Faith Forming Ecosystem

February 27, 2015

John Roberto is a well-known voice in the area of faith formation.JohnRoberto-450 His book and initiative, Faith Formation 2020 has touched the lives of many. He has inspired churches to think beyond their current membership to those who may not even be aware of what they might be hungering for spiritually.

In other work he has focused on faith formation across the spectrum of ages and the gift of intergenerational learning. Roberto has explored technology and launched many web initiatives similar to our own that address what it means to have vibrant faith, to do faith formation, and to be ecumenical in our sharing. His impact reaches far beyond the Roman Catholic Church that he calls home.

Earlier this week John Roberto began a series of blogs bringing together these various enterprises of which he’s been a part. He’s calling it creating a faith forming ecosystem. In this first linked post, he lays out the various components of this ecosystem and promises five more posts in the series delving into each of these components. It should definitely be food for thought for those in educational ministry to consider how these might play out in individual congregations, but also in collaborative groups like this one.

Kathy Dawson, Associate Professor of Christian Education, Columbia Theological Seminary


Covenant Bible Study – series for Adults

Posted by Vicki Garvey on February 27th, 2015

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“The Bible is inspired and a holy set of texts precisely because it tells the truth about life, even our lives. We live on those pages; we know those people and they know us.”

There’s a lot to like about the Covenant Bible Study (Abingdon Press, 2014), which is geared to adults. There are 24 episodes divided into three areas: Creating, Living, Trusting. A short video segment introduces each episode, starring… Talking Heads – yes, but engaging ones.

A visiting scholar, one well-versed in the topic of the day who is not only knowledgeable but also approachable and who has a charmingly contemporary approach to ancient texts, is joined by the segment hosts. The hosts, one a Presbyterian pastor and the other a United Methodist pastor, take our place, so to speak, at the table where they have conversations, pose questions and wonder aloud.

Setting and Sequence
The scholars discussing each topic change according to their field of expertise, while the co-hosts provide stability—as does that table. Constructed especially for this program, it is the sturdy symbol of the ongoing conversation that moves not only from biblical text to biblical text but also from appropriate setting to appropriate setting.

When they meet to study Ruth, Esther and Song of Songs for instance, the table is in the midst of an opulent tent decorated with lush plant life and draperies. The visit with the newly minted People of God who are on the move, takes place at the table in the middle of a wilderness.

Instead of moving through the Bible in the order of the pagination of most of editions—a tedious process for all but the most die-hard biblical fan clubs—this program moves through the stories according to a rubric of the three segments.

The series begins with Genesis and moves directly to Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers in the following episode, lulling us in to expect Deuteronomy and the Former Prophets (Joshua, et al.) as the next act on the biblical hit parade. But in a surprising turn, we find ourselves in Matthew and Mark. This novel approach gives us a new way to think about approaching all biblical texts, giving us a new lens for seeing how the texts interact across the millennia.

A Refreshing Approach
This strategy approaches the Bible in the way I think we ought to be approaching the Bible. We stop seeing the Bible as a magic answer source, which allows it to become a series of stories and songs and legislations and dreams and poetry and epistolary literature. If we but allow it, the Bible begins to read us better than we read it.

In the segment on Genesis, for instance, instead of beginning with a discussion of the two major sections in the book, the primeval history and the patriarchal/matriarchal cycles, the scholar of the day opines that Genesis is about relationships. Yes! How refreshing. How disarming. How non-pedantic. How real. And how true.

But the Study is not just about the film selection of the day. There are leader and participant guides that accompany the group viewing, which help folks to make the connections. Let’s be honest: A lot of people know that the Bible is holy and inspired and a guide for life, but many find it a dusty and difficult set of documents, from an age and culture so removed from our own as to constitute a ‘galaxy far, far away.’

The scholar in residence and the co-hosts, however, understand that the Bible is inspired and a holy set of texts precisely because it tells the truth about life, even our lives. We live on those pages; we know those people and they know us.

Additional Resources Included
But wait! There’s more:  a set of meditations—96 of them—to help people to center in the text, nestle into it and become comfortable, or disturbed, in the best sense. They give folks a chance to listen for connections,  inspiration,  and the thin, small  voice of the living God.

Such care in production is costly and this program is not inexpensive. However, it’s possible to purchase in a variety of ways. Check it out. You can even download some hefty free selections to peruse and try with a group before buying.

Check out and see what you think.

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Victoria L. Garvey is the Associate for Lifelong Christian Formation, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.

New PC(USA) Children’s Curriculum – Growing in Grace & Gratitude

Growing in grace and GratitudeYou are invited to sample the new PC(USA) denominational children’s curriculum, Growing in Grace & Gratitude, set to launch this fall. Free samplers include accompanying color resources, a story, and a page for children to use at home with their families. Each sampler includes one session for each age group: Multiage (Ages 5-10), Ages 3-5, Ages 5-7, and Ages 8-10. Order one per church. Additional samples can be downloaded at

Growing in Grace & Gratitude is rooted in the foundation of Presbyterian identity where God’s grace and our gratitude are the heartbeat of our faith, life, and worship; extends an invitation to discipleship that inspires children to learn and practice hospitality, generosity, and love; and reaches beyond Sunday morning, encouraging children to live their lives as an expression of God’s grace.Sessions of Growing in Grace & Gratitude are grounded in Bible stories that reveal God’s grace. Through fun activities, prayer, and singing, children and their leaders will celebrate the meaning of this grace in their lives as they encounter a living God.

