Imagine with me. You’re a brand new vestry member and relatively new to the Episcopal Church. You would like to learn more about what it means to be on the vestry. You are excited for your role and want to learn the role of the vestry, the kinds of decisions you will help make, and how the vestry works with the rector. You happen to get The Bulletin in your email and notice that the School is offering a course called Vestry 101. “Perfect, you think. I’ll sign up! That will help me learn!” Only then you discover it’s being offered once this fall, in person, in DC on a Wednesday night. For those who live in Southern or Northern Maryland, driving into DC can take 90 minutes or more. On some nights, driving 5 miles even within DC can take 90 minutes! So you can’t attend, therefore starting your tenure as a vestry member knowing less about what you’ve agreed to than you’d hoped.
The other possibility is the course is offered online, via zoom, and recorded. It’s on a Saturday at 10:00 a.m. but your kid has a soccer game. So you miss the online session. You go back to watch it after the fact and realize there are all kinds of questions that didn’t get answered but now you’re watching the recording and don’t have an opportunity for a real-time Q&A.
The mission of the School for Christian Faith and Leadership is to inspire, equip, connect, and empower the people of God for faithful life and leadership. If we want to do that effectively, we have to get innovative. We have to be forward-leaning and outward-looking.
The School’s new digital learning hub provides us the opportunity to do just that. Starting this fall, you will find courses online that are both live and on-demand. If you miss a live course, you’ll have the opportunity to take it on-demand whenever and wherever you want, and still be able to connect with others in ministry. Our learning hub doesn’t just deliver information, it builds community. (By the way, you can sign up for the on-demand Vestry 101 course here.)
The Role of the Pandemic in Shaping Online Learning
Pushed by the pandemic, digital learning has swept the globe over the last 18 months. Individuals, families, schools, companies, and faith communities have adapted beyond our imaginations. This global crisis has exposed our vulnerabilities, laid bare our societal inequalities, and increased our capacity for creativity as we sought to adapt in real time. Churches turned to technology to make worship, formation, and committee meetings accessible, making church far more available to those near and far.
In their March study, the Barna Group discovered that among what people missed most about church during the pandemic included “socializing with other churchgoers before and after services” and the “chance to connect with like-minded people.” People simply want to gather. They want to gather and socialize, gather and learn, gather and serve. Embracing digital learning provides the opportunity to gather online and build community in and beyond the diocese.
Digital community has been looked down upon as fabricated. But as my friend and colleague, the Rev. Jim Keat reminds us, “Virtual is not the opposite of real, it’s the opposite of physical.” When we approach digital learning with the innovation of a digital learning hub, so much more is made possible in our efforts to equip and connect the people of God.
So then, what about this learning hub?
We invite you to try out the School’s digital learning hub at learn.edow.org. It is designed with you in mind. It is easy, streamlined, and collaborative. Our learning hub meets the needs of a variety of learning styles–whether you learn by reading, watching videos, engaging in conversation, or practicing. And there will be the opportunity to participate in live as well as on-demand learning opportunities.
Our digital offerings last year have become known for their digital toolboxes chock full of resources to support you in applying what you have learned to your context. We continue this practice. Each course has a section dedicated to resources to which you can return again and again.
You can participate from the comfort of your own home which makes this particularly useful during the pandemic, or anytime you’d prefer to learn from home or office. The School is committed to growing your capacity for baptismal living and faithful leadership. Our goal is to become your go-to place for best practices in ministry. We want to provide you access to the riches within the diocese on topics that matter, such as stewardship, creation justice, prayer practices, Wardens 101, and more.
Our new learning hub will allow us to share resources widely and readily. After your course is complete, you can maintain your connection to that course and continue the conversation with other participants about topics you learned or ideas they shared, increasing the overall collaboration across the diocese to build communities of practice.
We know that not everyone is tech savvy. When you find a sticking point or run into an issue, support is readily available with a course that orients you to how the learning hub works. Plus, we are here to support you as you explore, learn, and grow.
We are so excited to be able to offer you the School’s new learning hub for ongoing faith and leadership formation in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
To learn more about the diocese’s new learning hub and how you can use it in your congregation, attend the School’s Open House on August 31, 12:00-1:00 pm. (Register). Or, take a course about the learning hub on your own time with this Learner Guide.
The Rev. Emily Snowden
Program Coordinator for The School of Christian Faith and Leadership
and Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations Initiative