Debbie Gline Allen, C.M.C.F.
I invite you to take a moment to think back to what you were doing in your congregation a year ago. (Could you have even imagined where we’d be just a year later?!) What were your definitions of the words “adaptive” and “flexible” at that time? Oh, how naive we were then.
Yet look at all we’ve accomplished in just over six months! Look at all of the adaptations, pivots, and experiments we’ve undertaken. We have learned so much in a very short period of time. Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. Well done, good and faithful servants!
I have been observing these learnings we’ve encountered and wish to lift up three that have significant impacts on our ministries with children, youth, and adults. They were with us as we were engaging in our ministries last year, but without being able to gather in person, in the buildings we have come to know as “where faith formation happens,” we are now expanding our understandings of who we are as people of God and how we minister together while apart.
We Are the Church
We have often said that the Church is more than a building, but it took being away from our buildings to bring this concept into stark focus. Before, we tended to do church things at church. We opted to meet and connect with church people at church. And we worshiped God mainly at church. It offered us the opportunity to save most of our Christian practices for when we showed up at the church building. Now that we have been staying away from our church buildings, we are realizing that these relationships and Christian practices still need to be maintained. We have learned that faith formation is more relational than a church program. We exchanged our pews for couches, porches, and home office chairs. Our sanctuaries have become living rooms, Breakout Rooms, and back yards. We are doing more than gathering virtually — we are connecting with each other, out of our need for relationship and our need to engage with each other spiritually. We have learned that our faith is actually an everyday faith that we take into every building, and essentially share in every relationship.
Intergenerational Ministry Begins in the Home
Overnight the parents in our congregations became their children’s school teachers, whether they wanted to or not. They also became their children’s “Sunday School teachers,” whether they knew it or not. Without the ability to connect with the children face-to-face, we are relying on their parents (and grandparents and caregivers) to access our YouTube videos, to click on the Zoom links, and open the mailed or delivered “Sunday School care packages” with their children. And they are learning along with their children (we hope)! This is the moment we’ve been waiting for — when children, youth, and adults can come together to share and include everyone’s spirituality. Intergenerational ministry is more than a goal from yesteryear; it is a necessary part of the process of practicing faith in our homes. It is a necessary part of reaching out to those in need, be it the elderly members of our congregations, the neighbors down the street that we never really knew before, or the people serviced by the homeless agencies and food pantries in our communities. Intergenerational ministry is a critical element in the process of making disciples.
Our Goals are the Same
While it feels as if everything in our lives has changed with the spread of COVID-19, we must remember that our faith formation goals remain the same: we strive to form disciples, to show people the love and justice of Jesus, to engage them in prayer, worship, generosity, and spiritual growth. Keeping these key focuses in mind, we are able to pivot, adapt, and respond in new ways to ensure that our people continue to have faith-forming experiences, even when we can’t be together in person. Even when we have video screens between us. Even when we need to stay six feet apart.
We have learned much in the year 2020. And we continue to learn as our sheltered lives shift and change with each state’s updated COVID-19 guidelines. Our skills for adapting and remaining flexible will continue to be honed. And we continue to rely on God’s presence and guidance as we bless the people we minister to, and who, in turn, bless us.
I pray that the most important learning you have gleaned from this sheltered time be how truly blessed we are to be servants in the ministry of faith formation.
Debbie Gline Allen is the Secretary and Digital Missioner for the Association of United Church Educators, and serves the Southern New England Conference United Church of Christ as an Associate for Faith Formation and Youth Ministries. She lives in Derry, NH with her spouse, two sons, and beloved cats.