Over the next few months we will be lifting up stories from all over the conference to highlight the many different ways congregations throughout Wisconsin are finding to approach Shift in their particular context. In this post, I share a story about Shift as it relates to Faith Formation from Rev. RaeAnn Beebe and St. Paul’s UCC in Oshkosh.
RaeAnn writes: “We do not have that many children in our congregation. For many years we had the traditional style of Sunday School with classes based on age or grade in school and of course it was held on Sunday mornings—sometimes before worship and sometimes at the same time as worship. Our attendance was sporadic for a number of years and at times there was only one child in a class. This just wasn’t working for us. We decided we didn’t want to eliminate an intentional form of faith formation for children as some churches have done. We needed to come up with a plan that would work for us. As we discussed the possibilities we zeroed in on our Wednesday night service called The Path that incorporated Confirmation and worship. The Faith Formation Team decided to expand the concept and include the children in this as well. Many of the families would be bringing one of their children to Confirmation on Wednesday nights anyway. We start with a simple meal at 5:30 pm. Participation is voluntary, but most of the families participate!
There are also several adults with no children who participate in this meal and service as well, so it isn’t just children and their families. Meals are provided by the families who attend and a free will offering is taken to pay for the meal. After supper at 6pm we gather in the sanctuary and share the story for the night. We then break up into three groups—those in kindergarten and under, those 1st grade up to 6th grade, and 7th grade to adult—to explore the story more. Sometimes we stay together and work on a project. It is very interactive and we will try anything once or maybe even twice! We end the service together.
Over time we’ve noticed that relationships are certainly building among the generations. The children are excited to participate and take part in the service (I have more volunteers then I need most of the time!).
If you are reading this, you’re probably aware that in more and more of today’s congregations, like St. Paul’s in Oshkosh, the long-valued model of Sunday school is no longer feasible for a variety of reasons. This is not our fault! We didn’t do anything wrong and there’s nothing we can do to fix it so that it will be like it was. At the same time, learning and growing in faith remains one of the most important callings of our congregations. It is a primary role of our churches to guide and encourage children, youth and adults as we journey throughout life as God’s faithful people. So what are we to do?
There is no single answer to this question. Every congregation has to discover its own way. Every context will require something different based on what is already happening, who is there and what their particular interests, gifts, needs and abilities happen to be. The good news is that in the midst of our exploring and grappling, we are not alone. We can accompany one another, share our stories, point to resources, brainstorm ideas, learn from our failures and find fresh ways to be the church in today’s world. In the Conference office we are working on strengthening the network of people with expertise in the area of faith formation so that they can continue to provide support and encouragement to congregations that decide to pursue a Shift in Faith Formation.
If you have a story to share about how your congregation is Shifting in some way, whether it’s in Faith Formation, Leadership Development, Community Engagement, Justice Ministries or Alternative models for Governance or Staffing, I encourage you to share your story here or send it to me to be included in a future post.
Carry on faithful servants! I look forward to hearing from you.
We’d love to highlight a story from your congregation in this space. Send your stories to me, Tisha Brown, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on SHIFT : wcucc.org/shift