Supporting faith formation leaders is part of my ministry as the Missioner for Faith Formation and Development. Since joining the bishop’s staff six months ago, one of my priorities has been to meet with Christian educators and formation leaders working with children and youth. These conversations informed me about how our leaders are doing and what the landscape of formation ministry for rising generations looks like in our diocese.
When asked what they need right now, leaders responded. “I yearn to feel connected,” one leader said. “I want to learn from my colleagues,” another shared. Other sentiments included a desire to hear what’s happening in the diocese and to learn how folks are engaged in formation ministry as we emerge from the pandemic. Others spoke of just needing a break. “I just want some rest,” a colleague said, “this stuff is hard.”
It is hard. Even before the pandemic, rhythms of life were changing for many of our families. In this climate, the traditional models of Sunday School and Youth Group aren’t always as life-giving as they were in the past. This means that Christian formation leaders, whose ministry is to help form young people as Christians, are shifting their ministerial approach. That takes energy, creativity, and trust in the Holy Spirit.
Communities of support – colleagues in ministry – also help. One of my goals is to create spaces where these communities of colleagues can flourish and feed one another. To this end, the diocese is sponsoring an in-person retreat for formation leaders who work with children and/or youth. Held at the Claggett Center Friday and Saturday, November 4 & 5, the retreat is an opportunity for formation leaders to connect, pray, engage, and refresh. There will be ample time for community building as well as personal retreat space. Participants will stay in private rooms at the Christiane Inn and have access to the center’s beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces, including walking trails and a labyrinth.
Retreat registration opens Thursday, September 1 through the School for Christian Faith and Leadership. Any formation leader in the diocese working with children and/or youth is welcome to participate, but please note that attendance is limited to 20 participants and registration will close once all spots are full. The retreat costs $50 and covers all your expenses for the event. I hope you will join us and be refreshed.
For more information about the retreat or other opportunities to connect with formation leaders, contact The Rev. Amanda Akes-Cardwell.
The Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, is a transformative community, the type we are working toward by making rising generations a priority. While Bishop Mariann does not name schools specifically in her article on ministry among rising generations from last fall, it is precisely Episcopal school communities like the Bishop Walker School that help nurture and develop our future generations. Today, we share just one example of the positive impact our schools make every day, the story of Jordan Dunstan, a former student at BWS with a promising future.
The Bishop Walker School formally opened in 2008 as the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s response to the serious educational challenges facing African American boys in the low-income communities east of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. Tuition-free and named in honor of the first African American bishop of the diocese, the school started its first year with a single class of 13 four-year-olds. From that hope-filled start, the Bishop Walker School community today includes students from kindergarten through fifth grade who participate in academic programs that not only ignite their intellectual curiosity but also expose them to ideas and themes critical to their development as student leaders.
This June, the Bishop Walker School welcomed back a shining example of intellectual curiosity and student leadership as Jordan Dunstan, alumnus of BWS’s first graduating class, returned to the community as the 5th grade promotion speaker.
Recipient of the first Bishop John T. Walker Award, Jordan followed eight years of academic excellence in elementary school with more excellence in both middle and high school. At Oxon Hill Middle School, he earned all A’s and received the highest honors possible in math, art, and science–and was named student-athlete of the year for (baseball). Then at Oxon Hill High School, Jordan took part in the Science and Technology Program and graduated with honors in the top 5% of a graduating class of 316 students. He served as President of the National Social Studies Honor Society, Parliamentarian of the National Honor Society, and helped low-income students with the college application process as Senior Captain of the Peer Forward Organization. While achieving all of these academic and leadership milestones, Jordan also completed over 400 community service hours, from baking, packaging, and delivering meals to veterans, firefighters, and those experiencing homelessness to volunteering at Howard University School of Divinity and the Kairos Prison Ministry.
Jordan was awarded $1.1 Million in scholarships and 27 college acceptances, including offers from Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University. Jordan will be attending Morehouse College in the fall as part of the 2026 Howard Thurman Honors Scholars Cohort and the recipient of the Michael L. Lomax Scholarship which fully covers all of his academic and living expenses.
“Jordan and his fellow classmates of the class of 2022 represent the hope at the core of the mission and vision for the Bishop Walker School,” shares Bishop Walker School Head of School Mike Molina.
Join us in praying for Jordan’s continuing journey and for the entire community at the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys. By investing in our youth, we make the way for a better world.
