New course: Talking About Same Gender Unions with Bishop Jeffrey Lee

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You may think the church talks about same gender unions too much; you may think not enough. You may be excited about the latest Supreme Court decision or you may be upset. You may be thrilled at the chance to discuss the issue of same gender unions or you may wish we could talk about something else for once.

Whatever your feelings, our latest course offers new and insightful consideration of this topic. In Talking About Same Gender Unions, Bishop Lee gently reminds us that, as Christians, we must remember that this is a pastoral issue and that it involves people’s hleeearts, relationships, and identities. For that reason, engaging in real listening and respectful conversation is vital. Bishop Lee helps us think about how we might have these conversations, offers hope for hearts, and promises that, in Christ, all things are made well.

We pray that this course, whether you take it on your own or in a Small Group format, will bring wisdom, insight, healing, and hope on a divisive issue that means a lot to many. Click here to register or for more information.

Jeffrey Lee is the twelfth Episcopal bishop of Chicago where he oversees 127 congregations across Northern Illinois. You can find out more about him here.

What Makes a REAL Woman?

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Top Ten List of What We Can Learn from the Mothers in the Bible:

– Real mothers seek, create and sustain life in the face of death, destruction and disappointment.

– Real mothers do not stop claiming what is their right—to bear a child.

– Real mothers love their people, forecast imminent danger, take steps to fight it, and serve on the front lines, ready to lay down their lives.

– Real mothers are courageous in letting their children step confidently into their future.

– Real mothers minister to others even in the midst of desperate circumstances.

– Real mothers speak up and voice their pain, especially in times of tremendous grief.

– Real mothers raise their sons and daughters to be faithful people, and to remain true to their teachings and values.

– Real mothers unleash their deepest desires at Jesus’ feet—and when seemingly rejected, persevere in pursuing healing.

– Real mothers stand up for and stand by their children and families, pursuing for them their best goal and godly vocations.freeman

– Real mothers, sometimes, at great personal expense, say Yes to God—and the the world is transformed.

As Lindsay Hardin Freeman, author of this list and instructor of our latest course (launching Sunday) reminds us: these characteristics apply to all who serve as “mothers” — those who are biological mothers and those who aren’t. The women of the Bible are part of a “holy and sacred circle” — one that is still open.

Stay tuned for Let the Women Speak, which launches Sunday. In the meantime, check out Lindsay’s wonderful blog and books by clicking here.

Instructor Highlight: Chris Stepien

There are precious few mentions of Jesus in the Bible that involve his childhood. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can learn from imagining what the child Jesus would have been like. Chris Stepien, author of Three Days: The Search for the Boy Messiah, has consulted stepienScripture, commentaries, and other authorities to piece together what life for the pre-teen Jesus would have been like.

As a journalist, in fact, Chris Stepien has spent his career asking tough questions and telling intriguing stories. His Amazon author profile tells the story:

He’s worked as a television producer-director and writer for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). From 1979 to 1987, while at WXYZ-TV, Detroit, he won six EMMY awards for documentaries, sports and celebrity specials, and children’s programming, as well as many other honors. Stepien left broadcasting to co-found Adventure, Inc., a successful Detroit-based video/film production company. He created award-winning communications for Fortune 500 companies like General Motors and Ford Motor Company for nearly nine years. Since 1996, Stepien has crafted marketing and advertising for global clients as writer-creative director and owner of Stepien Creative Services, Inc.

A lifelong metro Detroiter and Roman Catholic, Stepien attended parochial schools and was an altar boy. He and his wife, Ellen, have two adult sons, Alex and Mike. Chris and Ellen are Vincentians, active members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP). Stepien, a former SVdP conference president, is currently spiritual advisor to a group of Vincentians in Dearborn, Michigan. Their core mission is to respond to the needs of poor families in the surrounding community, visit them in their homes, and provide financial assistance, guidance, friendship, and hope.

Bible studies, spiritual exercises, and praying the rosary inspired the author to write this novel about young, preteen Jesus. Stepien relied on his humble love of God and his passion for visual storytelling to help him shape this account of the boy Messiah, and His Passover pilgrimage. His experiences serving the needy and children of alcoholics were very influential, as well.

So if you’re yearning to know and understand Jesus this Easter season, consider our course, either as an individual or in a small group. We’re grateful to offer the research and talents of Chris — and of all of our gifted instructors — as we seek to shape disciples, transform hearts, and share the Good News.

Making the Most of ChurchNext in Your Church

This is the first in a series offering ideas for ways to use ChurchNext in your congregation, to meet the needs of parishioners and to build strong faith communities.Bible-Reading-Group-Photo

Finding God in Divorce (also available in the For Groups format):  Does your congregation have a divorce support group?  Carolyne Call offers a wonderful way to begin working through the emotional and spiritual damage broken relationships can cause. If your church has a support group, you may want to take this course together, either by meeting as a small group to watch the videos and discuss them, or by offering the course in your church’s online school. Participants could be encouraged to keep a journal of their thoughts, experiences, and wisdom gained; they could use their journal, the course and its Takeaway as references to revisit in times of need. Perhaps participants could collect the wisdom they’ve gained and share it with others outside the church, or with new members of the divorce support group.

