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Faith formation at home

The pandemic has revitalized parents’ role of shaping their children’s spiritual development

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — For decades, children whose clothing has caught fire have been taught by teachers and firefighters alike to stop, drop and roll.

Church educators faced with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are employing a similar strategy, the nearly 50 participants in the “Faith Formation at Home” webinar, sponsored by the Office of Christian Formation, heard Thursday.

As a result of the pandemic, “we’ve had to stop programs we were running, or completely adapt them,” said Karen DeBoer, creative resource developer for Faith Formation Ministries with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a panelist. Churches have dropped programs that required in-person meetings and then rolled to develop new programs and resources to meet families’ needs. “We rushed to inundate families with resources. Now it’s important to step back and ask, ‘Why did we do that right away?’ What can we learn?’ As we roll, we have the opportunity to take what we learned, determine what programs and ministries we might keep, adapt — and let go.”

The Rev. Dr. Tori Smit

The pandemic has also been an opportunity for parents to reassert their rightful role as the people most responsible for the moral and spiritual development of their children, according to another panelist, the Rev. Dr. Tori Smit, regional minister for faith formation with the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

“This (pandemic) is an opportunity to talk about how do we resource and support our parents,” Smit said. “What are the best practices? What do they need from us? Families are at home enjoying meals together and then playing games afterward, not rushing off to different things. It’s an opportunity for parents and children to talk about faith and grow in faith together.”

DeBoer said she’s relished worshiping online alongside other church families, “watching their children eat Cheerios and drawing pictures of the sermon.” She saw one child playing a ukulele to accompany worship music. Another girl was clearly using her toy teacup during communion at home.

Karen DeBoer

Lately DeBoer said she’s been employing the “Mennonite Community Cookbook,” which features simple recipes using basic ingredients. “I wonder: Is that how we might best support households now?” she said. “My faith was formed on Sunday mornings,” but also in the afternoons playing catch with her father, welcoming foster children into the household and listening to her parents talk about race.

A third panelist, Jenna Campbell, director of children and youth ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma, talked about that congregation’s Faithful Families ministry. Stuck at home due to the pandemic, families were so eager for resources that the church constructed the Faithful Families website, normally an arduous task, in the week before Palm Sunday, she said.

Faithful Families “has curated resources for families whenever they need them,” Campbell said. Each week comes with a “playlist” based on readings from the lectionary, with questions parents can ask around the dinner table or during stay-at-home worship.

“It doesn’t have to be a single dedicated time,” she said. “Something is better than nothing.”

Jenna Campbell

She suggests families take a walk together and slip some faith language into the conversation or talk about the effects of the pandemic or racism. “The goal,” she said, “is that when (families) are ready for resources, I don’t want them to look on Google. There’s a lot of stuff out there that isn’t very helpful.”

People like short-term plans and experiments, said Stephanie Fritz, associate coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “Who might we be teaching? Maybe it’s the adults in our lives, to journey alongside,” she said. “We may need to flip the posture.” Rather than measuring how many people show up for each church event, it may be more helpful for congregations to gauge a family’s growth in faith formation as a result of program offerings.

“Be willing to let go of something,” she suggested, “in order to have deeper impact.”

To view a recording of the June 4 webinar, click here.

The next Faith Formation at Home webinar is set for 3 p.m. Eastern Time June 18. The topic will be intergenerational worship. View that panel discussion on June 18 here.

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