What one does in the world, what one thinks and believes is all about formation — the life experiences with family, friends, faith community, education, work and more that creates the context of each individual. A foundation of values and beliefs that form and focus — concepts that are just as critical theologically.
That's why the national leadership of the United Church of Christ is inviting anyone and everyone who loves the UCC to an important two-day summit in April 2018 that will focus on the very theological foundation that forms the denomination — and defines who we are…what we think…what we do…in the world.
"The UCC has always valued what we used to refer to as Christian Education," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. "Because of our belief in the priesthood of all believers and the responsibility of every member to work out their faith journey with their Creator — we have always invested in ways to keep our members informed, prepared, and educated. We still value that, but the methods by which we have done that for a very long time no longer work. The Sunday School model isn't meeting the needs of adults and children. We aren't reaching our families the way we used to. Our seminaries are in a time of enormous transition. The time is now for us to ask serious questions — not about whether or not we still value Christian Education and Theological Formation — but how we discover new ways to execute that."
'From the Ground Up: Re-imagining Theological Formation' is a two-day discussion planned for April 9-10, in Cleveland, Ohio that leaders hope will provide the platform to do that very thing.
"We won't be relevant, as people of faith, individually, in our communities of faith, and as the United Church of Christ, unless we build our life, work, and actions on solid theological formation," said the Rev. Alice Hunt, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, and vice-chair of the UCC Board of Directors. "We participate in theological formation and development frequently, often in isolated silos. At the same time, we are not being collectively intentional about that formation. This summit is designed to jump start our collective work. We are asking UCC people to come prepared to work, and to work together."
Participants interested in forming and nurturing life-long theological formation will gather in large and small groups in an effort to identify and dispel false assumptions and encounter new formation possibilities.
The summit will be launched with a keynote presentation by Bishop Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge UCC in Oakland, Calif., and panelists will engage those in attendance in theological formation from a variety of denominational lenses.
Registration for the summit opens in January, and the event at the Westin Hotel in downtown Cleveland will accommodate up to 150 participants.
Rev. Dorhauer is issuing a broad invitation to all who have a stake in the conversation: Seminary leaders, Members in Discernment, Sunday School teachers and leaders, clergy, and those working with or supporting the many lay colleges and universities. "If you have an interest in the ongoing future of how the United Church of Christ shapes its theological and educational future, please consider coming to this seminal event," he said. "Because we value Theological Formation, and because the current models are broken, we are asking the denomination to gather and envision a new pathway to equipping the saints for the mission and ministry of the church."
This theological summit follows Hunt's call at General Synod 2017 in Baltimore which urged the UCC to consider, as a denomination, ways to foster and support cradle-to-the-grave theological formation consistent with who we are called to be as the United (and uniting) Church of Christ.
"What I hope we all take away is a pathway to excellence," Dorhauer said. "I want us to articulate commitments that make clear how we need to invest our mission resources in order to equip our members to be fully engaged in the life and mission of the church. This is a first step. Although we know what we do here will require much more of us, it is premature to guess what that might be. We should have more clarity about that after those gathered spend two days dreaming about what Theological Formation in the 21st century looks like."
As Hunt said, "I hope participants leave the summit tired from hard work, knowing we have a good start at our collective work to be intentional about how we theologically form members of our beloved United Church of Christ."