voreis Hides
Today’s children have more organized sports and activities, more screen time and less time outdoors than ever before. Parents, medical professionals and educators notice the developmental impacts of a lack of unstructured play in children’s lives. Play is important to our spiritual development, too.
Through play, the Holy Spirit can encourage us to remember ourselves as part of the story of the people of God. The seemingly impossible birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ require imagination so that we might truly experience God’s grace and love in our own lives. Play is practice for the imagination needed for living faithfully.
While once many preschools and kindergartens were play-based, most have now shifted to focus on academics. Timeless, classroom staples including blocks, sensory tables, clay and outdoor time are hard to find in many school settings. In communities with financial resources and an abundance of programming for children, the church’s unique ministry might be to become a place for unstructured play. Play can be one means of fostering an alternate narrative to the culture’s emphasis on achievement. How might we incorporate play into the life of the church?
There are several good Montessori based curricula for preschool and elementary faith formation classes. That being said, the materials can be cost prohibitive. Sharing with other churches or making your own materials can decrease the expense. Our church was blessed many years ago with a complete set of wooden stories, now out of print, developed by a deacon in the UMC. We continue to use these original materials and gradually add new stories from other sources. If you are looking for play-based faith formation resources, the UMC Ministry with Children site is a good place to start.
You don’t need a new curriculum to include play in the Sunday school hour. The addition of blocks, high quality art supplies and a sensory tub will provide ample opportunity for children, even for just 10-15 minutes per class.
Sand and water are two readily available sensory materials. When learning about stories with water, I fill a shallow plastic tub and include things for water play: shells when there is a baptism, animals for Noah, boats for when Jesus calms the sea. Sand trays are appropriate and engaging as the stories of Abraham, Moses and wilderness are learned. We make individual sand trays from inexpensive, 4 liter office supply bins with lids. The children create meaningful stories using simple materials like rocks, wooden figures and felt.
Children building a sheepfold from block
Be mindful of creating time for people to be together without an agenda. Coffee hour, youth group, and intergenerational activities are times when play might be appropriate. Most youth groups I know have their signature games, usually played across the whole church, preferably with the lights out. I don’t believe this type of exploration and play needs to be limited to youth (just be mindful of safety concerns). Creating casual settings for talking, sharing food and even playing hide and seek together is an important part of building meaningful relationships.
The simplest strategy for play may be getting outdoors during regular church programming. Sidewalk chalk, tag, bubbles, painting outdoors and gardening are activities that seem to happen less often in our highly structured society. Consider working with local conservation groups to see how your church might be involved with events like No Child Left Indoors and Earth Day. If you can’t go outside, what elements of nature can you bring indoors? Plants, animals, even leaves and stones all provide rich, sensory opportunities.
Going outside reminds us of how play contributes to faith development through experiential learning. Quite a bit of Jesus’ ministry was spent outside. His life and parables invite us to relate to nature: vines, sheep, weeds, seeds, light, palms, bread, water and wine. Being able to touch, smell, taste and see nature brings the story to life. Those who garden have a hands-on understanding of the Parable of the Sower because they have tended rocky and weedy soil. And, those who have walked in hot, dry places have experienced the life-giving, refreshing qualities of water.
How much richer will our faith experiences be when we have opportunity to play? Faith, like play, is more experiential than academic. Growing and stretching the imagination through play is an essential part of human development, one that nurtures soul, mind and body. Part of a church’s unique ministry is to be a place that fosters play that nurtures faith.
Christine Voreis Hides is the Director of Faith Formation at Grace United Methodist Church of Lake Bluff, Illinois. She regularly blogs at blesseachone.wordpress.com
By Jonathan LeMaster-Smith
I love Halloween. Historically, it is amazing holiday with roots in the diverse Celtic, Northern European, and Roman Catholic histories. I could go into the historical and religious nature of the holiday, the shift from religious to secular overtones, and even the people who seem to think it is about worshipping the devil. But my goal here is to engage one aspect of Halloween and how it could be different--trick-or-treating.
