by Emily Ainsworth Keniston
Director of Christian Education
St. Ann’s, Windham
Change has been abundant in the Diocese of Maine recently. Many programs have been scaled back, jobs have been dissolved or reshaped, and many have felt the pinch of “going without” services they have previously enjoyed. It’s been a difficult time for many, but also a time to refocus and reinvent. It’s been a time to rely upon one another, and on God. For three days in January, that’s just what some Episcopalians from the Diocese of Maine did, myself included. Relying upon scholarships from the Wolf Fund and a generous donation, nine Mainers traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national conference of Episcopal formation called FORMA. We were an eclectic group of faith formation directors, clergy, youth program volunteers, diocesan staff and youth group leaders, representing congregations in Calais, Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Hallowell, and Millinocket. Though we all play different roles in our respective churches, we were all there in DC to participate in the FORMA conference with one purpose: to explore new ways to bring people into the body of Christ.
And explore, we did! By splitting up workshop attendance amongst us, we were able to optimize information gathering. Some attended the workshop on confirmation, others on using music in ministry, others learned about using social media in the Church, and still others explored the use of hybrid online and small group learning for adults. Regardless of workshop choice, each of us was able to attend a keynote address and three plenary sessions by well-known Episcopal scholars, Lisa Kimball and Patricia Lyons. The theme of the conference was “The Once and Future Church,” thus we spent considerable time reflecting upon the characteristics of people living in American society today, and what the implications might be for furthering our ministry amidst modern culture. We discussed cultural icons, the seemingly insatiable interest in “gaming” in our society, and the importance of the “epic” journey Christians are offered through our faith. (In other words, “Hey, American culture! You want EPIC? Forget Nintendo- try the invitation to live life for Christ! THAT’S epic!”)
Of course, as our discussion led us to the point when the promise of eternal life didn’t seem sufficient to fully express what our faith offers us in each individual moment of our lives, our conversation turned to the idea of “life wide” faith formation, as opposed to the more traditional idea of “life long.” Often challenged by the idea that we Christians live out our days with the promise of one day achieving eternal life, Kimball and Turner suggested taking a slightly different approach: inviting others to experience a Christian life by focusing on how faith improves the quality of our lives right now. How faith will help us to give with compassion, find comfort in difficult times, and to experience a depth and vibrancy in life which is absent from secular activity. We were impressed, and ready to leave Washington to begin a new ministry helping others to live “life wide” moments.
We’ve since returned home to Maine and are still ablaze with excitement to share what we’ve learned; to begin conversations where there hadn’t been any, to create collaborative ventures where one church can’t stand alone, to grown in knowledge and faith as believers and members of the body of Christ.
Learn more about FORMA: Partnering to Inspire Christian Formation at episcoforma.org