Just Launched: Modern-Day Slavery with Richard Lee

Left: Engraving of a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina around 1860.


We just launched Modern-Day Slavery with Richard Lee For Individuals and For Groups

Many people think of slavery as a horrific part of history that ended in the nineteenth century. In the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery in 1865, so it makes sense that in the U.S., at least, people would associate the end of slavery with the end of legal slavery.


Image of Chandramma, who worked as a slave in a silkworm factory in India. Photo credit: International Justice Mission.

Approximately 40 million people in our time, however, live in slavery, including an estimated 403,000 in the U.S. They are provided only with sufficient sustenance and shelter to keep them alive, and they are forced to stay through violence or threats of violence and/or psychological coercion.

Contemporary slavery may be chattel slavery, as trans-Atlantic slavery was — a relationship considered a form of ownership by the person with the upper hand. Far more often, however, it’s based in “loans” that coerce people into working without pay, or perhaps enslavement that is initially disguised as legitimate factory work. The language around it changes. The enslaved people don’t always even recognize their condition as slavery. But they are forced to act for another person’s benefit and intimidated, threatened, forced, or coerced into continuing to work, without remuneration, usually so that other people can make money. That’s slavery1.

In this course, Richard Lee, Director of Church Mobilization at International Justice Ministry, explains what modern-day slavery looks like, how people fall into it, and how to combat it. In his first lesson, Richard introduces modern-day slavery as a worldwide problem. In his second lesson, Richard offers the story of one child’s enslavement in the context of the broader picture of slavery. Richard’s third lesson discusses what the Bible tells us about how to respond to slavery, and his fourth lesson examines the best ways to combat slavery in the modern world.

This course is ideal for those who want to learn about slavery and the Christian call to social justice advocacy.

Just Launched: Redeeming Dementia with Dorothy Linthicum

We just launched Redeeming Dementia with Dorothy Linthicum For Individuals and For Groups.

As a culture, we are afraid of dementia. We rely so heavily on our brains’ functioning as they should that it can feel like everything is lost when our rational functions and memories become inaccessible to us. It’s terrible for family members and friends to watch the people they love apparently disappear into the confusion — like people’s lives are over, though their bodies remain alive.

Even life’s hardest experiences offer chances to learn and grow. People treat dementia differently because it seems like there’s nothing to learn from it. How can you grow from something that diminishes you or a loved one so thoroughly? In this class, Dorothy Linthicum, a teacher, public speaker, workshop leader, and co-author of the book Redeeming Dementia (2018). shows that, just like other difficult experiences, it is possible to find value in dementia — in experiencing it, even if we don’t learn the way we once did, and in watching loved ones experience it.

In this course, Dorothy discusses what dementia is from a scientific standpoint — what happens within the brains of people who experience it. She talks what it means to be human — how, from a Christian perspective in particular, the ability to reason and remember is not what defines our humanity; why our value and our selfhood are more than our brains’ correct functioning. She examines ways in which dementia can offer people unique access to aspects of their spiritual lives that they may never have been able to explore. She argues that they can grow from these spiritual experiences, and we can learn from them. Finally, Dorothy discusses ways in which churches can reach out, both to members with dementia and to their caregivers.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in dementia, older adult ministries, or caregiving. For a preview of the course, please click below.


Just Launched — Our Faith, Our Bodies: Toward a Healthy Christian Sexual Ethic

We just launched Our Faith, Our Bodies: Toward a Healthy Christian Sexual Ethic with Heidi Carter For Individuals and For Groups.

Consider the following examples of people experiencing conflicts about their lives in relation to sex, relationships, and gender:

  • A Christian adult who is considering entering into a BDSM lifestyle but isn’t sure whether, or how, to try to engage it in the spirit of Christ.
  • A 20-year-old woman who has taken her Christian beliefs seriously but thinks she many never want to marry who feels no inclination toward a life of celibacy.
  • An agnostic lesbian who is being abused by her partner.
  • A transgender woman who is living an unhappy life as a man because her community is hostile to transgender people.

All of these are examples of people who might want guidance in making their decisions and/or might benefit from the loving, respectful engagement that Christ models and asks of his followers. But would they — even the Christians — find the church’s teachings on sexuality and gender relevant to their decision-making process? Would they — especially if they are not Christian — look to the church for compassion, help, and wisdom?

It seems likely that they would not. What guidance would the Christian man expect to find in the church on how to engage in domination respectfully? What reason would a transgender woman or a lesbian have to trust a priest for support and guidance through a series of difficult choices about treating herself with respect? Our wide-umbrella church has priests who believe very differently from one another about sexuality, and a young woman who wants sex but not marriage might as easily find her sexual needs vilified as understood. When the church falls behind contemporary experience and conversation on important topics, Christians are less likely to consider the church’s guidance when making decisions, while non-Christians are less likely to see the church’s relevance to the culture at all.