My thoughts come from my experience in rural North Carolina with a very particular way of doing Halloween. As a child we would go trick-or-treating all around our portion of the county. Each year we followed roughly the same route, beginning with the close neighbors and our grandparents. Our parents would drive us around to each house; we would get out, knock on the door, and say trick-or-treat. In many of those houses we would be invited in for a five to ten minute time of “visiting.” People would share updates about their family, we would get our treats (ranging from raisins to full size candy bars on an 8 year olds treat-quality scale). We visited dozens of homes, staying a few minutes each. Sometimes, trick-or-treating was one of the few times my parents saw some of the people we visited. Halloween was a time of visiting family and neighbors, getting a small treat, and acting silly in my costume.
Theologically, this seems to fit will with some of the traditional and evolving meanings of Halloween. If you want details from a very accessible source please click HERE. However, I will be succinct: Halloween is tied to the three day celebration including All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day in the Christian tradition. We rarely engage All Soul’s day, but All Saints Day is a holiday honoring the saints of past and present in our community and the world. All Hallows Eve, now called Halloween, was a time of making the world holy. It was a time of chasing away that which was bad in the world in order to create space for the holiness to come. It was a time of feasting and festival. In the late 1800s in the United States, community and family gatherings occurred. Between 1920 and 1950, trick-or-treating became a way for members of the community to provide small, affordable treats for children, thus allowing the entire community to engage in the celebration. What I see in these traditions is making the world holy; perhaps, preparing for the coming of the Kingdom of God as Advent approaches. I also see acts of fellowship and community celebration, which transform into of Sabbath and Feast. Finally, I see acts of justice as the requirement was not costly presents or lavish parties, but simple treats for children.
However, I see very few churches embracing these theologically and historically appropriate practices. Instead, I see churches having Trunk-or-Treats. I do not know the history of trunk-or-treats, but it appears to be a practice instituted to both maintain safety of children on Halloween and as an outreach tool for the churches. As a child, Halloween safety was never an issue for us, as my family coordinated the adventure, however, I could see safety being a concern with unattended children and the possibility of abduction or simple injury. However, the outreach portion seems faulty to me. Most trunk-or-treats I experience involve a long line of people who come to the event, get candy, maybe their face painted, play a few games, and leave. Yes, we provided joy, but a community festival, with less linear trajectory, and more interaction could provide a longer time to form relationships and enjoy the time. Furthermore, it seems to breed consumerism (and perhaps even connect the church to the consumerism) in the simple linear progression lining up, getting candy, and leaving. We seem to have sacrificed sacredness and Christian practice for convenience and candy.
Instead of trunk-or-treats, why not do something that is probably more difficult, but also more in line with Christianity. Perhaps, you encourage church members and families to make their homes stops along the way for visiting and engaging. Perhaps, you encourage families to look at Halloween as a Christian practice and not simply a consumer-driven holiday. We try so hard to get this across at Christmas and Easter, we leave out the “lesser” holidays. Have them make it a time of visiting and engaging the holiness. Have them make it a time of spreading joy (not sugar-induced glee), through sharing with community and church members their costumes and their lives. Perhaps you might even have a treat drive for the homes that may not be able to afford the candy and items due to limited incomes or financial hardships. The same could be said for costumes. Holding a costume drive or costume making workshop would be an excellent means of allowing children to celebrate Halloween.
Jonathan is a CEF National Board Member, PhD Candidate with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and Adjunct Instructor for Atlantic School of Theology. He lives in Glen Alpine, North Carolina. He blogs at highway18south.wordpress.com
By Carolyn Peterson
After nearly 30 years as a Christian educator, I recently retired both from the local church and as a clergyperson from the UMC. But that did not mean I stopped attending or being active in my local church; nor, did I walk away from my role as a Deacon. I still sit on various Boards in my Annual Conference, as well as the CEF Board. However, I did clean out years of files, purge my desk and bookcases of personal items, and hand over the key to the CE office to the young woman who has stepped so ably in to continue on the vital CE ministry at my local church.
