Becoming Blessed

When it comes to our own, individual spiritual lives, most of us wouldn’t say we want “business as usual” or “to just do what we’ve always done;” nor would we express a desire to treat our souls like businesses or corporations. Why then do we settle into those habits in our churches? Why do we run committees and leadership boards and vestries as businesses, with only rules of order and theories and practices? We may tend to pray at the beginning of a meeting and again at the end, to nod to God and then ask God to step aside while we create 5-year plans and budgets, but maybe it shouldn’t be this way.graham

What if we shook things up, and started spending more time praying and learning and discerning together? What if we truly invited God into every moment of our church leadership meetings? To not just say we want to do God’s will, but to actively and patiently seek it?

If you find these questions even a bit provocative or inspiring, our latest course will be of great interest. This Sunday, we launch Deepening the Spirituality of Your Congregation with Graham Standish. Graham knows what he’s talking about because his Presbyterian parish in Pennsylvania has put this mode of prayerful church governance into practice, and has seen the fruits of it firsthand. Letting go of a fixation on process and “getting business done,” as well as making room for earnest, patient, thorough prayer throughout the duration of meetings, has deepened the spirituality of his parishioners, says Graham, enriched the intimacy of their relationships as children of God, and renewed the health of his congregation. He offers practical tips on how to do what may seem impractical when running a church — because the grace of God is likewise richly impractical.

Graham’s course, based on his book, Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power, launches Sunday in both individual and For Groups format. For more information on Graham, visit his website here.

Articulating the Via Media

Embracing the mystery requires great (1)

This week, we’re pleased to launch The Episcopal Way, with Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law. If you’ve ever wondered about what makes the Episcopal Church unique, this course is a great place to start, as it’s a foretaste of a project seeking to rearticulate the beliefs and practices of the Episcopal Church. As Spellers says in the first lesson, about every 20 years the Episcopal Church commits to reexamining and defining itself as a church, as part of the Episcopal commitment to the “three-legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason, on which Episcopal liturgy and practice are based.

We commend this course to lifelong Episcopalians as well, since we live in a fast-paced and ever-changing culture, in which we need to feel comfortable articulating and sharing our faith tradition. Stephanie and Eric offer a working definition of “the Episcopal Way” as well as some engaging insight on why the Episcopal Church is especially relevant and life-giving in this day and age.

You may also want to take this course in a small group setting, either among newcomers to the church or those in leadership. Either way, you’ll enjoy and appreciate Eric and Stephanie’s engaging, insightful, and interesting discussions, as you think more deeply about this rich faith tradition — and its future.

The Earth Is Charged with the Grandeur of God*

gardening

This week we launched our latest course, Spirituality and Gardening, with Christine Sine. In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in “getting back to the earth,” in literally returning to our roots, in conservation and organic gardening, in growing our own food. This, of course, isn’t really a new thing, merely a revival of interest in an age-old awareness of our spiritual connection to God’s creation.

Celtic Christianity has long been known for its teachings on this subject. As John Philip Newell writes, “What is it we have forgotten about ourselves and one another? In the Celtic tradition, the Garden of Eden is not a place in space and time from which we are separated. It is the deepest dimension of our being from which we live in a type of exile. It is our place of origin or genesis in God. Eden is home, but we live far removed from it. And yet in the Genesis account, the Garden is not destroyed. Rather Adam and Eve become fugitives from the place of their deepest identity. It is a picture of humanity living in exile.”

Our souls are only too aware of this sense of exile, of loss — even when we pretend not to know it. The periodic resurgence of a need to return to the earth, to reconnect with the natural world, reminds us of this. Indeed, since the Industrial Revolution, the West has seen periods of renewed interest in the natural world, and a sense that it is only within God’s creation can we find rest and wholeness.

We commend Christine Sine’s course, Spirituality and Gardening, to you. We believe it will bring fresh insight and wisdom on spirituality, on connecting with Creation, on your relationship with God.

