By: Lisa Kimball

Come to the 2019 APCE Annual Event in Galveston. Come and connect. Come be enriched. Come be empowered. Come be sustained. Through our worship, plenaries, music and workshops, we will examine the changing scene of faith formation and learn about ways to engage these changes in ministry. Find registration information here.

Now available on the APCE scholarship page are various scholarship forms with deadlines of October 15, 2018. Each scholarship has different criteria, so please read the descriptions to determine which is the one for you. These scholarships are intended to encourage those who want to enrich their own ministry by attending the 2019 Annual Event by defraying the cost to do so.

Lisa Kimball will provide the Opening Plenary for the 2019 Annual Event on Wednesday afternoon, February 6. Lisa offers reflections on the language of faith formation.

It is late July. I am sitting at a picnic table in a wooded, quiet campground, listening to cicadas sing in the canopy above me, grateful for sunshine, reduced humidity, and stillness after weeks of persistent thunderstorms and regional flooding.

Water is essential to life as we understand it, biological life on this planet earth and life as baptized members of the Body of Christ. Things God creates are mostly water. 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Up to 60% of the human body is water, 73% of the brain and heart, and 83% of our lungs. Water is who we are.

In nature, water gives life and takes lives. It is powerful. Our respect for water is contextual. When clean water flows reliably through pipes into our living spaces, we can take it for granted. When floods, hurricanes, hail storms, avalanches, tsunamis, severe drought interrupt and threaten our livelihood, casual references to water become complicated, threatening, even political.

And, so it can be with the language of “faith formation.” What seems obvious or innocent or beautiful to one person may stir skepticism, cynicism, doubt, suspicion, or even trigger traumatic memories for another. What do we actually mean by Christian formation in our local settings? Who is being formed, by whom? How is it happening, and to what end?

As the religious landscape in North America and across the globe shifts dramatically in the 21st century, our vocations as followers of the Way of Jesus with a particular call to Christian education, to the art of making disciples, challenge us to wrestle with the language of faith formation. We have inherited centuries of rich theology and ministerial practice to shape the work of passing on faith. We are also the beneficiaries of extensive research in teaching and learning, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, ethnography, sociology, linguistics, and so much more. By close examination of what we say and believe about faith formation, we can better respond to the call of God on our lives and better meet the spiritual thirst of our times.

As an Episcopalian, I recently spent ten days at General Convention, the governing body of my denomination that meets every three years. It is a bicameral legislature that includes the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, composed of deputies and bishops from each diocese (geographic judicatory). Constitutionally, the Episcopal Church looks a great deal like the United States Congress. And, functionally, we can be just as vulnerable to dysfunction. But this year, #GC79 in Austin, Texas, was distinctively hopeful. Why? Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry (think Royal Wedding preacher) continues to guide us with a compelling vision, “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement. We are following Jesus into loving, liberating, and life-giving relationships with God, with each other, and with the earth.”

General Convention 2018 was all about putting those words into practice. How? Through legislation, worship, joint educational sessions, prayer, and a myriad of associated events, we built a common vocabulary to connect discipleship with evangelism and mission. The Presiding Bishop invited our whole Church to join him on the #WayOfLove, seven practices for a Jesus-centered life. Together we renewed our commitment to lifelong Christian formation with confidence and joy. Can you believe over 3000 Episcopalians actually chose to spend one evening in a full-on revival?! Perhaps the popular moniker, “Keep Austin Weird!” rubbed off on us? But the second half did not, “What happens in Austin, stays in Austin!” Episcopalians all over the world are now actually talking about Jesus and introducing their families and congregations to the #WayOfLove.

I share this story because it can be yours too! The wise planners of the APCE 2019 Annual Event in Galveston have created an optimal context for transformation to occur: situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, an island community with rich cultural history and courageous resilience in the face of Mother Nature, textured programming to address the diverse interests and gifts of the participants, and space for the Spirit to move. (IMHO, their choice to invite Tom Long to address us all, a man whose mastery of wisdom and Word is admired far beyond the PCUSA, is brilliant!) Choosing their theme from Isaiah 55, all who thirst are invited to “Come now to the Waters!” to connect, be enriched, empowered, and sustained. What is your thirst? Where are you parched? Where are you drowning? For what do the members of your congregation long?

I am honored to be joining you and to be invited to help us all dive into the language, theology, and practice of faith formation. Together we will explore our experiences of lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep formation and, with God’s grace, emerge refreshed as baptized Christians, drinking from the living, eternal waters of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Lisa Kimball is the Associate Dean of Lifelong Learning, the Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, and Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) in Alexandria, VA. She joined the VTS faculty in 2009. You can connect with Dr. Kimball at [email protected].