Outside the church, many people (with good reason) consider Christianity to be hostile to sex and extremely hostile to non-traditional approaches to expressions of gender and sexuality. The Episcopal Church, though we now embrace people across the gender and sexuality spectrum and celebrate same-sex marriages, still has trouble articulating what a healthy sexual ethic looks like. We’re more likely to talk about what a healthy sexuality does NOT look like — to tell people what they can and cannot do in various relationships — and leave it at that. Indeed, our reluctance to engage the issue proactively makes its own statement about our willingness to engage issues related to gender and sexuality.

In this course, Heidi argues, we must create a sexual ethic that reflects the broader conversations and information that we have today about being sexual in our world. She discusses why a new sexual ethic is necessary, what it might look like, and how to engage and talk about healthy sexual lives in our culture.

This course is perfect for people who want to learn more about sex in a Christian context. For a preview of the course, please click below.


Just Launched: Going Global with God with Titus Presler

We just launched Going Global with God For Individuals and For Groups.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” Lewis was talking about friendship, but he could have been talking about mission work. In this course, the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler argues that mission work has the potential to bring out valuable and unique aspects of our spiritual lives — to the benefit of ourselves, our missional partners, and the world.

Titus defines mission work as “ministry in the dimension of difference.” Just as there are sides of ourselves that only particular other friends can bring out, there are sides of our spiritual lives and of our world that only the “sending out” of mission work can bring out — encountering unfamiliar cultures and worship communities and experiencing worship brings out new sides of both the companion who journeys forth and the companion who offers hospitality. In this companionship, Titus argues, lies reconciliation that can heal the sin at the heart of of human divisiveness.

Humanity tends to be hostile to the “other.” Titus argues that we reconcile ourselves to one another across the lines of hostility and division every time we mindfully walk together in worship with people who differ from us. In mission work, we reach out to other groups of people precisely because they are different from us. When we worship with them, walk in companionship with them, let new aspects of ourselves and our communities emerge because of our interaction with them, we develop the sides of ourselves as individuals and as communities that Jesus asks from his disciples.

Jesus asks us to open our hearts to strangers and treat others as we wish to be treated. Our history has shown us that we have the capacity for both. In mission work, Titus argues, we reconcile ourselves and our cultures, across time and suspicion and sin, with one another and with God.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in mission work or missional theology. For a preview of the course, please click here.




Consider ChurchNext’s Building Racial Justice Series

If you’re like many people across the United States right now, you want to do something in response to systemic racial injustice. One way that activists consistently recommend to respond to the events of the past weeks is to use the momentum to educate yourself. Change the way you think. Make building racial justice part of how you live and what you do rather than a short-term focus.

One way you might consider starting is with the ChurchNext series on building racial justice. We made this series in partnership with Trinity Institute in 2016 based on their 2016 conference, Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice. Courses are built on lectures by some of our leading teachers on the subject of race in America.

Here is a list, with short descriptions, of the courses included in this series.

Spirituality and Racial Justice with Michael Curry For Individuals and For Groups

Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church Michael Curry teaches this class. Bishop Curry has made racial reconciliation one of the priorities of his ministry as Presiding Bishop. In this class, he provides a sobering yet hopeful outlook on both the sin of racism and the reconciliation of working towards a more just world.


Whiteness and Racial Justice with Kelly Brown Douglas For Individuals and For Groups

Learn the history of whiteness and how the dominance and privilege of whiteness impacts our desire to bring racial healing to society. The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, professor, and author, leads us through a historical and sociological journey to better understand and bring about reconciliation and justice.

Theology and Racial Justice with J. Kameron Carter For Individuals and For Groups

In this course, J. Kameron Carter, author and Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, explains many of the theological underpinnings of racial injustice.



Racism and Racial Justice with Eduardo Bonilla-Silva For Individuals and For Groups

In this class, activist, author, and Duke University professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva contends that after the Civil Rights Movement, a new kind of racism emerged: color-blind racism. Bonilla-Silva describes this new racism, how it got here, and what can be done about it.


Reparation and Racial Justice with Jennifer Harvey For Individuals and For Groups

In this class, Jennifer Harvey, author and Professor of Religion at Drake University, argues that the popular ‘reconciliation’ paradigm for building racial justice needs to be replaced with one based on reparation.

As you consider options for learning more about race, racial history in the United States, and racial reconciliation, consider this list of resources for racial reconciliation from The Episcopal Church. We encourage you to use these resources and any others you can find to change the way you understand race and racial justice, and our Christian responsibility to build a better world.

Just Launched: New Models for Mission with David Copley

See, THIS is how you mow a lawn!

We just launched New Models for Mission with David Copley For Individuals and For Groups.