Does your parish have an organization or group dedicated to gardening or the natural world? This would be a wonderful discussion or retreat starter for you. (As would Becca Stevens’, of Thistle Farms, course, A Simple Path to a Deeper Spiritual Life.)

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments or on Facebook. May the glory of Creation remind you of the glory of your own soul.

* from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem,”God’s Grandeur

All Things Bright and Beautiful

The purple-headed mountain,
The river running by,
The sunset, and the morning,
That brightens up the sky;

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
We gather every day;–

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.  

~Cecil Francis Alexander

We are excited to launch, just in time for Spring, Christine Sine’s wonderful course, Spirituality and Gardening. Christine is a teacher, retreat leader, and author, an expert in the intersection of spirituality and gardening.sine

With the explosion of interest in gardening and “getting back to the earth” that has occurred in the last decade, we see clearly our eternal and recurring need to connect with our origins in and from the dust of the earth. Christine walks us through the theology of gardens and tending growing things; of God as the ultimate gardener; the use of garden imagery in the Bible and what it can teach us; and the ways we as living things need nurturing, pruning, and watering. Whether you consider yourself a Green Thumb or not, this course has much wisdom to offer about our souls and their need for God’s Creation (and re-creation).

This course would make a wonderful small group offering as well, especially if you have a gardening or outdoor club! Click here for this course in For Groups format.

Among her many gifts and callings, Christine Sine is an author, teacher, spiritual retreat leader. You can learn more about her here.

Continuing to Shape Small Groups of Disciples

This week, we launch the following courses in our For Groups format:hands cross

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray with George Donigan
Lessons in Belonging with Erin Lane
Introduction to Church History with Eric Williams
How to Share Your Faith with John Bowen
Making Sense of the Cross, Parts 1, 2, and 3 with David Lose
Crisis Communications with Meredith Gould

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray offers an engaging encounter with three different prayers that Methodist Pastor George Donigan says can help us focus and enrich our prayer lives: The Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold, and the Serenity Prayer. This course would be ideal for a small group centered around prayer or spirituality, or a ministry within your congregation that meets regularly. Alternatively, you might offer this course for a small group of seekers or newcomers.

Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging is a wonderful course that gets people thinking and talking about why membership in a faith community matters. It’s an ideal course to offer visitors and newcomers, or groups of young adults who are feeling the urge to return to regular church attendance. And Erin’s book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment-Phobe, is a thought-provoking supplement to this course.

Those seeking to learn more about our church’s history might enjoy taking Eric Williams’s Introduction to Church History, which surveys the highs, lows, and important milestones from Jesus’ day to our own. It’s a wonderful overview of our church’s rich history as well as a great refresher for seasoned students. This course would complement an Inquirers Class or Confirmation Series as well.

As we continue to shape disciples within our faith communities, offering John Bowen’s How to Share Your Faith can help folks better understand the Gospel we have to share, why sharing our faith is critical to our lives and the lives of others, how to invite someone to church, getting over fears and frustrations that come with faith sharing, and how to help your church become an evangelizing community. Why not offer this course to the various ministry groups within your church, from Eucharistic Visitors to Greeters and Hospitality Hosts, to youth groups and adult formation groups? This is a course that can benefit everyone who wants to spread the Good News they’ve learned but may not be sure how to go about doing so in a life-giving and encouraging way.

David Lose’s excellent series, Making Sense of the Cross, can help Christians wrestle with the big questions and mysteries around Jesus’ crucifixion, the very “crux” of the Christian faith. This series is an ideal one for those who seek a deeper understanding of what we mean when we think, pray, and speak about the cross. David presents a complex subject in a very smart but accessible format. Each of the three parts can be used independently, or as a series, perhaps in a fall Adult Formation program.

