The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton and Bishop Ian Douglas

Image Big Class Blog Post

We are excited to announce our upcoming Big Class, A Christian Response to Gun Violence with The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

From Sept. 14-Sept. 28, anybody who wants to take this free online class can learn how to respond in productive ways to the problem of gun violence that continues to plague our nation. In a series of four short videos, Bishops Sutton and Douglas, co-founders of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, offer insight into how and why Christians need to become active in our opposition to gun violence. The class offers opportunities for Christians to contemplate the problem of gun violence with other Christians across the world and also with the bishops themselves, who will respond to questions and comments from participants over the course of the two-week period. It is free for everyone, takes less than an hour to complete, and requires no special software. For more information and to register, click here.

Anybody who has any interest in the problem of gun violence in the U.S. can profit from this course, which offers compassionate, practical ideas about combating gun violence. “This course is not about repealing the Second Amendment,” says Sutton. “It’s about examining the roots, causes, reality, and our response to our increasingly violent and tragic age, and offering ways for Christians to take action.”

Ministry Profile: Stephen Ministry

Stephen Ministry

Last Sunday, we published Eucharistic Ministry, a class on the ministry of administering the Eucharist to those who cannot attend church services. In the class, Deacon Tim Spannaus discusses the pastoral nature of the Eucharistic visit, pointing out that in addition to administering Holy Communion, the Eucharistic visitor should also observe the well-being of the care recipient so as to be able to report back to the parish about the person’s pastoral care needs. One person to whom the Eucharistic visitor might report this information might be the care recipient’s Stephen Minister.

Stephen Ministry programs link people who are going through painful life transitions with lay people who have been trained to offer them effective pastoral care. Often, the Stephen Minister assists people who are limited due to age or illness and require pastoral visits in their homes, but Stephen Ministers care for people who face many other kinds of pain as well: people who grieve the loss of loved ones, who face divorce or unemployment — people who deal with any kinds of life crisis may call for the help of a Stephen Minister.  At least once a week, the Stephen Minister will meet with the care recipient for approximately one hour. He or she will offer compassionate, confidential listening, care that does not diminish over time, and other services, based on the needs of the care recipient. Stephen Ministers train for 50 hours with Stephen Leaders (who themselves have undergone rigorous training) before they begin active ministry. Usually, Stephen Ministers work with only one care recipient at a time so that each of them can focus full attention on the care recipient’s needs.

Named for St. Stephen, the first layperson commissioned by the followers of Jesus to care for those in need, Stephen Ministry programs are widespread. Over 12,000 congregations in many Christian denominations in every U.S. state and in 29 countries across the world use the Stephen Ministry program. The program was started in 1975 by the Rev. Kenneth Haugk, a priest who used his background in psychotherapy to train laypeople in his congregation to assist with pastoral care. The program developed until now, forty years later, over 600,000 people have trained as Stephen Ministers, caring for over one and half million care recipients.

My great aunt, when she was homebound, called upon the Stephen Ministers at her congregation for assistance, and the work that her Stephen Minister did with her meant a great deal to her. The Stephen Minister offered practical assistance, but it was the sense of connection with her congregation that mattered the most to my aunt. I can only imagine the isolation that she experienced, transitioning from the cheerful, active member of her church’s congregation she had been for most of her adult life to a homebound person who could barely leave her room. The most important work that my aunt’s Stephen Minister did for her was offer her a connection with her congregation. She had not been abandoned by the church in her old age; instead, through her Stephen Minister (and others), the church offered her the care that at the most fundamental level churches exist to offer their congregants. As we treat one another, we treat Christ. What better way is there to offer God worship than to offer God’s care to the people who most need help?

launching today: Eucharistic Ministry with Tim Spannaus

Eucharistic Visitation

Jesus specifically refers to pastoral care for the sick or infirm as a blessed activity, saying “Come, you that are blessed by my Father…for I was sick, and you visited me” (Matthew 25: 34,36). The ministry of Eucharistic visitation is doubly sacred, since the Eucharistic visit has both a pastoral and a liturgical purpose. The pastoral purpose, bringing community to people who for some reason cannot join church services, extends the church’s love and compassion to the care recipients and helps these people receive the care that they need. The liturgical purpose, bringing the Eucharist to these fellow Christians who are facing trouble, incorporates them into the liturgy as part of the congregation and allows them to worship as part of the community of the faithful. If you are considering engaging this ministry, or if you already do so, consider taking our new class, Eucharistic Ministry with Tim Spannaus.

