It's not your father's Vacation Bible School

Prepackaged curricula for summertime Vacation Bible School have been around for awhile. Has your church assessed the costs and benefits of VBS-in-a-box? The Clarion Ledger reports:

The Bible, which was the only book some churches used during VBS back then, since has been replaced with prepackaged materials manufactured by church supply companies, which include step-by-step curriculums, CDs, recreation and games supplies and ideas, decorations, promotional materials, souvenirs and ready-to-make crafts. Everything in the package revolves around a theme. In [one church's] case, the theme was "Game Day Central: Where Heroes Are Made," developed by LifeWay Christian Resources, which has more than 100 stores nationwide.

Isabella Evans, assimilation and outreach coordinator for New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, said churches are following other VBS trends, which include holding adult VBS, community outreach VBS and afternoon or night VBS to accommodate working mothers who wish to volunteer.
But some churches have reverted to the old-style methods of VBS after trying prepackaged materials.

Sarah Buffington, VBS chairwoman for St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, said planners there felt the children were having fun but were missing out on Bible history....

Read it all, here.

Religion and college students

The Social Science Research Council has a new website that offers a series of essays about the religious engagement of college students. Here is the SSRC explanation for the website:

Recent studies of college students' attitudes toward religion suggest that the academy is no longer the bastion of secularism it was once assumed to be. And these studies further reveal that the spiritual landscape on today's college campuses is virtually unrecognizable from what we've seen in the past. Evangelicalism--often in the form of extra-denominational or parachurch campus groups--has eclipsed mainstream Protestantism. Catholicism and Judaism, too, are thriving, as are other faiths.

To help make sense of these changes, the SSRC offers this online guide, which was derived from a series of essays it commissioned from leading authorities in the field of religion and higher education.

SSRC President Craign Calhoun offers further thoughts in his preface to the website:

By now, most college professors have noticed that there is renewed religious engagement among American undergraduates. Or at least they have heard this in the media. Fewer are in active conversations with students about matters of religion. Fewer still have a nuanced understanding of the patterns of their students’ religious participation and exploration.

One reason for this is that much of the religious engagement on American campuses takes place outside the classroom. At the same time, the extent to which professors are engaged with students’ extracurricular lives has declined with the increasing scale of universities, the emphasis on research productivity, and the growth in numbers of non-faculty advisors and other student services professionals. This means that many professors have little first-hand knowledge of the context of their students’ religious or spiritual lives. If they stop to consider these at all, moreover, they are likely to do so on the basis of the memory of their own student days or projection based on what they’ve seen in the media.

Memory can be specifically misleading. As the essays in our forum inform us, the proportionate role of mainline Protestant denominations in campus religious life has declined in recent years. While there are still campus Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists, growth has been mostly among Baptists and Catholics and members of other faith communities – from Buddhists to Muslims to observant Jews. What’s more, campus religious life is less denominationally organized. “Parachurch” organizations like the Campus Christian Fellowship play very large roles. These may or may not be formally recognized affiliates of specific campuses; they usually are not organized under chaplaincies. But they are centers of religious engagement – and importantly, this is often intellectual engagement. Students in these organizations discuss how to interpret the content of their courses – often without the knowledge of their instructors – as well as how to understand the big issues of the day. And – contrary to stereotypes – this is an active part of life at schools like Princeton, not just at less elite and more explicitly religious institutions.

The SSRC website can be found here. Among the more interesting essays are "Do Religious Students Do Better?" and "How Does College Affect Students’ Religious Beliefs?"

For those who have worked in college ministry, what has been your experience? Is there a renewed interest in religion on campus? What should the Episcopal Church do in response?

Christology, the emerging church and engagement

Maggi Dawn has an interesting post that starts off addressing questions about Christology and the emerging church, and how the latter has received some criticism for not having enough of the former. She goes on from there, however, to address how we as Christians engage the non-Christian world we often find ourselves living in. She notes Friedrich Schleiermacher's efforts in the early 19th century to reconcile faith and reason:

As Schleiermacher tells it, when people encounter God they do not first of all become aware of God as a doctrinally complete concept, nor of a three-personed Trinity. It takes time and patience to understand the God one initially encounters, and doctrines like Trinity and Christology are ways of learning to understand and articulate that encounter.

