As of 2019, some churches were exploring the use of online resources, experimenting with making Sunday worship available as a webinar or using online courses like this one as part of Christian formation.
Then 2020 happened. Suddenly, online resources were the floating bit of wood and churches were Kate Winslett in Titanic.
It may not be warm, but Zoom fellowship hour is what we’ve got.
The pandemic forced many churches to embrace online ministry very quickly and without the luxury of mindfulness. Now, as we begin integrating in-person worship with online ministries, we’re faced with creating a new normal. We’ve found online options we like, but we have learned to value in-person interactions as we never have before. How will we integrate what we’ve learned about ministering to congregations online with what we already knew and loved about in-person ministries?
In this course, Ryan Panzer, a church consultant, author, and public speaker on hybrid ministry, suggests effective ways to approach building online ministry and in-person ministry together. He observes that since this is the first time we’ve tried engaging hybrid ministry on a widespread level, there are no blueprints for doing it, which means that we can’t build on what has been done well. On the other hand, having no one “right” way of doing it gives our imaginations free reign to build hybrid ministry into new, exciting ways of spreading Jesus’ message and inspiring people to do God’s work in the world.
Topics Ryan covers include offering a basic philosophy for approaching hybrid ministry, suggesting ways to balance building on- and offline communities, offering ways to build strong hybrid ministry offerings, and suggesting methods for evaluating, sharing, and improving hybrid ministries.
This course is ideal for anyone wondering how to reshape ministry using online and in-person options. For a preview, please click below.
If you are looking for a way to engage youth at your church with healthy and respectful ways to combat global poverty and oppression while also guiding them in responsible ways to use money, you should look into Global Philanthropy Leaders (GPL).
GPL teaches teens about global poverty and introduces them to a website that facilitates microloans to struggling entrepreneurs across the world. Using church funds, teens decide where and how to loan the money for which the church has made them responsible. They learn to evaluate borrowers based (1) on what the borrowers want do with their business and (2) on the likelihood that the money will be paid back. When the money is repaid, participants re-loan it to other borrowers. Adults advise the participants, but the teens make the final call on how and to whom they will loan money. At the end of the year, participants present the work they have done to the parish, showing what they have learned and how they have used the church’s money to do the God’s work in the world.
Please note that you do not need to be an expert in any kind of finance to lead a GPL ministry at your church. The curriculum is designed so anyone can lead, and Rich Stein, the curriculum instructor, who co-founded the GPL program at St. Stephen’s and has made many microloans over the years, is happy to answer any questions that come up.
Instructor Rich Stein, co-founder of GPL
GPL began in 2017 at St. Stephen’s. It took off, and when other congregations heard about GPL, they began asking for help building GPL programs at their own churches. Soon, GPL had spread to a dozen parishes, and the St. Stephen’s staff found themselves looking for a way to train people more broadly to use the program. This online curriculum is their solution. (Please note that the curriculum presented here is an in-depth guide to running GPL sessions at your church. For an introduction to the program, check out Raising Young Philanthropists, a ChurchNext short course that gives an overview of the program and its benefits.)
This curriculum guides both leaders and participants through the GPL program. It offers everything you will need to start a GPL program at your church. The curriculum is organized into six sessions. These include scripture readings, prayer, video presentations, discussion opportunities, and activities.
Session One introduces participants to GPL and shows them how to use Kiva international’s web portal at kiva.org to make microloans. It also shows participants how to evaluate borrowers’ potential to repay money.
Session Two familiarizes participants with the seventeen U.N. Sustainable Development goals adopted in 2015. It shows how their work in GPL can make a difference in efforts to eliminate poverty, offering people across the globe the means to improve their quality of life.
Session Three offers a brief history of microloans. It focuses particularly on Muhammad Yunus, who, along with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which he founded, won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics for their work with microloans.
Session Four teaches participants basic skills for maintaining healthy personal finances. It asks students to consider ways in which the Christian faith influences our approach to our finances.
Session Five introduces participants to the most serious issues related to hunger and malnutrition across the globe and discusses the wisest ways to combat starvation and malnutrition..
Session Six teaches students about making presentations and how to make their end-of-year presentation to their congregation.
The GPL curriculum is ideal for people looking for new ways to engage youth at their parish in doing Christ’s work in the world. For a preview, please click below.