In this class, Tim Spannaus offers guidance on how to make Eucharistic visits as effective and useful to their recipients as possible. He discusses the meaning of the Eucharistic visit; its function in embracing the home- or hospital-bound recipients as participants in the congregation. He offers practical advice about what to bring to the visit, how to use the communion kit, how to report the recipient’s needs to the parish effectively, etc. He also offers valuable advice about the spiritual preparation involved in making an effective Eucharistic visit and about the approach one should take in discerning and responding to the true, deep needs of the care recipient.

If you help to train Eucharistic visitors in your parish, or if the Eucharistic visitors in your parish would like to learn and discuss this ministry in groups, please consider using the class Eucharistic Ministry for Groups, which offers Tim’s lectures and prompts discussion in a format designed specifically for group learning.

To get a better sense of what this class offers, please enjoy this video:

Tim Spannaus is a deacon and lector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. He teaches on liturgy at The Whitaker Institute in Detroit, Michigan.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels


On August 14, the Episcopal Church celebrated the feast day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Daniels was born in 1939 and grew up in Keene, New Hampshire, the privileged child of a Congregationalist doctor. He became an Episcopalian in high school and attended the Virginia Military Institute, where he was elected Valedictorian. In April of 1961, Daniels received a profound religious calling and soon afterward decided to become a priest. A year and a half later, he entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Daniels interrupted his seminary work in March of 1965 to heed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for supporters to join the protests for voting rights for black Americans in Selma, Alabama. Daniels stayed in Selma until it was time for him to take his exams, and he returned to Alabama that summer, working to integrate the Episcopal church in Selma and doing other social justice work. On August 13, Daniels participated in a demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama. That Saturday, he and his fellow protesters were arrested and jailed for six days in Haynesville, Alabama. Finally released on bail on August 20, he and three of his colleagues — a Roman Catholic priest and two young black women –went to buy cold drinks at a local store. A white man came out with a gun, confronted them, and shot at one of the girls, a seventeen-year-old named Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Sales out of the way and was shot in her place. Hit in the stomach, he died immediately. Later, Dr. King would refer to Daniels’ sacrifice as “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry.”

Daniels’ life moves me partly because (unlike some of the more exotic saints), I understand Daniels’ life. My father’s life was a lot like Daniels’. My father was born a few months earlier than Daniels, attended a southern military college, and attended an Episcopal seminary to become a priest around the same time Daniels did. He was involved in the world of church clergy, dealing with the same issues, attending the same kinds of event. For all I know, my dad might have met Daniels.

Because of this sense of familiarity, I understand better with Daniels than with some other saints the temptation that he resisted to stay put and do nothing. He had every reason to ignore the call to go to Selma. He was safe and busy up in Massachusetts. Selma was both dangerous and comfortably far away. Daniels was in the middle of graduate school in preparation to become a priest, a calling about which he was very excited. It was not practical to go to Selma at all, let alone to get special permission to stay there and study on his own so as not to abandon the people there. He jumped through hoops to stay and still be allowed to sit for his exams that May. The whole thing was one big mass of inconveniences as well as protests and suffering — and inconveniences are great excuses to avoid suffering. Daniels faced down both the fears and the excuses to avoid God’s call and did what God wanted him to do. He stuck it out and died a martyr at age twenty-six.

Next month, from September 14-28, ChurchNext will be offering The Christian Response to Gun Violence, taught by The Eugene Sutton, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland and Ian Douglas, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut, both outspoken advocates against gun violence. The course deals, not just with the fact of gun violence itself, but with what Bishop Sutton calls the “unholy trinity” that causes so many gun deaths: poverty, racism, and violence. Jonathan Daniels died fighting these demons. I hope that this course will give me and others the inspiration and information to continue Daniels’ fight in the new millennium.

launching today: Reading and Praying in Church: The Office of Lector

The scripture is fullfilled in our hearing

Lectoring is an ancient ministry. Scripture says that Jesus himself read aloud in the temple. If you read or lead prayers in your church (or both!), or if you are considering engaging that ministry, consider taking our new class, Reading and Praying in the Church: The Office of Lector with Tim Spannaus.

