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Office of Christian Formation empowers faith formation leaders with monthly office hours

Faith Formation Leader Connection goes deeper into intergenerational formation and curriculum needs

by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Alexis Brown via Unsplash

“How many people are out of power?” was the opening question in a Tuesday night call between Christian formation leaders hosted by the Office of Christian Formation of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Mission associate Miatta Wilson welcomed a group of a dozen church leaders, saying, “It’s great to have people who are from various different parts of the country and time zones.” Many attendees spanning from Lake Arrowhead, California, to upstate New York appeared on camera with snowy landscape scenes outside their windows as they compared notes about the winter storms that swept across the nation. A few participants shared their concerns for weekend vacationers stuck without food, water and power in their remote locations in the San Bernardino Mountains in California, outside of Denver or near Binghamton, New York. Their churches, like other civic groups, wondered how to reach neighbors caught without the resources they needed.

Tuesday’s conversation offered aid of a different kind.

The event was the second gathering of the new monthly “open office hours” called the Faith Formation Leader Connection hosted by the Office of Christian Formation. Coordinator Stephanie Fritz greeted people from her warm RV parked in the Florida Keys and offered prayers for safety for all those affected by the winter storms, including her own daughter and grandchild, who were expected to fly from Denver to Florida later that evening.

Winter storms, remote locations and the pandemic have isolated church leaders, especially those in charge of Christian formation, which increasingly relies on part-time or volunteer labor to set a congregational vision and run a program. During the first in the monthly series, Wilson explained to the group of mostly women what inspired the Faith Formation Leader Connection, whose tagline is “Time to Connect, Learn and Share.”

“We have been looking for additional ways to connect with Christian formation leaders in a variety of contexts and may serve in local congregations or may serve in other places who might be full time, part time, volunteer, retired, working three jobs,” Wilson said of her office that also moderates an active Facebook group for Christian Formation Leaders. “We are offering one gathering during the day and one during the evening each month on the same topic.” February’s theme addressed the idea of intergenerational ministry. Fritz presented three ways to conceptualize intergenerational ministry and invited people to share examples from their church before moving to a presentation of resources from within the PC(USA) and through its partnerships. One such resource is the online training site Opening Doors to Discipleship, a resource developed with the Association of Partners in Christian Education.

The discussion focused on ways to conceptualize intergenerational ministry as a way of being together in formation that is experiential before discussing activities and curriculum meant to enhance the connections between generations. Carol Stanley, director of Children’s Ministries at Lake Arrowhead Community Presbyterian Church in Lake Arrowhead, California, described how her congregation was missing members in their 20s and 30s, as well as people 85 and older, who often move away. Stanley encouraged the group to consider what to do when a generation was missing. Pat Queen, ruling elder at Green Mountain Presbyterian Church in Lakewood, Colorado, wondered what “intergenerational” looks like when the average age of her congregation is 71. Wilson pointed out that adulthood is not a monolith, but a period that spans many generations, and encouraged the group to think of formational relationships beyond child, parent and grandparent. Queen responded that her church’s faith development commission was diving deep into resources by the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network (POAMN) as it considered the various generational phases of those in the “third 30” of life. POAMN is also a mission partner of the Presbyterian Mission Agency through the Office of Christian Formation.

Stephanie Fritz

“We can put all the generations or several generations or two generations in a room together, and sometimes we can call that ‘intergenerational ministries,’” said Fritz, “but what we’re talking about here this evening is really intergenerational formation and how we can go deeper with that.” After her overview of what intergenerational formation is, Fritz directed participants to the Office of Christian Formation’s “Faith Practices Toolkit,” which explains “how to be intergenerational with each other,” before introducing several other resources that Fritz, Wilson and their colleague Janet Hayes had compiled in an online link.

Stanley shared that the most successful all-church retreat her congregation ever held was based on the concept of “being neighbors” using a PC(USA) resource developed by the late Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Fred Rogers. The day before, Feb. 27, marked the 20th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ death, noted Wilson, who also turned attention to the many new resources developed by the Presbyterian Mission Agency for an upcoming special day, March 20, Mister Rogers’ birthday. Using an updated version of Mister Rogers’ original resource and a push on TikTok, among other things, the Presbyterian Mission Agency has launched a campaign to encourage churches to discover, reach out and celebrate their neighbors in new ways. The Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, parish associate at First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego, New York, described intergenerational formation through being good neighbors in her congregation’s approach by involving three scout troops.

Healthy attendance at both of February’s Faith Formation Leader Connection events suggests that a place for leaders serving in various capacities and in various contexts is a welcome support to the challenges that face people invested in Christian formation. Fritz encouraged participants to suggest future topics and to discuss their needs for resource development by the Presbyterian Mission Agency or ideas to pass on to the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

Choosing the right curriculum for age and stage spaces was a popular topic idea for these monthly meetings. A few participants lifted up the needs of working with teenagers and a desire to see a resource on human sexuality and spirituality. The last Presbyterian one, “God’s Gift of Human Sexuality,” had not been updated since the 1990s. Kim Row of Guilford Park Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, has been piecing together resources to supplement that version. Row noted that it is a struggle to get leaders to commit to lead, whether it be a Bible study or a practical living topic. She emphasized how a trusted curriculum that covered all its bases made recruitment easier. “I find whether we have multiple sessions, or if it’s a long retreat, finding leaders is so much easier if number one, it’s a curriculum that they trust,” Row specified, “because if it comes from the PC(USA), they don’t feel like they have to do a lot of homework to figure out if they’re what they’re saying is right.”

Sharing the load of homework is part of what the Office of Christian Formation seeks to accomplish in their monthly gatherings intended to connect, learn and resource those committed to formation in every context. Like good neighbors searching for ways to help others caught without power in a winter storm, Fritz, Wilson and Hayes, who joined the Presbyterian Mission Agency after long careers in Christian formation, hope to share their resources and empower others in their work.

Future 2023 topics and dates for the Faith Formation Leader Connection will be:

March Topic: Resources for Elder/Deacon Training
Thursday, March 9, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, March 28, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

April Topic: Adult Resources
Thursday, April 13, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, April 25, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

May Topic: Children’s Resources
Thursday, May 11, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, May 23, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

June Topic: Help Me Find …
Thursday, June 8, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, June 27, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

July Topic: At-Home Resources
Thursday, July 13, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, July 25, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

August Topic: Youth Resources
Thursday, Aug. 10, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

September Topic: Advent Resources
Thursday, Sept. 14, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

October Topic: Training Leaders
Thursday, Oct. 12, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

November Topic: Matthew 25 Resources
Thursday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time; Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time

For Zoom information, go here. To engage with other faith formation leaders, join the Office of Christian Formation’s Facebook group. To access all resources by the Office of Christian Formation, go here.

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