Just Launched: Mr. Rogers' Simple Faith

Photograph of Fred Rogers on the set of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in the late 1960s.

We have just launched Mr. Rogers’ Simple Faith For Individuals and For Groups.

Adults who grew up in the decades from the 1960s through the 1990s are likely to remember the opening to the iconic television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The rest of you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. With the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 2018 and the premiere of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks, Mr. Rogers-centered dialogue has remained more relevant than ever while other popular children’s show hosts have come and gone.

Fifty years after his show began and almost twenty years after it ended, why are Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood still important?

Mr. Rogers’ television persona was authentic. According to the people who knew him, he was really like that. When he got on the screen and sang simple songs about how he loved children; how he thought each was special just as they were, he meant it. He let his show model values that he found important — quiet, kindness, a deliberate pace, the use of imagination, and getting to know and value many different kinds of people.He remains important because children (and the rest of us) still need what he offered. His message, and his authenticity still have much to offer.

In this course, contemplative spirituality director and author Westina Matthews discusses Mr. Rogers’ lasting impact on the world. In the first lesson, she offers details about Fred Rogers’ life and personality. In the second lesson, she discusses Rogers’ work in the context of Christ’s teachings. In the third lesson, she examines Mr. Rogers’ show in the context of contemplative spirituality — slowing down, examining and appreciating the world as it is. In the last lesson, she talks about Mr. Rogers’ authenticity, and his value for people’s being sincere — and being accepted for their authentic selves.

This class is ideal for anyone interested in Mr. Rogers, contemplative spirituality, reaching out to children, or everyday spiritual practices. If you’d like to view a preview, please click here.

Just Launched: Learning From London with Jason Fout

Holy Trinity Brompton (often affectionately called HTB) has been especially successful in creating new worship communities in London.

We’ve just launched Learning From London with Jason Fout For Individuals and For Groups .

There has been much discussion both in the media and among Christians about the church’s decline in recent decades. A Pew Research Study released in 2015 revealed that in the U.S., Christians as a whole declined by almost 8% between 2007 and 2014. Mainline Protestant church membership declined by 3.4%; Roman Catholic church membership declined by 3.1%; evangelical churches declined at a slower, but steady rate. Meanwhile, the number of Americans, particularly younger Americans, who identified themselves as atheists, agnostics, or as nothing in particular, rose by 6.7%.

The Anglican Church is experiencing this decline. The reasons for it have been analyzed and re-analyzed, along with many suggestions for how the church can remain relevant, spreading the good news in a society that no longer orients itself around the church as it did for so many years. The church needs to adapt to not being the cultural center it used to be, and the Diocese of London is modeling creative and effective ways to make that happen.

Under the circumstances, we should pay close attention to the fact that in a city that is largely disengaged with the church (only around 8% of London’s population attends church on Sunday), the Diocese of London has been growing. It grew by 16% between 2002-2012, and it has maintained those numbers since then. It has been experimenting with new approaches to building worship communities, and those communities have proven remarkably effective. Jason Fout, an associate professor of Anglican theology at Bexley Seabury Seminary Foundation, spends a lot of his time teaching in London and has studied the Diocese of London extensively to discover the reasons for its great success in a time of decline.

In this class, Jason describes what the Diocese of London is doing and why it works. In his first lesson, he offers an overview of the Diocese of London’s approach and its success. In the second lesson, he discusses ways in which Diocese of London churches (Holy Trinity Brompton in particular) have reduced the thresholds that were keeping them from connecting with people in their communities. In the third and fourth lesson, he examines the Diocese of London’s approach to planting churches and building new worship communities and why these ventures have been successful.

This class is ideal for anyone interested in learning about revitalizing churches and connecting effectively with people in their communities. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Just Launched: The Living Diet with Martha Tatarnic

We just launched The Living Diet For Individuals and For Groups.

A family celebrates a military member’s homecoming with her favorite meal: pork tamales, rice, and black beans, with her grandmother’s famous tres leches cake for dessert.

A woman and her son make zucchini soup for the family out of the giant zucchini that they grew together in the backyard over the summer.

Old college friends get together 0nce a month to make sure they keep up with each other. They always meet at an Italian restaurant run by one of the friend’s family members and share her homemade pasta dishes and a bottle or two of red wine.

Which of these meals is the most healthful?

According to most diets, probably the zucchini soup. According to the living diet, they are all healthy choices.

In this class, Martha Tatarnic, rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in St. Catharines, Ontario and author of the book The Living Diet: A Christian Journey to Joyful Eating , describes a new approach to food. Traditional approaches to healthy eating focus mainly on the physical and treat individual bodies as separate from the community and from their surroundings — like machines that need certain kinds of fuel in order t to function. The living diet, however, takes as its premise that people are connected to the world through what they eat. We take in energy from the plants and animals we consume, and we make choices that connect us to one another and to the world around us in different ways depending on the approach we take to eating.

In this course, Martha describes ways in which we can build physical, spiritual and emotional health by acknowledging and building our relationships through our choices about food. Lesson one identifies unhealthy eating patterns in our culture — patterns inherent in traditionally healthy diets as well as in fast food and the like — and identifies their root cause. Lesson two discusses Jesus as a model for eating according to the living diet. Lesson three talks about what it means to eat according to the living diet and why eating that way involves a series of healthy choices. Lesson four explains what healthy approaches to food look like on the living diet, with examples, and contrasts it to traditional definitions of healthy eating.

This course is ideal for anyone who is interested in food, building community, or healthy living. For a preview of the course, click here.

Just Launched: Dynamics of Helping the Poor with Lee Anne Reat

This cartoon was originally published on The Nib on July 12, 2018 and has been reprinted with the kind permission of the artist, Kasia Babis.

We just launched Dynamics of Helping the Poor For Individuals and For Groups.

In this course, the Rev. Lee Anne Reat, Canon for Formation and Social Justice Ministries for the Diocese of Southern Ohio, examines acts of mercy in relation to acts of justice. She offers suggestions for healthy ways in which congregations can engage their communities in partnerships for long-term change.

Lee Anne’s arguments in this course may be examined by picking apart the old saying “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” *

Lee Anne basically argues that if someone is starving, giving that person a fish is a good idea, but that a system based in rich people getting access to fish and doling it out as they choose to people who constantly have to ask for it sets up unhealthy systems for everyone involved. It’s a good thing to keep people from starving. It’s not a good thing to keep people on the brink of starving because we tolerate the kind of injustice that keeps some people on top at the expense of others. Excessive reliance on fish distribution — or even, as in the cartoon above, fishing pole distribution — at the expense of changing systems that make it impossible for people to make money fishing for themselves can perpetuate the kind of injustice that in the long term leads to community stagnation or decline.

Instead, Lee Anne suggests that we look for ways to circumvent or eliminate hurdles that keep people from fishing for themselves. She goes on to discuss ways in which people can work to change their communities in productive, respectful, and genuine ways — building relationships with people who need help and listening to them talk about what they need rather than telling them what they should do.

This course is ideal for congregations or individuals who would like to work to change their communities and help poor people gain economic power within those communities. Click here for a course preview.

*Fun fact about the “give a man a fish” saying: it is often attributed to ancient Chinese, Indian, and/or Native American writers but probably was coined by Anne Isabella Thackerey Ritchie in the nineteenth century.

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.

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.