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Family faith formation leaders in the PC(USA) gather around the table

Faith Formation at Home Symposium shares research, tips and newly funded initiatives

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Faith Formation at Home Symposium participants share the building blocks of their faith during an interactive exercise. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

STONY POINT, New York — Last week, 22 people gathered at Stony Point Center for a Faith Formation at Home Symposium sponsored by the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Christian Formation. Over three days, participants met to share their contexts and wisdom, to learn about new initiatives and resources, and to listen to presentations on formation with Generations Z and Alpha.

The event came on the heels of the announcement of grants from the Lilly Endowment Inc. in the areas of children in worship and Christian parenting and a generous donation to Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Christian Education.

Dr. Kathy Dawson of Columbia Theological Seminary discusses faith for Generation Alpha children, especially as it relates to worship. (Photo by Beth Waltemath)

Dr. Kathy Dawson, professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary, discussed the progress and plans for the “Wonder of Worship” program that has been made possible through a $1.24 million grant awarded last year to the seminary through the Lilly Endowment’s Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. The Presbyterian Mission Agency received a grant of $1.25 million through the Lilly Endowment’s Christian Parenting and Caregiving Initiative. Stephanie Fritz, coordinator for the Office of Christian Formation, discussed how the model that grant has embraced will enhance the training and resources coming out of Columbia Theological Seminary and Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Christian Formation as platforms and networks are built to resource families and faith leaders in the work of spiritual formation.

The symposium offered an opportunity for faith formation leaders within congregations and new worshiping communities in diverse contexts around the country to share questions and dreams to shape the outcomes and timelines of the initiatives. Fritz debuted the name of the initiative, which was announced in July 2023 when the Lilly grant was received. “Around the Table: Communities of Practice Cultivating Faith and Sharing Stories in the Coming and the Going” is designed to equip and support the effort of faith formation happening in households. It aims to holistically support caregivers who will be passing on faith to the next generation through resources including children’s books distributed in partnership with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and coaching cohorts that can respond to the contextual needs of its participants. This initiative will also foster intergenerational faith formation through retreats and coaching cohorts with leaders of faith communities.

The Rev. Traci Smith is the author of the “Faithful Families” book series.

A featured speaker at the event was the Rev. Traci Smith, author of the “Faithful Families” book series. In her books and in her subscriber newsletter, Smith finds joy in sharing accessible practices, even those that are “easy to do in 30 seconds,” so that faith is integrated into a family’s life with intention. In a collaboration between the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Christian Formation and Office of Innovation, Smith spoke to a hybrid audience of more than 50 people about what she had learned as a parent, author and speaker on the topic of faith formation centered on home practices over the past decade. Smith is currently engaged in research into the implementation and effectiveness of faith practices in the home with the Rev. Dr. David Csinos, associate professor of Practical Theology at the Atlantic School of Theology. Smith shared some of the “hunches” gathered in their initial phase of research. “A plan is really important to practicing faith in the home,” Smith said, explaining that even her “easy ideas that take less than a minute” weren’t happening without a plan. “It’s not just magically happening,” Smith admitted. “We have to think about it.”

Along with a plan, “clear direction with flexibility works,” said Smith, who found that her audience needed instructions spelled out but also the permission to experiment. The study also revealed that dates, accountability or an acknowledgement for completion motivated families to develop a practice. While churches shouldn’t treat the families they support like subjects of a study, Smith suggested there was a place for creating a class or small group that would commit to trying a few things and then reconvene to share and celebrate, “perhaps with food or a certificate of completion involved.”

As participants talked across several roundtables over the course of their time together, sharing their contexts and case studies, individuals commented on the dynamic between the organic nature of faith expressed in the home and the more formalized spaces and programs of the church.

The flow between private and public spaces and the ways faith is discussed and supported in these throughout the journey of our lives inspired the final phrase of the Around the Table initiative. “In the coming and the going” reflects a prayer first given in Psalm 121: “The Lord will protect you on your journeys whether going or coming.”

Fritz shared with the group how the image of the table is to be understood as many tables: in the home, with the community and of the church. These tables are both launching places and landing places set to nourish us with stories of our lives, our tradition and our world. Each uniquely reflects God’s presence. When children and youth are living at home, there is a lot of coming home and going out of the home. Young adults may venture farther away from home and the faith communities that shaped them. However, the pull to and from family and communities that form us is something every person experiences throughout their life. Whether a grandparent, parent, young adult, adolescent or child, each generation has new stories to share about their experience in the wander and the wonder of their faith journeys.

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