I have served as the diocesan Missioner for Faith Formation and Development for almost 9 months, during which I have learned about the joys, challenges, and realities of formation ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington as we seek to support rising generations.
Here’s what has my attention:
Formation Ministry at the Parish – Our diocese is blessed with formation leaders who serve rising generations within their congregations. These parish leaders come together quarterly to connect, share ideas, and encourage one another in the faith. Recent gatherings include an Advent and Christmas formation planning meeting and an upcoming overnight retreat at the Claggett Center.
Episcopal Schools – Episcopal Schools provide meaningful formation for rising generations. Many Episcopal Schools in the diocese have chaplains that support the spiritual formation of their students. One of my goals is to strengthen the relationship between chaplains and the diocese through attending and helping with chapel services, offering open office hours for chaplains and being a resource to support their ministry.
Campus Ministry – The diocese is no longer engaged in the traditional chaplaincy model at our colleges and universities. We are working to reimagine what meaningful, vibrant and consistent ministry could look like through the possibility of partnering with congregations near campuses. If you would like to be a part of this conversation, please contact me.
Young Adults & Young Clergy – As we emerge from the pandemic, young adults are eager to form connections. Some congregations have seen an uptick in young adult participation. To support parishes with young adults, I have connected with their young adult leadership and offered a young adult retreat on discernment. Similarly, our younger clergy in the diocese are eager for community, too. In order to build relationships and strengthen their ministries young clergy met on Zoom in the spring and gathered together in person at Clergy Conference this week.
Growing Young Cohort – As part of our commitment to rising generations, the diocese has partnered with the Fuller Youth Institute to launch a ten-month journey dedicated to Growing Young. Eight congregations kick-off this important work with a two-day Summit the last weekend of October. The cohort will research, discern, and do the important work it takes to ensure their parishes are places of welcome for rising generations.
Supporting these life-giving ministries fills me with joy! I know that the Holy Spirit is moving in us and among us and I am grateful to be a part of it. Moving from parish to diocesan ministry has been an exciting learning curve. I look forward to strengthening and deepening our collective faith formation and development.
To learn more about diocesan efforts to support rising generations, contact me by email. To stay up-to-date on formation offerings in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, sign up to receive Faith Formation News, an online publication delivered to your inbox the second Tuesday of each month.
The Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell
Missioner for Faith Formation and Development
Image comes from www.saltproject.com’s Say Yes: Advent Weekly Placemat
December is just around the corner. Not only is this one of the busiest times of year, it’s also one of the richest spiritual seasons in the Church. Advent–the four weeks preceding Christmas–is a liturgical season that invites Christians to remember God’s promise that God, in Jesus, came among us and will come to us again. We are invited to slow down and prepare our hearts for this truth. Given the busyness of the season, this invitation can feel a little daunting. But, it doesn’t have to.
There are many creative resources available to assist you, your family, and your congregation on the Advent journey. Below, you’ll find a curated list featuring five of my favorite Advent resources. Each one is fresh, imagaintive, and a fun way to engage the season and draw closer to the God who draws close to us.
Advent in 2 Minutes | Busted Halo
This video could be utilized as people gather for worship, in the parish newsletter, social media, or as a discussion prompt for an adult formation group about the meaning of Advent.
Illustrated Advent Resources | Illustrated Ministry
Illustrated Ministry offers beautiful advent themed coloring pages, posters, devotional guides, family activities, shadow box theaters, nativities, ornament sets, and many other illustrated resources based on scripture. This is a favorite for all ages!
Advent RoundUp | SALT
This overview of SALT’s highlights includes poetry devotionals featuring E.E. Cummings, Mary Oliver, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Maya Angelou, as well as family friendly resources. SALT’s customizable short films and printable resources can be tailor made with your church’s name and worship times, making it easy to extend the invitation to your community.
Creating Advent & Christmas Faith Practices in a Box | Traci Smith
Gift families a way to tangibly mark the Advent season and celebrate Christmas by engaging different fun-filled practices highlighted in the book, Faithful Families for Advent & Christmas.
