Just Launched — Make a Joyful Noise: How to Sing a Hymn with Jackie Stilger

Psalm 98:5: Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre; with the lyre and the sound of melody.”

We just launched Make a Joyful Noise: How to Sing a Hymn with Jackie Stilger For Individuals and For Groups.

God’s worshippers have been singing praises to God over the thousands 0f years of our history. We know that many of the psalms were sung in ancient Jewish liturgies. The Old Testament includes other songs of praise and lamentation addressed to God as well; songs that people sang to God. We know that Jesus sang hymns; Matthew 26:30 says that he and the apostels “sang the hymn” after celebrating the first Lord’s Supper.

Our earliest Christian brothers and sisters sang hymns. Scholars believe that early Christians sang their liturgical texts in a manner similar to that used in Jewish rituals, though we do not have much information about the music they used. Early monks and clergy, such as Romanos the Melodist and John of Damascus wrote hymns for use in the liturgy; 6th century Romanos was said to have written over 1000 songs for use in Christian liturgy.

From Hildegarde von Bingen to Johann Sebastian Bach; from John of Damascus to John Rutter, Christians have composed and sung their praises and petitions to our Lord. When we sing, we sing with Paul’s great “cloud of witnesses” in a harmony that connects us with one another and with God across time and space.

In this course, Jackie Stilger, organist and choirmaster at First Methodist Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, discusses the history of hymns in the Christian tradition and the role that hymns play in contemporary Christian liturgy. She discusses why and how Christians should sing the hymns in church (regardless of whether or not they believe they can sing). She discusses what kinds of hymns are popular today and why, and she examines the connection that Christians develop with one another by singing hymns to God.

This course is ideal for anyone who is interested in learning more about hymns in the Christian tradition. For a preview of the course, click here.

Just Launched: Faith and Humor with Susan Sparks

Susan Sparks

We have just launched Faith and Humor with Susan Sparks For Individuals and For Groups.

Laura Ingalls Wilder once wrote aLaura Ingalls Wilderbout living temporarily with the McKee family, in which the father was “such a strict Presbyterian that on Sunday no one was allowed to laugh or even smile. They could only read the Bible and the catechism and talk gravely of religious subjects” (1). Mr. McKee’s approach may be a little extreme for our modern sensibilities, but his idea that religion and laughter should be strictly divorced from one another does resonate to some extent in contemporary religious culture. While our priests may tell the occasional joke from the pulpit on Sundays, many of us retain the idea that religious belief is no laughing matter.

Susan Sparks is here to tell us differently. Susan is a trial lawyer-turned-pastor, a comedian, and a public speaker and author whose mission, as she describes it, is to “help people regain their grit and reclaim their joy.” She argues that humor serves to activate and open up our faith. Laughing heals us, she argues, body and soul. We know this, on some level. When we are feeling despondent, we often tell ourselves that we need a good laugh. We reach for something funny to read or watch, or we seek out that funny friend who can always make us chuckle. Susan argues that we should extend our understanding that humor is healthful to our spiritual lives. Laughter creates an ease —  albeit a temporary one — that opens up enough space to help us acknowledge God; a change in perspective that helps us remember who’s in charge.

Laughing spirituality is hardly a new approach to our faith. Many Biblical writers utilize humor, though it is not always easy for us to grasp it today because we lack the cultural context to do so. Many scholars believe, for example, that the character of Jonah is supposed to be a comical figure, with his heels-dug-in refusal to prophesy to Nineveh and God’s sending a fish to swallow him in response. Theologian Conrad Hyers has expounded on the topic of humor in the Bible, with the idea that a “playful spirit” (2) is part of who we are, and that alongside the more serious issues in The Bible are issues that reflect this playful spirit. Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood argues that Jesus uses many instances of irony, satire, paradox and other kinds of humor to teach and clarify his ideas. The Biblical writers understood a connection between faith and humor many of us have forgotten.

In her book Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor, Susan calls laughter  the “GPS system for the soul.” In this course, she teaches us about how that system works, where we can find people using it in the Bible, and why it is useful in our spiritual lives as well as in our secular world.

