Happy New Year! Today is a day full of hope. The trail through 2018 is behind us, with all its ambiguities, things joyful and terrible, and now 2019 lays before us. It is full of potential, pristine as a meadow of untrampled fresh snowfall. Yes, there may be some shadows from the edges of the forest, but there is so much possibility: you can ski this way or that, build a snow fort, make snow angels, even have a snowball fight with your kids. Or simply admire the way the sunlight glistens off the crystals, a million diamonds spread as far as you can see. Fresh, new, renewal beckons us in body and spirit.
Christian Formation is breaking fresh ground; you enjoyed the Thrive programs offered in November. Now, starting this month, we will again go off the familiar path, court adventure, try some different things, even be a bit crazy as we seek to experience God. Isn’t that an important part of the spiritual journey? We are going to use the West Forum/Choir Room on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. for this experiment, at least through the spring. For many years, our Forum program has focused on lectures and presentations, which we have listened to eagerly, and asked great questions. Lectures are a great method of learning for some people and generations, but as education in general has moved away from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide by the side,” we want to expand our learning styles. Spiritual formation indeed involves the head but includes also “heart and hands and voices.”
While we will certainly still have traditional presentations by outside groups, and events like Candidate Forums, we want to explore some new ways. We will continue to preserve elements we have valued from our past approach:
We want to build on the past, but increase our focus on fresh aspects:
The Formation Board realized that the Spirit was leading us in new directions, and has assembled an excited Revisioning Team, still open to new people, to imagine our use of the West Room. The Forum Planning Ministry Team had worked hard for many years developing the Forums, for which I am grateful, and I am thrilled at the energy the Revisioning Team is bringing to the table. (See me if you’d like to participate!) The Board realized the West Room is the largest educational space in our building, one of the best equipped, and amazingly flexible. We can set up with chairs for lectures or circles for intimate discussions, with tables for theology café or crafts, we can clear the floor for an indoor labyrinth, Spirit Yoga, meditation or dance. We can cover the whiteboard with insights and the walls with newsprint sheets of prayers. We can show film clips or listen to podcasts. The piano lets us explore song and music. Such an amazing space, a wonderful tool our congregants past and present have created!
January 13 and 20, we will be introducing the as-yet-unnamed program and providing different ways for you to give your input to our work. Among other things, we will identify the spiritual “itches” that we have, those growing edges that sometimes annoy us, those places where the Spirit is disturbing our souls, those things that we know we need to work on in the safe space of life together with other people following God. On the 27th, we will try out dramatic improv as a way to get into the itches we identify in an embodied and full voiced way, to try on different solutions for size, and see what we discover we know deep in our being. In February, we will dig into Brené Brown’s ideas around empathy, through film, discussion and crafting. In March… Oh, I guess the Spirit hasn’t carried the team that far. What do you think would be good?
This New Year, I invite you into this Christian Formation construction zone (look for the yellow tape!). Experiment with us; some things will be great, others may well flop -- and that’s OK. Roll up your sleeves, put on some googles (and maybe a helmet) since you never know what God might do when God’s people open to new moves of the Spirit.
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.
You may have noticed over the last few years that we’ve shifted the language we use to describe how we learn, grow and thrive in faith. Once called “Christian Education,” we now use the term “Christian Formation.” It moves us away from a focus on beliefs and solely cerebral activities towards an understanding of Christian growth rooted in the whole person. As the great commandment says, we come to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.” Theological information is still vital, but it is not the only driver of growth; we need to feel, relate, and act. Human personhood is multifaceted, so how we are nurtured, the way we are shaped, the way we are formed into the fullness of mature faith uses many tools. Hence, Christian Formation helps our life in Christ to thrive.
At Plymouth, we also have the gift of permission to try new things. Some wag said that the “Last 7 Words of the Church” are “But we’ve always done it this way!” Familiar ways of doing something like Sunday School are actually pretty recent history. “Sunday school” as general education for children working in factories began in the 1780s. But it was only in the early 20th century that it became the primary engine of Christian education connected with Sunday morning church, dropping the reading, writing and arithmetic. So we count ourselves quite free to innovate with the hour between services we have designated for Formation, and also to extend Formation programs to other times and places. We can discover fresh ways to thrive in our faith!
All through the month of November, we will experiment with different ways of growing in faith, keyed to the theme of Thrive and informed by Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” These experiences are designed so you can drop into them after coming from Totenfest, enjoying the Pie Potluck, or shopping at the Alternative Giving Fair. There are different activities in each room:
• Labyrinth: The outdoor labyrinth is open to walk, meditate, and enjoy (bundle up if the weather is bad).
• Forum Room: A different video (about 15 minutes) each week on various life-and-faith topics, by Rob Bell, followed by discussion. Video starts at 10:20 a.m.
• North Adult Ed Room: A quiet place for meditation, curated by the Centering Prayer and Healing Prayer groups.
• Club 45 Room: Honoring the Cloud of Witnesses. A place to consider the people who have formed your life journey, thanking God for their impact on you, by writing and drawing.
• Fireside Room: Poem Scrabble, playing with Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
• Sprouts Room (starting Nov. 11): Faith is a Growing Thing. Plant seeds in small pots to grow in a sunny place at home, and consider the spirituality of nurturing life.
• North Room (starting Nov. 18): Make an Advent Box for your family to prepare for Christmas.
To help you keep track of your travels through the building and month, use the Passport we will make available at a table in the Fellowship Hall. As you complete each spiritual practice, get a stamp in your passport. Yes, this is inspired by the Pilgrim Passport of the Camino de Santiago. Get four stamps and at the end of the month, turn it in to get a fun prize!
One of the great gifts that Church provides is the opportunity for intergenerational learning. These spiritual practices are designed for all ages, and we encourage children to go through the month accompanied by their favorite adults. Parents, grand-parents, gay uncle-recruited-for-the-occasion, all will be blessed by the chance to engage these activities together with children. Some will even lend themselves to use at home later on.
In these conflicted times, we need to tap into all sorts of different spiritual resources. I trust you will find these experiences helpful. I am writing this before going to the vigil in Old Town for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. And as I reviewed yet again Maya Angelou’s poem, this stanza stood out to me:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee,