Just Launched: Free 5-Week Curriculum — Make Me an Instrument: A Guide to Civil Discourse

We just launched a Make Me an Instrument: A Guide to Civil Discourse For Individuals and For Groups. This free 5-week online curriculum was built in conjunction with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and its Department of Faith Formation. The course is free to anyone who would like to take it.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said: [L]ove the neighbor you like and love the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor. Your black neighbor and your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino, your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor. That’s why we’re here.

In this curriculum, representatives and teachers from across the church teach civil discourse as a skill that we can develop and use to build healthier communities through building relationships across divisions within those communities.

The course instructors teach civil discourse as a specific style of conversation that requires particular skills and practices. Civil discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. Rabbi Steve Gutow, speaking at the Episcopal Church’s event Civil Discourse in America, remarked that “civility is simply demonstrating respect for the dignity of our fellow humans—even those humans with whom we have sharp disagreement. Civility is allowing others to speak, and having the humility to admit that we may have something to learn. Civility favors truth over cheap gain, and patience over knee-jerk judgment.”

The goal of these conversations is to be in deeper relationship and to more truly know each others’ dignity and worth. We strive for this deeper relationship so that when we go out to do our own advocacy, activism, and community engagement, we are better informed about who the “other” is without dehumanizing or demonizing them.

As well as explaining the practice of civil discourse, the reasons for using it, and its grounding in scripture and the sacraments, the instructors address challenges that can arise with the “listen and learn” approach they advocate. What if one group has been exploited by another? Is it unjust to expect the marginalized to listen to the privileged? What is the risk a conversation becomes mired in theory rather than allowing us to deepen our relationships with one another? And what if we all listen and value each other’s conversations and find that in the end, we simply do not share the same values? Or what if we do share values but are so hopelessly divided over how to achieve our goals that the values shared seem unimportant? What if the other conversational partner won’t abide by the “respectful listening” rules? All of these important questions, and many others, are covered in this curriculum.

This civil discourse curriculum offers hope that by using the tool of civil discourse, we can find new ways to love our neighbor. We look forward to exploring it with you.

For a preview of one of the courses, please click here.

Starting this Week: Thursday Night Bible Study — Introducing John. Free, LIVE Class with Vicki Garvey

Thursday Night Bible Study is back! (Ok, so it’s not exactly “back,” because last year it was Wednesday Night Bible Study, but let’s not get caught up in technicalities. ) This Epiphany, anyone who is interested in learning more about the Gospel of John can take Introducing John, a 6-week free, live online course on Thursday nights with Vicki Garvey, long-time Canon for Lifelong Christian Formation in the Diocese of Chicago, and a respected author, public speaker, and biblical scholar.

Staring this Thursday, January 23, participants will meet once a week for six weeks on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. E.S.T. in a zoom online classroom to discuss important ideas in John’s Gospel with Vicki Garvey. Themes that Vicki will cover include (but are not limited to):

  • John’s portrayal of “the Jews” and, despite that enmity in this gospel, the many revisited themes from the Hebrew Bible.
  • The surprising place of women in John’s Gospel.
  • The Johannine community and radical commitment.
  • Concern for the various strata of communities, covering those contemporary with Jesus through the Johannine circle of Jesus’ followers — those who “believe but do not see,” including 21st-century followers.

Class meetings will include both lectures from Vicki on John and online discussion opportunities.

This class is ideal for people participating in the Good Book Club this year and anyone who would like to learn more about John’s unique and fascinating Gospel.

Just Launched: Mr. Rogers’ Simple Faith

Photograph of Fred Rogers on the set of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in the late 1960s. Photo: Wikicommons.

We have just launched Mr. Rogers’ Simple Faith For Individuals and For Groups.

Adults who grew up in the decades from the 1960s through the 1990s are likely to remember the opening to the iconic television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The rest of you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. With the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 2018 and the premiere of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks, Mr. Rogers-centered dialogue has remained more relevant than ever while other popular children’s show hosts have come and gone.

Fifty years after his show began and almost twenty years after it ended, why are Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood still important?