For a preview of the course, click here.

1. Laura Ingalls Wilder. These Happy, Golden Years. From Volume 2 of the two volume set of the Little House books published by the Library of America in 2012. 623-624.

2. Conrad Hyers. And God Created Laughter: The Bible as Divine Comedy. Published by Westminster John Knox Press in 1988.


1. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1883. Artist unknown. Public Domain. 

2. Jonah the Prophet. Sargis Babayan. 2011. Creative Commons.


Just Launched: Courage for Caregivers with Jamie Haith

Jamie Haith

We have just launched Courage for Caregivers with Jamie Haith For Individuals and For Groups.

There is an intimacy — a giving and receiving of love on its most basic level — to caring for people whose physical or mental states leave them unable to care for themselves. Caregivers sacrifice time, self-care, and mental and emotional energy. They watch care recipients lose the dignity of being able to do the simplest activities for themselves — reading books, remembering names, even using the bathroom alone. The work can be very painful, but it is also offers the caregiver an incredibly clear and direct opportunity to  to wash the feet of another person — to serve Christ in that person and be Christ for that person.

A caregiver’s work is often painful and exhausting because it requires watching a loved one suffer and (often) decline in health while offering little opportunity for self care. Sleep is interrupted. Challenges are endless. Caregivers often find themselves isolated. In this course, Jamie Haith compares caregiving to David’s battle with Goliath and discusses five spiritual “stones” that caregivers can bring to this battle: love, hope, joy, peace, and faith. He discusses the importance of each of these spiritual “stones” in helping caregivers do their work.

This course includes five lectures by Jamie Haith, a member of the clergy at Holy Trinity Church in McLean, VA. It also includes a resource list for caregivers to help them get the help that they need, opportunities for discussion, and suggestions for spiritual exercises that caregivers may find helpful. We hope that caregivers find help from this course as they continue to do the work of Christ for their loved ones.

For a preview of this course, please click here.


Just Launched: Slaying Your Goliath with John Ohmer

We just launched Slaying Your Goliath with John Ohmer For Individuals and For Groups. If you are interested in learning about the ancient David and Goliath story and applying its message to your own battles, you should take this course.

Listeners and readers for millennia have encountered the giant Goliath bellowing, “Who will fight me?” and David, the shepherd boy who would be king agreeing to fight him when no-one else will, in the name of the God of Israel.

Centuries of artists have rendered the famous encounter in stone, cloth, clay, paint, metal, and cinema. The characters have been adapted to the looks and fashions of different times and places.

One recent version of the story even portrays David as a tiny, lean asparagus facing Goliath: a huge, earth-shaking pickle.

The contrasts between big versus small, might versus cowardice, kindness versus bitterness and faith in God versus faith in any weaker powers have remained relevant to many cultures over thousands of years.

The enduring lessons from this and the many other versions of the David and Goliath story run deep, demand reflection, and move people to action.  The story asks people to stand and declare who we are and whose we are; what we believe in, and where our focus lies — a theme that mattered in ancient Israel and that still matters to people across the world today.  The David and Goliath story is set in the Book of Samuel amidst the many stories that chronicle the life of David. David’s life becomes a testament of faith, human frailty, creativity, diversity and strength, a strength that God gives David, which David uses as a boy to slay his giant and later in life to bring the tribes of Israel together, all too briefly, into the kingdom that God has called them to become.

In this course, John Ohmer, Rector at Falls Church Episcopal Church in Virginia and author of Slaying Your Goliaths: How God Can Help, offers an interpretation of this ancient story in ways that can help all of us bring ourselves to fight the Goliaths of our own lives and our own world — even the giants that seem the most invulnerable to our resistance. 

1. 7th-century Byzantine silver plate portraying the battle between David and Goliath. Artist unknown. Currently housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
2. 12th century Catulan mural portraying the battle between David and Goliath. Artist unknown. Currently housed in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Public Domain.
3. 16th century. “David with the head of Goliath.” Carvaggio. Currently housed in the Museo National del Prado in Madrid. Public Domain. 