Tactile Prayer – Using Body and Senses to Connect with God

Reposted from Building Faith

Hands rocks paint

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord” (Psalm 19:14).

“Insha’Allah” (Arabic for “God willing”).

“Fun dayn moyl in gots oyern” (Yiddish, meaning “From your mouth to God’s ear”).

A Prayer is an Ephemeral Thing
No matter the language we use or the religion we embrace, our most fervent prayers are those deepest desires offered in wordless plea, carried to God on the fragile wings of faith. For these prayers there are no words, nor motions or positions; they are a yearning, a need, an urge that only God can satisfy.

Humans are Corporeal Beings
We are solid flesh and blood. Like Thomas, in the Gospel of John, we want to be able to touch the wounded side, to feel the words spoken reverberating in our ear, and to taste the bread and wine on our tongue.

How can we reconcile the intangible nature of prayer with our very tangible reality? Our Christian tradition is rich in written prayer. As a writer and self-proclaimed word geek, the exquisite language of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer speaks to me. In many circumstances those prayers articulate the perfect translation of the meditations of my heart into wording that makes sense to my brain.

And yet… a written prayer, a spoken prayer, is still too much in my head and not enough of my heart. To really capture the emotion of a prayer, I sometimes turn to a physical manifestation.

Prayers Can be Physical
To light a candle is a physical act: a quick scratch of a match, the whiff of sulfur, the flare of the wick, and the sting of hot wax. Heat and smoke ascend, as we imagine our words do. Prayer beads, or Anglican rosaries, help focus the mind, as the fingers are reassured by the roll of each small repetitive sphere. Prayer stones and pocket crosses give substance to prayer. The solid weight of a stone and its texture – whether smooth or rough – offer the satisfaction of holding a prayer in the palm of your hand.

A Tactile and Creative Approach to Prayer
When we use art as prayer, we pray twice. Non-figurative visual prayers, as suggested in Sybil Macbeth’s Praying in Color or Roger Hutchinson’s The Painting Table, offer the artist in all of us a way to put the range of our feelings to paper. Creating an object to focus our prayers is another way of using our creative gifts to glorify and pray to the God of Creation.

For Lent last year, I lead a multi-age group in the creation of prayer stones. We discussed types of prayer: thanksgiving, forgiveness, and petitions. We considered who we might pray for – ourselves, those we love, and the broader world. We read the various forms of the Prayers of the People found in the Book of Common Prayer. We looked at Milestones Ministries’ prayer stones. Then the children created their own prayer stones, drawing images on small craft store pebbles. I gave each child a little drawstring bag in which to store their stones.

My Girl Scouts used the same process to create prayer wheels for children’s pew bags. Rather than drawing images on stones, they created artwork which was printed on heavy cardstock cut in a circle. Other than indicating that it was a prayer wheel, we offered no explanation as to how to use it, preferring to leave each child to consider the images and let their prayers derive organically as they rotated the wheel.

Tactile and Creative Prayer Done in Community
Tactile, artistic prayers create meaningful community prayer and focal points. I was particularly inspired by one church’s prayers for peace manifested in hundreds of origami cranes, each one lovingly created and then hung in a cascading mobile. At Vacation Bible School, we created a giant prayer cross, cut from a 7 foot sheet of corrugated cardboard and covered with children’s hand prints, each one a prayer. The cross now hangs in the entryway of our nursery school.  It delights me to see the original creators compare their now-grown hands to the tiny versions on the cross.

Peace Cranes, St Paul's Episcopal Church, Greenville, NC

Giving Creative Form to the Ephemeral Prayers of your Corporeal Heart
Adults also respond to the physical forms of prayer. Personal or collective, tactile and creative prayer expressions aren’t only for children. Every creative endeavor can be an expression of prayer. Each stitch in a lovingly crocheted prayer shawl is a prayer of hope and healing for the recipient. Prayers written in permanent marker on scraps of cloth then tied to a loosely draped net or to a tree, create a unified, fluttering collection of the prayers of a community.

I guarantee that as you move beyond words, your prayer life will take on a new-found depth and richness.

Lisa Brown is the Director of Children’s Ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA. She is also a coordinator for the Children’s Ministry Team of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. An active member of Forma and multi-troop Girl Scout leader, Lisa is passionate about creatively engaging, enlightening, and enriching the spiritual lives of young people. 

Resources for 21st Century Lifelong Learners


Excerpted from an article by Sarah F. Erickson, Director for Lifelong Learning

Here is a list of several of the resources I’m currently utilizing, and referring to on a regular basis. I invite you to check them out – or not. But before you toss them, try them on for size, and test my 7-point approach.

