Just Launched: What Vestries Need to Know About Money

We just launched What Vestries Need to Know About Money For Individuals and For Groups.

The vestry of a church has many responsibilities, including making decisions on all financial and property matters. Every vestry member needs to know about the vestry’s responsibilities for the financial health and well-being of the church for which they are stewards.

Details about payroll, taxes, benefits, clergy and lay compensation, and budgeting all fall under the vestry’s duties. If you have ever served on a vestry, you may have been aware of some of these, but perhaps you weren’t aware of others. In this course, you will learn the important details about managing a church’s finances that fall to the vestry. You will also learn about how duties are divided between the vestry and the church financial staff or officers. For example, the vestry is responsible for setting payroll and benefits, but a financial staff person will actually process payroll. The vestry is responsible for making sure that payroll is paid properly and that income and expenses are compared to the budget, but a bookkeeper will be responsible for creating balance sheets.

Most importantly, you will learn that a church’s budget is a theological statement of a congregation’s ministry and mission priorities. It requires as much attention to detail and care as other aspects of a church community.

This course is ideal for any new vestry member, vestry members who want a refresher on finances, or anyone curious about how church finances work.

Just Launched: Raising Resilient Children with Amelia Dress

We have just launched Raising Resilient Children with Amelia Dress For Individuals and For Groups.

People are looking for hope.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, recent years have been difficult. Between the Covid-19 pandemic (and the massive economic pressures associated with it), political disfunction, public unrest, and our alienated culture, many people are unhappy and anxious.

During times of trouble or turbulence, parents have an extra challenge: that of raising children with a sense of stability — providing hope and meaning when the messages that kids receive from the world are far from reassuring.

In this class, Amelia Dress offers guidance in how to raise children who can manage difficult times and retain their hope for the future; a sense that their lives have meaning, purpose, and value. Amelia is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and has written many articles on parenting, as well as the book The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times. In her book and in this class, Amelia examines ways by we can teach children that, though our external situations may change, we will always have opportunities to live lives filled with meaning and purpose.

In this course Amelia talks about skills related to open-heartedness: silence and hospitality, by which we learn to welcome the unexpected. She examines skills related to healing: mindful eating and rest, by which we restore ourselves to do meaningful work in the world. She teaches skills related to letting go: forgiveness and blessing, by which we learn to move into the future without staying mired in mistakes and with the power to help others along the way. Finally, she summarizes her main message of hope and the power of sacred stories to help teach children the values and skills we wish them to learn.

This course is ideal for anyone taking care of or working with children and youth — and for anyone looking for hope during a difficult season in their lives.

Just Launched — With Gladness: 5 Weeks of Holy Practices for Disciples

The Rev. Christopher Martin

We have just launched our new Lenten curriculum: With Gladness: 5 Weeks of Holy Practices for Disciples For Individuals and For Groups This 5-week curriculum is based on Christopher Martin’s book With Gladness: Answering God’s Call in Our Everyday Lives (2021). Christopher is founder of The Restoration Project, whose goal is to restore individual lives and communities through seven core Christian practices. One of these practices is listening for God’s call, a practice that many of Christopher’s students have found difficult. Whom does God call? What kinds of things does God call us to do? How should we listen for God’s call? Many people today find the concept of God’s call confusing and difficult.

For this reason, Christopher has sought to teach new disciplines, using new language in relation to the concept of God’s call. In each section, he focuses on powerful words that help us center our ideas. He also introduces new spiritual practices, all relatively small, that build up to help us shift our approach to receiving God’s call. These practices build up to change our approach to everyday life and our understanding of how to move our lives in the direction to which God calls us.

This curriculum teaches these practices over the course of  20 lectures with Christopher Martin of about 5 minutes each, divided into five weeks. Each week covers a different set of practices.

  • Week One: The Work is Very Near You
  • Week Two: Look at Each Face
  • Week Three: Name Each Work
  • Week Four: Use Your Wounds
  • Week Five: Name Your Home

This curriculum is ideal for Lent, but it can be used at other times too — during Advent (with some consolidation) or during Epiphany, for example, or over the summer. In the For Individuals curriculum, participants can take this course at their own pace. Each section consists of several lessons, which include a short introduction, video lectures, self-assessments covering the lectures’ main points, and discussion questions. The For Groups curriculum is designed for groups to meet and study together. It includes a Facilitator’s Guide that allows anyone to moderate the course easily and a Participant’s Guide that includes discussion questions, summaries of the material, and suggestions for further research.