Gathering to Write: An Intergenerational Advent Practice | Lauren Graeber
This activity for all ages could be done individually, as a family, or as a larger community. Check out the full Advent Roundup from Building Faith here.
Consider engaging one of these practices to deepen your faith life this December. Each resource has the potential to help you remember that God is present, inviting you to follow the path to Bethlehem and hear anew the good news that God chooses to be flesh and dwell among us.
The Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell
Missioner for Faith Formation and Development
by The Rev. Diana V. Gustafson
‘I came to myself, in a dark world, where the direct way was lost.’
Dante, The Divine Comedy
If you have ever taken a personality test, you may have identified personal strengths, such as the ability to organize people or ideas or to express yourself musically, and weaknesses, such as a fear of speaking in public. It can be fun to gain insight into who we are and how we operate in the word. But consider your spiritual gifts and personality. How might tests to identify spiritual gifts give you insight into your relationship with God and your church?
Perhaps no one is more interested in this question than the newcomer to a church and the people dedicated to walking with them on their spiritual journey. Identifying and honoring newcomers’ self-identified talents is vital to guiding them on a path of discipleship.
St. Paul teaches us that:
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same God; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ~ 1 Corinthians 12
For the newcomer, understanding their abilities and desires through a spiritual lens is an important first step in their path of discipleship and participating in the life of the congregation. At St. Margaret’s in DC, we invite newcomers into just such a practice of discovery. In our class, “St. Margaret’s Go!,” newcomers journey together, exploring who they are as spiritual beings and the life that God is calling them to. In three one-hour sessions, newcomers identify and explore their spiritual gifts and discern where they are along a pathway of faith. Just as they are learning about the church’s mission, values, and ministry, they discover what this church can offer them and consider how they might participate in and contribute to a community of faith.
The Go! class begins by using pictures of common objects and events, such as crayons in a box or a child crying, to explore the kind of relationship with God they would like to have.
Go! then helps the participants identify where they might start on the threshold of their discipleship paths. Are they “Experiencers,” engaging with God through song, prayer, and fellowship? Or “Searchers,” at a point of questioning Christian theology and investigating concerns about racism or tasting other faiths. Other places along the path are for ‘Belongers,’ who locate themselves in community and corporate worship, and for ‘Owners,’ who regularly pray on their own, and are ready to teach others from their experience and wisdom. Together the class looks at each person’s spiritual gifts, such as “mercy,” “hospitality,” or “wisdom.’” Go! also asks participants about the individuals who have influenced them.
Through such exploration, participants gain a greater understanding of who they are as spiritual beings. They are better equipped for involvement in the life of religious community and worship because they have a stronger sense of self in relation to God. They are ready to self-identify intelligently as disciples.
Discoveries made during St. Margaret’s Go! informs not just participants but leaders as well. Clergy and formation leaders can use participant’s self-identification to plan formation offerings and general forums through the church year. “Experiencers” may be drawn to bible study, for example, while “Searchers” may benefit from classes, such as Sacred Ground, that explore the church’s response to racism. Formation is focused on guiding disciples along their spiritual path toward deeper relationship with Christ. An understanding of spiritual gifts and desires also helps participants and clergy identify ways laypeople can take part in the life of the congregation. The participants may feel a call to join an outreach group, serve as an usher, or attend weekly healing prayer.
You can learn more about the Diocese of Washington’s path of discipleship at www.edow.org/path and learn more about how St. Margaret’s is using that path and spiritual gifts discernment to meet the needs of newcomers at the upcoming course, Spiritual Gifts and the Newcomer noon on November 16. Learn and talk about the needs of the newcomer and how your church can implement a newcomer’s Go! program.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
As with the air we breathe and the ground beneath our feet, we sometimes take for granted the faith communities that we count on to be there for us when we need them. So in this season when the leaders of your local church ask you to consider your financial pledge to support its ministry, l invite you to consider the many ways you are blessed by your church, even if you haven’t been inside its doors for a long time.