When western Christians go to do mission work with groups of people whose cultures they don’t understand, with a determination to fix their problems, certain that we know what’s best for them, we act like neighbors who introduce themselves by telling you you’re mowing your lawn all wrong and then show you how to do it better.

In this course, David Copley, Director of Global Partnerships and Mission Personnel for The Episcopal Church, discusses ways to avoid this mindset and alternative approaches we might take to mission work that falls into this kind of error.

In his first lecture, David outlines the overall problem inherent in trying to solve other people’s problems for them in the context of mission work. He outlines why this problem persists and discusses the need for new models in approaching mission work. In the second lecture, he discusses what the focus of mission work should be instead, which is building relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ across social, economic, and physical barriers. In the third lecture, David suggests framing mission work around a common interest or goal toward which two parishes can work together, either locally or internationally. In the fourth lecture, David focuses on asset-based community development as a model that allows missionaries to help and serve people from other cultures without being intrusive or telling them what they need.

This course is ideal for those looking to learn more about modern missionary methods, especially global mission work. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Just Launched: Yes, We’re All Called to Mission

We just launched Yes, We’re All Called to Mission with Kate Gillooly For Individuals and For Groups.

If we define mission work as the work of reconciliation, it becomes every Christian’s job — not just the work of people called to the particular type of mission work that involves traveling to or living in foreign countries. We are all called to do the work of reconciling humanity with God, with one another, and with the created world.

The question then becomes — how should we serve?

In connection with mission work, this course discusses the discernment process in great depth. How are we called to bear witness to the work of the Lord in our world — to do the complicated work of reconciliation in our communities and/or across the world? How do we know what the world needs? How do we know where God calls us? What if our talents don’t seem especially missional in nature? How can we tell what God wants us to do with our gifts?

In the first lesson, Kate Gillooly discusses what Christian mission really is — what it means to be a missionary and why we are all called to do mission work. In the second lesson, Kate discusses how to discern what God is calling us to do. In the third lesson, Kate talks about discerning what gifts we bring to the table. Finally, Kate talks about how to make mission work successful in terms of discerning community needs, balancing out skill sets, entering into strong relationships with the people with whom we serve, and other factors.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about vocation, discernment, and mission work today. For a preview, please click here.

Just Launched — New FREE Course: A Covid-19 Spiritual Survival Kit

We just launched a new free course: A Covid-19 Spiritual Survival Kit For Individuals and For Groups.

This class launches on April 20, 2020. At this time, it has been a month or so since many individuals and communities began self-isolating and quarantining due to the Covid-19 epidemic. We’re (sort of) getting used to at least some of the new norms. Church communities are learning to worship together in new ways. Families have had to figure out both homeschooling and distance learning via their kids’ schools. Most workplaces are settling into a pattern of what can and cannot be done remotely. People who used to spend their time quilting now know how to make homemade cloth masks. Human creativity is rising to the occasion.

Some masks even have spaces where you can insert filters. Photo credit: Miranda Capra.

Getting systems in place is good — but the Covid-19 experience is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s one that nobody wanted to run, so our endurance is starting to flag a bit. Some people, frustrated with the demands of self-isolation, are straining against the quarantine restrictions, saying they have gone on long enough — though the risk, particularly to vulnerable groups, has not changed. The long-term strain on families, especially those with vulnerable members, is taking its tole. And of course, business owners and people who cannot work as long as the current restrictions are in place are desperate for the emergency to pass and for regular commerce to resume.

This course is designed to give you a boost. We don’t know when it’s going to end, but we can tap into resources to help us deal with it in healthy ways. As we are increasingly tempted to fall into our phones and ask people to wake us when Covid-19 is over, it becomes increasingly important that we maintain healthy habits at home. As people become lonely and frustrated under the present restrictions, it becomes more important to reach out and maintain community bonds.

To help people maintain self-care and community care as the epidemic progresses, four instructors have graciously offered their time and knowledge to help people cope.

  • The Rev. Dr. James Farwell is Professor of Theology and Liturgy at Virginia Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books, including a new version of the classic The Liturgy Explained (2013).
  • The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers is Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Stewardship of Creation. She is an author and teacher as well. Her most recent books are The Episcopal Way and Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation.
  • Dorothy Linthicum, an instructor at Virginia Theological Seminary, has studied and taught courses and workshops about older adult spirituality and ministry at the seminary, at conferences, and for dioceses. She is the author of Redeeming Dementia (2018).
  • The Very Rev. Bonnie Perry is Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan.

This course is ideal for anyone who wants to learn coping skills as we go through the Covid-19 experience.

Creating High-Quality Music for Online Worship

Bill Adams, Musical Director at The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, NC.

Many of you have asked about creating strong music for your online liturgies, so we reached out to Bill Adams, Director of Music at The Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Working with the choir and the music team at Holy Family, Bill has offered powerful music for online worship. We would have asked him about the process earlier, as many of you were asking about it before Holy Week and Easter, but Bill was a bit busy in the week or two before Easter. Keep reading to find out why.

