Spiritual Formation at the Conference Level or – “What’s up with Lay Academy?”

Spiritual Formation at the Conference Level or – “What’s up with Lay Academy?”

by Karen Richter  

A small but tenacious group has continued thinking and dreaming and talking about lay theological education in the Southwest Conference. Julie McCurdy from the Prescott congregation and I attended the Regional Theological Education Consortium gathering in Oberlin, Ohio last fall. We had an opportunity to see what other groups are doing regarding lay education, preparation for authorization, alternatives to traditional seminaries, and support for formation in local congregations.

Since November, conversations have continued and lots LOTS of questions have come about…

  • What formation experiences are best kept in the context of the local congregation?
  • What’s the purpose (mission, goals, etc.) of lay formation at the conference level?
  • What are other organizations doing and how can we participate in those efforts in a mutually beneficial way?
  • How can the conference best support “everyday” formation of laity in our congregations?
  • What are the various needs for discernment resources and skills in different settings?
  • What are we hearing about what people need? What do people need that maybe they’re not yet aware of?

As I’ve thought and daydreamed, I have found it helpful to make some little piles – metaphorically tossing ideas and concepts into where-does-this-happen groups.

In the “Local Church” pile, I’ve put

  • Discipleship
  • Navigating culture as a person of faith and conscience
  • Discernment and calling (“what work in the world is mine to do?”)
  • Interpersonal and family support networks
  • Values clarification

In the “Southwest Conference / Middle Judicatory” pile, I’ve put

  • Navigating culture as a congregation/institution/denomination
  • New church forms and ways of being church together, sometimes called Church 3.0
  • Discernment around authorization (“in what way am I called to authorized ministry?”)
  • Boundary training
  • Leadership development for congregation and the conference
  • Available resources for staff and volunteers managing formation at local churches

What’s left that doesn’t have an easily defined pile?

  • Nonviolent direct action training and mentoring
  • Church history
  • Mid-level theology (that broad territory between Sunday School and seminary)
  • Meditation and spiritual practices beyond the basics
  • Interfaith, ecumenical, and multiple religious belonging conversations

What have I left out? Where do you see your own needs reflected in these piles, if anywhere? Where is energy around spiritual formation and lay education bubbling up around the conference (hat tip to Barb Doerrer-Peacock for this evocative language)?

Share your thoughts (karen@shadowrockucc.org or bdoerrerpeacock@uccswc.org) Conversations continue – stay tuned! In the meantime, please hold in prayer those called to work on lay formation in our congregations and throughout the United Church of Christ.

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