Try ChurchNext this Summer For Free

Yes!!!Free ChurchNext,Baby!If your congregation has been considering trying ChurchNext, or you know a parish that might be interested in subscribing, tell them about a deal that we are offering this summer. We’re offering 30 days of free ChurchNext membership for any congregations that might like to try it out. Just email us at hello@churchnext.tv and we’ll get you started.
This means you’ll have unlimited access to the 300+ courses in our ever-growing library, including our For Individuals and For Groups classes as well as our certificate programs in Prayer Book Understanding and Vestry Leadership. You’ve got 30 days to use ChurchNext as much as you like.
You may sign up for your 30-day trial membership any time this summer. During that time you’re free to send us an email at hello@churchnext.tv and cancel your account with no obligation whatsoever.
Using our summer trial also gets you our discounted membership rate if you choose to subscribe. After 30 days we’ll assume you’re liking what you’re seeing. So at that time we will go ahead and charge the credit card on file for the discounted, annual rate of $300 for the year. Your subscription will begin on that day; you will never pay for the 30 days of your trial membership.
This is a great opportunity for churches that have been considering ChurchNext to try it out — and for churches that don’t know much about it to see what we’re all about. So if you don’t have a ChurchNext subscription, give it a try this summer. If you do, tell other churches about us, since it’s a good time to introduce the program.
We hope that you have a blessed (and awesome) summer.

Just Launched: Praying the Examen with Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson

We have just launched Praying the Examen with Chris Anderson For Individuals and For Groups. 

Centuries after his death, our society still honors St. Ignatius Loyola, the father of the LoyolaJesuit order. Around the world, many Christians continue to make daily use of his tools for rich spiritual lives. In particular, Ignatius is responsible for bringing his interpretation of the style of prayer known as the Examen into public notice.

Ignatius initially intended the Examen as a prayer tool for the newly-founded Jesuit order, but soon, lay people were using it as well, and centuries later, many people still reply on the Examen as a foundational element in their spiritual lives. Practitioners of the Examen vary in age, gender, religious denomination, country, ethnicity, and their even belief in God. Different groups and individuals bring their own variations on the Examen to the table, but the essence remains the same: “To prayerfully reflect on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction for us.”

In this course, Chris Anderson, professor of English at Oregon State University, poet, and Catholic deacon, will teach you about the Examen and introduce you to many resources available on this approach to prayer. We hope that you will use these lectures and resources to discover what approaches to  this prayer resonate with you, so that you may use these them to create your unique Examen experience.

For a preview of the course, click here.

Just Launched: Small Groups That Work with Kate Wesch

Kate Wesch

We have just launched Small Groups that Work with Kate Wesch For Individuals and For Groups. This class is good for people or congregations that want to work on building community within the parish.

As Christians, we are directed to grow in our faith and mission through our church But less dependent on quips and booze.communities. One model for building church communities is is through small groups — groups where “everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”

Gilbert Bilezikian, founder of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, says, “It is within the small groups that people can get close enough to know each other, to care and share, to challenge and support, to confide and confess, to forgive and be forgiven, to laugh and weep together, to be accountable to each other. ” Through this kind of sharing, disciples are born.

The making of disciples does not happen in isolation, but through interactive relationships. In the small groups space, participants’ faith is Group.pngstretched and strengthened, and they form the disciplines needed for discipleship. The small group helps them commit to connecting to God through community and to challenge each other to grow in faith. The group creates an environment that fosters and enables the “magic” to happen.  It is the strength of individuals coming together in surrender to God.

In this course, Kate Wesch,  an Episcopal priest and small group minister at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle, WA, offers reasons that churches might choose to adopt the small groups model of building community. She offers suggestions for what effective small groups might look like and what activities they might engage. She guides congregations that want to adopt small groups in what questions to ask as they plan their groups, and ways to avoid problems, emphasizing patience and persistence. Finally, she discusses what small groups might achieve for themselves and the parish at large as they grow together in community.

For a preview of Kate’s course, click here.