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Formation 2.0: Shaping a New Thing

Will you who witness these baptismal vows do all in you power to support these persons in their life in Christ?

-Book of Common Prayer, Baptismal Promises

This past Sunday, I shared some big and exciting news about changes that are being made to our Youth and Young Adult formation programs. These changes come in response to changing times in our world and our commitment to adapting to new ways of helping youth and young adults grow in their faith as Christians.

Here is how we plan to accomplish this with a new formation plan, which consists of three major components:

The Primacy of Worship:

Worship is central to our identity as Christians and as Episcopalians, and in a time when families face increasingly busy and hectic schedules, the opportunity to be together as a family and worship together is an important and special one. To that end, the new formation plan will not occur during worship so that the entirety of our family at St. Stephen’s can worship together, from our youngest members to our oldest. To facilitate the worship experience for everyone, there will be modifications made to our 10am worship service to make sure that it offers opportunities for engagement for our members of all ages. In addition, we recognize that for our youngest, sitting in a pew for an hour can be a challenge, and we will be making modifications to our space where the youngest children can participate while taking part in quiet, related activities.

Learning Together as the Body of Christ:

The core of our new formation plan is the monthly Gathering. Once a month, all our members will be invited to take part in an inter-generational formation opportunity. These engaging 30-40 minute programs will cover a variety of topics from Christian identity and spirituality, to creation care and worship, and will be shaped by the interests and curiosity of you. The Gathering will take place in the parish hall during coffee hour once a month and are designed for all our members and inclusive of all ages. The schedule of fall Gatherings will be published soon.

Punctuated by Youth & Young Adult Formation Series:

In between our monthly Gatherings, we will be offering formation mini-series for our youth and young adults. Rather than asking families to commit to a year-long Sunday School program, these 3-4 week series will offer short and focused programs to our youth and young adults on a variety of topics and interest areas that can change and adapt to the evolving interests and curiosities of our participants. The Youth & Young Adult Formation Series will take place during coffee hour on the weeks between the Gatherings and last no more than 45 minutes each.


You may notice that this new formation plan is not about changing up our curriculum or trying to get families to commit to regular attendance at a traditional Sunday School. Instead, this plan is an entirely new approach for St. Stephen’s, in recognition of the evolving demands placed on families by schools and extra-curricular activities, and the importance of creating space and opportunity for families to spend time with one another.

All of this will launch this next Sunday, September 22, 2019, with our first Gathering, which will be a hands-on exploration of the cycles of the church year. We hope that you will join us for the exciting kick-off of this new opportunity as we all seek to honor and fulfill the vows we make at baptism!

Background

Sunday School was an important part of the Christian formation experience in this and many churches for several recent generations, and in recent years it has become apparent that it is no longer working. As you may be aware, our Sunday School program has seen large declines in attendance over the last few years to the point that on any given Sunday, we may only have 3-4 youth present for classes. Not only is this a difficult reality for our Sunday School teachers, who prepare for lessons not knowing if they will be needed to teach, it also makes it difficult for us to follow a curriculum given a lack of continuity week-to-week and a continually changing mixture of age groups.

It is important to note that St. Stephen’s is not alone in this new reality. In conversations held with half-a-dozen other Episcopal churches in our region and around Connecticut, we learned that this is a nearly universal reality in our churches—across the board, Sunday School programs are experiencing sharp declines in attendance, and most of the congregations we spoke with were experimenting with new models of fulfilling their vow to support and form the baptized in the faith.

Recognizing the importance of this work, this past spring our vestry set itself as a goal to re-think how we do youth and young adult formation here at St. Stephen’s. Over the summer, a group made up of Christian Education Director Lynda Hickey, a few vestry members, and some of our Sunday School teachers met several times to research and explore what that might look like at St. Stephen’s, and with our vestry’s approval, we are ready to try it out. We hope that you will join us in this exciting new effort at St. Stephen’s.

Sincerely,
The Rev. Adam Yates