"Formation happens when intentional education and information sharing are specifically combined with community worship and personal practice in ways that engage a new way of thinking or new perspective."
Wrapping Up the 2017 Forma Conference
Greetings from sunny Southern California! The Forma 2017 Conference met here last week. Founded by Episcopal Christian educators in 1997, Forma's purpose was to give those directly responsible for the formation of children, youth, and adults (i.e. teachers) a place to share resources and support one another. Forma is now a diverse network of more than 400 professional (paid and volunteer) Christian educators, formation and worship leaders, and institutional partners from many denominations. Every year we gather to celebrate and learn from one another.
This year's wide variety of workshops, panels and plenary sessions seemed to share an over-arching theme: "meeting Christ's church where we find it." Forma 2017 proclaimed the church to be communities formed online; in multi-cultural and multi-lingual groups; in traditional church basements; as well as with non-traditional leaders using non-traditional tools. Workshops aimed to form participants in a range of practices from Biblical storytelling and social media to social justice and the maker movement, as well as help them make space in worship for children with special needs and create formation spaces in the strangest of locations.
People at Worship
At many conferences it's easy to get caught up in the sessions and the networking so that restorative worship is neglected. At Forma, there's a conscious effort to build in time for joyous recreation as well as personal reflection and prayer and common worship. Not only is there a dedicated prayer space and multiple opportunities for worship, but participants are encouraged to take the time to worship - alone or in community.
This year's prayer room was located a bit too close to the main exhibition space to be a place of quiet refuge. However, it was a lively place of corporate prayer in the evening with Compline and early in the day for Morning Prayer. Who knew it was easier to sing at 7:45 a.m. than to speak?
Common worship continued during breaks in the plenary sessions, as we were encouraged to sing and move our bodies, a form of prayer some of us didn't remember we could use! In our final moments as a gathered community, we lifted our voices in common for the closing worship service.
People at Work
The connection between being a people at worship and a people at work was highlighted throughout the conference. One of the most popular workshops was led by Drs Lisa Kimball and Tricia Lyons on the practice of confirmation. Common worship isn't always our first thought when we prepare confirmation lessons, but the need for community worship is an important component of confirmation. Using fresh data from The Confirmation Project, of which Lisa is a researching member, Lisa and Tricia had good news for confirmation leaders! According to their research, the most desired outcome of a confirmation project is mature faith. This is most likely to occur when leaders meet teens where they are and build activities that conclude with a personal commitment and a public rite. One vitally important component is on-going participation in worship with their community.
The Project concludes that confirmation itself is only one aspect of a larger whole in the life of a congregation: how the worshiping community approaches discipleship impacts the vibrancy of confirmation (and vice versa) and nurturing one helps the other to thrive.
Bronwyn Skov, Staff Officer for Youth Ministries at the Episcopal Church, echoed this in her homily during our closing worship. With Shannon Kelly, Bronwyn created a working definition of formation: the product of "intentional education and information sharing are specifically combined with community worship and personal practice in ways that engage a new way of thinking or new perspective." Note that top-down information - education - is combined with personal piety and community worship; we need all three to be fully formed, to be transformed into the people God is calling us to be.
Bronwyn said, "I find that most people are transformed when they are called out of their comfort zone to do something bold. But paving the way to those moments through enlightenment, information gathering, community practice, and spiritual disciplines are definitely advantages." In other words, when we have been formed in community by teachers and mentors who allow us to question, to discover answers for ourselves and then bring us together to worship, we can be bold to love our neighbors as ourselves and do the work God gives us to do. (The full text can be found here, but you'll have to take my word for it that her Church Lady outfit was on point!)
The academic knowledge of the Confirmation Project and Bronwyn's lived experience of formation are just two moments in a conference full of information. As important as those nuggets of knowledge are, we also need to come together, to lift our many voices as one and to share at Christ's table - food for our journey.
Creating a Community of Sharing
We at Building Faith mirror the purpose of Forma: to share resources and best practices with the wider community of Christian educators, formation and worship leaders. It's my hope that we at Building Faith continue to hear from you, what you learned, what you are learning, how you are implementing the Forma conference - or any conference - into your ministry.
Charlotte Hand Greeson shares her passion for formation as a manager, editor, and writer for Building Faith. She currently lives in California.