APCE workshop devises models for families to engage worship, Christian education
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
GALVESTON, Texas — One hour.
More and more, that’s all that busy, tired families say they have for worship and Christian education on Sunday morning. How do pastors and church educators meet harried families where they are?
“We think current models are not working with our busy families,” said Anne Wilson, co-chair of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ annual event held last week at the Galveston Island Convention Center and surrounding hotels and attended by about 700 people.
Wilson and her fellow co-chair, Priscilla Andre-Colton, teamed up to teach the “One Hour: Worshiping, Educating, Building Community as Families” workshop, which attracted an overflow crowd. “What are they dealing with?” Wilson asked, and workshop attendees named plenty of competing activities and pressures: sports, jobs, extra-curricular events, over-scheduling, health concerns, the lack of time off from work, divorce, academics, exhaustion and others.
“That’s a big list,” Wilson said. “We are seeking a new model for fostering faith formation. Our goal is to figure out how to do this and minister to our families.”
Assisting with the workshop was Karen De Boer of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, the creative resource developer for Faith Formation Ministries.
She said as a child of the 1970s, she remembers a more traditional era of Christian education for Reformed believers in Canada.
“We put on a white blouse and a little blue skirt and we were called Calvinettes,” she said. “Today families are exhausted and overwhelmed and unsure how to nurture their kids at home. Life has changed for families, and it could be the church needs to change, too.”
There are at least two challenges for scheduling activities designed to appeal to overworked families, she said: families shouldn’t feel like they must attend, and they don’t need more things to do.
De Boer advocates for a number of shifts in emphasis as new family ministry is developed:
- From programs to relationships. “Programs aren’t necessarily bad,” she said. “But what we offer, we want to do well.”
- From pathologizing or idealizing families into tapping into their strengths and resilience.
- From passing on the faith to living into the faith by discovering opportunities for families to serve together.
- From serving families to empowering them by providing opportunities for families “to grapple with what’s going on,” she said.
- From congregation-centered to community-centered ministry. Churches and ministries should be encouraged to “loosen our grasp to equip families to live out their faith in places where they are,” she said.
After learning something about the problem, workshop participants around each table set out to discover solutions.
“We’re going to put you to work doing some designing,” Andre-Colton said. Churches, she noted, are trying a number of alternatives to traditional worship, including the Messy Church movement that came out of the United Kingdom. According to a promotional video, Messy Church is about “coming to God as you are and seeing what the Christian community is all about.” It involves food, education, arts and crafts, and fun for families.
“Even though it’s messy doesn’t mean it’s not planned,” Andre-Colton said. Messy Church organizers say they spend eight hours planning for each hour of activity, she said.
The pray-ground concept provides a place in front of the sanctuary where young children can experience worship through age-appropriate worship materials and tools that will help keep them engaged in worship.
Near the conclusion of the workshop, participants at each of about eight tables designed their own models, which they presented to the larger group.
“Let’s dream big, but be practical,” Wilson said, and participants for the most part heeded her call. “If each table comes up with a model, you might get an idea that can make a difference for your congregation.”
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