Mr. Rogers’ television persona was authentic. According to the people who knew him, he was really like that. When he got on the screen and sang simple songs about how he loved children; how he thought each was special just as they were, he meant it. He let his show model values that he found important — quiet, kindness, a deliberate pace, the use of imagination, and getting to know and value many different kinds of people.He remains important because children (and the rest of us) still need what he offered. His message, and his authenticity still have much to offer.

In this course, contemplative spirituality director and author Westina Matthews discusses Mr. Rogers’ lasting impact on the world. In the first lesson, she offers details about Fred Rogers’ life and personality. In the second lesson, she discusses Rogers’ work in the context of Christ’s teachings. In the third lesson, she examines Mr. Rogers’ show in the context of contemplative spirituality — slowing down, examining and appreciating the world as it is. In the last lesson, she talks about Mr. Rogers’ authenticity, and his value for people’s being sincere — and being accepted for their authentic selves.

This class is ideal for anyone interested in Mr. Rogers, contemplative spirituality, reaching out to children, or everyday spiritual practices. If you’d like to view a preview, please click here.

Just Launched: Learning From London with Jason Fout

Holy Trinity Brompton (often affectionately called HTB) has been especially successful in creating new worship communities in London.

We’ve just launched Learning From London with Jason Fout For Individuals and For Groups .

There has been much discussion both in the media and among Christians about the church’s decline in recent decades. A Pew Research Study released in 2015 revealed that in the U.S., Christians as a whole declined by almost 8% between 2007 and 2014. Mainline Protestant church membership declined by 3.4%; Roman Catholic church membership declined by 3.1%; evangelical churches declined at a slower, but steady rate. Meanwhile, the number of Americans, particularly younger Americans, who identified themselves as atheists, agnostics, or as nothing in particular, rose by 6.7%.

The Anglican Church is experiencing this decline. The reasons for it have been analyzed and re-analyzed, along with many suggestions for how the church can remain relevant, spreading the good news in a society that no longer orients itself around the church as it did for so many years. The church needs to adapt to not being the cultural center it used to be, and the Diocese of London is modeling creative and effective ways to make that happen.

Under the circumstances, we should pay close attention to the fact that in a city that is largely disengaged with the church (only around 8% of London’s population attends church on Sunday), the Diocese of London has been growing. It grew by 16% between 2002-2012, and it has maintained those numbers since then. It has been experimenting with new approaches to building worship communities, and those communities have proven remarkably effective. Jason Fout, an associate professor of Anglican theology at Bexley Seabury Seminary Foundation, spends a lot of his time teaching in London and has studied the Diocese of London extensively to discover the reasons for its great success in a time of decline.

In this class, Jason describes what the Diocese of London is doing and why it works. In his first lesson, he offers an overview of the Diocese of London’s approach and its success. In the second lesson, he discusses ways in which Diocese of London churches (Holy Trinity Brompton in particular) have reduced the thresholds that were keeping them from connecting with people in their communities. In the third and fourth lesson, he examines the Diocese of London’s approach to planting churches and building new worship communities and why these ventures have been successful.

This class is ideal for anyone interested in learning about revitalizing churches and connecting effectively with people in their communities. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Latest course: animate: Practices 1 with Brian McLaren and Sara Miles

Another fabulous course from Augsburg Fortress and Sparkhouse’s animate series launches animatetoday, called animate: Practices 1. 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.

In this course, Practices 1, Brian McLaren explores the idea of prayer, admitting that he used to think of prayer as something onerous, a duty he was bound to perform and to perform “correctly” — and yet he has come to see the Lord’s Prayer as something simple, something active, something that reanimates our faith and our ability to live faithfully in this broken world. He breaks it down into four “moves” that can help us re-see the prayer given to us by Jesus himself.

Sara Miles tackles the idea of food and eating, noting that it’s (literally) a weighty topic in our society: poor people must think constantly about their next meal, and those with plenty find themselves also obsessed with food — how “pure” it is, whether it can save or kill, where it came from, who’s eating it. Sara challenges us to rethink our relationship with food, doing so with Jesus’ messy, unorthodox, and life-giving lens on the gift and blessing of sharing a meal. After all, she says, the Lord’s supper is for everyone, cannot be bought, and is never eaten alone.