Let’s begin with your clergy, who are quick to respond when you call, reach out when you’re hurting, are always glad to see you, and work every day to create sacred spaces in which you can draw closer to God. They do all these things because they care. Who else in your life spends hours each week preparing to speak about the most important things–such as faith, doubt, suffering, joy, courage, forgiveness, grief, and love–and encourages you to orient your life toward Jesus.
Now consider the community itself–the people who show up early to prepare a place for you, who practice the songs, tend to the altar, and clean up after you’ve gone home. Think of those who inspire you by their selflessness and who provide all manner of opportunities for you to help make this world a better place; those who are the first to knock at your door with a casserole or flowers when you’ve lost someone; who ask how you are doing, and genuinely want to know. Let’s not forget the person who drives you crazy, and yet who helps you practice patience and acceptance–the very patience and acceptance that you need, too.
If you are raising children, consider the priceless gift of doing so with other families who, like you, want their children to have, as we pray the Baptism liturgy, “inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the give of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” In church, your children are surrounded by surrogate grandparents, aunties and uncles, and really cool teenagers for your kids to look up to, until, low and behold, they are cool teenagers teaching a rising generation how to hold the candles and cross.
While caring for the building itself is a big responsibility and costs a lot of money, think of what it means to have such a place, a home away from home where people like you have gone to pray for generations. The walls of your church are soaked with prayer. If they could talk, they would tell of tears and laughter, moments of unspeakable sorrow and wondrous joy; of forgiveness sought and received; of the word spoken that changed a person’s life, of an injustice done and then, by grace, acknowledged, and restitution made–all in that sacred space.
Finally, consider all those who have never been and perhaps will never be part of your church but who nonetheless receive blessing through its ministry–those whose sobriety depends on the A.A. meeting in the basement, or who are experiencing homelessness and your church is the one place they are treated with dignity; the children who are nurtured in the daycare or receive the backpacks your church donates at the beginning of the school year; the refugee family given a home and support in a new land.
Now it may be that your church doesn’t do all of the things I’ve mentioned, or that it’s struggling to regain its footing, or is in a leadership transition. No church is perfect, and if you’re looking for reasons to be disappointed, you will probably find them. But don’t forget the ways you have experienced God through the ministry of your church, despite or perhaps through its imperfections. Think of the times you’ve felt Jesus’ mercy when you needed it, the joy of singing a favorite hymn alongside others, and the gift of belonging to a community of faith, not so much because you get everything you want there, but rather because you know that it’s your spiritual home. Your presence and your gifts make a difference, including the gifts you didn’t realize that you had. You may have a big part to play in your church’s future, and maybe what’s coming next is something you don’t want to miss.
Finances are challenging for many of these days, and that’s true for your local church, too. If this is a hard time for you, know that your church understands if you need to reduce your pledge. But if you are blessed with a financial cushion to weather rising inflation and the fluctuations of the stock market, consider being more generous in the coming year. Let your clergy know that you’re grateful for them. Help your volunteer lay leaders rest easier as they work on ministry goals and budgets. Do your part. You’ll be glad you did. And others will be blessed in ways you may never know.
Jesús dijo: “Porque donde dos o tres se reúnen en mi nombre, allí estoy yo en medio de ellos.”
Al igual que con el aire que respiramos y el suelo bajo nuestros pies, a veces damos por sentado que las comunidades de fe con las que contamos están ahí para nosotros cuando las necesitamos. Por eso, en esta época en la que los líderes de su iglesia local le piden que considere su compromiso financiero para apoyar su ministerio, los invito a que consideren las muchas maneras en las que usted es bendecido por su iglesia, incluso si no han estado allí durante mucho tiempo.
Empecemos por el clero, que responde rápidamente cuando se le llama, le tiende la mano cuando está sufriendo, siempre se alegra de verle y trabaja cada día para crear espacios sagrados en los que pueda acercarse a Dios. Hacen todo esto porque se preocupan. ¿Quién más en su vida pasa horas cada semana preparándose para hablar de las cosas más importantes – como la fe, la duda, el sufrimiento, la alegría, el valor, el perdón, el dolor y el amor – y le anima a orientar su vida hacia Jesús?
