How Gathering Online Can Help Your Church Write a New Narrative for Faith Formation

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I have probably shared way too much in these Network posts—whether it’s sharing how I have grieved the loss of certain ministry transitions or the fact that I am so not a tech wiz. But I’m going to come clean one more time. 

I will be honest with you: if someone tells me to clap in worship, I usually don’t want to do it. “Don't tell me how to respond in worship,” my irascible self says. I can get this way in conferences and seminars as well. I am more of a challenge by choice person. Give me the option to opt out and I am more likely to opt in. 

Recently, however, I learned something about myself in this online world: I actually might be a bit more open to participating in faith-formative group activities while online than I would have been in person. 

Here’s an example. I attended an online workshop called “Wonder in the Trauma Healing Process,” which was led by Christine Aroney-Sine, author of The Gift of Wonder. Christine asked us to doodle with a coloured pencil using our non-dominant hand for 30 seconds with our eyes closed. After we opened our eyes, she invited us to look for shapes and designs to emerge and to highlight them with colour. She encouraged us to prayerfully ask ourselves, “Where does this shape come from? What does it need to be complete? What do I sense God might be saying to me through this image? What further response is God prompting me to make?” 

Normally, I do not enjoy doing these types of exercises in a group. I feel vulnerable and observed. But during this online experience, I was able to give myself over to a very new experience. I wasn’t distracted by the group around me like I normally would have been. As a result, I experienced a word from the Spirit: Listen. 

I saw what looked to me to be an outline of an ear on the edge of my doodle, and I also saw different triangles reminding me of the Trinity throughout my drawing. I highlighted them in the midst of the chaos of the doodle, asking questions like: I wonder where the voice of the triune God is louder in this time of chaos? I wonder where there are some beautiful open spaces to begin dreaming dreams and seeing visions? It was a powerful experience for me.

I know that a common refrain right now goes like this: There are so many things we cannot do because of the pandemic. But I’m wondering if we might need to write a new narrative. Given what I have observed in my own online behaviour and that of others, maybe we should be asking “What are the faith-formative things we can do right now because of the pandemic?” 

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What are the new opportunities for transformational spiritual growth, both personal and corporate, that our busy pre-pandemic lives did not allow us to pursue? 

  • How might this time of upheaval invite us to explore rich new spiritual practices, both individually and together? 

  • How can we inject some life into our digital connections when we gather for online Bible studies, remote youth group meetings, small groups, and other faith-formative gatherings? 

Over the next ministry year, Faith Formation Ministries will be hosting the Faith Practices Project, which will invite you to explore 12 spiritual disciplines through monthly suggested resources and practices. Learn more at crcna.org/FaithFormation/Practices. From recent experience I can tell you that these practices can be engaged through online communities in a very rich way. The aforementioned practice of visual listening surprised me and blessed me. It is my prayer that this project will do the same for you and the folks in your congregation.

Faith Formation Ministries’ regional catalyzers will soon be hosting some online experiences to support these practices. We encourage you to reach out to us to bring one to your church!

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Lesli--I am not surprised that you find "distance experiences" actually liberating.  I've discovered that the same is true for me with regard to worship services.  Not only can I take in several worship services easily but I can also worship God much more fully when I can stand, walk, sing, etc. without the confinement of pews etc.  So even though my church is now meeting in-person, I'm using this time to enrich my understanding and experience of different worship styles as well as the reason why I "meet with God" so much better digitally than in person.  Of course, the ability of the liturgists, musicians and preachers to use the strengths of digital media makes a huge difference as well.  In these last months I've gained personal experience with the "do's and don'ts" of such worship experiences.  All in all, I'm not  in a hurry to struggle into the right clothes, choke down a quick breakfast, and sit quietly in a hard pew--just to be "in person,"  Churches who have invested in learning and doing worship the right way for the digital experience are shaping meaningful connections between worshipper and God.  Thanks for being descriptive of your own experience and urging our congregations to become adept at ways to make this style a living part of the "new normal".  , whatever that is.