Do I feel washed up, cast aside and ready to join the rocking chair set? Of course, not! But honesty drives me to share that it wasn’t easy to maneuver through the change even if it was my idea and well planned out. A caring congregation, a generous lead pastor and a family sharing the road made the transition easier. There were the moments when I knew that what the local church needed was beyond my vast experience and my energy to make happen. Or the feeling that my “identity” was going to be lost forever! Through it all, however, I kept these words of scripture at hand: “See I am about to do a new thing”!
From my perspective after all these years, Christian Formation comes down to: relationships; our relationship with God, our relationship with our ministry team(s) and relationships with the mission field that surrounds us. No matter our age or place on the journey we are renewed by worship, connected by love of other, continuously growing by learning more about the God and Christ we follow, and ever ready to serve as God’s hands in our midst.
As the journey continues, it has become much easier to move with God’s plans for me than to go in look for that rocking chair. And what could be more exciting and challenging than following God into the future.
Carolyn Peterson is a CEF Board member and retired Deacon and Christian Educator in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
By Jenny Reilly
Sometimes when we take a picture we can reflect back on a moment and see God at work. This picture provided me with just that kind of experience. You see, while this is one of my favorites, there is much more to this peaceful picture than meets the eye.
This is my son, who was two weeks shy of his 8th birthday. We were on a church camping trip when a mother approached me saying, “Did you know Patrick is out in a canoe by himself?” Well, it was only about 8:00, we were packing up our campsite and, well…NO! I was not aware my son was not helping…and out in a canoe…in danger…by himself…! So off to the lake I headed, ready for a major and loud confrontation, with images of him tipping over, drowning and causing chaos bouncing around my mind.
Lucky for him (and me) my camera was around my neck and as I approached the lake this image caused me to pause. I snapped this picture because of the beauty of the moment but have since reflected on it numerous times from a devotional and faith formation perspective. What might God be saying to me through this image? Here is one question that keeps coming to my heart and mind…
“Might I be so willing?”
Might I be so willing…as to get away from what everyone else expects me to be doing?
Might I be so willing… as to do something that might be considered risky, even dangerous?
Might I be so willing…as to try something on my own just to see if it is possible?
Might I be so willing…as to remove myself from others to give myself space to hear God?
Might I be so willing…as to chance getting in trouble so that…?
As those engaged in faith formation, aren’t we challenged to ask the same kind of questions? And shouldn’t we be challenging others to do the same? It occurs to me that if I and others ask this question, we may not always agree, but we may just get more accomplished for the purpose of making disciples. If I might be so willing as to do something others might consider risk-taking, then I may find myself in a place some are unwilling to go while meeting people others were unwilling to see. If I might be so willing to take Sabbath time, then I may hear God’s voice more clearly regarding a difficult decision.
In all of this, we know we are not alone. We do this with a lifeline - the protection and support of God’s love. That is the other part of this picture I love. My son took a great risk, but first, he surrounded himself with protection – his lifejacket. As you are engaged in faith formation in the coming days and weeks, know that you are safe in the arms of a loving God as you ask the question, “Might I be so willing?,” and live into the possibilities God might have in store for you and the ministry in which you serve.
Jenny Reilly is a CEF National Board Member and is the Director of Christian Education for Salem United Methodist Church in Denver, NC.
Welcome to the new CEF website! At the point when I'm writing this, the Board of Directors (especially Jonathan LeMaster-Smith) have been working like crazy the past couple of weeks to move our database and set up a new website. We have MUCH to do to restore all of our archives and add new content, but we wanted to relaunch as soon as it was possible.
In case you missed my email on August 31, CEF has been undergoing enormous changes behind the scenes. Here's a brief overview.