This 5-session course is priced at $79 for non-Congregational Subscribers and $39 for Congregational Subscribers (if you are a Congregational Subscriber contact us at hello@churchnext.tv for your coupon code).

We hope that this curriculum will help you and your congregation learn from Christopher how to listen to God’s call in your life, and how to shift your spiritual practices in ways that free you to answer it.

Live Class: Introducing Mark with Vicki Garvey Begins Thursday

As you may have already learned, ChurchNext will offer a FREE, live course called Introducing Mark with Vicki Garvey as a Good Book Club offering during Epiphany. We welcome participants from across the world, whether or not you are participating in the Good Book Club formally — it’s a great chance to learn more about Mark’s Gospel.

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 has already taught live courses on the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew. Her Gospel of Matthew class was so popular that participants went back and viewed recordings of her Gospel of John class! We are blessed to have another chance to work with her.

Here’s how it works: from January 7 through February 11, 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 Mark’s Gospel and to ask questions/participate in discussion. Course materials will be available on an online ChurchNext course. 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 take this course with others from your congregation or on your own.

Sign up here, and we look forward to seeing you on January 7!

Just Launched: Biblical Fracking with Frank Wade

We just launched Biblical Fracking with Frank Wade For Individuals and For Groups.

Left: Illustration by Sidney Paget from the original printing of “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” in The Strand Magazine.

In the story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes is able to discern who stole a racehorse by considering what did not happen on the night of the theft. Specifically, the fact that a dog does not bark when someone breaks in to steal the racehorse suggests that the dog recognizes the thief. (Sorry if this is a spoiler. To be fair, you’ve had 128 years to read the story.) The account of the theft does not emphasize the absence of barking — it just says that a watchdog was there and that the place was silent, and Holmes, in wondering why the dog did not bark, arrives at the solution to the problem.

Sometimes, wondering about silence, or about what does not happen, or about what we are not told, can lead the imagination to look at problems, stories, and ideas in a new way. This is the principle at the heart of biblical fracking.

 

Left: Title page of Midrash Tehillim, a collection of rabbinic midrashim (plural for midrash) on the Psalms written in the eleventh century or earlier. This page is from a copy of Midrash Tehillim from seventeenth-century Prague.

Biblical fracking is a practice derived from the ancient Jewish practice of midrash, though priest and author Frank Wade, this course’s instructor who has adapted the practice for Christian use, is careful to assert that the two are not identical. Fracking scripture involves examining texts with an eye toward exploring questions that they raise and do not answer. The questions often address details about characters — like, how did the homeowner react when strangers removed the roof of his home to lower their friend down to Jesus in Luke 5? Why do we hear nothing of Peter’s wife beyond knowing that she exists because Jesus heals her mother (Matthew 8)? What did Simon of Cyrene do after carrying Jesus’ cross to Golgotha?

For Christians, biblical fracking is not a substitute for traditional Christian forms of exegesis, but it can be a useful additional practice. It can lead to different ways of viewing or understanding text. It can raise questions in our hearts that can lead to new ideas about how we should live our lives. In this course, Frank investigates four different stories from the Bible and invites participants to frack them alongside him. We hope that in exploring the fissures and gaps in scripture, you will join Frank in finding spiritual treasure.

 

ChurchNext Lenten Resources

As you begin considering ways to approach Lent of 2021, we’d like to make you aware of the following resources from ChurchNext.

Classes 

Your church and families within your church may find the following classes helpful during Lent:

Introducing Lent with Maggi Dawn: This class offers people new to the church and anyone who wants a refreshed understanding of the season an overview of Lent. Author, priest, scholar, and teacher Maggi Dawn discusses Lent’s history in the church and ways that we observe and commemorate the Lenten season today.

Lent for Families with Kim Baker: In this class, longtime educator and priest Kim Baker discusses ways that families can celebrate a rich Lenten season together.

Walk in Love Part 2: Marking Time with Scott Gunn and Melody Shobe: This course is part of our Walk in Love series. It goes through the church year as a whole, including a lot of focused discussion about Lent and Holy Week. This class is another one that people new to the church might find particularly useful.

