Did you ever wonder where the adult Sunday School classes and Forums came from? You know that each Sunday during the Education For All Hour we offer a variety of opportunities for adults, as well as a full complement of children’s and youth classes. There are generally two “Study Groups,” classes that run usually for six weeks, and a “Forum," where the program changes weekly.
The Forums are a longstanding tradition at Plymouth. For the last couple of years, we have aimed to build them around a monthly theme. So while each session stands alone, a person benefits from attending all the programs during a month. Ideally, the first week of the month we lay a theological foundation for the ensuing weeks. Why is this topic important to discuss at church? What are concepts or values from our theological toolkit of scripture, tradition, and contemporary spiritual reflection that help us address this set of issues? How does discussing this issue in our community of faith differ than if we were discussing the same issue at the Rotary Club? Then the ensuring weeks we dig deeper into the issue, often bringing in speakers from the wider community. We almost always have time for questions and discussion in the class, to hone our understandings. The Forum is at the west end of the building towards the memorial garden and labyrinth, through the art gallery.
The Forums are planned by the Forum Ministry Team. The church staff annually sketches out the monthly topics, and the ministry team fills in the detailed programs. They meet roughly monthly to flesh out the programs. There is often a lot of creative discussion about how to approach a topic, and then a lot of brainstorming about appropriate resource people. The team is currently pretty small –- Ken Freese, Bruce Rhonda and Ken Klopenstein -– so would love to have some others join them (particularly some women and some younger people!). See any of them or me if you’re curious about our work or want to join.
The other two offerings each week we call “Study Groups.” These generally run for six weeks, and use a variety of resources for content. Often there are books to read and discuss, sometimes they use video or web based curricula, or a class built around presentations and guest speakers, so the format varies widely. We work to have balance between three broad areas: spiritual, personal and social. Some topics are “spiritual” broadly construed –- theology, Bible, spiritual practices, or church life. Some topics are “personal” -– for example, relationships, parenting, recovery, or aging. And others are “social” – economics, environment, politics or social justice issues. I like to have co-leaders, or even a small team, to lead these classes, which provides coverage for absence and different teaching/learning styles. One of the classes is in the North Adult Ed Room, the first room on the left as you go down the north hallway; and the other is in the Fireside Room (which also houses our renewed library, watch for its grand opening for circulation!) east of the Fellowship Hall, with entrances off the front lobby.
While once upon a time there was a monthly committee meeting to plan these classes, for the last several years we have found that having an annual half day workshop works better. People who have an idea for a class they’d like to offer, and people who want to help shape our offerings, gather together. They consider ideas people bring (and I bring a variety of other options to help prime the pump), give-and-take, pray, talk about the needs of the congregation, prioritize and work out the schedule for the coming program year. This year’s workshop, to plan the 2018-19 year, is Saturday, May 5 from 10 am to 3 pm in the Forum Room. We’ll have a light lunch together; if you’d like to participate in this workshop, please RSVP to me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All these programs are in our Education For All Hour, from 10:00 – 10:50 a.m. between our two worship services. An ongoing issue is being able to begin the classes and Forum on time, which trims our “50 minute hour” to 45 or even less. That makes it hard to do justice to the material, and does not respect the time and commitment of outside speakers who have come to present for us. So I’d encourage you to be on time. If you’ve come to the 9:00 a.m. worship service, move with all due speed from worship to class. (And encourage your children to do likewise.) This will enable everyone to get maximum benefit from the classes.
One potential remedy for this challenge is for us to increase opportunities outside the traditional Sunday School hour. I would love to see us offer classes on a weekday evening, where there would be an hour-and-a-half together. This would let us explore material in more depth, and develop groups with greater trust and intimacy with greater potential for transformation. Talk to me, or the chair of the Christian Formation Board, Mari Strombom-Johnson if you’d like to explore expanding our offerings.
I love that Plymouth is a community that values adult learning. The Formation Board explicitly includes adults in its mission, and we believe that Christian learning, growth and action (in other words, “Formation”) takes place throughout our entire life cycle. The board’s mission statement provides a great summary of what we want to accomplish through these programs:
Rooted in the progressive Christian tradition of the U.C.C., the Christian Formation Board and its ministries teach, challenge, and equip Plymouth's worshiping community of children, youth, and adults to develop a lifelong transforming relationship with God that inspires action towards peace and justice for all of creation.
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
Director of Christian Formation (Adults)
The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee brings a passion for Christian education that bears fruit in social justice. He has had a lifelong fascination with theology, with a particular emphasis on how Biblical hermeneutics shape personal and political action. Read more about Mark.