Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Earlier this month, I posted a blog entitled, “Post-Pandemic — The Many Faces of Faith Formation." There I reflected on the question, “Given all that has shifted during this past year, what would be the best way to pass on the faith to our children (and youth) at this point in time?” Today’s posting should be considered a Part Two — how we might move forward into post-pandemic times as a Church, as congregations, and in our life together as faith communities. My focus in “Part One” was on faith formation. This “Part Two” may appear to have a similar focus; however, the recommendations I offer here will be most effective when approached from the point of view of the life of the entire congregation.
We have learned that family matters, perhaps more than we were previously aware.
So, what have we learned from the pandemic?
Families with young adults saw their grown children return to the “nest,” whether for financial, health, or other reasons. Spouses and partners learned new ways to adapt to (and hopefully enjoy) each other’s constant presence. Children, often with the help of their parents, tried new ways to connect with their schools and social circles. And many families began to experience and appreciate God’s creation more often and in new and creative ways.
As congregations, we can continue to support our families (which come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and configurations) through fostering intentional connections between these families and those who could benefit from having surrogate “families.” And we can support parents/grandparents/caregivers in their essential role of passing on the faith to their children and youth, in particular by offering resources that don’t add “yet one more thing to do” to their already busy and complex lives. Traci Smith has several resources that faithfully enhance family routines such as mealtimes, bedtime, and being in the car together. Faith Inkubators has a great model to use for the bedtime routine. And these conversations and activities can still be shared via Zoom with extended family members! The family will always be the primary vehicle for passing on the faith, and our congregations can offer much-needed support.
We have learned the critical importance of self care.
The fear of contracting COVID-19, the stress of quarantining, the adaptation to total online communications for work and school, the issues of racism, economic disparity, climate change, immigration, and political divisiveness, all came together in a perfect storm of stress, fear, and weakened mental health for many people. The Internet exploded with recommendations for self care and many took advantage of them, experimenting with and adapting them into their daily routines.
As Christian congregations, we have access to a wide variety of self care experiences that have been around for centuries. We call them Christian practices. Perhaps we can now shift our focus from church attendance and committee meetings to intentional, soul-nurturing opportunities for praying together, small group support and learning, singing together, practicing confession and forgiveness, worshipping together as an intergenerational community of faith — especially by celebrating holidays and holy days with all ages. Many people have learned how to slow down their daily routines in order to practice better self care. How can your congregation support and resource a nurturing and conscientious slowing down in the life of your faith community?
We have learned about the faith-forming capacities of intergenerational ministries.
Worship that has been “Zoomed” and “Facebook Lived” into our homes has caused us to be aware that the participants can range from newborns to great-grandparents. And people who live alone and have been especially susceptible to loneliness and isolation have benefitted from online congregational experiences to connect with others in their faith community. Relationships matter
There is no going back. We have no excuse to exclude any of our siblings in Christ from what makes up our life as a community of faith. Whether it be caring for others, celebrating congregational events, engaging in mission opportunities, worshipping together, celebrating life’s milestones , or sharing our Christian Story with each other — everyone is now truly welcome to share their faith together in the events and experiences within the life of your congregation.
I believe that a congregation which puts these three focuses into practice, by virtue of being the Body of Christ together, will grow and strengthen the faith of each and every one of its people in effective and life-giving ways — more than through most of its programs that were in place before the pandemic. In the words of Maria Harris, an internationally acclaimed religious educator who taught at Andover Newton Theological School:
“The church does not have an educational program; the church IS an educational program.”
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...