Advent formation is underway. Lent is on the horizon. But what are formation leaders to make of the season between them?
The season after Epiphany can be a planning challenge. Its length changes from year to year. It arrives on the heels of one of the busiest programmatic times of the year, Advent/Christmas, and comes right before another program-intense church season, Lent. Few traditions give it structure, and fewer resources designed specifically for it are available.
If you are facing a blank page right now in your formation programs for the season after Epiphany, we get it, and we’ve got you covered. An article on Epiphany formation that can help you get started is “Three Teaching Points for Epiphany” by Sarah Bentley Allred, which suggests ways to teach about the Magi, baptism and the Trinity, and the revelation of Jesus that can engage all ages. Below you will find more ideas and resources (in alphabetical order by title) to aid your planning process. This list is tailored to adult formation opportunities, but some of the topics work well for children, youth, and intergenerational formation, too.
God’s Inclusion of All People
Epiphany is a day associated with Magi visiting Jesus. The political significance of gentile wise men honoring a Jewish child offers a powerful starting point for exploring topics like God’s inclusion of all people into life with the God of Israel, crossing social and political boundaries and borders, and racial justice.
- Lectionary-based examination of justice in scripture – Isaiah and Micah readings (Year A), Luke readings (Year C)
- Bible study that investigates stories of inclusion and racial and social boundary crossings
- Book study that focuses on boundary or border crossings for people today
- “Book Discussion Guides” at Episcopal Migration Ministries website – for a book list and small group discussion resources about contemporary experiences of people migrating and seeking refuge
- “Humbled among the Nations: Matthew 15:21-28 in Antiracist Womanist Missiological Engagement” by Love L. Sechrest in Can “White” People Be Saved?: Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission, eds. Love L. Sechrest, et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2018), 276-99 – for a historical analysis and antiracist reading of the complex portrayals of gentiles in Matthew’s gospel
- The Queer Bible Commentary eds. Deryn Guest, et al. (London: SCM, 2006) – for engagements with biblical books that center LGBTQIA+ identities and contest patriarchal and heteronormative determinations of gender and sexuality
- “Ruth and Esther: Epiphany 2023,” The Good Book Club Bible study hosted by Forward Movement – for an online Bible study and resources focused on the stories of Ruth and Esther, which involve racial, gender, and social boundary crossings for a gentile woman in an Israelite family and a Jewish woman in a gentile empire
The first Sunday after Epiphany is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which is a day for baptizing new members and reaffirming the baptismal vows of the whole community. This occasion for baptism makes the weeks following Epiphany a good time to dive into your community’s baptismal covenant, promises, or vows. Exploring what baptism means for the life of the body of Christ can be a fruitful way to support newly baptized members, to begin catechesis for those who are interested in being baptized at Easter, and to reexamine the core of Christian faith and life together as a community.
- Investigating what the questions or vows in your baptismal liturgy have meant in the past and reflecting on what they mean for your community in your social context today
- Engaging questions or vows through lenses of social or ecological justice
- The Baptizing Community: Christian Initiation and the Local Congregation by A. Theodore Eastman (Wilton, CT: Morehouse, 1991) – for an overview of key theological layers of baptism’s meaning in church history
- “Being Baptized: Race” by Willie James Jennings in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, eds. Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2011), 277-89 – for a discussion of the theological and social implications of baptism for churches immersed in a racially inequitable landscape
- “A Feminist Apostles’ Creed” by Sarah Moon in “Liberating Liturgies: A Creed and a Call” at Patheos website (Sept. 17, 2014) – for a creative take on the Apostles’ Creed that challenges patriarchal and white supremacist interpretations (note: this resource contains language that might be considered profane)
Illuminations and Revelations
Epiphany’s etymological ties to actions of appearing, revealing, and making known also provide fertile ground for exploring revelations and gaining understanding during the season. This time offers an opportunity to invite church members to learn more about God, your community, and the world, and formation programs can move in historical, prophetic, mystical, or social directions.
- Investigating prophetic visions or revelations in scripture
- Studying mystics or visionaries within Christian history
- Learning more about the history of your community – the land and place, the people who first lived there, and the social and economic dimensions of the community’s relationship with the wider neighborhood
- Seeking deeper understanding of a pressing social or ecological issue, like racial inequities, gender and sexuality injustice, or the status of the climate crisis
- “Becoming Beloved Community Where You Are” at The Episcopal Church website (rev. 2022) – for resources in English and español on examining a community’s racial history and seeking racial justice
- “Epiphany: Revelation and Coming into One’s Own” by Lauren Kay – for a discussion of “self-revelation” and renaming liturgies that can speak to experiences of people who identify as transgender and gender nonbinary
- Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich (one translation to check out is by Elizabeth Spearing in the Penguin Classics series, 1998) – for an account of a medieval female mystic’s visions of Christ and theological reflections that emphasize God’s tender compassion and eventual new creation
Callings and Discernment
Often in the season after Epiphany, the Sunday lectionary gospel readings include stories of Jesus calling people to be disciples at the outset of his ministry. These call stories open the door to exploring and discerning both personal and communal vocations during this season.
- Bible study with I Corinthians (which appears in the Sunday lectionary readings all three years) that focuses on communal discernment
- Book study on personal or communal vocations in a life of faith
- Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000) – for a book that can be read with a group on attending to who you are in order to discern your vocation
- Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community by Suzanne G. Farnham, et al., 30th anniversary ed. (New York: Morehouse, 2021) – for a book that provides guidance on callings, ministries, and discernment
- The Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All around Us by Kathleen A. Cahalan (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017) – for a book that can be read with a group on understanding personal vocation within relationships and experiences that shape your life
As you consider different possibilities for Epiphany adult formation in your context, these big-picture questions can be useful for figuring out what directions may align best with your community at this particular juncture:
- Where is your community at, and what do adult church members most need right now?
- What limits do you need to work within?
- What values do you want to guide your formation programs and planning?
- What excites adult members of your community, and how might formation connect with that in this season?
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 19, 2022. It has been updated on January 2, 2024 with a more precise clarification to the content note above.