Faith Formation at Diocesan Convention

Faith Formation at Diocesan Convention

by Anne Clarke, Lifelong Christian Formation Coordinator, The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California

“Faith formation is about making space and drawing people together to share and heal old pains, and discern together new possibilities. In doing so, we need to trust the leaders that God gives us and recognize our own leadership.”

“The vehicle used is not as important as the relationships that are formed. The Holy Spirit works to bring us together.”

“How can we provide deeper sharing experiences in the context of Sunday worship to reach those who don’t come to events?”

“We need to involve more of the congregation in youth ministry.”

These are just a few of the wise, fascinating, honest and even painful sentences that were shared at our Table Discussion about Christian Formation at 2015 Diocesan Convention. (Pictured above is a "word cloud" that was create from the responses captured during the table talk discussions.) If you were not with us for this year's Convention in Redding, here is a glimpse of what we did: we gathered for about an hour in the midst of our business to talk together in small groups about experiences that had helped us grow in faith. Each group worked together to identify some common themes in our stories and to answer the question: what about these formation experiences made them transformative?

Several groups discerned important ingredients in faith formation, looking at the process of growing in faith in the midst of community almost like a recipe that can be copied and refined over time. One group said that “faith seems to grow in an atmosphere of fellowship and intellectual stimulation,” while another made the observation that “transformation occurred at the intersection of novelty and outreach.” Many groups noted that relevance to “real life” and current events was essential for real transformation, while several others noted that some basic ingredients like studying the Bible or the lives of the saints never seemed to lose their appeal and ability to transform a group.

There were also several fascinating insights into the role of the community in each individual’s growth as a Christian; in the words of one group, “individual transformation often occurs in group settings.” Another group elaborated: “Transformation is not necessarily an isolated event in one’s life. The community itself can be helpful in determining the possibilities for transformation in one’s life.” Many people echoed the sentiment of Aubrey Miller in the video that those who are willing to lead a group in some kind of formational activity often feel like they gain the most from the experience. That’s not to say that leadership is easy or straightforward: that kind of leadership is transformative in the way that it teaches us that “each group is led by the Holy Spirit and the path is not always straight.” In gratitude, several groups noted that they had learned that God would show up in our gatherings and lead us to transformation even when we weren’t sure what that looked like or if we were capable of it. I loved these words from one group: “God works with who we are, not with our fantasies of ourselves.” Several groups shared strikingly honest feedback and questions: “It’s all we can do to gather on Sunday.” “How do we make what we do relevant to younger people?”

This gathering was a sign and symbol to me that we are better together than we are on our own: better equipped to ask these difficult questions, better able discern the path forward and name the presence and guidance of God among us, better prepared to be courageous enough to ask God to keep transforming us. I’m glad to be walking with you all on this journey. I’ll leave you with the poetic words of one group who summed up this journey of growing and becoming quite beautifully:

It starts with a need, an awareness of emptiness, a question unanswered, a yearning.
It leads to searching, asking, joining, disagreeing, discussing.
It causes introspection, evaluation, understanding.
It becomes a response, a change, an opportunity to become more than you were.


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