How2charist: Digital Instructed Eucharist premieres at Forma conference

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Participants at this year’s Forma conference were treated yesterday to a “world premiere” viewing of How2charist: Digital Instructed Eucharist, the brainchild of the Rev. Callie Swanlund in partnership the Episcopal Church’s digital evangelism team.  Forma is the Network for Christian Formation for the Episcopal Church and is currently gathered in Indianapolis for their annual conference where practitioners of faith formation come together to learn and collaborate.   Yesterday’s premiere came more than a decade after the initial idea for How2charist and a month after the film’s soft launch online.  Swanlund reflected on the experience of sharing the project at the conference, saying:

“Being at Forma has been so fantastic because this was always meant to be a communal resource for formation and evangelism, and that’s been evident here: folks have come up to me beaming with pride because they were one of the project backers, or bubbling with excitement about the ways in which they’re dreaming of using it.”

In 2008, Swanlund was a student at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in a class called New Media in Worship & Preaching and was given the assignment by professor Dr. Micah Jackson to come up with a project that incorporated new media into worship.  Drawing inspiration from the popular VH1 television show Pop Up Video, in which music videos are accompanied by trivia facts about the songs, and instructed Eucharist services, in which the liturgy is explained in an accompanying narrative, the idea for the How2charist was born.  

The initial idea came to fruition in the form of a PowerPoint presentation for class, yet Swanlund’s passion for the project never wavered.  Several years later, while working with Jeremy Tackett at Christ Church Raleigh, she shared her vision of making How2charist a resource that could be used in their parish and beyond.  Tackett, who now serves as Digital Evangelist for the Episcopal Church, was able to offer insight and ideas about the technical aspects of the project.  In 2015, they launched an initial Kickstarter campaign which met its fundraising goal in just a matter of hours, but they soon realized that their project could flourish on an even larger scale.  

In 2018, Swanlund partnered with the Episcopal Church’s digital evangelism team to make this a reality.  As project creator, Swanlund launched a new Kickstarter campaign for the project and raised $30,298 from 236 backers; meanwhile, the digital evangelism team offered the technical background and experience to help capture her vision. This past fall, a decade after the original idea, the project was filmed first in English and then in Spanish, with the Spanish version to be made available this spring.

The English version of How2charist is now available online as a free tool for anyone to stream or download, although users must request a free access code to use the materials.  The film clocks in at just over 53 minutes and shows a complete service of Holy Eucharist Rite II.  The website offers options to view How2charist in its entirety or in four parts,  two devoted to the Liturgy of the Word and two devoted to the Liturgy of the Table, and can easily be used for either a one-time showing or for a multi-part class.  The on-screen commentary offers insight about a variety of aspects of the service including, but not limited to, explanations of vestments, historical background for different parts of the service, names for objects used in the liturgy, and descriptions of different roles in the service.

What is perhaps most notable about How2charist is that Swanlund and the Episcopal Church digital evangelism team have produced a teaching tool that is accessible to a variety of ages and contexts.  The musical choices draw from a variety of styles found in the Episcopal Church today, including traditional hymns and service music from The Hymnal 1982, a Caribbean song, and a 16th Century Thomas Tallis motet.  Furthermore, the website includes two versions of a discussion guide to accompany the film, one in black and white and one in color, with questions that are easily adaptable for different ages, from middle school confirmation classes to adult education groups.  

Whether you’re a new Episcopalian or you’ve been an Episcopalian for decades, How2charist  is an exciting teaching tool which offers opportunity for reflection and conversation about why we worship the way we do.

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