BY BETH HAYES |
2020 has been a year full of transitions – losing my husband of 36 years, the uncertainty and continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent changes in our work at the Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). That is a lot for someone who has a difficult time with change. One thing has inspired me and kept me going through all of this — my lifelong pledge to help and guide others with their faith development.
I was blessed with a supportive family that took faith formation to heart. I have fond childhood memories of my parents and grandmother reading aloud from our huge family Bible. I am grateful to have had this level of at-home faith support which provided a wonderful foundation for my faith development. This deep faith formation led me to a call as a Christian Educator. How could I ignore the importance of this calling? God had a plan for me to help and assist people in their faith development.
Faith formation is also a key component for the Moravian Church. According to the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living (Section II, 8):
We realize that our Christian faith must continually be nourished if it is to remain living and vital. Therefore, we desire to grow in our Christian lives through family devotions, personal prayer and study, and the opportunities for spiritual development offered by the Church.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, my pastor challenged me to outline and carry out a faith formation plan for children, parents, and grandparents for Come and Worship, our small emerging worship space. The goal was to create a place for all ages to have the opportunity to learn about their faith and develop a strong foundation, even during this uncertain time. I immediately said “Yes!” to this challenge.
While working on this new, virtual faith formation format, it became clear that with limited in-person gatherings, churches must now create a hybrid paradigm of faith development and figure out how to deliver faith formation through online platforms. As my ministry with BCM expanded to advise and instruct churches in this new type of faith formation, I once again consulted the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living (Section III, 24):
As parents, remembering that our children are the property of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 1:19), we will bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) and take all possible care to preserve them from every evil influence. For this reason we will seek to approve ourselves as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, setting an example for our children. We will give faithful attention to the spiritual development of our children, both in the home and in the church. We will endeavor to conduct regular family devotions.
The model we developed for Come and Worship is simple and could be implemented at any church. Each week, we use Zoom video conferencing for our worship service, and gather prior to worship for a virtual “coffee hour.” While members have a time of fellowship, we use the breakout room feature of Zoom to move children, parents, and grandparents to a separate virtual space. Doing this allows for members to join the “coffee hour” to chat while we hold a virtual Sunday School for the kids.
For our lessons, I used the resources found in BCM’s Faith Formation playlist. I develop the schedule a month in advance and mix activities like Godly Play, crafts, science projects, books, and prayer. To accompany the weekly virtual gatherings, I create “goodie bags” with the schedule for the month and any needed supplies. It brings me such joy to see the smiles on the children’s faces as I hand-deliver the bags. My heart skips a beat and I instantly smile when I hear the children yell, “Here comes Ms. Beth with our bag!”
For our weekly Zoom meetings, I strive to keep our lessons interactive and engaging so I can keep the interest of the kids. When we started, there was a lot of quiet, dead air, but now I can hardly get through my lesson because the kids are so engaged!
I miss the personal contact of going to church each Sunday, but the virtual community we have created brings me such joy! Some of our participants live a distance away, but still join us each Sunday via video. Parents and grandparents join in the lesson and engage with the children, creating a multigenerational virtual space. I love this unique community we have created! As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we have decided to continue our plan to do Zoom faith formation sessions. I am especially excited that we have also decided to continue these gatherings even after we return to in-person worship.
So, this is the future of faith formation… a hybrid of virtual resources, with in-person gatherings once safe. This new way of faith formation allows for growth and development beyond the church’s four walls! We can reach more than just those sitting in the chairs but gather with people near and far. I encourage you to not forget the importance of faith formation, especially during this uncertain and difficult time. This foundation encompasses much more than worship or a sermon alone.
Virtual faith formation is full of trial and error; it’s a process, and not one-size-fits-all. It might take a while for the interaction to build, so don’t give up too soon! Use the Faith Formation playlist to gather ideas and email me for an example of Come and Worship’s monthly schedule. There is a lot out there online and a lot that can be easily adapted for virtual faith formation. As a family, watch our Virtual Children’s Festival and Lovefeast. This service is a wonderful resource full of examples of virtual faith formation, from Story and Stretch to Godly Play.
A crucial element of faith formation should always be fun! When the kids have fun, they will be begging to come back each week to learn and do more. Especially in today’s crazy world, a strong and loving faith formation space for children makes all the difference!
If you have questions or need additional information, email (bhayesATmcsp.org) or call the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.
Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Below, Beth appears with her sister, aunt, and cousin along with the family Bible.