“Helping Us Live Out Our Faith in This World”
There are wonderful things in the works at St. Gabriel the Archangel in the education arena. A new ministry of Adult Formation will be presented in the new year with the formal name “Christian Formation/Education.” Its intent is to develop our Christian faith and offer ways of actively living out our faith in this world. We would like to focus on four ways of moving toward this goal:
First, we have our Episcopal liturgy and Eucharistic practice – there’s a lot to learn that can deepen our worship experience.
Second, Christianity and our Hebrew heritage have a rich and varied history over three thousand years. By exploring the roots of our faith, we can find new ways of understanding our world today.
Beyond that, each of us is also an individual, looking for spiritual growth in our own way. We can explore new (and old) ways, within the Christian tradition, to enrich our inner world and relationship with God.
Finally, we can explore ways of acting, through the radical love of Jesus, to try and make our community, and the world around us, into a better place. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and our Bishop Akiyama are deeply committed to this goal, and we can become a part of that effort. These are not independent activities – they are tightly connected.
We are proposing four areas of focus beginning in 2023:
- Episcopal Liturgy and Eucharistic practice
- Christianity and our Hebrew heritage
- Spiritual growth
- Learning about acting in our community through the radical love of Jesus.
Episcopal Liturgy and Eucharistic Practice:
Cradle Episcopalians may be familiar with how our services are constructed and the sources of the Book of Common Prayer, but many of our members (including myself) have arrived from other religious traditions. And it’s just possible that long-time members might enjoy refreshing their knowledge.
St. Gabriel already has a number of ways to learn: At a recent service, Fr. Everett gave us a guided explanation of the Liturgy and Eucharist, along with a guide booklet to capture what he said. We will repeat that periodically and offer the booklet to new members.
Each year, our Liturgy focuses on one of the four Gospels – Matthew is the one for 2023. In mid-January, the Bible Reading group will offer a time where, over several weeks, we can all listen while volunteers each read one chapter at a time. Yes, we hear selections each Sunday, but it’s amazing how much more comes out with a full reading. It will deepen your appreciation of Matthew for the whole year.
When we have the right timing, we will offer a special training course, called a Catechumenate, which gives all the knowledge required for confirmation. One can take the course even if one has already been confirmed, and it’s especially useful for those who were confirmed in another tradition. It’s a fascinating journey through our religion and offers a lot to think about.
Finally, we will offer a series that takes us through the Book of Common Prayer – its history, structure, topics, the Rites and much more. There’s a lot to cover, so we will break it up into smaller bites and hold them from time to time.
Christianity and Our Hebrew Heritage
The Bible is a wonderful book, but it is not always easy to understand. Some passages conflict with others. Parables may leave one wondering what to think. Other parts can be genuinely disturbing. Yet, it is altogether a vast and inspiring canvas – a lifetime of study is not enough to take it all in.
In service, our Episcopal Liturgy selects key passages, and our priest helps us to gain a deeper understanding of what it can mean for us in these times, in our daily lives. But, useful as it is, a fifteen-minute sermon may not be enough time to really illuminate the text, and most of the Bible is never brought to light. We may hunger for more. The purpose of the Christian Formation Ministry is to take more time to explore the Bible, linking up to our priest’s goals and the Liturgy.
The Bible Reading Group has been meeting weekly for several years with the simple goal of hearing different books. After all, they were written to be read aloud. Many of the books that are not part of the Liturgy, as well as the Gospels and the Epistles, are read all the way through. If you’re interested, we’re going to have the group sponsor a reading of Matthew in the New Year.
A similar group meets weekly to read a Psalm three times, to gain a deeper experience of these beautiful songs.
In 2023, we will begin a monthly Bible Discussion Group, focusing on more specific topics to gain perspective on some of the interesting aspects of the Bible. For example, Jesus told many parables, some of which are, frankly, quite obscure. Why? What was the effect on those who heard Him? What can we take from them today?
Learning About Acting in Our Community Through the Radical Love of Jesus
What does that mean? Actually, it has many shades of meaning. At its core, it is not enough to learn about being Christian without using what we have learned. We are called, by God, to practice radical love on the ground, with real-life people and in real-life scenarios, to look out for each other and to look after each other, in practical terms. Jesus didn’t just preach and teach us to pray. With love and compassion, He healed, He fed, He changed the day-to-day lives of people he had never met before. More than that, He demanded that, to follow Him, we must likewise show our love in truth and action.
How do we go about doing this? First, we must learn how to look at others as God looks at them, without preconceptions or judgment. Only then can we begin to understand their deepest needs. To do this, we must learn how to create a safe place in our collective hearts and minds, a nonjudgmental space where people with differing beliefs can explore aspects of our spiritual and physical world. There, we can find truth.
Our society sometimes teaches us that uncomfortable facts should be feared and avoided. A “safe place” is a way to get past that, to encounter the world, with all its troubles, with unconditional love. That opens the door to action through forgiveness, compassion and mercy. Loving action, as Jesus demands, is the true path to justice.
Over time, we will choose from a variety of topics. Some may interest you, others may not. But each will allow us to understand, from a safe place of open discussion, the lived experience of people who are not as fortunate as we are, or who are simply different. The goal is to open a door for compassionate action.
So this is how our Christian Formation Ministry fits together. Through Liturgy, Bible and spiritual study, we can find ways to change ourselves, and thereby change St. Gabriel and our community. Radical Love takes us along the same path, in the other direction – we strive to change the world, which changes St. Gabriel, and by our actions we ourselves are changed. It is all one path, the Christian path.
Here’s a picture of what we’ve been discussing as the path of St. Gabriel’s Christian Formation Ministry:
I want to thank several people who have generously contributed to this: Terry Brennan, Ava Martin, Abby Mulcahy and Evelyn Shoop. As we go forward, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions too. This ministry is for you – add to the conversation! You can reach me, Rod MacDow, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesus image from bonifacius