We’re excited to share these talks with you and pray that they may help reanimate your faith and spark conversation in your small groups. Click here for more information or to register.

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders.

Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry , and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Her books include Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead and Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. She speaks, preaches and leads workshops around the country, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and on National Public Radio.

In The Fold

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I just returned from a week-long trip with my husband to the Cotswolds, one of the most stunningly beautiful and peaceful areas of England. (In fact, this collection of rural cottages, villages, farmlands, and footpaths has been officially designated an AONB: an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.) The Cotswolds experienced their commercial heydey during the Middle Ages, as their sheep were the sought-after source of the best wool in Europe. The cottages and towns were built, improved, and expanded during this time with the wealth acquired in the wool trade, and each village has a church that was either built or renovated during the Middle Ages, usually by the lord of the village, using wool-trade riches. These churches are beautiful, welcoming, historic, and solid.IMG_9108

Perhaps not surprisingly, though, time brought change to this area. The rise of cotton dealt a serious blow to the economy of the Cotswolds; these villages are now mostly run on tourist dollars and the village churches in many areas have banded together to share clergy and resources, offering services at one parish each Sunday, on a rotation.


The name Cotswold is popularly believed to be a combination of cote (enclosure) and wold (hillsides). The fields that surround the villages do host flocks of sheep and doves; sheep-cotes and dove-cotes offer shelter; trees and ruins of old manor houses provide shade to weary hikers and livestock alike. And the parish churches of The Cotswolds, too, feel like cotes — housing and protection — for those of us sheep of the Good Shepherd who wander in from the streets and fields around. The churches are cool, quiet, shaded, peaceful. Plaques and engraved stone signs tell the histories of those who worshipped, married, and were buried over the centuries. One gets a sense of the thousands of seekers and believers, the hundreds of years’ worth of song, prayer, and worship, that these churches have witnessed.

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No matter the changes and chances of life — the stories of violence and suffering, forecasts of economic doom that seem to surround us — these country churches remind us that our Good Shepherd remains, and that there is always a place of shelter and protection — the same source that has been and always will be — for those who seek it, or those who stumble upon it.


May we always remember that there is shelter when we need it — whether we enter a stone church, open our Bible, or log on to the internet. The Good Shepherd will be waiting.

To learn more about the Church of England and its traditions, consider any of the following courses:

English Origins of the Book of Common Prayer
The Spirituality of the Prayer Book
Introducing Episcopal Worship

Ashley Denham Busse
Senior Course Producer

Violence, Myth, and Scripture launches today

Today we launch our latest course, Violence, Myth, and Scripture with Suzanne Ross, and it’s seems a timely class to be offering, in the midst of the troubled events of recent weeks. Using rossRene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, Suzanne corrects some common misconceptions about violence in our faith tradition, and explains the difference between myths (where violence is naturalized) and scripture (where violence is highlighted, for a purpose). In this course, she reminds us that violence is not sacred or of God; rather, it is a symptom of our fallen state, and an illness that grieves God. It’s an affliction that we Christians are called both to understand and to begin to remedy.

We invite you to take this course as a way to begin effecting change in our troubled nation. It’s also available in For Groups format for small-group use. Click here for more information or to register.

Suzanne Ross is an expert in mimetic theory. She is an author, respected lecturer, and co-founder of The Raven Institute.

Violence and Faith


You may sigh inwardly when you see the word “Charleston” now, tired of all the news and posts and commentaries and analyses of the past week. And yet we cannot turn away from this event — we should not turn away, nor feel cynical and discouraged when things like this happen. Because we are the very people — we believers — who are called upon to remind people of the hope of the Gospel, of God’s charge to us to be instruments of peace, vehicles for transformation, messengers of love. Even in the midst of — or perhaps because of — such terrible news happening seemingly all around us.