Ahora piensa en la propia comunidad: las personas que se presentan temprano para preparar un lugar para ti, que ensayan las canciones, atienden el altar y limpian después de que te hayas ido a casa. Piensa en aquellos que te inspiran con su desinterés y que te proporcionan todo tipo de oportunidades para que ayudes a hacer de este mundo un lugar mejor; aquellos que son los primeros en llamar a tu puerta con un poco de comida o con flores cuando has perdido a alguien; que te preguntan cómo estás y quieren saberlo de verdad. No olvidemos a la persona que te vuelve loco y que, sin embargo, te ayuda a practicar la paciencia y la aceptación, la misma paciencia y aceptación que tú también necesitas.
Si estás criando a tus hijos, considera el don inestimable de hacerlo con otras familias que, como usted, quieren que sus hijos tengan, como oramos en la liturgia del Bautismo, “un corazón inquisitivo y perspicaz, la valentía de comprometerse y perseverar; la pasión por conocer y amar (a Dios), y el don de gozar y maravillarse ante todas (las) obras (de Dios)”. En la iglesia, tus hijos están rodeados de abuelos sustitutos, tías, tíos y adolescentes realmente geniales a los que tus hijos pueden admirar, hasta que, por fin, son adolescentes geniales que enseñan a una nueva generación a sostener las velas y la cruz.
Aunque el cuidado del edificio en sí es una gran responsabilidad y cuesta mucho dinero, piensa en lo que significa tener un lugar así, un hogar lejos de casa donde personas como usted han ido a orar durante generaciones. Las paredes de su iglesia están empapadas de oración. Si pudieran hablar, hablarían de lágrimas y risas, de momentos de dolor indecible y de maravillosa alegría; del perdón buscado y recibido; de la palabra pronunciada que cambió la vida de una persona, de una injusticia cometida y luego, por gracia, reconocida y restituida, todo en ese espacio sagrado.
Por último, considere a todos aquellos que nunca han formado parte de su iglesia, y tal vez nunca lo hagan, pero que, sin embargo, reciben bendiciones a través de su ministerio: aquellos cuya sobriedad depende de la reunión de A.A. (Alcohólicos Anónimos) en el sótano, o que se encuentran sin hogar y su iglesia es el único lugar en el que se les trata con dignidad; los niños que son atendidos en la guardería o que reciben las mochilas que su iglesia dona al comienzo del año escolar; la familia de refugiados que recibe un hogar y apoyo en una nueva tierra.
Puede que su iglesia no haga todo lo que he mencionado, o que esté luchando por recuperar su equilibrio, o que esté en una transición de liderazgo. Ninguna iglesia es perfecta, y si está buscando razones para sentirse decepcionado, probablemente las encontrará. Pero no olvide las formas en que ha experimentado a Dios a través del ministerio de su iglesia, a pesar de sus imperfecciones o quizás a través de ellas. Piensa en las veces que has sentido la misericordia de Jesús cuando la necesitabas, en la alegría de cantar un himno favorito junto a otros, y en el don de pertenecer a una comunidad de fe, no tanto porque allí consigues todo lo que quieres, sino porque sabes que es tu hogar espiritual. Tu presencia y tus dones marcan la diferencia, incluso los dones que no sabías que tenías. Puede que tengas un papel importante que desempeñar en el futuro de tu iglesia, y tal vez lo que viene es algo que no quieres perderte.
Las finanzas son un reto para muchos en estos días, y eso es cierto para su iglesia local, también. Si este es un momento difícil para usted, sepa que su iglesia entiende si necesita reducir su promesa. Pero si ha sido bendecido con un colchón financiero para enfrentar la creciente inflación y las fluctuaciones del mercado de valores, considere ser más generoso en el próximo año. Hágale saber a su clero que está agradecido por ellos. Ayude a sus líderes laicos voluntarios a estar más tranquilos mientras trabajan en los objetivos y presupuestos del ministerio. Haga su parte. Se alegrará de haberlo hecho. Y otros serán bendecidos en formas que tal vez nunca conozca.