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.

Just Launched: An Instructed Eucharist with Furman Buchanan

A priest blesses the bread and the wine in preparation for Holy Communion.

We have just launched An Instructed Eucharist with Furman Buchanan For Individuals and For Groups.

Some Episcopalians have been attending Episcopal liturgies since before they can remember. These are people who knew how to respond when someone said “May the Lord be with you!” before they knew how to spell their own names. Others are new to the church and wish to learn more about the rich Episcopal liturgy that they attend week by week.

Our newest class is appropriate for both groups. In this class, the Rev. Furman Buchanan, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Greenville, SC. and author of the book Gifts of God For the People of God: Exploring Worship in the Episcopal Church, explains how we celebrate the Eucharist. He discusses what elements we include, why we structure them the way we do, and what it means to celebrate each of these parts of the liturgy. New Episcopalians can benefit from a better understanding of the liturgy. There’s a lot of substance to the Eucharist, and rich history and theology behind it. It can help people new to the liturgy appreciate it to have someone explain the importance of each element of the service.

Long-term Episcopalians can benefit from renewing their acquaintance with the Eucharist; from bringing new eyes to a service they know by heart. Episcopalians who are extremely familiar with the liturgy can begin to worship by rote. The proclamation in the Nicene Creed that we worship the “creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen” is both powerful and poetic enough that it seems impossible to say it without thinking about it — but any long-term Episcopalian can tell you that it’s quite possible to make this statement with your mind on your lunch. These worshipers can benefit from new eyes, new information, and a renewed relationship with this liturgy.

We hope that you will join the Rev. Buchanan and classmates from around the world in learning more about the Episcopal liturgy. For a preview of the course, click here.

Just Launched: Involving Children in Worship with Angela Nelson

The Finding of the Savior in the Temple – William Holman Hunt, 1860

We just launched Involving Children in Worship with Angela Nelson For Individuals and For Groups

We hear a lot about children in the New Testament, and they’re often portrayed (a) annoying adults and (b) being right about Jesus. Chronologically, it all starts with Jesus himself. In Luke 2, Mary goes out of her mind with worry when Jesus as a child wanders away from the caravan and they find him in the temple in Jerusalem after three days of searching. “What were you doing?” Mary asks him. “We were scared out of our minds!” Jesus shrugs and says essentially, “I thought you knew where I’d be.” This is what happens when the Son of God goes through his adolescent phase.

When Jesus turns over the tables of the moneylenders in the temple and heals people, Matthew tells us that the chief priests knew where to find him because the children were “crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.'” The gospel in this case doesn’t go into detail, but we can picture it: money scattered everywhere; newly uncaged sacrificial doves fluttering around; everyone yelling. Of course the kids are there. Where else would they be? They’re cheering on the person who had made all the trouble, bellowing that he’s the Messiah, and generally making the noise and chaos more noisy and chaotic. Any parent might sympathize a little with the chief priests and scribes when, as Matthew tells us, “they became angry” and started yelling.

Jesus with the Children — Pieter van Lint, 1800s.

A child just assumes that Jesus can feed 5,000 people with his lunch — and he’s right. Children keep bugging the apostles to get Jesus’ attention when they’re busy — and Jesus scolds them and calls for the kids to come on over. The gospels consistently tell stories of adults seeing children as accessories to the main event — and Jesus treating them as worthy of attention.

In some ways, relations between children and adults haven’t changed much over 2000 years. And, just as it happened the with the apostles, while the adults in church are busy trying to herd the cats and keep things orderly, the gospel keeps welcoming children, with all their chaos, to the table. Churches sometimes look on children, particularly young children, with a suspicious eye, as if they were unexploded grenades that might go off during important moments in the liturgy. Such churches might proclaim, “Suffer the little children to come unto the nursery, where they will be given goldfish crackers and kept out of the way while the grown-ups worship.”

In this class, Angela Nelson, Minister of Christian Education at The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, explains why children’s ministries, including the nursery, should be treated as central to church life and worship rather than as peripheral. She discusses reasons that children’s voices and talents should be made part of the daily life of worship in the church. She offers practical suggestions for ways in which adults may welcome the role of children and youth in church as central to the main event — as important, as worthy of respect as any other Christians.

This course is ideal for people who work with children in church, people who work with the liturgy in church, and parents or guardians who want to involve children in worship. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Just Launched: Holy Grounds — The Surprising Connections Between Coffee and Faith with Tim Schenck

We just launched Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connections Between Coffee and Faith with Tim Schenck For Individuals and For Groups.

In Ethiopia, coffee drinking is an hour-long ritual. In Turkey, they say that coffee should be “as black as hell, as strong as death and as sweet as love.” Espresso drinks are ubiquitous in Italy. The Vietnamese serve iced coffee with thick, sweet condensed milk. Debates about the difference between Mexican cafe con leche, French cafe au lait (which is often made with espresso in France), and Italian cafe latte abound, but it’s safe to say that across all these countries, people like espresso served with hot, foamed milk. In Hong Kong, coffee is served mixed with milk tea. Brazil produces the most coffee in the world, but Scandinavians drink it most.

Coffee, in short, is common everywhere and impacts people’s day-to-day lives all over the world. It can be fancy and expensive or basic and affordable, served in big mugs or tiny cups, drunk on the go or savored slowly, but in its various forms, it tops most lists (along with tea and beer) of the most-consumed beverages in the world.

Because we use it so much, both in our culture and in our churches, it’s only fitting that coffee shopas Christians, we examine this drink in our midst. What is its role in our social lives?  Are we using coffee in wholesome and meaningful ways? Do we savor it as part of God’s creation? What consideration do we give to the ways that coffee is made and processed in terms of how we relate to God’s creation and to one another?

In this class, the Rev. Tim Schenck — priest, author, Lent Madness creator, and blogger — takes us on a journey examining the origins and rituals of coffee preparation and consumption. He discusses the early Christian response to coffee and ways in which how we choose to prepare and drink coffee can affect our spiritual lives. He also discusses our responsibility as Christians to consider how our consumption of coffee affects people’s lives across the world.

This class is ideal for people seeking spirituality in their day-to-day lives, people interested in social justice and consumer culture, and, of course, people who love coffee. For a preview, please click here.