Rather than accusing the emerging church of having an immature theology, however, Dawn is pointing out the similarities between the emerging church--indeed, many of the movements that downplay creeds and doctrine--and Schleiermacher's attempts to, as Dawn writes, "get these people to understand that true Christianity was not the passionless affair they thought it was, but precisely what would meet their deep longing for spiritual truth."

That points to the greater challenge for postmodern evangelists, a word I use with reservation because of its connotations, in secular society, with extremely conservative approaches to Christianity. It is one thing for those within the faith to debate the this-and-thats of Christian theology, including the nature of the Trinity. However, these debates about doctrines and correctness, as well as the "language of religion" itself, may be the barrier that keeps people who shun religion from becoming, or becoming aware that they are, disciples:

...for those who live as Christians in a culture that despises religion, there may be good reason to have a thorough-going orthodox Christology but not wear it on your sleeve in everyday conversation. Why would that be? Because if you frequently find yourself as the only Christian in a group of people you work or socialise with, you cannot help but be alive to the fact that the language of religion fails to connect people to any lively interest in Jesus or Christianity. For those of us who live in that kind fo culture (and I'm speaking here of 21st century England), however important an orthodox Christology is to me, it's not the first thing that arises when debating religious issues with those who are strangers to the faith. In my experience, people are more interested initially in whether and why observing religion at all is a viable possibility in 21st century Britain. In such conversations, I find myself describing what religion is not, and making connections between other people's spiritual experience, not to say they are all the same, but to say that in my experience true Christianity is not the outmoded museum piece people imagine, but precisely the kind of spiritual reality that we long for.

The essay, and some lively responses in the comments to it, are here.

Doing church differently

Simon Barrow, one of the editors of Ekklesia writes on his discovery of a new book by James F. Hopewell, Congregation: Stories and Structures, available online here.

Along with the World Council of Churches' conversations about "the missionary structure of the congregation" back in the 1960s; Bonhoeffer's reflections on church, discipleship and ethics; the work of the Alban Institute; the Christian community movement; and base ecclesial communities (BECs) in Latin America and elsewhere, Hopewell is really one of the pioneers of all the change-agency based explorations of practical ecclesiology which have come so much into vogue in recent years
According to Barrow:
At the time of his death in 1984, James F. Hopewell was Professor of Religion and the Church and Director of the Rollins Center for Church Ministries at the Candler School of theology, Emory University. Published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1987, his book 'Congregations' was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

It would be interesting to know what Hopewell would have made of all the current talk of deep church, emerging church, liquid church, new ways of being church, fresh expressions of church - and the like, I expect he would have said that linguistic inflation is not a substitute for the hard slog of doing church as a conserving and emancipatory expression of the Gospel in action.

Barrow also discusses Communities of Liberating Conviction at his blog, Faith in Society.

So what can and should the church-as-witness be, in different ways and in different places? The answer is a vulnerable but hopeful group of people narrated together in the story and life of Jesus, in such a way that we find ourselves linking worship (the right designation of worth-ship), prayer (seeking the grace to live beyond our means), eucharist (the celebration of God in the fleshly and the material), common life (people-at-odds who surprisingly find each other in the face of Christ) and politics (re-rendering power in terms of giving rather than claiming).

A theological conversion

Young blogging theologian Chris Tilling describes his "conversion experience" from hardcore fundamentalist after listening to Walter Brueggemann:

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Recovering apprenticeship for the newly ordained

The Alban Institute and the Lily Endowment are beginning a project to assist the newly ordained make the transition from seminary to ordained ministry, as well from the life as a lay person in a congregation to pastoring a congregation.

