Written by Emily Mullins
A nationally known minister, author and teacher in local church faith formation ministries has been called to lead the United Church of Christ Faith Formation Ministry Team. The Rev. Ivy Beckwith is joining the UCC's Local Church Ministries, headquartered in Cleveland, on Dec. 1. In this new position, Beckwith will foster a significant shift in how the denomination approaches and designs faith formation ministries within and for the UCC, in response to the findings of the UCC's in-depth Christian Faith Formation and Education Ministries Report issued in September 2012.
"As the UCC's Faith Formation Research Report made clear, approaches to faith formation have changed," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries. "No longer are we solely focused on an educational 'Sunday School' model, but one that embraces faith formation as the desired outcome of all we do as Christians and as communities of faith.
"Faith is being formed, for example, when we read the Stillspeaking Daily devotional each morning, or participate in a public witness for justice and then reflect on the experience. Faith is formed in worship, at choir rehearsals, in mission projects, in advocacy letters, with friends and family, and at dinner tables," Guess added. "This is the holistic, intergenerational direction we are emphasizing, helping to create faith formation components to everything we do in the church and in our family life."
"I can envision no one more appropriately suited to lead and speak to these shifts than Ivy Beckwith," Guess said. "Her thinking and writing has inspired and challenged Christian leaders across a broad theological spectrum, from liberal to conservative to emergent."
Beckwith, an ordained UCC minister hired following a national search, has spent her entire ministry career in faith formation ministry, most recently as Director of Religious Education at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York, N.Y. She has also served as the Minister to Children and Families at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Conn.
"I use a very simple definition for spiritual formation of children, youth and adults," Beckwith states. "For me spiritual formation is a process of loving God and living in the way of Jesus. People have written books on the definition and process of spiritual formation, but as I write and speak to groups about spiritual formation I want something that is easy for people to remember. And this definition seemed to be it for me."
Beckwith holds a Ph.D. in religious education and has worked in curriculum publishing as a writer, editor and marketer, authoring several well-received books in the area of childhood faith formation. Her most recent work, "Children's Ministry in the Way of Jesus," written to bring justice into formational ministries, will be released this fall.
"I see this as much more than the once-in-a-while application to a Bible story lesson," Beckwith said. "I think that living out the concept of God's justice in a children's ministry means helping children to act justly in their worlds, talking about human issues that perhaps aren't often talked about in a children's ministry and being aware of what the 'hidden curriculum' in our lives and churches is teaching children. How adults act means much more to them than what we say."
Beckwith's Faith Formation Ministry Team includes the Rev. Susan Blain, Waltrina Middleton, and the Rev. Scott Ressman, plus three part-time children and family ministers working jointly with the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Kate Epperly, the Rev. Olivia Bryan Updegrove and the Rev. Olivia Stewart Robertson. They will work to infuse new ideas, understandings and resources that speak to how faith is formed and deepened through every aspect of the church's corporate life (study, prayer, arts, worship, advocacy, mission, service, leadership, etc.), through families, in vocations, and in relationship with all of God's creation.
"Ivy emphasizes we've focused on the 'educational' model exclusively for too long, while ignoring the importance of the 'experiential,'" said Guess. "Her approach to faith formation is holistic. It happens everywhere, not just at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, and it's lifelong and intergenerational."
"We have too long believed that we can 'school' children, youth, and adults into being fully formed lovers of God and followers of Jesus," Beckwith said. "The church has in many ways seen spiritual nurture or faith formation as a cognitive endeavor where we think ourselves into belief or action. I think that is backward. I think we act ourselves into belief which involves behavior and emotion. That's not to say there isn't a place for formal education. I just think the emphasis has been misplaced."
A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Masters of Religious Education, Ivy earned a Ph.D. in education from Trinity International University, where her dissertation focused on experiential education and psycho-social growth. As team leader of the UCC Faith Formation Ministry, Beckwith will continue to establish the UCC's "Inspiring Models of Ministry" concept, like the "Bless" event in Boston, or "Peace Village" in San Mateo, Calif., where congregations inspire other congregations in the ministries in which they exceed.
As Guess said, "Ivy has talked repeatedly about the need to find, embrace and replicate what's happening in congregations of all shapes and sizes that is working well."
"I think our churches have much to learn from what other churches have found to be both meaningful and successful," Beckwith said. "And one of the things I love to do is connect people in ministry who are thinking and talking about the same things. However, I do believe that how any church does faith formation really needs to grow out of the ethos of that particular church. I am a big believer in the idea of transferable concepts. Once we understand the underlying basis of a program or initiative, we can bring that idea to different settings and tweak it to fit that particular setting. I am also a big fan of tweaking."