A new kind of community

At my sister’s wedding, the priest pointed out during his homily that the event of witnessing this marriage had brought people together into a unique community. A disparate group of people from multiple states and countries had come together for one weekend to celebrate this life event with these two people. For that weekend, we formed a community, united in the common purpose of celebrating the marriage of two people whom we loved.

While they are not always as profound as that one, many other kinds of life experience create community for those who share them. Online experiences these days can create particularly unique communities in which people participate (oddly) at different times and only as actively as they choose. My husband, for example, is on a message board for a computer game wherein guys who like football manage imaginary teams and play them against each other. (The appeal of this game is lost on me, but it makes them so happy that I enjoy it vicariously anyway.) The experience of playing the game together has created a community on the people on this message board. They have never met in person, but they are friends: they trade jokes, ask for advice, discuss life events. They have  created a tight enough community that when one of these guys moved nearby, it seemed quite natural for us to immediately start hanging out with his family; the online community extended itself naturally into our physical world.

ChurchNext classes create unique communities. Sometimes, the online class community enhances the physical community of a congregation. A priest at one church in Virginia, for example, uses online parenting classes to reach out to congregation members with young children who can’t always make it to classes at the church because of their family obligations. In that case, the experience of sharing this learning and in particular of discussing the classes together online enhances the physical community. Sometimes, the online community becomes its own event. I very much enjoyed reading the discussions that went on during our Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence because people talked and debated and learned from each other across the country and even across the world. Briefly, the class built its own community, fueled by a common call to resist a problem that we have encountered.

As you integrate (or consider integrating) ChurchNext classes into your life or your congregation, think about the classes’ potential to build community. Use the discussions not just to answer questions, but to communicate with people. Ask your own questions. Follow up your points. Think things out with others. If we approach them with the right mindset, sharing experiences — especially those related to learning and spirituality — online can bring people together in ways that people have never been able to experience before in all of human history. Let us take advantage of this blessing and use it to build community with one another — a happy opportunity in an age when people so often feel isolated from one another.

The Big Class Now Available For Purchase

Missed Big Class

If you or someone you know wanted to take The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence but missed the September 28 deadline, you can still get access to it! It’s now available in two formats: a class for individuals and a class formatted for group learning. You can gain access to it if you belong to a congregation that has set up a ChurchNext school, if you buy an annual subscription to ChurchNext for yourself, or simply by purchasing the class.

Enjoy! And if you liked A Christian Response to Gun Violence, please peruse other ChurchNext classes and see what interests you!

Last chance

The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence is free through September 28. That is tomorrow! Monday! If you have been thinking about how maybe you’ll probably take that class when you have a few minutes because hey, it’s available for two full weeks — your time is almost up!

Join the 1000+ people in 15 countries who have taken this class and learn from two spiritual leaders in the movement against gun violence about how Christians can oppose gun violence in their communities, and why they should do so.

There’s still time! Encourage people to take The Big Class!

Time image

We’re up to over 1000 people from 15 different countries who have taken The Big Class! The opportunity isn’t over! Anybody in the world can take it for free through Monday, September 28. Please continue to encourage people to take The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence this week!

To help motivate you, here are some student comments on the class:

I like that I am able to take this course when I want to. The videos are very good and the accompanying text helps to truly make this a learning experience for me.


Good mix of different learning approaches. Like that I could return to any part and participate. This allowed me to think about the topic and to give a deeper response to the questions presented or the discussion.


I appreciated the level-headed responses from other students and the ability to reply or ask a question.

Please spread the word! People still have through Monday to benefit from these teachers’ guidance and learn about this important issue!

Student Voices: Excerpts from the Discussions


Student discussions are the force that animates ChurchNext classes — gives them the life and spirit that make the classes grow and ideas thrive. We would like to share with you some thought-provoking excerpts from student discussions in The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence.These are only a few excerpts. The conversation is riveting and ongoing. We hope that you will add your voice and ideas to the discussion.

In response to a question about the relationship between racism and gun violence:

I wonder if racism’s role in gun violence is a multi-level thing? By which I mean, there’s the issue of police more quickly resorting to guns or other violence when dealing with people of color. Then there’s the white privilege of the “open carry” movement, brandishing weapons with impunity in ways that encourage gun violence in the name of “protection,” and in a manner that our culture would not tolerate from Black, Hispanic, or Native peoples. In both cases violence is fed by fear, and some of the fear has a racial component, but it comes from different directions.


When people live in fear of those who are different from them, it’s too easy to move to violence as a form of protection. Also, those who are treated with injustice and contempt because of racism may feel that they have no other way to get their needs met. They may also feel that they might as well be violent since that’s what others expect from them.