The process uses some old techniques: mentors, apprenticeships in congregations dedicated to the ministry of forming new pastors etc. And it includes new stuff: understanding of congregational systems, new learning on the changed role and status of religious institutions in society, and wider use of peers and mentors outside the new congregation.

The newly ordained person, the supervising pastor, the new congregation and the outside peers and mentors come together as a community of practice to make the transition time a period of learning and vision rather than one of disorientation and--as too often occurs--trauma.

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Prayers for the election

Prayers for the Election
(before, during, and after)

A Prayer for the Day of the Election

Almighty God, source of all grace and truth,
to whom we must account for all our decisions
and for all our powers and privileges,
Guide us in the election of our officials and representatives.
Give us grace to see ourselves, as individuals and as a people,
not as we want to see ourselves, but as you see us:
as we are and as you are calling us to be,
That we might see the candidates,
not as they want us to see them, but as you see them:
as they are and as you would call them to be.
Help us to discern your will for our choices,
that we may act and vote, not out of fear, nor out of anger,
nor out of any form of thoughtless bias or prejudice,
but out of your truth and love. Amen

A Prayer Before Voting

God of grace,
as I cast my vote,
remind me that I do so as a citizen of your kingdom.
In the name of the One
who showed us how to lead by serving,
Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for after the Election

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:
We commend this nation to your merciful care,
that being guided by your Providence,
we may dwell secure in your peace.
Grant to the President of the United States,
the Governor of this State, and to all in authority,
wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.
Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness,
and make them ever mindful of their calling
to serve this people in your fear;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

HT to The Rev. Ken Howard of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Diocese of Washington

Leaps of faith

Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker writes:

"There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that?"

The article focuses on quarterbacks and teachers, but what of priests? How can you tell ahead of time whether a candidate will succeed?

On Campus: looking forward to Lent

There seems to be a growing movement of the spiritual discipline of fasting on campuses by Christians, partially inspired by other religious traditions.

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'All together now': Sunday mornings and the collective mindset

Over at Episcopal Life Online, Mary Jane Wilkie of the Church of the Holy Apostles, New York City, proposes a possible vision for the future of Sunday School, when dwindling supplies of money and people may force churches to push their resources together.

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To baptize or not to baptize

Two stories on whether or not to baptize one's children appeared this week.

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Christ the King of what, precisely?

Watch out for the tautological landmines, but David Adams offers a painful and incisive indictment: Jesus would not have been a Christian. No way, no how.

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Nation's oldest Episcopal camp celebrates 125 years

The nations oldest Episcopal camp celebrates 125 years:

Episcopal Church's oldest camp celebrates 125 years
From Episcopal News Service

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Christian Educators: equipping the saints for mission

The National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors reports on the recent gathering in Charlotte NC. Sunday school teachers, Christian education directors and specialists, seminary professors, publishers, Episcopal Church Center leadership, publishers and bishops came to the 14th annual "Tapestry" conference this year.

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buildingfaith via The Episcopal Church

The publishing arm of The Episcopal Church, Church Publishing Inc., recently started a blog for the Christian Ed community called buildingfaith. Posts come from a team of contributors assembled by Sharon Pearson.

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Church schools as islands of inclusion

Most people in the West tend to think of a "church school" as a place where people, who object to the political correctness and secular morals of a public education, send their children to be educated in a way that supports their family values. And that's certainly the case for many private Christian academies here in the States. But in England the schools run by the Church of England are some of the only places where children can be educated in a climate that represents a true cross-section of their communities.

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"Time to panic about kid's education"

A recently released report has some sobering news for American parents. Children in the U.S. are falling further behind world standards in education. Some of that may be due to an increasing focus in other nations, but it's alarming that the American system isn't able to keep pace.

LZ Granderson writing on CNN's blog makes this point:

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Adult faith formation that doesn't work

St. Mary’s in St. Paul, Minn., is described as "a growing faith community." Nevertheless, its rector, Rev. LeeAnne Watkins, says adult faith formation has been tried in every form conceivable but has failed to attract consistent energy or attendance. So, at this point, it's done for now. "We've cancelled it all," she confesses.

