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Moving beyond Sunday morning Christian education

Sustaining Circles of Faith panelists tell APCE attendees what’s been working for them during the pandemic

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Element 5 Digital via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — One by one, and sometimes in pairs or trios, denominational partners of the Association of Partners in Christian Education rose Saturday to tell those attending APCE’s annual even in Chicago and online how they’re sustaining their faith communities, especially as pandemic obstacles to faith formation enter their third year.

“Our intention has been to encourage and equip people to move beyond Sunday morning,” said Karen DeBoer, creative resource developer for Faith Formation Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church, said as part of the Sustaining Circles of Faith Panel held during the event’s final morning.

Karen DeBoer

“We know being willing to let go of preconceived plans and being open and curious about the new thing the Holy Spirit is doing isn’t always easy, but it can be transformational.”

One example, as related by the Rev. Lesli van Milligen, a regional catalyzer for Eastern Canada: an aging congregation in Ontario experiencing a pastoral vacancy was one day joined on their doorstep by two Farsi-speaking people who said, “We would like to join you.” The congregation proved so welcoming it’s now doubled in size and recently celebrated its 100th adult baptism.

“We at Faith Formation Ministries encourage people to lean into their faith practices,” van Milligen said. Churches growing because of new members who have a different language than most people in the congregation “need weekly communion, because it transcends language and it speaks to welcome.”

“They have become a church of all nations. It has meant letting go and letting God invite them to something new,” van Milligan said, reminding attendees what Dr. Tom Long told event attendees three years ago: “Our task is to be on hand for what the Lord has at hand, but we do not yet have in hand.”

Dr. Emily Hill, education program coordinator for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, said Presbyterians in Canada “have been doing faith formation on Zoom and in backyards.” The Rev. Nicole Reid uses Cornerstone Ministries to encourage children to visit the farm she operates, take a hay ride, visit the animals in the barn and “talk about Jesus in a non-judgmental way.”

Dr. Emily Hill

The Newcomers Mission meets at a local Tim Horton’s in Peterborough, Ontario, to provide hands-on ministry to Arabic-speaking immigrants in Canada. The Rev. Rani Ibrihim came to Canada six years ago a Syrian refugee who “felt called by God to help other newcomers,” Hill said. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church said it would support him as he welcomes others by offering English as a second language classes, helps people secure employment and offers worship services in Arabic. “His ministry is about making relationships in the community,” Hill said.

The Rev. Andrea Perrett is a Registered Dietitian and pastor who supports the online ministry Breaking Bread Network. “It’s a ministry that has nothing to do with being in a building,” Hill explained. “While we bake, we have spiritual conversations” among bread-bakers who are both Christian and non-Christian.

“I’ve met only two of them, but it’s been a support system for so many people,” Hill said. “Getting outside the church has been so good. Our ministries are sustained by the Holy Spirit, and it is through the Holy Spirit’s guiding that we take risks and go in different directions. The Spirit is calling the church to grow in the circle of faith and to draw that circle wider.”

When the pandemic subsides, “let’s not just run back to our buildings to be comfortable communities again,” Hill suggested. “God has called us to love them, and God has called them to love us. We are gathered so we can be a sent people.”

Stephanie Fritz

Stephanie Fritz, mission coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said it’s been “amazing to hear all these stories from denominational partners in one place this morning.”

“My challenge to all of us as educators is when we pick up that new book and learn a new approach to education that we see that through the lens of storytelling,” Fritz said. “We [in APCE} model authentic storytelling. We share our failures and our struggles just as we share our successes. We are not in competition! We are sharing our stories and we are certainly widening that circle of faith together.”

“APCE has always been about equipping educators to share their ministries of faith.”

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