Just Launched: Angels in Artwork with Scott Brown

The Annunciation. Fresco. Unknown artist, second century C.E.

We just launched Angels in Artwork For Individuals and For Groups.

The oldest extant representation of an angel in Christian art is an image of the Archangel Gabriel in a second-century fresco of the Annunciation found in Catacomb of St. Priscilla, where many early Christians were buried. Christians have been depicting angels in artwork ever since. The images vary wildly according to time and place. Observe these images of Gabriel across the centuries.

This image of the Archangel Gabriel comes from a fifth-century eastern European monastic fresco.

This 5th-century image of the Annunciation comes from Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (432-440)in Rome and has the earliest extant image of winged angels in Christian art.

This image of Gabriel in Jan Van Eyck’s Annunciation comes from the Netherlands in the 15th-century and gives Gabriel deacon’s vestments.

This seventeenth-century depiction of Gabriel’s Annunciation to Zechariah comes from an Ethiopian Bible.

The artists’ choices about how to depict Gabriel vary according to time and place, fashion (if you look carefully above, you can see that winged angels from the fifth-century Roman church are wearing togas), artistic convention, the artists’ style, and the idea the artist is trying to convey with the artwork. Expand that series of choices across all the various angels of scripture — what they are doing, what their varying purposes in the stories, etc. — and you have a rich variety of thousands of different angels portrayed in artwork spanning almost two thousand years.

In this course, Scott discusses angels in scripture as interpreted by artists across history. In the first lesson, he discusses angels as messengers and art as a way of conveying divine messages that reason cannot comprehend. In the second lesson, he discusses angels as proclamations — as God’s messages and messengers to humanity, and artists’ imitating God in creating angelic figures in their works. In the third lesson, Scott talks about angels as warnings, especially St. Michael, and in the fourth lesson, he talks about the rich history of celebratory angels in Christian art.

This class is ideal for anyone interested in angels, the history of Christian art, and ways in which God communicates with humanity. For a preview, please click here.

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Just Launched: Meditating on Angels with Kate Moorehead

We just launched Meditating on Angels with Kate Moorehead For Individuals and For Groups.

Image of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden from the 1888 book Delightful Stories; Or, Home Stories out of the Wonderful Book by George A. Peltz.

The first angels who appear in the Bible guard it against the return of Adam and Eve. Scripture says that God “drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).

The final angel who appears in the Bible is the one who brings John the vision that he describes in the Book of Revelation. When John tries to kneel to the angel, the angel says: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9). He goes on to tell John that the vision comes from Jesus and to spread his vision to others and tell others to take it seriously.
[Image: Angel of Revelation by William Blake]

The first angels carry flaming swords to keep people out of Eden, and the last angel delivers a vision of the end of the world that includes many incidents of angels bringing down plagues and wreaking havoc. At the same time, the angels who follow God do God’s will absolutely. They interpret God’s will for humans, guide them in what they should do, praise God and rejoice in God’s victories, fight on the side of righteousness, and do God’s will in other ways. Some appear as otherworldly; some as human; some are good; some are fallen. Their portrayal in scripture suggests that the battle that we perceive between light and darkness is one part of a much larger battle, one being fought by the followers of God and those who fight against God throughout the universe — and beyond.

In this course, The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, author and Dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida, examines angels in detail — who they are, what they do, and how they are connected to God. In the first lesson, she introduces angels and talks about their varying shapes and roles in scripture. In the second lesson, she discusses angels as messengers from God — individuals who interperet God’s will for humanity. In the third lesson, she discusses the presence of evil angels in scripture; angels who have chosen to work against God instead of serving God, and how they can influence human thinking. She opposes their interference with human thought to the angels’ non-invasive invitations to God. In the fourth lesson, she discusses angels at the end times, especially as portrayed in the Book of Revelation.

This class is ideal for anyone interested in angels, the book of Revelation, or ways in which God communicates with humanity. For previews of this class, please click here.

Just Launched — The Ministry of Acolytes 5: An Acolyte’s Way of Life

We just launched The Ministry of Acolytes 5: An Acolyte’s Way of Life For Individuals and For Groups.

The acolyte ministry can be very rewarding when we bring our whole and committed selves to its mission; when we see it as an opportunity to help shape the spiritual growth of young people in Christ.  When we approach the ministry as formational — as a serious influence on the lives of youth in the church rather than simply as a way for them be involved with liturgy — the nature of the leadership changes. The adult in charge of the ministry does facilitate and organize, but they plan further ahead and with both nuts-and-bolts details and spiritual/formational goals in mind. Such leaders come up with a vision for the ministry’s future, motivate and inspire people to engage that vision, and build and coach a team to achieve it. Then they set new goals, so that the ministry is always growing. 