Evernote. I’m a novice, but I’m finding it useful to organize resources for projects in development. I’m trying to follow my own advice so this is one of the “new resources” I’m experimenting with– I may move on if I find I like other options better.

The Wabash Center. The blog, “Race Matters in the Classroom,” has my attention. And the resource lists at are worth a bookmark.

WorkingPreacher.Org. A go-to place for Revised Common or Narrative Lectionary exegetical resources.

Feasting on the Word. I have a traditional print set of theCommentaries, and am building the library of the Worship Companions. I LOVE the DVDs that come with the Companion.

Songza.Com. I like a variety of music while I work. This does the trick, and is currently my go-to office music. I also listen to my local NPR affiliate; it also has a good app that I use when I travel.

Hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time. She practices #4 – she shares, generously. Just attribute her work. And a donation is always welcome.

Because the classics never go out of style, I love Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

This post was originally written for the October newsletter of The Association of Leaders of Lifelong Learning in Ministry (ALLLM), which also happens to have a great resource list here.

Sarah Erickson serves as Director at the CLL. She has special interests in the role of music and worship in faith formation. She currently serves as the the Vice-President for ALLLM, and you can find her on Facebook, on Twitter @saraherickson and occasionally on Pinterest.

Creative Writing in Faith Formation

Reposted from the web site.

two pens paper writing writeWhen we draw on the arts in faith formation, we often turn to the works of professional writers, musicians and artists to stimulate our imaginations, deepen our reflections and inspire our prayerful responses. We can also remember, however, that all of us have creative abilities on which we can draw directly through creative art experiences.

Learning to communicate with others is one of the first tasks of childhood. Even as adolescents and adults spend less time in spontaneous drawing or music making, we find ways to communicate through language every day. From emails to shopping lists, from memos to birthday cards, from office gossip to family jokes, we use language – and play with it – every day.

That doesn’t mean that creative writing comes easily to everyone! As with movement or drawing, some of us have decided we can’t use language easily or well.

One easy way to involve everyone in a language activity is to work together. This takes the pressure off of individuals to perform alone. You can put up an incomplete sentence such as, “Peace is . . .” Ask how many ways the group can finish this sentence. Write down their contributions, if you suspect some group members can’t read or write. Encouraging people to call our their answers out loud invites more responses because that’s how brainstorming works. We respond not merely to the initial sentence starter, but to one another’s ideas. A tip: studies show that by switching the color marker you use from time to time, you’ll generate both more responses and more kinds of responses as well.

Popular “magnetic poetry” kits help people compose lines of verse or entire poems by providing a rich selection of words. Create your own box of words that participants can use with a simple pack of blank 3″ x 5″ index cards. For example, if you invite group members to call out words that finish the sentence, “Peace is . . .” you might get responses such as: Peace is a quiet as the wind. Peace is the color blue. Peace is no more war. Simply write each word of the response on a separate index card. Include “little words”: as, is, the, no. When the box has dozens of word choices, you can create a new writing activity by spilling out the words in the center of a circle. Invite those sitting in the circle to arrange the words into lines that respond to a reading, work of art or piece of music. 

Another way of using writing in a group is to limit the task to writing one line at a time. Across the top of a piece of paper, write a single sentence that relates to the theme of your story or activity. For example, in a session based on the barren fig tree, you might write, “I saw a tree standing alone and bare,” or “I am planted in the vineyard of God.” The first participant writes one sentence only, directly under the first sentence, then folds the paper so that only the second sentence is visible. The participants pass the paper around the group, each one adding a single line and re-folding the paper until everyone has added one line. Invariably, when these papers are unfolded and read aloud the group is astonished at the beauty of the finished piece of writing.

We make creative writing more accessible for participants by cutting down the size of the task. We provide ideas, sentence starters and even words the participants can use to accomplish a small task. The most important factor in success, however, is to turn the focus away from the finished product to the process of creating itself. Our aim is not a set of polished pieces of writing. Our aim is a community of Christians drawing more deeply on their experiences and imagination as they engage with scripture and one another. As the group leader, you make this success possible by your own willingness to engage with scripture, with language and with the community of God’s talking, laughing, arguing, struggling, creative people.

Shrove Tuesday Celebration Prayers

Posted from – Flame: Creative Children’s Ministry 

Shrove Tuesday, known in some places as Mardi Gras, is the day before Lent starts and is traditionally a time for using up all of the nice ingredients in the house ready for a time of fasting in the next 40 days.  This is why we have pancakes! Really, this is a time to help children to celebrate all of the good things (especially food!) that God has given us.  So, along with celebratory pancakes, here is a celebratory prayer activity… You will need: Balloons (at least one per child), permanent marker pens (e.g. Sharpies), music, lots of space.

Get children to write or draw on the balloons things (especially food) that they would like to thank God for. Play the music and get the children to bat the balloons in the air, not letting any fall to the ground.  When the music stops, children need to grab a balloon and thank God for one of the things written or drawn on it.  Repeat until everyone is tired and needs to eat pancakes!

Extra activity: Encourage each child to bring an item to donate to a local foodbank and to think about and pray for people who don’t have enough to eat.