Making Sense of the Cross Parts 1-3: These three courses  offer David Lose’s examination of how to understand Jesus’ death on the cross in the context of our life experiences (part one), the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and death (part two), and theological interpretations (part three).

Curricula

ChurchNext offers several 5-week themed curricula and course series that we hope will enrich Lenten observances for both congregations and individuals.

The Five Core Practices of Being a Disciple with Christopher Martin: Do you long to grow in your relationship with Christ? Take a ‘lenten challenge’ and join The Rev. Christopher Martin on an inspiring and informative journey, in which he offers insights into discipleship that can be truly transformative. In this course he touches on various habits and disciplines that can easily be incorporated into our walk with Christ.

 

A Spring in the Desert with Frank and Victoria Logue: This curriculum, based on Frank and Victoria’s book A Spring in the Desert, examines the seven Christian virtues through the lens of the desert. Using historical accounts of the desert fathers and mothers, meditations based on plant life and imagery of the desert, and scriptural references to the desert, Frank and Victoria walk participants through the Lenten season.

 

 

God the Son: In this series of courses, scholars, authors, and theologians discuss the life of Jesus and particularly his death on the cross in terms of how different people have understood it over time.

  • In the first course, Who Is Jesus?, Jason Fout examines the life of Jesus, who he was, and how the church understands him today.
  • In the next three courses, Making Sense of the Cross parts 1-3, David Lose examines Jesus’ death through the lens of human experience, gospel accounts, and theological interpretation.
  • In the final course, Exploring the Biblical Christ, a variety of scholars discuss each of the evangelists’ and St. Paul’s understanding of Jesus.

 

 

Daily Spiritual Practices: In this series, priests and authors discuss various ways to make spiritual practices part of our everyday lives.

Lent for the Family: Looking for family resources  to celebrate a holy Lent? This series offers five courses on building spiritual practices on a familial level.

  • In Lent for Families, Kim Baker suggests creative ways for families to experience a holy Lent together.
  • Allison Liles talks about teaching about religion and worshipping at home (both during and outside the context of the pandemic) in Teaching Kids at Home.
  • Approaching Scripture offers Vicki Garvey’s excellent introductory approach to understanding scripture as a library of different kinds of resources that can be very helpful in teaching older elementary-aged kids, middle-schoolers, and teens about scripture.
  • In Start a Family Devotional Time, Anne Kitsch describes ways to do daily family devotion with the family.
  • Finally, in Holy Habits for Children, Valerie Hess offers ideas on helping children build basic Christian spiritual practices into their lives.

Just Launched: Teaching Kids at Home with Allison Liles

We’ve just launched Teaching Kids at Home with Allison Liles For Individuals and For Groups.

As Covid-19 continues to preclude group events, we miss corporate worship and the service of the Holy Eucharist. They are a critically important part of our lives as Christians. But if the pandemic can bring us closer together in our family units and get our children engaged in seeing how adults in their lives live our their faith in good times and bad, we can find some good in this experience. It may offer us a chance, when worshipping together again in person, to integrate our faith more fully into our daily lives; to weave it through all that we do.

In this class, Allison Liles offers guidance on how to make time at home, both during and after the pandemic. She covers biblical history of teaching kids at home and emphasizes reasons it’s more important now than ever to live out our faith in our families. That means teaching kids about prayer, worship, and the Bible. She talks about effective ways to create worship spaces at home that bring worship into day-to-day activities rather than keeping it a Sunday event. She discusses daily prayer and Sunday worship as well, and how to make those engaging for kids. She also offers resources for parents to use to find creative ways to bring Christianity into their families’ daily lives.

This course is ideal for parents trying to engage Christian education and worship at home, both during and after the pandemic, and for Christian educators who want to support them.

Just Launched: Praying in Color with Sybil MacBeth

We just launched Praying in Color with Sybil MacBeth For Individuals and For Groups. This course is being launched in conjunction with praying in color Advent calendars developed by Sybil MacBeth to accompany Forward Movement’s book of Advent meditations, Waiting and Watching.

Some people are born for contemplative prayer. Content with silence, they can remain still and breathe in the presence of God. These people often find great benefit in quiet, prayerful meditation.

Then there are people who have needed to move, to direct restless energy, to do something while they pray.