In this course, Sharon Ely-Pearson and Roger Speer, co-authors of the book I Serve at God’s Altar: The Ministry of Acolytes, offer suggestions for building the acolyte ministry as a formational ministry. Sharon talks about orienting the ministry around The Way of Love a 7-step set of practices out of the Episcopal Church centered on sharing Jesus’ “living, liberating, and life-giving way in the world.”  She also discusses nuts-and-bolts suggestions about inviting acolytes to serve and scheduling and about ways to build relationships between the leader and acolytes. Roger talks about how acolyte leaders build and work toward goals for the ministry. He also discusses setting clear expectations for acolytes and giving them ways to participate in shaping the ministry. 

When approached with this kind of vision and leadership, the acolyte ministry becomes more than a way for kids to participate in worship — it becomes a way of life.

This course is ideal for people who are interested in leading acolytes or other children’s ministries. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Just Launched — The Ministry of Acolytes 4: Tribal Ministry

We have just launched The Ministry of Acolytes 4: Tribal Ministry For Individuals and For Groups.

For many years, kids participated in church ministries because that was what you did.

Then the 1970s happened. People began to question traditional approaches to church-going, but youth-oriented ministries remained popular, partly because of all the guitars.

Today, youth-related ministries have many other activities competing for their time. Kids don’t participate just because that’s what everyone does. This change isn’t necessarily a bad thing — kids participating because they are moved to do so rather than out of inertia is a good thing, right?

But it does mean that organizations like the acolytes ministry cannot expect to run themselves they way they did for decades. Kids join ministries today because they feel drawn to particular sets of values, activities, and people. Sets of people oriented around a common interest or goal can have great influence on how they think and feel and (in the case of the church) how they experience faith.

For this reason, Roger Speer suggests using a new model to build the acolyte ministry: treat the ministry as a tribe. By “tribe,” Roger means a small group of people who share a strong interest in what brings them together; who influence and support each other; and whose leaders share their vision and help them function effectively.

In this class, Roger Speer, Director of student ministries at Church of the Good Shepherd in Augusta, Georgia and co-author with Sharon Ely Pearson of the book I Serve at God’s Altar: The Ministry of Acolytes, discusses what tribes are, and what it means to treat a ministry as a tribe. He describes ways to build the ministry so that it brings like-minded kids together and brings them confidence, energy, and respect for their liturgical role. He discusses ways to ensure that the ministry understands its mission and sets itself up to withstands transition in leadership. Finally, he describes the discernment process acolyte leaders should engage and what kind of leader is generally right for the role.

This class is ideal for people who are considering leading acolytes and for churches who are interested in re-energizing their acolyte ministries. For a preview of this course, please click here.

Just Launched — The Ministry of Acolytes 3: Artifacts and Movement

Acolytes lead the procession on Palm Sunday.

We just launched The Ministry of Acolytes 3: Artifacts and Movement For Individuals and For Groups

In this third class in our Ministry of Acolytes series, Roger Speer talks about the best ways to engage acolytes in the ministry of serving at God’s altar. He emphasizes training acolytes through telling stories and utilizing games that involve kids in their own learning process. He also discusses the importance of establishing, communicating, and maintaining high standards for acolytes as they serve in this ministry.

We all have stories, and stories surround us. Churches have stories, and the items in the church tell that story. Even the shape of the building, the graveyard or columbarium, the windows in the church tell stories, and these stories come together to define that congregation and its history as a community. Roger emphasizes using the objects in church to tell acolytes the story of their church. The chalice they use for Communion isn’t just a chalice — it was made especially for the church by a potter who was a member of the congregation, and the potter said prayers as she created it. Letting the acolytes touch this chalice makes that part of the church’s history real to them. The baptismal font is a total immersion font, and once, about fifteen years ago, an over-enthusiastic baptismal candidate (age 4) jumped in before it was time and tried to baptize himself. Telling children these kinds of stories not only shows children what the objects in the church are and why they matter, but also incorporates the children’s lives and service into the church’s story.

Roger emphasizes game playing as part of acolyte training. Running around the church finding clues hidden in the lectern and letters to hidden codes on different pieces of the vestments might not seem like acolyte training in the traditional sense — but it engages children. Acolyte leaders should emphasize connecting the children to their ministry, and games connect them much better than lectures do.  The aim should be to ensure that each acolyte on the individual level has a meaningful, spiritual experience, and, more broadly, that we (re)establish the ministry of acolytes as, in Roger and Sharon’s words, a “ministry built upon a formative system of development that is changeless, consistent, powerful and transformative.”