In response to a question about the relationship between American culture and gun violence:

In the 50s we grew up playing “cowboys and Indians,” and various other games based on the notion of the “good guy with the gun” defeating the bad guy with the gun. Television, and now video and computer games, and the internet, have all taken these games to a hyper-realistic and adrenaline-pumping level; this stuff excites us, and in a complicated world, give us–and our children–the satisfaction of a very simple solution: Blow the bad guys away. The myth of redemptive violence seems to be a particularly American myth; perhaps our glorification of the individual contributes to this.

In response to a question about how people can make themselves able to hear God’s voice:

I remember after 9/11, hearing Osama Bin Laden in a video boast that his success was proof that God approved of what he did. I asked our pastor then, if anyone can claim his action is sanctioned by God, how does one really know? His reply was that he didn’t know but that he was sure it had something to do with humility and that Osama Bin Laden showed no humility. Micah 6:8 — “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly.”

To which statement another person responded:

That passage from Micah makes the Bible worthwhile, for me. I can’t think of a better code for living than that. And it’s perfectly accessible: we can all do that in our workplaces, personal relationships, interactions with strangers, and care for the environment and all living things.

In response to a student-initiated question about poverty as a sin:

Poverty amidst plenty is a sin that our society bears.


There are sins of a whole culture. One of our biggest sins is greed and consumerism. The result of our participation in this culture is poverty.

In response to a question about violent incidents in the Bible:

Over and over in the Old Testament we read stories of violence against women–Hagar and her son cast out into the wilderness, rape after rape. Last spring a study group at our church discussed selections from Lindsay Hardin Freeman’s book Bible Women, and were in awe of women like Deborah and Naomi, who managed to hear and respond to God’s voice despite a culture that routinely discounted, abused, and frequently killed girls and women. It was even more heartening to consider New Testament women, like Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene (you can tell I am partial to all those Marys)–the the Syrophoenecian woman who dared to talk back to Jesus. Jesus’ message of complete inclusion in God’s Kingdom refutes the patriarchal beliefs that sanctioned violence against women as an acceptable part of the culture.

THANK YOU to all of you who have added your voices to these discussions. Please keep your ideas coming!

The Big Class Has Taken Off!

big class on fire

As of today, we have 836 people from twelve countries taking The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence. (And that doesn’t count congregations that are taking the class in groups.) Almost all of the students who have commented on the course so far have said that the class was well worth the time they spent taking it. “I enjoyed the video presentations, and the questions really gave me food for thought,” says one student. “I liked the concept of the unholy trinity and liked the discussion showing…some possible ways to enter into facing the whole issue of violence in our culture” says another. A strong majority of the students who have taken the course have said that the course gave them new information or perspectives on the issue that had not occurred to them before.

The class is reaching people, changing their ideas, and moving them to care about this important issue! Thanks be to God!

Instructor Profile: Bishop Ian Douglas

 Ian Douglas

Tomorrow, we launch the Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton and Bishop Ian Douglas. Last week, we profiled Bishop Eugene Sutton to give you a better sense of who he is and what he brings to the conversation about gun violence. Today, we offer a similar profile of Bishop Ian Douglas.

Ian Douglas grew up in Massachusetts. He earned his M.Div at Harvard Divinity School in 1983. In the same year, he served as a chaplain intern at Massachusetts General Hospital, after which he volunteered as a missionary for the Episcopal Church in Port-a-Prince, Haiti for two years. He then served as Associate for Overseas Leadership Development in New York City for two years. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1989, serving as Priest Associate at St. James Episcopal Church in Cambridge, MA from 1989-2010. In 1993, he earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Boston University, focusing his dissertation on the foreign mission of the Episcopal church. He served as Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity from 1991 to 2010 at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. In 2010, Ian Douglas was ordained bishop, and since then, he has served as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

As his title at the Episcopal Divinity School makes clear, Bishop Douglas’ ministry has focused on global Christianity and the mission of the church across the globe. He has focused particularly on Haiti. He lived in Haiti for two years, wrote his master’s thesis on the history and religion of Haiti, speaks fluent Haitian, and has worked on various committees to promote a strong relationship between the Episcopal Church in Haiti and the Episcopal Church in the United States. The global mission of the church across the world has been the primary focus on Bishop Douglas’ career. He has served on numerous committees related to the global mission of the church, has published many articles on the subject, and has written two books and edited one about the global church and mission work.

Bishop Douglas also has focused much energy on the subject of reconciliation. He co-wrote his most recent book, Understanding the Windsor Report: Two Leaders in the American Church Speak Across the Divide, with the Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl, who disagrees with Bishop Douglas about ordaining gay clergy. Their goal in the book is to reach out and try to help reconcile a church divided on the issue of homosexuality. One of Douglas’ earlier books, Waging Reconciliation: God’s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis, also takes reconciliation as a theme. Reaching out across barriers and reconciling differences has been an important theme throughout Bishop Douglas’ career.