Praying in color is good for both these groups of people. It’s also useful for people who are visually oriented, who enjoy bringing creative energy to prayer, who need something to direct their focus, or who simply enjoy exploring new and interesting ways to pray.

In this course, Sybil MacBeth, who developed this prayer discipline, describes praying in color, which is essentially praying through doodling. This approach to prayer can work for people who love art and want to build beautiful artistic creations in prayer and for people whose highest artistic achievement is the stick figure. Artistic talent isn’t the point. The point is to use a pen and paper to focus one’s mind and energy into prayer. At the end of the process, the person has a visual reminder of the prayers in which they have engaged and a prompt they can use later on to remind themselves to pray.

Sybil wrote the book Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God and has developed worksheets, DVDs, and other materials to help people practice this discipline. She leads workshops and conferences on praying in color as well. This class is ideal for those seeking new approaches to prayer.

Just Launched: Developing a Rule of Life with Hillary Raining

We just launched Developing a Rule of Life with Hillary Raining For Individuals and For Groups.

The Christian rule of life, as a concept, has an unfortunate name. The word “rule” for many people, suggests an unpleasant need to do one thing when they’d rather do another. It also suggests an unpleasant consequence if they don’t follow the rule. Most people don’t voluntarily seek new restrictions or invoke potential negative consequences in lives that already have plenty of demands.

Priest and author Hillary Raining asks us to look at the concept of a “rule” differently when creating a rule of life. Instead of a set of strict regulations, with punitive consequences for those who step out of line, she suggests thinking of a rule of life as a trellis — something helpful and supportive that guides our growth in the direction that we and God think best.

In this class, Hillary explains what a rule of life is and how it can help Christians. She discusses ways to decide what to include in a rule — not a dreary list of regulations to which we “should” adhere, but a dynamic list of choices that excite us; choices that we want to make because we can feel that they give us life. She recommends types of activity to include in a rule of life and ways to create one. Finally, she discusses how to maintain a rule of life in the long term.

This class is ideal for anyone who wants to deepen their spiritual practices in daily life. For a preview, please click below.

What Do We Do Now? Ask Parker Palmer.

As I write this post, the U.S. presidential election is not yet decided. It could be days before we know for sure who will run our executive branch for the next four years. On social media, both Trump and Biden supporters are making jokes about comfort eating, stress management drinking, anxiety medication, and the possibility of moving to other countries if their candidate does not win. They’re adding nervously smiling emojis and panicky GIFs.

People turned out in record numbers for this election, and the results are down to the wire, both nationally and in many states. We can take two lessons from this election already: (1) Americans care very deeply about who leads our country, and (2) No matter how awful we think the other candidate is, we have to deal with their supporters. They’re there. They’re voting. And even if we could get around them, as Christians, we really can’t just put them in a box labeled “evil” and keep moving. Jesus modeled eating with tax collectors, called Paul the persecutor of Christians to follow him, and specifically told us not to judge other people (Matthew 7: 1-2). That means we shouldn’t be judging people who we think are wrongdoers and that if we do so anyway, we should still reach out to them.

Applied today, this message means Trump supporters and Biden supporters should be dining together and talking to one another and generally working together. We aren’t, and we have seen the results of that approach. However this election turns out, half of the country will be bitterly opposed to the result. We need to do better.

Parker Palmer, Founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal and author of Healing the Heart of Democracy, among many other books.

How do we begin? Start with Parker Palmer.

Four years ago, we published Bridging the Political Divide with Parker Palmer. I have written hundreds of classes for ChurchNext, and I can honestly say that Parker’s ideas have made more of an impact on how I think than any other course I can remember. Instead of dividing citizens into Left and Right, Parker divides us into Cynical (those who have given up on communities’ building anything through governmental or civic institutions) and Hopeful (those who believe in governmental and civic institutions’ potential to work for the good of the community). Hopeful people tend to be able to find common ground on which to build, even if they think very differently about the best approach to government, and that’s where he suggests we begin.

If you don’t find “a divided nation staring each other down across the aisle” to be a strong model for successful government, figure out how to live a different way. If you don’t know where to start or want new ideas about how to move forward, begin with Parker’s class and move on from there. The For Individuals course is free for now. You can also take the For Groups version with others in your community. Please click below for a preview.