This Sunday we’ll be launching our latest course whose timing and message now seem even more appropriate than ever. Suzanne Ross is co-founder of The Raven Foundation, which is “committed to making religion reasonable, violence unthinkable and peace a possibility by spreading awareness of the transformative power of mimetic theory. Our goal is to foster peaceful individuals and harmonious communities that will reject scapegoating and violence as ways to form identity and achieve real and lasting peace.” Suzanne’s course for ChurchNext is called “Violence, Myth, and Scripture,” and it helps us understand how Scripture, unlike myth, draws our attention to systems of violence, shows God’s concern for the vulnerable and the victim, and how violence is not of God, but of human failing. We offer this course up as a way of perhaps thinking about the (misunderstood) violence in our cultural traditions as well as how God grieves with us. (The course goes “live” on Sunday.)

If the violence in Charleston is weighing heavily on you, causing you to wrestle with those big questions about evil and the nature of God, we also commend to you any of the following courses already in our library. Why not arrange a small group discussion within your faith community, as a way not only of remembering the martyrs in Charleston, but of actively seeking to effect change by fostering discussion, dialogue, and time for prayer? Make us instruments of your peace, Lord.

How to Forgive

When We Get Angry with God

Why Does God Get Angry?

Three Prayers You’ll Want to Pray

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen. 

~ Prayer for the Human Family (Book of Common Prayer p. 814)

New course: Let the Women Speak!

Today we launch Let the Women Speak, a fascinating overview of some of the most memorable — and yet under-remembered — women in the Bible. Lindsay Hardin Freeman, Episcopal priest and author, does a wonderful job sharing her wisdom and passion about these female figures and all we can — and should — learn from them.freeman

As Lindsay reminds us, though women had very few rights and opportunities, they made a remarkable impact on the stories of the Bible. They were often God’s “surprising agents;” they were the original social media; they thrived within, or overcame entirely, their circumstances — they used what they had, to do what they could. There’s a lot we can learn from these women, in terms of their strength and courage, their pluck and resourcefulness, their lack of self-pity and their commitment to those for whom they cared.

Join us in this course, or perhaps in a Small Group setting, as we listen to those voices from long ago that still say so much. Click here for more information or to register.

Lindsay Hardin Freeman, a Minnesota-based Episcopal priest, has won over thirty awards for journalistic excellence, including the 2015 Gold Medal Award in Bible Study from Independent Publisher. A popular speaker and retreat leader on Bible women and contemporary spirituality, Lindsay is the author/editor of six books, and has served congregations in Massachusetts, Philadelphia and Minnesota. The long-time editor of Vestry Papers (2001 – 2010), she also serves as adjunct clergy for St. David’s, Minnetonka.

What Makes a REAL Woman?


Top Ten List of What We Can Learn from the Mothers in the Bible:

– Real mothers seek, create and sustain life in the face of death, destruction and disappointment.

– Real mothers do not stop claiming what is their right—to bear a child.

– Real mothers love their people, forecast imminent danger, take steps to fight it, and serve on the front lines, ready to lay down their lives.

– Real mothers are courageous in letting their children step confidently into their future.

– Real mothers minister to others even in the midst of desperate circumstances.

– Real mothers speak up and voice their pain, especially in times of tremendous grief.

– Real mothers raise their sons and daughters to be faithful people, and to remain true to their teachings and values.

– Real mothers unleash their deepest desires at Jesus’ feet—and when seemingly rejected, persevere in pursuing healing.

– Real mothers stand up for and stand by their children and families, pursuing for them their best goal and godly vocations.freeman

– Real mothers, sometimes, at great personal expense, say Yes to God—and the the world is transformed.

As Lindsay Hardin Freeman, author of this list and instructor of our latest course (launching Sunday) reminds us: these characteristics apply to all who serve as “mothers” — those who are biological mothers and those who aren’t. The women of the Bible are part of a “holy and sacred circle” — one that is still open.

Stay tuned for Let the Women Speak, which launches Sunday. In the meantime, check out Lindsay’s wonderful blog and books by clicking here.