Tim takes us back to the origins of lectoring and teaches us how the laity came to engage this sacred ministry. He offers valuable suggestions for preparing and proclaiming passages from scripture, including intellectual and spiritual ideas on how to better understand and convey the meanings of scriptural passages. The class also includes training on practicalities. Wondering what to do if the reading includes words like “Pi-Hahiroth” or “Zerubbabel”? Concerned about when to look at the congregation and when to look down at the reading (and not losing your place trying to do both at the same time)? Tim’s class answers these questions and many more. The class also includes valuable training about leading psalms and reading or leading public prayers.

If your ministry involves training lectors, or if the lectors at your church would like to study together, consider utilizing our group class, formatted for group discussion. While you are there, take Tim’s advice and practice your readings for one another! You can give each other valuable feedback.

Would you like a sneak preview? Enjoy this video! 

Tim Spannaus is a deacon and lector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. He teaches on liturgy at The Whitaker Institute in Detroit, Michigan.

Daily Spirituality

Spiritual practices draw us backto attentiveness (1)

In the Everyday Spiritual Practices class that we launched this past Sunday, the Reverend Keith Anderson suggested a variety of spiritual exercises that we might employ during our busy days. Which practices we choose to use depends on which activities resonate with each of us at different times in our lives – even at different times of the day. Such practices can be any activities that call our attention to God or help us love and serve our neighbors.

I find that everyday activities, even odd ones, can become spiritually rewarding. For a while, I found spiritual value in the act of putting on my children’s shoes; the act resembled foot washing enough that it became holy to me. Then the days got busier, and now I am usually in a hurry when I put on my son’s shoes, so the act has lost its spiritual significance, but others have come to take its place.

Right now, one of my spiritually rewarding daily activities is the act of putting my older son to bed. He prefers to say his prayers silently. Next to him, in the quiet room, I naturally find myself praying silently alongside him, especially for him and his brother and my husband.

When the children were younger, a spiritual practice that came naturally was just walking to and from a pond near our house while holding them in slings or other baby-wearing devices.  There was something about the beauty of the pond and the warm baby snuggled against me that naturally drew me toward mindfulness and gratitude.  It can be easy to engage in spiritual activity if we just go with the acts that seem to draw us in that direction anyway.

Deliberately engaging formal, spiritual disciplines also helps many people. The Rev. Anderson suggested journaling and gratitude journals. My mother gets great spiritual satisfaction from religious journaling; she makes time each day to write in her journal and deals with life’s difficulties by asking God to be with her and then journaling her problems out with God.

Some people make time every day to sew or knit their prayers into quilts and blankets. We received a prayer blanket that someone had crocheted for my son when he was a baby that soothed me greatly during those first anxious, sleepless weeks with a newborn. Some people make time during the day to draw or paint the things and people they love in a spirit of mindfulness. I know a woman who swims laps mindfully each day; she finds spiritual benefit in the repetitive act of swimming and the relative peace of just moving back and forth across the pool.

What spiritual disciplines do you find help you in your daily lives? What daily activities have become imbued with spiritual meaning for you? Please comment! We would love to read about them!

launching today: Everyday Spiritual Practices with Keith Anderson


It doesn’t have to be complicated: simply taking time each morning and evening to connect with God, to reflect on one’s day, to offer thanks and prayer, are everyday spiritual practices that help us recenter, andersonrefocus, and become more aware of the presence of God in our lives. Such seemingly mundane activities as washing dishes or changing a diaper can be performed with presence and intention, and can also draw us closer to God. Everyday spiritual practices bring peace, contentment, and a sense of gratitude. It’s that simple.

In our latest course, Everyday Spiritual Practices, Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson reminds us of the myriad ways we can incorporate small practices into our daily lives in order to bring us closer to Emmanuel, the God that is–always–with us. This is a wonderful course, one that will appeal to anyone seeking a deeper sense of peace and trust. It’s also great for your small group — whether busy parents, empty-nesters, women’s or men’s groups, or youth. Keith can offer wisdom about the how’s and why’s of spiritual practices, and how they can fit into — and enrich — anyone’s life, at any stage of life, every day. Click here for more information or to register.

