It started with some noticings.

We noticed that our Sunday morning church school attendance was getting smaller.

We noticed that children were attending less frequently—we’d have a child in class one Sunday and then not see that child again for the next three weeks.

We noticed that it was getting harder to find volunteers to help plan and teach classes or be on a Christian Education committee.

We talked to families. Nothing was wrong, but people are busy. Soccer, birthday parties, traveling to see cousins, and Sunday is the only family day to catch up.

We worked hard not to pass judgement. We tried not to take it personally.  But yet this was perplexing and discouraging and more than a little painful. Education has been such a pillar of the Presbyterian Church and of our congregation. Passing our faith onto our children is important. But how do we do it?  What do we do now?

We turned to others outside of our congregation and learned that our noticings were not unique. We heard the same things from many other congregations. Life has changed; our culture is different; the old models aren’t working anymore. There certainly is great comfort in knowing that you are not alone. We also found other congregations that were rich resources. We scoured the Internet and called churches for ideas about how others were adapting to this different time in the life of faith formation.

And then we had some frank conversation. We gathered our church family and shared all of these noticings—as well as glimpses of what some other churches were presenting as innovative strategies. And some hope glimmered. It seemed that our families liked the idea of “something big” that would happen just once a month.  It would be easier to fit that into the calendar.  It would be more fun to have a special event when all children would gather on the same day, rather than having attendance scattered throughout the month. And maybe we could make this a really big deal and include our whole church family—adults and children alike. And LIFT was born.

LIFT (Living in Faith Together) is one way that Westminster has chosen—for the time being—to address faith formation. We have LIFT Sundays one time each month during our program year (September through May) instead of our regular Sunday morning worship service. On LIFT Sundays we carve out two hours of time and we blend worship, education, music, service, fellowship and fun. We choose a theme for the year and tie each month’s LIFT morning to that theme. Our first year’s theme was “Westminster Builds . . . ” and each month we built something different (community, hope, justice, faith). The next year’s theme was “God Calls . . .“ and we studied various biblical characters who were called by God in different ways.

Through this process we’ve learned a lot. We try hard to pay attention, to ask for feedback, to listen and to notice what happens each month. And then we let this inform our planning for the coming months.  Some things have flopped, but more have worked really well, some spectacularly well! There have been so many surprising and beautiful moments along the way. Adults with grown children who are incredibly grateful for time spent with young ones. Teens who have conversations with grandparent-aged members. Wise ones who say, “I’ve known this Bible story for years but have never thought about it in this way”. Children who share incredibly profound insights. And a Christmas pageant with enthusiastic shepherds and angels ranging in age from 3 to 83 years old. Beautiful God-filled moments.

So our noticings continue.

We notice a whole church family coming together.

We notice people truly enjoying being a church family.

We notice adults who enjoy the “kid-friendly” craft projects as much as (more than?) the children enjoy them.

We notice priceless interactions when people of different generations develop relationships with each other.

We notice our faith being shared by young and old together in very authentic ways, as when our children served Communion to the adults.

We notice busy families who make time for a potluck lunch after LIFT before rushing to the next baseball game.

And we notice a new flexibility within our congregation, an openness to doing things differently and an anticipation that each LIFT will be a creative and unique blessing.

Education is still a pillar of our church. We are passing our faith onto our children and surrounding them with lots of adults who are continuing to grow their own faith. We have found a next step on our congregation’s faith journey. We give great thanks for God’s spirit, alive and working in and through us.

 

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Karen Hammond

Karen Hammond is the director of faith formation at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, CT. Her background in elementary education and love for children has grown into a passion for multi-generational faith formation, and she loves talking about and sharing ideas. You can reach her at [email protected]