At Good Shepherd we talk about "faith formation": not just filling the head with facts, but helping each other become more and more the faithful people God invites us to be. Faith formation is a lifelong process. Those of us who were baptized as children get to spend the rest of our lives living into what that means. Those of us baptized later in life get to experience the joy of learning about the Christian faith on the way to baptism and then continuing to live our faith from there.
Some of this happens through learning basic content: What is the Bible, and what is it for? What is The Book of Common Prayer, and why do Episcopalians use it? Who is Jesus, and what does he have to do with God who created everything? And how can we claim to know and understand any of this in the first place?
But some of it happens through practice: weekly worship together, personal prayer at any time, a habit of continual learning, and relationships that affect our understanding of God. We do such learning in age groups and intergenerationally.
All children are always welcome in worship, no matter their age. Indeed, our weekly worship together is our primary source of faith formation. Kids learn how to be in church by being in church. And if they're noisy, know that the sound of their voices is music to the ears of many older folks! You're a lot more anxious about your restless child than anyone else is.
The Lamb's Pen
Yet it's also appropriate for the youngest among us to have a place to go that is specifically for them. Our childcare staff are happy to welcome children under the age of 4 in our nursery, the Lamb's Pen, which is located in the education building just across the sidewalk from the church entryway. On hiatus during the quarantine.
Far from being a typical Sunday school program, Godly Play is a wonder-filled, story-centered, Montessori approach to Christian faith formation primarily for children ages 3-10. We tell sacred stories from Hebrew scriptures, the parables of Jesus, and other stories to help the children become more fully aware of the mystery of God’s presence in their lives. Children are encouraged to respond to the stories through play and art as they come to know God in ways that are specific to their stage in life. Kids in Godly Play join us midway through the 10:30 service. During quarantine, Sunday worship is our primary means of children's formation.
Our young people ages 11-17 are involved in all aspects of worship and community. They participate and grow in faith as they serve in our weekly worship as acolytes, lectors, ushers, or Eucharistic ministers. They are also invited into a network of opportunities for youth regionally, through frequent events shared with other Episcopal churches and through other organizations like Camp Huston. Youth who serve on the Vestry or take part in regional youth programs are learning important life skills as they deepen their trust in God's guidance. During quarantine, the youth group meets weekly on Zoom.
The 9:00 hour between our two services is set aside for adult learning opportunities. Depending on the season, these can be as simple as a weekly Bible study or as elaborate as a formal class with a main presenter. All are welcome to attend; look to our calendar to see what events are happening currently. During quarantine, we are frequently offering classes on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings on Zoom. You can watch past classes here.
St. Augustine famously said, "When you sing, you pray twice." Music is an area that especially lends itself well to intergenerational formation. Our small but spirited Chancel Choir is often accompanied by a variety of instruments, all under the able leadership of Director of Music Ruthann Ritchie. During quarantine, the choir is on hiatus. Our music for online services is led by our choral scholars.
Safeguarding God's Children
All Good Shepherd parishioners who work regularly with children, and anyone who holds a key to our buildings, must stay current on a certification called Safeguarding God's Children. Our Safeguarding policy works to ensure, for instance, that no child is ever alone with an adult in church settings.
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