Bishop Douglas’ interest in preventing gun violence fits in well with his interest in social justice and reconciliation. In 2013, Bishop Douglas convened Bishops United Against Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton and Bishop Mark Beckwith. He has spoken out and written articles in favor of safer gun laws, particularly in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, and has become a prominent voice in the fight against gun violence. We look forward to sharing his guidance on this important issue starting tomorrow.

Top 7 Ways to Spread the News About the Big Class

Carrier Pigeon Big Class

If you are looking forward to taking The Big Class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishops Eugene Sutton and Ian Douglas, don’t keep it to yourself!  Spread the word! Let others know that it’s happening! Remember to tell them that it’s free, takes only 45 minutes, and doesn’t involve fancy software or computer expertise.

  1. Tell your church! Let your rector and associate rectors know! Tell the outreach commission!  And the Christian education committee!  You might even make it a parish event and take the class with others in your congregation!
  2. Tell your friends online! Tweet them, Facebook update them, blog about it, post it on message boards. Create a Pintrest craft based on it! Instagram a photo about it!big class awesome
  3. Share our page about The Big Class. That way, people will have easy access to information about it and can click to sign up with no trouble. (This step can be combined with step #2.)
  4. Put an announcement in your church bulletin! You can even use our bulletin inserts and give the information in one easy-to-take-home page.
  5. Put up posters! At your church, at other people’s churches, at your college, at your local coffee shop. You don’t even have to create them! Just use these!
  6. Tell any groups that you know that resist gun violence in the community about it. Tell them to spread the word!
  7. Send out carrier pigeons. Who wouldn’t want to take a class that they heard about via carrier pigeon?

Instructor Profile: Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton

Eugene Sutton

By now, you have probably heard that from Sept. 14-28, ChurchNext is offering a free class: A Christian Response to Gun Violence with Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. But you might not know much about these two bishops or what they have to offer to a conversation about gun violence. Today, we would like to introduce you to The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton. (Look for a similar blog post about Bishop Ian Douglas in the coming week.)

Eugene Sutton was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and grew up attending Baptist churches. He graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and earned his M.Div at Western Theological Seminary, after which he was ordained in the Reformed Church in America. He was a pastor at an RCA church in Michigan for five years, after which he returned to academic life as both a student and an instructor. He became an Episcopalian in 1992 and completed his Anglican Studies work at Sewanee in 1993. In the following years, he led four congregations in Trenton, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. He then served as canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral and director of its Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage.

Throughout his career, Bishop Sutton has focused special attention on contemplative Christianity and the discipline of centering prayer. In addition to leading conferences on this subject, in 1997, he founded Contemplative Outreach of Metropolitan Washington, which focuses on bringing centering prayer and a commitment to contemplative Christianity to churches in that area. He has published articles on contemplative prayer, and his contributions appear in The Diversity of Centering Prayer, a book published in 1999 containing ecumenical contributions on the method  and history of centering prayer.

In 2008, Eugene Sutton was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland. He is the first African American bishop in a state with a large African American population, especially in Baltimore, its diocesan seat. The symbolic as well as literal importance of his election was not lost on Bishop Sutton, who noted at the time that the first Bishop of Maryland had been a slave owner, while Bishop Sutton himself is the descendant of slaves. In his role as Bishop, Eugene Sutton has been an outspoken advocate for oppressed people, speaking out out on controversial topics. He has made speeches and statements, for example, unequivocally supporting marriage equality and supporting the Maryland Dream Act (which offers undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at Maryland colleges.)

Bishop Sutton’s career choices have emphasized a deep, consistent commitment to reconciliation and to fighting social injustice. He spent much of his career at parishes in Washington, D.C. and Trenton, N.J., cities facing serious problems related to racial and economic injustice. As Bishop of Maryland, he has seen Baltimore through particularly violent and difficult times. With Bishop Ian Douglas and Bishop Mark Beckwith, he convened the group Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which explores options for reducing the rate of gun violence in the U.S. During the Baltimore riots in response to the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured in police custody and later died in April of 2015, Bishop Sutton wrote Weep and Pray for Baltimore, in which he mourns the violence that was occurring in Baltimore during that time and in which he examines and condemns the consistent racial and economic injustice that led to the riots.

Bishop Sutton has been a consistent voice in favor of social, racial, and economic justice and against the use of violence, particularly gun violence as a method of resolving conflicts. He is firm in his belief that “violence never works. Ever.” Later this month, we look forward to sharing with you his guidance on the Christian role in resisting gun violence in the United States.