Faith Formation Whitewater? Keep Your Paddles Down!

Faith Formation Whitewater? Keep Your Paddles Down!

One of my favorite pieces of life wisdom came to me during a church whitewater rafting trip down the Shenandoah River out of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Before we started, our guide warned us, “Whether your raft is in the air or in the water, keep your paddles down!  Being poised to be a part of the inevitable forward movement of change gives you much more control over where the change is going in contrast to your “paddle up” (opting out) thinking that you will just watch the scenery fly by!

I suspect many of us engaged in church education and faith formation programs these days find ourselves lamenting the fact that there are so many disorienting technological, social and economic changes impacting the lives of our communities, and especially the lives of families and children. The changes are coming at us so swiftly and deeply that we can hardly take a breath, much less get our bearings to steer through the rapids ahead!

Believing We Can Make a Difference

Do you wonder how we can possibly make any difference through the traditional faith formation programs of our congregations?.  I believe we can! We just have to remember that, when we are in whitewater, we need to “keep our paddles down, whether we are up in the air or in the water!” Like it or not, we live in a “white water world”, both as a church and as a society. There is no turning back.  All we can do is have faith in Christ’s power of creative transformation at work in our lives (keep our paddles down) and pull together to creatively navigate the swift currents of this transformation.

The United Church of Christ in the national setting is responding “with our paddles down” by streamlining the structure of our covenanted ministries and asking us all to “pull together” across traditional boundaries of ministry to forge new integrative partnerships and explore new horizons of inclusive, life-long, intergenerational faith formation. This as an exciting time to be in faith formation leadership. I am proud to be a part of a denomination which is vision driven and “leaning together into our future with our BIG’s” (to quote  Geoffrey Black). These Bold Inspirational Goals (BIGs) are to embody “a bold, public voice, reachable and welcoming congregations, engaged discipleship, and excellent and diverse leadership” so that we may extend God’s extravagant welcome to persons across diverse faith practices and beliefs; ages, races, cultures; sexual and affectional expressions; and our ever-widening political and socio-economic realities.

This new commitment to “ mindfully bringing our lives to our reflections and our scripture, and our scripture to our reflections on living” (to quote James Moos) will ground meeting the changing needs of our time in the wisdom of truly listening to our “still speaking God” in that we do and say. This is what is needed to develop the kind of imaginative and visionary “paddle down” leadership we need to navigate our “boat” of faith along the currents of these rapidly changing post-modern times.

Pulling Together: A New Family and Children’s Ministries Partnership

In addition, I am very happy that, as part of this new cross-ministry, integrative faith formation vision, Family and Children’s Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are pioneering a new cross-denominational collaborative partnership embodied by myself, and two other Ministers of Family and Children’s Ministries: Rev. Dr. Olivia Bryan Updegrove and Rev. Olivia Stewart Robertson. Although we are deployed staff living at some distance from each other in Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan, respectively, we have been regularly teambuilding, sharing our gifts and passions and working on a shared vision and goals for the upcoming year.

We will be functioning both as a part of the larger UCC Faith Formation Team (for which our new Chair, Rev. Ivy Beckwith, has just been appointed) and the CC(DOC) Division of Homeland Ministries.  We plan to curate resources for nurturing children in worship, the home and in the community. One such project, initated by Rev. Kelly Burd, Minister for Leadership Development with Justice and Witness Ministries, is a new “at home” family faith formation and social justice  resource  to be introduced via a webinar entiitled “Homegrown Faith and Justice” on Friday, November 22, 3:30 – 5:00 PM EST

Always Looking Forward : Inspiring Models of Ministry

Earlier this month more than thirty persons from all over the country attended“Inspiring Models of Ministry” event held at San Mateo Congregational Church (CA). For twenty four hours participants from all over the country shared in a variety of  “Peace Village” interfaith faith formation experiences which this congregation developed with Christian, Muslim and Hebrew adult leaders, youth counselors and children  in their community. (“An Invitation to Peace Village: Faith Formation in a Multifaith World (LCMFP)” DVD and booklet are available online through UCC Resources for $6.99.

We look forward to discovering and developing more such groundbreaking “Inspiring Models of Ministry” opportunities in the future! If you believe your congregation is offering an inspiring model integrative faith formation ministry which we might lift up at a national level for others to adapt or replicate, please let us know!

God is still speaking and we are listening. The testament of Jesus Christ continues and you are an important participant in it! We hope to respond to your creative ideas, feedback, concerns and prayers as we pull together to navigate the swiftly flowing rapids of faith formation in our post-modern world! We want to hear from you! Also, please stay tuned to the Family and Children’s Ministries sections of both the websites of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as we gradually curate for you a wide variety of easily accessible resources which will enable you to nurture this new integrative faith formation in your community and share its Good News of healing and wholeness in a fragmented world!  Whatever you do, brothers and sisters in the faith, keep your paddles down!

Contact information: Rev. Dr. Kate Epperly,  Rev. Olivia Bryan Updegrove, and Rev. Olivia Stewart Robertson