Newcomers: What about those folks who are new to your parish and new to the Episcopal Church overall? If you come from a non-liturgical background, you may feel overwhelmed and confused at times by the different aspects of Episcopal worship and theology. You might want to offer Introducing Episcopal Worship and The Episcopal Tradition (also available in the For Groups format). By adding the course to your online school, you offer newcomers or the curious — or even their friends — an opportunity to learn more about the Episcopal Church in a non-threatening way. Alternatively, you can offer a time and space for newcomers to meet as a group, watch the videos, and discuss them. Clergy can be on hand to answer other questions — because there are always many!

Parenting: Parents often long to take part in congregational programs and spiritual formation, but haven’t childcare, are overscheduled, or are simply strapped for time. Why not offer a spiritual parenting program at your church — one that is based online, so that parents can take courses on their own schedule and as needed? In addition, you might arrange — or encourage them to arrange — regular small group meetings, playdates, potluck get-togethers, and the like, where parents can meet, learn from, discuss with, and support each other. There’s nothing more powerful than moral support and strength in numbers, as any parent knows. Simply offering time to think, reflect, learn, and then enjoy fellowship and discussion, can make a world of difference as parents try to raise their children in the faith. Courses along these lines include Spiritual Roots of Loving Parenting; Handling Strong-Willed Children, and Start a Family Devotional Time. They may also want to review the vows they made at their children’s baptism (and their own), since the event itself can be a distant memory.

How have you been using ChurchNext courses to shape and inspire disciples? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on social media (#churchnext).

animate: Bible 3 launches today

In our third course of the animate: Bible series with Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse Publishing, we are challenged to rethink how we read, interpret, and relate to the Scriptures. William Willimon and Jay Bakker offer us hopeful reminders that, though the Bible is complex and in need of interpretation, the overall message is simple: love and grace and freedom. animate

Though many have limited and oversimplified the Bible — even using it as a tool for inspiring fear or guilt — this course reminds us that the Bible is more complex than that. It cries out for interpretation and ongoing study, with prayer and in community. William Willimon reminds us that the Bible represents all the complexity and unpredictability of our God and speaks to us, who are complex creations ourselves. And yet, paradoxically, the Bible’s message of love and forgiveness are heart-freeingly simple. If you grew up in a tradition in which the Bible incited fear, guilt, and distress, Jay Bakker invites you to revisit it through the “lenses” of Jesus and St. Paul. They just may set you free.

We’re excited to offer this third opportunity to reanimate our thinking about the Bible, with such engaging and wise instructors.  Click here for more information or to register.

Animate: Bible 2 launches today

We’re thrilled with the second installment of animate: Bible, which launches today and features engaging and thought-provoking presentations by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Jose Morales. As we continue to shake up — to re-animate — our beliefs about and relationship with the Bible, we are reminded that the Bible is a crazy, life-changing, unbelievably deep and rich set of books that reward any investment we give them.

Nadia Bolz-Weber offers two reflections on how surprising the use of the term “gospel” was when it animatewas used by the gospel-writers, how the news represented by Jesus was good — but different — and why this crazy news is actually perfect for us right now. Jose Morales uses his wisdom and experience as a DJ to offer a new way to think about the Bible as a set of books, varied in genre, purpose and style as the books in a library or the types of music played in a club.

True to the mission of the animate: faith series, both Nadia and Jose’s video lectures will have you thinking — and redefining — what the Good News of the Bible is and how it speaks to you. Click here for more information or to register.

New course: Jesus at Twelve with Chris Stepien

It’s endlessly fascinating, isn’t it — trying to imagine what Jesus was like as a young boy, in those early years about which we know so little. As Chris Stepien says, the story of Jesus as a boy is “a story for the child in all of us.” What was the Messiah like as a child? What filled his days? What did he see, experience, do?  These questions inspired Chris Stepien so much that he’s written a novel imagining Jesus as a boy. In our latest course, Jesus at Twelve, Chris shares some of his research, stepinsight, and wisdom with us. We’ll explore the historical context of Jesus’ childhood in Egypt and in Nazareth; what life was like, what Jesus learned and ate and saw; then we’ll explore whether we might assume that Jesus performed miracles as a child. Finally, we’ll consider what an in-depth contemplation of Jesus’ childhood can teach us, and how it can enrich our faith.

This course offers a thoughtful look at a fascinating topic and is perfect for anyone seeking to better know and understand Jesus Christ. Click here for more information or to register.

Chris Stepien is an Emmy Award-winning producer and author of Three Days: The Search for the Boy Messiah.