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A dumb question I have been meaning to ask

I have had question on my mind for a few weeks that I have only recently decided is worth asking.

Is it important that we speak compellingly about Jesus?

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What is the role of catechism in our churches?

Leroy Huizenga offers interesting perspective on the role of cathechetics, writing on Krista Tippitt's blog, On Being. While his piece centers mostly on practices in the Catholic Church, I'm interested in how Episcopal churches are incorporating old-fashioned cathechism into religious education. He writes:

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Episcopal Youth Event to be held at Villanova University next July

From the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs:

[June 8, 2013] The popular Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) will be held at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia, PA. Slated for July 9-13, 2014, EYE14 is being planned in partnership with the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

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Passing on the faith: 6 essentials

Phyllis Tickle offers her six essentials for passing on the faith at Patheos:

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Unprepared pastors

Were you or were the clergy you know prepared for pastoring a congregation by their education? Thom S. Rainer talks about eight ares where many are unprepared for the job they are called to do:

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Soul School

Social media is offering a wide variety of tools to churches for formation and connection. Episcopal News Service reports:

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Asperger's and the pew

Brant Hansen describes his experiences of growing up in the church and spending time with Christians his whole life, and of how that's gone in light of the fact he's been living with Asperger's the whole time.

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Christmas in June?

Christmas in June? From the Rev. Luke Fodor:

"Children from St John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor, New York joined the Rev. Luke Fodor, actress Regina Schneider and film maker Michael Fairchild in an acting workshop to tell the story of the nativity in their own way. Shooting the film in June allowed the youngsters to concentrate on the story without all the distractions of the Christmas holiday season.

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How To Be A Crazy Christian: the Big Class with +Michael Curry

The Rt Rev Michael Curry and ChurchNext are offering The Big Class: How to Be a Crazy Christian beginning January 27. Over 700 people around the world have signed up for this online course.

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What if you shut down your Sunday School?

Day Smith Prichartt writes about an alternative approach to religious education for children:

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Can the church help people find meaning in their work?

Lay people are eager to make their working lives more rewarding, says a recent study by the Barna Group, but the church is not providing much in the way of direction.

According to recent research on vocation and calling:

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Alban Institute to close

Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service reports that The Alban Institute will be closing. From her story:

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GTS embarks on the 'way of wisdom.'

Believing that the ways of academic specilization and business-style management is leaving the church bereft, the Dean and faculty of General Seminary are embarking on an experiment to integrate theological education with the daily, lived experience of the church. They are calling this exploration "The Way of Wisdom."

A statement from the faculty:

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Sarah Palin's Troubling Theology of Baptism

Over the weekend, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, former Vice-presidential candidate and current presence on reality television, gave a speech to the National Rifle Association.  

It covered the same ground as the other speeches at the convention, except for this remark, made when she was lamenting the US's foreign policy: "Well, if I were in charge they [the terrorists] would know that water boarding is how we baptize terrorists."  The crowd, already primed, cheered and applauded.

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Reexamining Sunday School

Nurya Love Parish, blogging in advance of Virginia Theological Seminary's eFormation Conference, poses some good questions about the way we structure Christian formation for children and youth in the Episcopal church.  

She asks why we continue to assume formation will happen on Sunday mornings, in 1 hour blocks, taught by adult volunteer teachers, then continue to lament the fact that attendence lags behind our ideal.  

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Roger Ferlo speaks on the ecology of theological education

In a recent convocation at the Columbus, OH campus of Bexley-Seabury, President Roger Ferlo spoke about the ecosystem of theological education which includes, families, congregations, pastors, mentors, dioceses (and especially Commissions on Ministry), seminaries and Anglican studies programs, the Board of Examining Chaplains + the General Ordination Exam (GOE), Episcopal Schools, college and miltary chaplaincies and the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes.

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