The Reverend Keith Anderson is a pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia, author of The Digital Cathedral: Networked Ministry in a Wireless World (Morehouse, 2015), and co-author with Elizabeth Drescher of Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012). Keith is co-editor with Elizabeth Drescher of The Narthex, an online magazine about the changing contours of American Christianity and serves on the editorial committee for Odyssey Network’s ON Scripture lectionary commentary series. An expert on digital ministry and sought after speaker and writer, his work on religion, new media, and popular culture has  appeared on The Huffington PostReligion Dispatches, Day 1, and The New Media Project.

Online Learning — and Spiritual Growth

Online learning is a huge blessing to those who otherwise might not be able to attend classes or take part in education programs, whether because of geographical or financial limitations, or family responsibilities and scheduling conflicts.

And yet studies find that, while people enroll in online education courses and programs, they very often do not complete them. In a study of online education in Africa, one student pointed out that  “[i]n a regular class you have a teacher who is in front of you who makes you concentrate. With the online environment, you have to have discipline, make your own timetable to listen to the lectures, and submit the assignments online.”

It’s like joining a gym: you have the best of intentions, but oftentimes without a personal trainer there to motivate you and hold you accountable, you tend to let it slide. The same goes for learning online  — and spiritual growth in general.

Think about it: that’s precisely why we need church: for the community of people on similar journeys, who hold each other accountable, and who motivate, inspire, challenge, and teach each other. As the Rev. Frank Wade says in our course, The Episcopal Tradition, “By ourselves, we begin to worship ourselves.” Sure, he says, “you can worship God by taking a walk in the park — but does the God you meet in the park ever tell you anything you don’t want to hear?”

So online learning (or a gym membership) is only as good as the person invested in it. And the same is true of spiritual formation. If we want to grow in faith, we must commit to it and keep “showing up.” Faith communities are great in that they can help pull us back in when we stray, but at the end of the day, no one can make our journey for us.

What seems to work best for many people is a combination of online and in-person activities. ChurchNext offers several ways to meet this need: individuals in a parish can take a course on their own schedule but then meet regularly, or at the end of a prescribed time period, to discuss and think further about the course content. For example, your church can make a course available for, say, three weeks; parishioners can take the course at their leisure during that time period, and then meet as a group for coffee or dinner to share and discuss. Alternatively, small groups can use the For Groups version of a course to meet regularly, watch a video presentation, and then discuss it together.

How do you learn best? What fosters your spiritual growth? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

animate: Practices 3 launches today


The third and final part of the animate: Practices series in conjunction with Augsburg Fortress launches today, and it’s another great one: this time, we’re led by scholars, authors, and pastors Shane Claiborne, Enuma Okoro, and Doug Pagitt in re-animating our engagements with three seemingly-mundane concepts: money, service, and community.

Shane offers his own experiences and learning on how we as Christians are called to think of and use money (and stuff and other resources), how the Bible can make us feel at odds with the world around us as well as offering us freedom and peace from this oddness. Sharing what we have and emphasizing a gospel of enough are practices that are both biblically-mandated and spiritually life-giving.

Likewise, Enuma Okoro reminds us that service isn’t something that just happens “out there” in third-world countries or in desperate hardships or labor; it’s also something we’re called to every day, in ordinary and small ways. Making ourselves available to each other and seeing the image of God in each other are what service is all about.

Finally, Doug Pagitt tells about his experiences with community as a transformative practice of mutual growth. He invites us to re-think what we expect or do when we welcome newcomers into our midst.

All three of these presenters offer thought-provoking talks on vital practices for the Christian life, and help breathe new energy into our faiths. Click here to learn more about this third course or to register.

We’re proud to partner with Augsburg Fortress in presenting some of the animate series as ChurchNext courses. The  series is unique in that it not only tackles some of the big questions of our faith, like “Is God real?” and “Is there such a thing as too much Bible?” but it does so not in order to teach a certain lesson or to impart fixed wisdom, but to challenge assumptions, spark conversation and dialogue, and encourage wrestling with the deep questions of our souls.

Shane is a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia.  He is the author of several books including Jesus for President and Becoming Our Prayers.

Enuma is a writer, speaker, communications consultant and an award-winning author of four non-fiction books.  A graduate of Duke Divinity School, Enuma also served as the Director for the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity Law School.

Doug is associated with the emerging church movement and is founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis. He is the author of several books including Body PrayerChurch Re-imagined, and Flipped.