For a variety of reasons, it became necessary to move our website and membership database. This process has begun in earnest, but there are quite a few steps that remain - particularly restoring the archives and setting up more Communities of Practice. We'll continue to work diligently on those over the next few weeks.
As we reported late last year, our Director of Services, Andrew Schleicher, resigned in November. For this and other reasons, the Board had an opportunity to explore various staffing options.
Many membership organizations have switched to using "association management companies" (AMC) instead of having a staff person, and that is what we have voted to do for a trial period of one year. AMCs offer organizations several specialized staff, who work together as a team to assist us as needed. For example, they'll typically have an event planner, a marketing specialist, an accountant, and a customer support specialist.
Besides having access to highly-trained staff members, one major benefit to the organization is a significant cost savings, perhaps as much as $10,000 per year. To the Board, this seemed like good stewardship of CEF resources. Ultimately, we selected XMI, a company based in Nashville, to work with us. The transition took much longer than expected, but they have started recently, and we're very happy to be working with them.
Up until the United Methodist Publishing House move to a new building a few 11months ago, CEF rented office space there. We were offered space at the General Board of Discipleship, and that is where some of our archives are being stored.
This move would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of former Board member Diana Hynson and current board members Carolyn Peterson, Carol Krau, and Marlys Barry. Together, they spent countless hours combing through the archives, getting rid of stuff we no longer needed, moving box after box, and much more. We continue to be indebted to them for their help with this monumental process.
Our new contact information:
Christians Engaged in Faith Formation
618 Church St, Suite 220
Nashville, TN 37219
Phone: 866.629.3113 or 615.522.5279
Our 2016 national Conference will be in Nashville for a second time and will be a very different type of event, focusing on Communities of Practice. Diana Butler Bass will spend most of a day with us, setting the stage as we consider faith formation in today's world. Our design team is now formed, led by Diana Hynson. You'll definitely be hearing a lot more about this in just a few weeks!
As for 2018, our location has been decided, and we even tentatively have a keynote speaker lined up. It is...well, still a secret at this point, since there are many details to begin to get settled. Sorry! All we'll say so far is that it's a city CEF has never visited before, and we will soon poll the CEF membership about a possible change of dates for that event.
As described briefly at CEF2014, our Board of Directors has reorganized into four working teams: Communities of Practice, Marketing and Communications, Financial Sustainability, and Technology. Each Board member will work with two of these teams, and in the near future we'll be inviting you to assist us with many volunteer tasks we are developing.
A confession: as a board, we have not done an adequate job of keeping you informed of all that has been happening over the past 10 months. Not only have all of the changes already mentioned been incredibly time-consuming, several of us on the board have dealt with health concerns, retirements, job changes, moves, deaths, and much more. Not having a staff person to help us with emailing our membership was also a factor in our lack of communications. We truly apologize for leaving our members hanging this year!
Moving forward, our intent is to communicate with our membership far more frequently through email, Facebook, and Twitter. Our monthly Newsline email newsletter will morph into a shorter, simpler and more frequent email. Not only will this enable us to get out news on a more timely basis, it also will encourage people to check out and engage with the latest content on the CEF website.
In addition, we'll be utilizing Facebook and Twitter more regularly. By liking, sharing and re-Tweeting CEF content regularly, you help ensure that our posts are more frequently noticed by existing and potential friends and members.
If you have not been a member in a while, or if you just haven't renewed your annual membership this year, I strongly encourage you to do so as soon as possible. CEF is on the move, literally and figuratively, but we need your support more than ever to help ensure that we continue to grow and change. Whether you have been a member for years or only for a short time, you are the reason CEF exists, and we definitely value your active participation.
It is truly a joy to be able to serve this terrific organization as the Board President, and I'm very excited about the direction in which we are moving. I would invite you to contact me if you have any questions, concerns, or needs. We'll do the best we can to serve you!
Tim Gossett, President of the CEF Board of Directors
Email: tim [at] cwames [dot] org
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CEF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. PO Box 546 South Beach, OR 97366