Thanks to everyone who attended the Listening to Rising Generations discussion with Mark Yaconelli, Bishop Mariann, and the Rev. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery on Friday, January 28. We heard powerful testimonials from four young adults of the diocese and Mark Yaconelli cast a Holy Spirit infused-vision of what’s possible when elders take the time to make genuine connections with the youth and young adults in our communities.
As we continue the work of prioritizing rising generations, we seek your engagement and reflections on how this evening has inspired you.
Please complete this event survey no later than 5:00 p.m., Friday, February 4.
Want a replay of the event? Here’s the recording on our YouTube channel.
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Creciendo Joven: 6 Estrategias Esenciales para Ayudar a los Jóvenes a Descubrir y Amar a Tu Iglesia
Todas las iglesias envejecen. Las iglesias estratégicas se vuelven jóvenes.
-Kara Power, Jake Mulder y Brad Griffin, autores de Growing Young (Creciendo Joven).
El sentimiento más común que escucho en las visitas congregacionales es el deseo de atraer a los jóvenes, como si estuvieran en un planeta lejano. Pero, de hecho, hay jóvenes en nuestras congregaciones, en nuestras familias y en nuestros vecindarios.
Es cierto que la mayoría de nuestras congregaciones tienen una edad mediana mucho más mayor que sus vecindarios. Y que la pandemia y sus consecuencias han afectado especialmente a los jóvenes y a las familias con niños. Por lo tanto, a medida que dirigimos nuestra mirada colectiva como una diócesis al ministerio con y entre las nuevas generaciones, tenemos algo que escuchar y orar.
¿Por dónde mejor comenzar que con los jóvenes adultos en nuestras congregaciones? Este viernes por la tarde, como inicio de nuestra Convención Diocesana, escucharemos los testimonios de cuatro jóvenes adultos en nuestra diócesis. La conversación será guiada por nuestro orador invitado, Mark Yaconelli, fundador y director ejecutivo de The Hearth, que tiene 20 años de experiencia trabajando con los jóvenes y las personas que los atienden.
Todos son bienvenidos. Si aún no se ha registrado, puede hacerlo aquí. Mi esperanza es que la reunión del viernes nos inspire a escuchar de nuevo los pensamientos, sentimientos y experiencias de vida de los jóvenes que conocemos y amamos, y luego imaginar cómo nuestras congregaciones pueden convertirse en comunidades que sirven bien a las generaciones venideras. Es una de las principales prioridades de nuestro plan estratégico que comenzamos a abordar con seriedad este año.
Además de escuchar a los jóvenes en nuestras vidas, podemos aprender de congregaciones cuyos esfuerzos entre las generaciones crecientes están dando fruto. Un recurso excelente es de un estudio nacional de más de 250 congregaciones que están involucrando exitosamente a jóvenes adultos (edades 15-29) y como resultado están creciendo espiritual, misionera y numéricamente. Sus conclusiones son capturados en el libro Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (Creciendo Joven: 6 Estrategias Esenciales para Ayudar a los Jóvenes a Descubrir y Amar a Tu Iglesia).
Es un estudio alentador, porque las congregaciones destacadas son diversas en tamaño, denominación, geografía e identidad cultural / racial (más de la mitad eran congregaciones de color).
Más buenas noticias: las estrategias identificadas no nos obligan a convertirnos en algo que no somos. Sin embargo, requieren un compromiso para invertir en los jóvenes. Para aquellos de nosotros que ya no somos jóvenes, nos piden que renunciemos con gracia a nuestra primacía en la vida congregacional. Como escriben los autores, “tomar la decisión intencional de priorizar desproporcionadamente a los jóvenes es el punto de inflexión entre el crecimiento joven y el crecimiento viejo”.
Las estrategias son 6:
- Desbloquear el acceso al liderazgo para capacitar a otros, especialmente a los jóvenes.
- Empatizar con los jóvenes de hoy, poniéndose en los zapatos de esta generación.
- Tomar en serio el mensaje de Jesús y dar la bienvenida a los jóvenes en una forma de vida centrada en Jesús.
- Alimentar una comunidad de calidad y aspirar a experiencias significativas entre pares e intergeneracionales.
- Priorizar a los jóvenes (y a las familias) en todas partes y buscar formas creativas de apoyarlos, recursos e involucrarlos en todas las facetas de su congregación.
- Ser los mejores vecinos y equipar a los jóvenes para que sirvan a otros, tanto a nivel local como global.