This is the third class in our Ministry of Acolytes series. The other courses in this series are being launched through the summer of 2019. Participants who complete all five courses can earn a ChurchNext certificate in Acolyte Leadership.

This course is useful for anyone interested in serving in children’s ministries. If you’re interested in learning more about this class, view a preview here.

Just Launched — The Ministry of Acolytes 2: How We Worship

All drawings and cartoons in this course were drawn by Roger Speer and published in the book he wrote with Sharon: I Serve At God’s Altar: The Ministry of Acolytes.

We just launched The Ministry of Acolytes 2: How We Worship For Individuals and For Groups

Anyone who works with children routinely, knows that most of them love mastering skills and information. They are proud of becoming proficient; they want to show that they too have something to contribute to their families, classrooms, and communities. At church, children generally take on the roles of sheep rather than shepherds. They are told what to do and where to sit and how to behave in church. It’s only natural — we are teaching them who Jesus is and what church is all about. But if we want to teach children to be active participants in Christian worship, it’s important to treat them as people who have something to contribute — not as people who will have something to contribute ten years from now, but as people whose energy and vitality are important in building our congregations today.

Active Christians participate in the ministries of their congregations, so if we want children to participate in worship, we should, as part of ministering to them, show them how to contribute and then to let them do so. Training children to serve as acolytes is one important way in which churches create space for children to contribute to worship.

Serving as acolytes gives children the opportunity to “master” the liturgy. They learn what to expect from the liturgy; why we do what we do at various points in the service; the tools we use; the space in which we worship. Mastering the liturgy allows them to do what they often want to do: contribute, as leaders, in a genuine way to their communities. Acolytes are important to the Episcopal liturgy. They set a tone of reverence, and they help worship proceed smoothly. Their role is a genuine contribution and an opportunity to lead.

Letting children give their service to the church is one of the most profound ways in which the church can minister to them, and this course teaches adults how to minister to children in this way.

The instructor for this course, Sharon Ely Pearson, is an editor at Church Publishing, Inc., an author and a Christian formation specialist who, along with Roger Speer, has written a book about training acolytes called I Serve at God’s Altar: The Ministry of Acolytes (2018), discusses the leadership role that acolytes take and how adults can mentor them in taking on this role. She offers suggestions for teaching children to understand the liturgy in terms of its structure, its space, its tools and activities. She discusses preparing children mentally and physically to serve, and she offers practical suggestions for training them in what they need to know in order to serve effectively as acolytes.

This is the second class in our Ministry of Acolytes series. The other courses in this series will be forthcoming through the summer of 2019. Participants who complete all five courses can earn a ChurchNext certificate in Acolyte Leadership.

This course is useful for anyone interested in serving in children’s ministries. If you’re interested in learning more about this class, view a preview here.

Just Launched: The Ministry of Acolytes 1: A New Order with Roger Speer and Sharon Ely Pearson

We just launched The Ministry of Acolytes 1: A New Order with Roger Speer and Sharon Ely Pearson For Individuals and For Groups.

Cate Christman, an acolyte at The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, NC

People choose to become acolytes for many different reasons. For children, serving as acolytes can give them an active role in a liturgy that can otherwise feel like a long period of time alternating between sitting still and standing up. Cate Christman, a nine-year-old acolyte at The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says, “It’s not as boring as sitting. I kind of like walking and holding the gospel. I think it’s kind of fun.” As they become engaged with the service, participating as acolytes can also teach children about the liturgy. “I’m learning about what church is doing. What church does,” says Cate.

Both children and adults who serve as acolytes take a service role in the liturgy — one that allows them to participate and even lead without requiring them to draw much attention to themselves. They can learn, serve, and participate behind the scenes. In this class, Sharon Ely Pearson, a Christian Education specialist, discusses the history of acolytes in the church, explains what kinds of people choose to become acolytes and why people engage this ministry, and discusses how being an acolyte can help Christians discern their vocations in the church.

This is the first class in our Ministry of Acolytes series. The other four courses in this series will be forthcoming through the summer of 2019. Participants who you complete all five courses can earn a ChurchNext certificate in Acolyte Leadership.

This class is designed for people who wish to become acolytes, people who work with acolytes, and people who are simply interested in different kinds of church ministries. If you would like to watch a preview, please click here.