A first glance at the educational ministries of First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, AL, reveals similar ministries found in churches across the country, a variety of opportunities for all ages and stages of learners throughout the week. Deeper review indicates something much different — a Christian education ethos that empowers learners and integrates faith with all of life.
According to Christian education director Jenny Thagard, education at First Tuscaloosa involves intentional planning for children, youth and adults to take responsibility for their own learning. Members of all ages are encouraged to find purposeful ways to be faithful in every aspect of their personal, congregational and community life. Faith formation through education at FPC is experiential and relational.
Children arriving at church on a Sunday morning sign themselves in and are immediately immersed in discipleship training. They color something related to the day’s story, play with Bible action figures, study the books of the Bible or participate in other activities. When the lights dim, they recognize their cue to gather for worship around the Christ candle. Children and adults sing, practice the memory verse, hear about mission in the world, locate this place of service on the globe, share prayer concerns, spend time praying and hear the day’s Bible story. Everyone leaves this gathering to rotate through a variety of workshops that deepen the experience of the story. Education at First Tuscaloosa is about lives lived in the presence of God and in relationship with others. Similar experiences of relational education with youth and other adults happen each Sunday and on other days.
All God’s children from first grade through adult fully participate in the worshiping community of First Tuscaloosa. Thagard explains that children, youth and adults practice worship skills every time they gather at church: choir practice, sacrament education classes, and Logos mid-week. Worship education extends beyond the church when the older children sing at another church or when their intergenerational choir tours New Orleans. Elementary children participate in presbytery retreats and fourth graders through adults are encouraged to attend the Montreat Worship and Music Conference. First Tuscaloosa recognizes the power of worship and other educational experiences inside and outside the church to grow and nurture faithful disciples.
Intentional empowerment and integration of life and faith is evident when children and adults of First Tuscaloosa—like Jenny Thagard who is a twenty-three year member—discover their gifts for ministry and passion for service. Jenny, nurtured by her faith community, teaches for Living Waters for the World Clean Water U, an educational, hands-on mission project of the Synod of Living Waters that strives to provide clean water for all of God’s children. Jenny’s calling means giving her time and talents to go on water-related mission trips. She is not alone among members of her congregation who spend time in prayer to discern and to discover ways to use God-given gifts as faithful disciples.
Although some congregations may not have the financial and people resources of First Tuscaloosa, many can be inspired to provide Christian education that empowers learners and integrates faith into all of life.
Jenny Thagard is an elder, a former middle school principal, and an adjunct teacher-instructor at University of Alabama. Contact Jenny through the First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at fpctusc.org.
Candace C. Hill
Candace C. Hill is coordinator of educational ministries, Congregational Ministries Publishing, Presbyterian Church (USA), and may be contacted through pcsusa.org.