Last week was hard for me and many parents and children’s ministry leaders I spoke with. Now that we are past the pomp and ritual of Easter, now that we have proclaimed, “Christ is risen!”with as much hope and energy as we could muster online, now that we are faced with lengthening school closures, and pressing questions about when society will begin to reopen, how do we continue faith formation at a distance?
I don’t have any definitive answers. This is an unprecedented time where many people are experiencing some degree of stress, anxiety, and loss while sheltering at home. What I do have is a trauma informed set of priorities for planning and a running list of questions. These priorities will be our guide for short and medium term planning, whatever roadmap for reopening might emerge.
The two most helpful things I have found to help us move forward in uncertainty are this Mindshift article about trauma informed distance learning and this Tedtalk by Harvard psychologist Susan David on emotional agility and “How to be your best self in times of crisis.” My training and experience as an educator is what instinctively led me to frame ministry in the context of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being when we made the hard pivot to sheltering in place. Maslow before Bloom was drilled into me during grad school. You may have seen the memes recently on social media. Here is how I am applying the priorities:
Resilience and Emotional Agility (informed by Susan David):
Someday I would love to articulate the relationship I experience between resilience and resurrection. There’s something about neuroplasticity, growing through adversity, and God’s healing power. But these are practical times, so my focus has been on making sure that children are able to express their feelings and that their feelings are validated, because they are normal. Sad about missing friends. Yes, that’s normal. Worried about family who are sick. Normal. Happy to play outside in the sun. Normal. Have a bunch of feelings mixed together? Also normal. Most of our online gatherings begin with a check in about how we feel. Pictures of Holy Listening stones have are a wonderful tool for use with elementary and younger children to name their feelings. These Psalm cards could also be useful.
Connection, Flexibility, Predictability, and Empowerment (informed by Mindshift):
Connection is the curriculum: Connection, not perfection has been a mantra as churches moved online. Now that most of us have found some way to provide online worship and learning at a distance, even if we haven’t perfected our camera presence or special effects, I would like to update the catchphrase: connection is the curriculum. Connection to God and the church community is what children and families need right now. Right now we have a strange opportunity to focus on the fundamentals of discipleship: being Christian community.
Flexibility and Predictability are an unlikely pairing, but perhaps less so during a pandemic. When all of our daily routines are gone, predictability in the form of scheduled worship and faith formation eventsare a welcome part of the day or week. This has been the case with our daily lunchtime story where we read a book and then pray for our lunch. Flexibility comes in the form of families being able to drop in to our online gatherings as they are able, and in the relaxing of some of our faith milestone expectations. As we move forward, we are committed to erring on the side of grace while offering predictable gatherings in online or in person form.
One of the biggest struggles in this pandemic is the feeling that everything is beyond our control. Our ministry goal has always been to equip children and families to practice their faith seven days a week in and beyond the church walls. Never has there been a more compelling time to lead ministries of faith formation which nurture and guide families so that they might pray, read the Bible, have conversations about faith, and serve others. Over the decades we’ve read the research about the primary importance of home in spiritual development. This pandemic is a unique opportunity to equip and empower people to be their family faith leaders.
In the days ahead I will be working on a rubric for ongoing evaluation of our online faith formation as well as a potential plan for reopening based on state and federal roadmaps that become available. If these documents would be helpful, please leave a note in the comments an I will include them in an update.