At St. Paul’s our Adult Christian Formation Programs seek to provide a diverse theological, spiritual, and biblical education. We offer programs in different formats to provide opportunities for all to participate.
Beginning the Conversation
I have come to understand that having specific objectives for learning make for a better educational experience. At St. Paul’s in Rochester, NY we gathered folks for conversation around Adult Formation learning outcomes, setting aside a Saturday morning and recruiting nineteen people to attend. We worked hard to make sure the group was as diverse as possible, representing different ages as well as different groups within the church.
A Starting Framework
We adapted an existing framework, as it can take many, many meetings to come up with learning outcomes from scratch. We began with the work of theological educator Daniel Aleshire, who suggests that Christian formation enables people to:
1. Learn the Christian story, both ancient and present
2. Develop the skills they need to act out their faith
3. Reflect on the story in order to live self-aware to its truth
4. Nurture the sensitivities they need to live together as a covenant community
*This definition of Christian formation can be found in Basics of Christian Education by Karen Tye on page 14.
Our Saturday Retreat
Gathering – We gathered around 9AM and offered coffee, tea, and refreshments. I recommend having people wear name tags, even if you think most people know each other. You might open with a prayer or reading from scripture.
Warm-Up – We began the day with a warm-up exercise, a reading from 40-Day Journey with Howard Thurman, Day 5, about a childhood experience where those around him wanted “comet pills” to save them when the tail of the comet struck the earth. After the reading, I asked, “How might a community of faith lessen the allure of ‘comet pills’?” Answers included: Community, belonging, inclusivism, articulate who you are, become who you already are, enduring values, community where you can express your doubts, christian formation and people on a journey, and “faith is believing what you know ain’t so” (Mark Twain).
Brainstorming – Next, I outlined Daniel Aleshire’s frame work and we spent time brainstorming what each of these might mean for us. You can do this in a number of ways, for example, by splitting into four groups, assigning each group one piece of the framework, brainstorming independently and reporting back.
What’s Missing? – After brainstorming what each piece of Aleshire’s framework might mean for us, I asked, “What might be missing?”
Making It Our Own – Based on our conversation, we came up with these outcomes.
At St. Paul’s our Christian Formation Programs help us:
- Educate ourselves on the living history of the Church.
- Learn and develop the tools to link our faith with daily life.
- Reflect on our own experiences through liturgy, mission, evangelism, stewardship and service.
- Respect each other’s faith story to live with empathy and compassion following our baptismal covenant.
- Put our Christian faith in dialogue with other traditions.
*Break* – At this point in the morning we took a break, you might need two shorter breaks rather than one break in the middle.
How Do Our Programs Fit? – After the break, we put our five outcomes on flip chart paper around the room; armed with post-it notes the participants put the programs from the past year into these categories. We were then able to make sure that we were all on the same page by looking at the details within each category; and also noting if there was something on a post-it that didn’t fit anywhere. After conversation and tweaking, we agreed that these learning outcomes would work for us.
Closing Prayer – Give thanks for the time, energy, and creativity of the group!
Follow Up & Using the Outcomes
The following year, we came back together to see how that years’ experience fit into our outcomes. We decided that they were still working.
Each March/April we sit with a small group to plan the following year’s adult formation programs. This group includes the Rector, Assistant Rector, a person from the parish who assists in presenting programs and any other clergy person (a seminary student, for example) who is with us. Our Adult Formation program includes an inter-service program on Sunday morning, an evening program with dessert and a speaker, a Lenten soup and study program, some book groups, and other single session programs. Once the plan is created, the Director reviews the offerings with a view to the learning outcomes to ensure we are offering at least one program in each of the first four areas.
Now five years later, we are planning a follow-up session to look at these outcomes, asking ourselves if these are still the outcomes we are working toward, and what new opportunities are available to reach more people in our parish.
Nancy Grear retired as Registrar and Director of Institutional Research and Student Learning Outcomes at a local college and was asked to fill in as the Interim Director of Adult Formation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rochester New York. She is now in her sixth year. She has completed a program at Shalem Institute in Leading Prayer Groups and Retreats, and a Certificate program at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Biblical Studies.