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Home church-ing

Home church-ing

by Ann Fontaine

Undoubtedly you have heard of home schooling or as it is also called “unschooling.” Whether you have opinions for it, against it or mixed you can read all about how this movement has spread to all areas of the US among both evangelical fundamentalists who want to keep their children away for those who might teach something counter to their beliefs to parents who feel public school is not offering enough choice or providing enough challenge and variety to their children.

What I have noticed lately is a movement to what I call “home churching.” Parents who want their children to have faith and moral guidance and meaning for life, are teaching their children at home rather than sending them to Sunday school or taking them to church services.

Often a day is set apart without television or internet and time is made for family discussions or experiences of spiritual growth. Family meetings and open discussion of questions about life and meaning are held over a meal that is prepared together. Bible stories may be told. Children may work with art materials or other tactile objects.

I think the reasons for this movement are similar to reasons for home schooling. There is the desire to offer something to children that is not available elsewhere or seems deficient or is not nearby. Another factor may be that Sunday is the only day families are not committed to getting up and getting the kids off to school and parents off to work. Of course for home school-ers and parents who work from home there are other reasons that are similar to reasons for home schooling.

From an “unchurch” family:

We didn’t really know we were doing it until you commented on our practice. We tried going to various churches, but the Episcopal ones were too dusty and the UCC/Unitarian ones were too squishy. Our “unchurching” sort of just evolved organically. The no screens (no TV or computers for children and adults) thing came first. Then we started saying grace. So we always say grace at dinner, even when they are restaurants or at friends’ houses. We say dear lord and amen and even though I don’t particularly believe in the deity. There’s something nice and traditional about it, and it really works for the kids. What we usually say is something for which we are grateful or for something that we hope; typical prayer stuff. We also have a family meeting on Sunday. We sing a song, talk about various issues, like what we want to learn about that week, upcoming trips, and any family stuff like problems we had during the week. I guess the main thing is that we didn’t really say the church is not for us, let’s do something different. It was more just a natural outgrowth of our spirituality and experiences. Although church really doesn’t work for us, I’m not sure we think of ourselves as doing something alternative to it.

Since talking with this family I began notice organizations that offer materials to support parents and children who are “home churching.” Religious groups who support home schooling also provide materials about teaching the faith at home. Some churches offer handouts as take home materials. Many families develop their own way of sharing their spirituality with their children.

Candle Press offers resources for families. Godly Play can be adapted for use in homes. Sharon Pearson at Build Faith shares resources for sharing faith at home. She also gives ideas for creating a prayer space at home.

As with home schooling or unschooling – home churching or unchurching has many approaches. The one common element is a desire for a more holistic experience of faith – not one just relegated to an hour or less on Sunday morning.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar, St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, on the Oregon coast, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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Erin

I realize this is an older thread, but feel compelled to comment. Homeschooling is not the same thing as unschooling. Unschooling is one of many methods of homeschooling. Others include traditional/textbook, Montessori, Waldorf, literature- based, unit study, Charlotte Mason, and classical. This is not an exhaustive list. Also, those who choose to homeschool do not, by default, withdraw from community. There are homeschool groups galore which often serve as a core community. Homeschoolers, from my experience, tend to be more integrated with their communites because that is their world, whereas public- schooled counterparts have, as their world, their school. We began homeschooling when we took our daughter out of kindergarten three years ago. We thought it would be temporary. It isn’t easy, but the rewards and benefits have astounded us. We infuse our faith into our daily lives by celebrating the liturgical year and having a routine of prayer. We also are members of a parish, but there have been seasons where attending a parish was not an option.

[Thanks Erin – please sign your name next time you comment. ~ed.]

Linda Grenz

The “home church” movement is growing nationally — we’ve just been rather unaware of it in our context. This is one incarnation; another is families/people who gather in homes for fellowship and worship. Mostly they are tired of the denominational politics, don’t have the time and energy to help maintain our often elaborate systems (committees, events, things to do, etc.) and they long for something simpler, deeper, more exploring rather than proclaiming….and a place where their kids can be themselves. Another big factor in this is, I suspect, the growing phenomena of parents and children being inseparable — that’s a piece of what underlies the home schooling movement too. For many reasons, many parents are much more connected to their children (all the way through young adulthood) than previous generations.

So, what’s a church to do?

It does occur to me that small churches might, in some cases, be a great place for families like this. Often they are more open to just letting kids be kids in the midst of things and there generally isn’t any place for them to go so children are just part of the mix.

But I also think that we might offer things to support families without requiring them to come to church all of the time….or maybe at all. Our websites could let people “sign up” to get resources via email. I know we have congregations that share our “Live It” resource (table card with a weekly word, scripture passage, focus question) that way. CandlePress has several things that work in this context…..and we have churches who offer some of our materials in that manner.

Since we have the free Sunday School lessons on the TEC website, why don’t churches just link to them and invite families to help themselves — or better yet, invite them to sign up for something you email them occasionally (so you have a connection). That might both support families like this and open the door to their coming to church as their children grow older. Meanwhile, invite them to special events. One popular one is to promote a Christmas pageant that is open to all — just show up, put on a costume and join the parade. My last church did that and was packed with kids from all over….and it was an entry point for families.

Maybe the growing movement towards Wednesday night church (meal, Christian Ed, choir, parents involved) is another response. That’s a much more informal environment and might be more welcoming to and comfortable for families like this.

Finally, we really do need to do a better job of caring for our children. Shoving them off to a room with broken toys and a couple of teens isn’t what any church should be doing. Let’s clean up our act — literally and figuratively!

Bill Dilworth

Maria, the circumstances you posit put the family in the position of rejecting the local community not for reasons of convenience or preference, but because the local community is morally/religiously unacceptable. Under those circumstances I’d find home churching a moral obligation, I think. I might also think I had an parental obligation to get my family the hell out of Dodge, or maybe help plant a congregation I did find acceptable.

Maria L. Evans

Much has been said on this thread and I really don’t care to rehash anything–but I will throw in a line or two from a rural perspective.

What if the family in question found that every church in their small community found gays abhorrent, and consigned all manners and sorts of people to hell on a regular basis for things that would seem piddly to the most conservative person in the “progressive church?” That would be reason enough for me to home church my hypothetical kids.

That said, my experience is that over time, “outcasts” learn to recognize their own, and find ways to coalesce. It just might not be in a form recognizable as “our grandparents’ church.” My gut feeling is this can be a form of mission just as wild as what Roland Allen sought to do in China.

Isaac Bradshaw

The difference between the Navajo youth group and “home-churching” is that the the Navajo teens aren’t developing a spirituality derivative of their consumer choice; it’s being developed and defined within a clear external source. Their relationship to their ethnicity, the Native spirituality, their Christian community, etc. is what’s defining them, not their consumerism.

The best resource we can offer is page 136 of the Prayerbook and an authentic Christian community. We shouldn’t offer resources for a self-defined spirituality devoid of external references. That’s just a simulacrum of the Faith, and nothing of Faith-ful value is getting passed down.

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