Every child is born with a biologically based capacity for natural spirituality. This natural spirituality, if it is supported, is a tremendous resource for health and thriving. The research supports this: adolescents with a strong personal spirituality are 60 percent less likely to suffer from substance use and abuse and 80 percent less likely to engage in risky and unprotected sex than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented…Religion traditionally offers a language and guidance for spiritual growth and development, as well as a sense of community and relationships based upon spiritual values. These are all critical elements of developing a personal spirituality. Quote from Lisa Miller author of The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving
Thank you for allowing me to attend the 2019 FORMA conference in Indianapolis, Indiana on 23 -25 January. FORMA is a network for Episcopal formation leaders whose mission is to celebrate, equip, support, and connect leaders who form followers of Jesus. Both lay ministers, like myself, and clergy gathered from all over the U.S. to attend this conference to connect with each other and learn how others are forming children, youth, and adults as people of faith. I have never attended a conference like this before and it was such a gift. It was a full schedule of worship, workshops, lectures, and networking receptions. I met and made friends with many other formation leaders from all over the U.S. It was an eye-opening experience for me to realize that I am not alone in the challenges of formation ministry. The conference offered a snapshot of where the Episcopal Church is today, helped remind me why this ministry is so vital right now, and gave glimpses of the many different ways we are formed to be the Body of Christ in the world. It was a gift to see how others are creatively working on this challenge, especially with children, youth, and intergenerational formation. The conference provided an abundance of information and insight on the questions: how does Liturgy form us, and how are we forming people for Evangelism? Since returning, I have allowed this experience to stew for a while as there was much to take in.
The two biggest things I came away with were:
I learned to be comfortable worshipping with liturgy that is unfamiliar to me. To me and perhaps for you, the most essential way that I am formed as a Christian is in worship. I love traditional Anglican worship. It is comforting and familiar and what I grew up with. I was able to experience for myself what it feels like when we allow other voices into our traditional liturgy. I attended worship at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis where worship and music were in both Spanish and English. Once I got over the discomfort of unfamiliarity, I found the worship joyful and freeing and opening. Our traditional worship is so beautiful to me but I saw that our worship can be exclusive and unwelcoming to someone unfamiliar with Anglican traditions and music. I experienced worship and music which opened up liturgy to allow the music and language of several other cultures; it also opened me up to new ways of being Church. A speaker during one of the lectures pointed out that keeping worship on our terms was a form of spiritual segregation and when other voices are invited to speak we are practicing vernacular Anglicanism. I experienced that we can hold the framework of our traditional worship and still allow for room to invite others into it.
I learned that those in dire need are our children, youth, and families. In all of the workshops I attended, we named that the anxiety and stress and over scheduling that children, youth, and families feel is not balanced by the development and nurturing of an inner life right now. Our children and youth are growing up in a fast-paced, technological society where great demands are put on them to perform. Our Church has the potential to become the counter-balance, the sanctuary for them and for us. We as Church could reach out to both those who walk through our door and to those who are not but should. This is where our work could be.
Many of us left the conference with the realization that the Episcopal Church needs to transform quickly as it tries to align what Church is to what the reality is today. I have returned from this experience with renewed knowing in my heart that we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, are called to become more than what we are today. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with all of you as we continue to form this blessed community together.