He aquí una invitación: Si desea reunir a un grupo pequeño o patrocinar un estudio de toda la congregación de Growing Young, la Escuela de Fe Cristiana y Liderazgo proporcionará hasta cuatro copias gratuitas del libro. Nuestra única estipulación es que usted identifica al grupo de antemano, identifica sus metas en la lectura, y cuando termine, déjenos saber lo que usted ha aprendido y la intención de qué hacer como resultado. Por favor envíe un correo electrónico a la Reverenda Jenifer Gamber para más información.
Me doy cuenta de que nuestras congregaciones que disfrutaron de ministerios con jóvenes animados, jóvenes adultos y familias antes de COVID han visto una disminución dramática en su compromiso. Ha sido desalentador, pero eso no significa que debamos rendirnos. Seguramente hay maneras en que podemos aprender a llegar, con corazones abiertos y atentos.
Al igual que con los objetivos estratégicos que hemos abordado hasta ahora, nuestro enfoque en las nuevas generaciones no será un tema que se debe controlar, sino una inversión sostenida hacia un futuro preferido. Tampoco estamos empezando de cero, porque somos bendecidos con muchos líderes jóvenes talentosos y apasionados. Lo nuevo es el nivel de nuestra intención, compromiso y medidas de rendición de cuentas. Que 2022 sea el año que recordemos como nuestro punto de inflexión y el cambio hacia el crecimiento joven.
The 6 Commitments of Churches Growing Young
All churches grow old. Strategic churches grow young.
–Kara Power, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, authors of Growing Young
The most common sentiment I hear on congregational visitations is a desire to reach young people, as if they were on a far off planet. But in fact there are young people in our congregations, in our families, and in our neighborhoods.
It’s true that most of our congregations have a median age much older than their neighborhoods. And that the pandemic and its consequences have hit young people and families with children particularly hard. Thus as we turn our collective gaze as a diocese to ministry with and among rising generations, we have some listening and praying to do.
Where better to begin than with the young adults in our congregations? This Friday evening, as the start to our Diocesan Convention, we will listen to the testimonies of four young adults in our diocese. The conversation will be guided by our guest speaker, Mark Yaconelli, Founder and Executive Director of The Hearth, who has 20 years’ experience working with young people and the people who serve them.
All are welcome. If you haven’t registered yet, you can do so here. My hope is that Friday’s gathering will inspire us to listen anew to the thoughts, feelings and life experiences of the young people we know and love, and then imagine how our congregations can become communities that serve rising generations well. It is one of the top priorities of our strategic plan that we begin to address in earnest this year.
In addition to listening to the young people in our lives, we can learn from congregations whose efforts among rising generations are bearing fruit. An excellent resource is from a national study of over 250 congregations that are successfully engaging young adults (ages 15-29) and as a result are growing spiritually, missionally and numerically. Its findings are captured in the book Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.
It is an encouraging study, because the congregations highlighted are diverse in size, denomination, geography, and cultural/racial identity (over half were congregations of color).
More good news: the strategies identified do not require us to become something we are not. They do, however, require a commitment to invest in young people. For those of us who are no longer young, they ask us to gracefully give up our primacy in congregational life. As the authors write, “Making the intentional decision to disproportionately prioritize young people is the inflection point between growing young and growing old.”
The 6 strategies are:
- Unlock keychain leadership to empower others, especially young people.
- Empathize with today’s young people, stepping into the shoes of this generation.
- Take Jesus’ message seriously and welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.
- Fuel a Warm Community and aim for meaningful peer and intergenerational experiences.
- Prioritize Young People (and Families) everywhere and look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource and involve them in all facets of your congregation.
- Be the best neighbors and equip young people to serve others, both locally and globally.
Here is an invitation: if you would like to gather a small group or sponsor a congregation-wide study of Growing Young, the School for Christian Faith and Leadership will provide up to four free copies of the book. Our only stipulation is that you identify the group in advance, identify your goals in reading, and when finished, let us know what you’ve learned and intend to do as a result. Please email the Rev. Jenifer Gamber for more information.
I realize that our congregations that enjoyed ministries with lively youth, young adults and families before COVID have seen a dramatic decline in their engagement. It’s been discouraging, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. Surely there are ways we can learn to reach out, with open and listening hearts.
As with the strategic goals we addressed thus far, our focus on rising generations will not be an item to check off, but a sustained investment toward a preferred future. Nor are we starting from nothing, for we are blessed with many gifted and passionate young leaders. What is new is the level of our intention, commitment, and measures of accountability. May 2022 be the year we remember as our inflection point and shift toward growing young.