By: Priscilla Andre-Colton
Dr. Thomas Long is one of the plenary presenters for the 2019 Annual Event in Galveston. He will be speaking to the gathered body on Thursday and Friday and will lead a workshop on Friday afternoon. For more information about the annual event and to register, click here.
In early August, Priscilla Andre-Colton sat down for a conversation with Dr. Long. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
I first asked Tom why he said ‘yes’ to our invitation. This is something that I am always curious about with our speakers. He told me he has always had tremendous respect for APCE. He couldn’t say no to the opportunity to speak with a room full of people vocationally committed to faith formation. “The work of faith formation is not only essential, but it is urgent,” said Dr. Long. “If the church is to thrive and grow, forming healthy vital faith in its people of all ages cannot be ignored.”
Dr. Long compared the Christian life to improv theatre. While improv appears spontaneous and off-the-cuff, good improv is the result of actors who are deeply schooled in the discipline of improv theatre. They make it look easy because they have studied and practiced the skills and traditions of improv. In life, we cannot anticipate or predict every situation in which we will find ourselves. We can’t script every response. Christians need to learn and practice the disciplines of a faithful life so the responses can come naturally. Drawing on our experience shapes our capacity to respond to unexpected events. This is faith formation.
Faith formation happens in every aspect of the life of the church. It is important for leaders in the church to recognize this and plan accordingly. Everything that happens needs to be planned to give people the opportunity to learn and practice the disciplines and skills for living a faithful life. The disciplines of worship, service, and study all contribute to this preparation.
Dr. Long observed that in our worship we have moved from being involved participants to passive consumers. By participating in the common communal “theater of worship” we are equipped to play the roles. Praying and singing, reading and responding give us opportunities to learn and practice the language of our faith. It is in the practicing that we get comfortable with the vocabulary, using it to express our faith in real, tangible ways.
When speaking of faith and mission there is the obvious: faith is formed by doing, by answering God’s call with hands-on serving those in need, giving life to Jesus’ words in the Matthew 25. But beyond this, the intrinsic qualities of Christian mission or service are reflected in the parables of extravagance. It is service born not from of a stingy notion of charity, but of extravagant generosity.
Dr. Long promised to say more about this in Galveston in his plenary and his workshop.
The next part of our conversation centered on teaching and learning the traditions of our faith—how we understand and interpret scripture and how we consider and articulate our theological understandings. He likened these to navigational markers. This is an image to which I can relate and is particularly relevant to our event venue. Navigational markers are set by those who have studied the channel, know its depths and obstacles, and charted the waters. Sailors and others traveling on the water read the charts and pay attention to the markers in order to avoid bad things happening. Learning the traditions and standards of our faith serve as these markers for a life of faith.
Sometimes the channel changes: new discoveries are made, deeper digging is done. The markers have to be moved. So it is with our faith markers. We learn new things, we make new discoveries, new understandings are revealed. We need to be open to living, growing, and changing in response to new thinking and new ways to do ministry.
I hope these snippets wet your appetite to hear more from Dr. Tom Long when we gather in Galveston in February.
Come Now to the Waters!
Thomas G. Long is the Bandy Professor of Preaching Emeritus at Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA. He is a noted preacher, lecturer, and author. He is ordained in the PC(USA).
Priscilla Andre-Colton, C.C.E., retired, has served churches in Florida, North Caroline, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. She is one of the co-directors of the 2019 Annual Event.