We are in a crisis of formation.
I am reluctant to use the word “crisis,” as we have been in this state for so many years that it feels alarmist to use it now. As a native Iowan I don’t even use emergency words when there is an emergency, as “I am not happy about this,” translates to “I AM FURIOUS.” However, it is time to use the word crisis now, because although it is overused, it is actually true. We as a denomination are neglecting lifelong Christian formation, to our own detriment.
How do I know this?
I know this because we are not talking about formation and discipleship at this convention. Why aren’t we talking about formation? We have made significant decisions about lifelong formation at the denominational level which have had a significant impact on where we are today. Those decisions have not only impacted the conversations we have at General Convention but have impacted the work we are all doing in our own contexts.
In the past nine years we, as General Convention, have made significant changes to the structures and governance of the church. We chose to end the work of the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation and cut the Episcopal Church Formation Department budget by over $2,000,000, nearly cutting the department entirely in 2012. We have also reduced the staff of the office from nine full time employees to four. The Episcopal Church Formation Department now has four full-time employees:
- Director for Formation, Youth and Young Adult Ministries
- Officer for Young Adult and Campus Ministries
- Officer for Digital Formation and Events
- Associate for Formation Department
The end result of these staffing changes means The Episcopal Church has a formation department that has the necessary funding to work only with those ages 13-30. We as the Episcopal Church only fund formation ministries at the denominational level for eighteen years. Only eighteen years!
There is no criticism to be aimed at the formation department. It does remarkable work within their constraints. We need to own that we, as the Episcopal Church, do not support formation ministries with children, adults, older adults, or lifelong formation at the denominational level.
Following changes enacted at the 78th General Convention, there is no commission, committee, agency, board or task force truly tasked with specifically engaging lifelong formation and discipleship for all the baptized. As a result, there is a significant lack of legislation in front of this convention that engages a conversation around the ministry of the baptized. At recent conventions we have had lively conversations around how we engage the formation of our largest order of ministry, the laity. We have raised up:
- The Children’s Charter for the Church
- The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation (which informs the current Charter for Evangelism)
- Safeguarding God’s Children
- awareness of the Five Marks of Mission
- questions around the role of Confirmation
- resources for special needs
- electronic resources for Christian formation
- ministries to, by and with older adults
- baptismal theology
- certification for those who engage Christian formation with all ages
- and formation curriculum for Province IX.
For the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church we have very few pieces of legislation which open conversation around the formation of the ministry of all the baptized.
Being formed as a disciple takes time. It isn’t sexy. It will never be the new “it” or buzzword. But it is at the root of all that we do as Christians. If we as a denomination choose not to invest in formation, if we don’t pay attention, if we are not intentional about it, formation will not happen. There are opportunities at this General Convention to make a change. D030 and A136 both support and encourage growth in our current formation structures and networks.
We have to be talking about, engaging, and funding formation ministries for all ages and supporting that work at the denominational level if we want to be in a “loving, liberating, life giving relationship with God, with each other, and with the earth.” We cannot do any of this good work of convention if we are not actively being formed as disciples of the risen Christ and creating spaces where the Holy Spirit can do her work of creating disciples.
In the words of Resolution A082 of the 2009 General Convention: Lifelong Christian Faith Formation in The Episcopal Church is Lifelong growth in the knowledge, service and love of God as followers of Christ and is informed by Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
We are not currently engaging in lifelong formation and discipleship as a denomination. At this convention we have the ability to change that trend by supporting D030 and A136, but we have to make active choices to do so. Will we?
Missy Morain is the Director of Program Ministry at The Parish of St. Matthew, Pacific Palisades, in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and is an advocate for lifelong Christian formation.