Finally, Meredith Gould offers a course that should be required learning for all in church leadership: Crisis Communications helps anticipate and plan for minor and major events and catastrophes that can plague any organization. It’s better to be prepared with appropriate ways to respond to these situations rather than reacting in fear and ignorance after the fact. We encourage you to share this course with your clergy and lay leaders so that, in moments of crisis, they can effectively and healthily care for their communities, and be a source of strength, reassurance, and peace for those watching events unfold.

We continue to give thanks for all of you who are using these courses to enrich your formation offerings and shape disciples — and we’d love to hear how you’re using ChurchNext For Groups!  Visit us on Facebook and share your story!

Instructor Highlight: Jason Fout

fout_jasonThe Reverend Dr. Jason Fout has shared his research and wisdom with ChurchNext in two courses: as part of our series on The Book of Common Prayer in partnership with Bexley-Seabury, Jason taught us about the history of our professions and beliefs in Creeds and Commitments of the Prayer Book; in a fascinating course called Who Is Jesus? he explored the various ways we might get in touch with who Jesus was and is.

Jason also gave a fascinating talk at this year’s Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP) conference on his research and experiences in the Diocese of London, and the ways that Bexley-Seabury and the folks in London have been working to create a “seminary without walls.” Here at ChurchNext, we of course love their mission of deepening Christian formation in innovative ways, unbounded by place or even time.

Jason joined the faculty of Bexley Hall in 2009. Before that, he and his family and lived in the UK for four years, where he was completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge. He is from the Diocese of Chicago and was ordained there in 2001, after having attended seminary at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. His dissertation was on the glory of God and its relation to human agency at Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor David F. Ford and the late Professor Daniel W. Hardy. His research interests include contemporary Anglican theology, as well as the history of Anglican theology and constructive theology in the areas of Christology, political theology and theological anthropology. He also has a growing interest in the practice of Scriptural Reasoning, in urban studies, particularly related to the New Urbanism, and theological readings of the built environment.

He is an avid cook, a keen road cyclist and a longsuffering fan of the Chicago Cubs and English Test Cricket. We’re grateful to have partnered with Jason and look forward to his next project.

ChurchNext For Groups

This week, we’re excited to roll out nine more courses in our For Groups format:

Finding God in Divorce with Carolyne Callhands
Being Single, Staying Faithful with Beth Knobbe
How to Live a Spirit-Filled Life with Alberto Cutie
Grieving Well with Andrew Gerns
Developing Christian Patience with Jeff Bullock
Introduction to Advent with Tim Schenck
Introduction to Epiphany with Sharon Pearson
Introduction to Lent with Maggi Dawn
Who Is Jesus? with Jason Fout
Jesus at 12 with Chris Stepien

Many of these are particularly suited for small group use: Grieving Well, with Andrew Gerns, is an ideal course around which to gather a small group of folks who have lost a loved one. Many parishes have support or ministry groups for widows or widowers, or parents who have lost children. Taking this course together, as part of a healthy journey through the grieving process, can offer dedicated, safe space and time to wrestle with questions, share wisdom, and offer the mutually-beneficial gift of holy presence with one another.

Beth Knobbe’s thoughtful and joyful approach to the single life, Being Single, Staying Faithful, is another course well-suited to small group gatherings. Those who live alone, from the very young to the very old, can benefit from sharing time together; the course offers a lot of wisdom simply on becoming comfortable being alone — wisdom that even those in relationships can use. Beth’s lectures help explore what it means to be alone without being lonely, and how aloneness can be a very special time in one’s life, even a special call from God.

Finding God in Divorce, with Carolyne Call, is another wonderful resource for a group of folks navigating a challenging time, one with which the themes of the above two courses also dovetail: Divorce is a time of grief, a time of (re)learning how to be alone; it’s also a time many people find a great need for the support of not only those who’ve “been there” but also those in their faith communities. Finding God in Divorce helps find the gifts and the redemption in what might feel like a very dark and discouraging time.

We at ChurchNext are glad to be able to offer resources like these for creating intimate, life-giving, and Spirit-filled communities, and we hope that these latest For Groups courses help you minister even more intentionally to particular groups within your congregation.