Creating high-quality music for online worship takes many hours of work. “The individual tasks aren’t terribly complicated to do,” says Bill, “but there’s a lot to it.” For example, Bill spent 70 hours creating the videos for the three Holy Family worship services that used music and the Easter morning service. [This information has been updated — initially, it said that he spent 70 hours working on the Easter service, when it was actually four services. Sorry if we scared you.] Asked if there are shortcuts or easier ways to do it, Bill responds — not really. Some people do use the app A Cappella, but it limits you to nine people. If you want to incorporate a choir or a music team, the complicated way is pretty much the way that you have to do it.

That said, each individual step of the process is reasonably accessible. If you’re willing to put in the time, you can create high-quality music for your online liturgies.

First, it might help to view the end product. Here is a video of the Good Friday worship service at Holy Family. The anthem God So Loved the World starts at minute 16:22.

This is the process that Bill uses to create a video like the one used in that service. First, he chooses the anthem. Since the church does not profit monetarily from the video, Bill says, and since many anthems are available in public domain anyway, choosing your music need not be a complicated process.

Next, he sends the music to the members of the choir and music team.He includes tracks for individual parts and also a track that combines each part being played so the choristers can both learn their parts and listen to the anthem when they record themselves singing. Importantly, he also sends a video of himself conducting the anthem. (Bill really emphasized that point — it helps considerably with syncing the timing to offer a video of the director conducting the anthem.)

Then he has the members of the choir and music team listen to the music and watch him conduct it while recording themselves on their phones or other digital recording devices. He asks them to use the room with the best possible acoustics to record. He counts to four and then claps at the beginning of his video conducting the musicians, and he has them count to four and clap before beginning to sing/play so as to sync the timing as closely as possible. When working with the music later, he syncs the music from the clap. Between listening to the music, following Bill’s conducting, and starting at the same spot, each musician’s timing remains fairly consistent with the rest of the group. The musicians then send Bill the videos of themselves singing or playing their parts.

This is what Bill’s work space looked like at the height of preparing music for the Holy Week and Easter services at Church of the Holy Family.

At this point, the most time-consuming aspect of the musical director’s work begins. Each recording will have a different sound quality level because the recording space and recording equipment varies for each musician. Therefore, even if each member does his or her best, the director will need to polish the music so that it is consistent. Bill uses Logic Pro for editing the music, but he emphasizes that Garage Band (which is a free version of the same app) might be able to do what the musical director needs done, as recent versions of the app offer more options than the app once did. (Standard tutorials for using Garage Band and Logic Pro are widely available online). By enhancing the quality of some musicians’ recordings (accommodating for acoustics problems, etc.) and editing out serious blips without going too far, the musical director can make the sound consistent.

Finally, the music is set to a video of the musicians playing the music. Bill uses Final Cut Pro to create the video, but he emphasizes that iMovie, a free version of the same app, may be able to do what you need done. Here is a tutorial for creating a video collage like the one Bill uses in the Holy Family service using iMovie. Again, tutorials for creating video collages, grids, and multibox videos (the terminology varies) abound on the internet. The process of creating the video takes considerably less time than syncing and editing the sound does.

So that’s the process. No one step is impossible to learn — but as a whole, the process takes time. Is it worth it? From Bill’s point of view, it is. “We accomplished what we set out to do,” he says. “We helped people worship through music. And it really, really mattered…Seeing the whole group come together – yeah, that really made a difference for people.”

Announcing an Easter Season Live Course: Introducing Matthew with Vicki Garvey

Good news! In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, The Good Book Club is going to add an Easter “season” to its repertoire. Participants will study the Gospel of Matthew, in part to celebrate Easter and in part as a way of coming together.

As part of this event, during the Easter season, ChurchNext will offer a FREE, live course called Introducing Matthew with Vicki Garvey. Vicki is a respected teacher and author and former Canon for Lifelong Education at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. She has led workshops across the United States and internationally on Bible study, and we are very blessed to have her teaching this class. Vicki taught the live Epiphany course Introducing John this year, with exceptional results.

Here’s how it works: from April 23-May 28, every Thursday night at 8 p.m. E.S.T., participants will click on a link to a Zoom classroom to listen to Vicki Garvey’s talks about Matthew Gospel and to ask questions/participate in discussion. Course materials will be available on an online ChurchNext course page. We will also post recordings of the class meetings on the course page, so don’t worry if you can’t attend every class meeting.

You can incorporate this course into your Christian formation materials as you plan for the Easter season — have students participate in the class and then discuss its content on the course page (where discussion questions are easy to post and comment on) or in your own forum later on. Or you can just take it on your own.

Sign up here, and we look forward to seeing you on April 23!