Humanity’s relationship with pets goes back a long way. Humans were still hunter-gatherers when we first domesticated dogs around 11,000 years ago. Cats were pickier about aligning with humans, waiting until about 8000 years ago to be domesticated (though in their case, evidence suggests we didn’t so much domesticate them as accept their decision to live with us.)
The nature of human relationships with pets has developed over thousands of years. Today, it differs across the world. In western culture, many pets offer humans companionship, amusement, distraction, and even exercise. When we are sad, troubled, or tired, snuggling with that kind of pet can bring comfort and peace, and they give us opportunities to offer love and care for them. Other animals with whom we might have less affectionate relationships offer endless opportunities for wonder, curiosity, and surprise.
Bringing an animal into our home as a pet bring us out of our human-focused mindset and into direct relationship with an element of God’s created world. When we observe a cat stretching, wonder at the graceful movements of tropical fish in a tank, try to discern how our pet bird thinks when it sees the world so differently from how we see it, we are taking opportunities to connect with creation in all its diverse glory. The fact that we often seek out these opportunities — that, in a culture where many of us no longer need pets for practical reasons, so many of us take on the expense and responsibility of caring for animals — suggests that some quality deep in human nature longs for this connection with the created world.
In this class, the Rev. Emily Mellott discusses ways in which our connection with animals brings humans, ultimately, into relationship with God, and ways in which mindful animal care can help bring us closer to God. Click below for a preview.
The Rev. John Sanford called dreams “God’s Forgotten Language.” Dreams are a critical component to the spiritual journey in scripture but we have long lost the practice of using dreams ourselves to discern God’s purpose in our lives and who God is calling us to be.
Science has shown that every creature that has eyelids, dreams – experiences R.E.M. sleep. Most of us have observed a dog or cat when they are dreaming, paws twitching, whimpering or growling. Something is happening. The brain is processing, and this processing is as integral a part of our well-being as breathing.
Dreams are symbolic and metaphorical. When we are asleep the logical, linear parts of our brains “turn off, opening access to parts that are most open to God and the language of metaphor and symbol. Like the many symbols of our faith, our dream images are icons upon which we can gaze to discern meaning in our lives, to discern who God has created each of us to be. Nightly dreams are calling us to growth, healing and wholeness so that we might be the best version of ourselves to better live as Christ in the world.
In this class, Carrie Graves, Canon for Communications in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and trained dream group leader through the Haden Institute, discusses the principles of dream work in a congregational setting and as part of our individual faith journeys. Carrie guides us through an overview of the spiritual practice of dream work in a group setting and offers suggestions on how we can bring dream work back into our lives and back into the life of the Church.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about how understanding our dreams can enhance our spiritual lives. For a preview of the course, please click below.
The concept of the Trinity is ancient and fundamental to Church history, but scripture does not offer details about early Church debates on this doctrine. Instead, scripture describes the persons that make up the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, as a community within God, in relationship with one another.
In this class, Wayne Jacobsen, an author and spiritual leader who co-wrote The Shack, presents the Trinity, not as a mathematical formula, but as an interrelated community. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three parts of whole, but only exist as God in relationship with each other. Wayne describes how each part of the Trinity holds a specific purpose and how they each can help us enter into life with God. We are always invited if we only have eyes to see, ears to hear, and mouths to ask.
In this course, Wayne takes us on a journey through understanding the three persons of the Trinity, their special purposes and how we can engage each of them in our prayer lives and, in turn, be invited into life within the Trinity, with the Divine.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about the divine mystery that is the Trinity. For a preview of the course, please click below.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has a special place in the hearts of Roman Catholics everywhere. But what about in the Anglican Tradition and especially The Episcopal Church? In this course, Jeff Queen, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, not only offers background on particular devotion to Mary in the Anglican Tradition but also shares his own personal experience with her healing powers.
All over the world there are shrines devoted to Mother Mary, places where her apparition is said to have manifested, and a number of these apparitions have been made official by the Catholic Church. How did this tradition of apparitions start and how many places across the world has she been reported to have visited?
Jeff teaches us that in scripture, Mary, is responsible, if only through encouraging her son, for a number of miracles. She is an abiding presence, ever-supportive and ever-loving. Her reassuring presence has continued beyond her death as she been an important presence post-Scripture in the history of the Church. Mary has appeared to countless numbers of people in places all over the globe, and she continues to heal to this day.
The Episcopal Church has a steady tradition of devotion to Mary and uses prayers written by and to her. There are societies and places dedicated to Mary all over the Anglican Communion. How does this Catholic tradition cross over the line into Anglican and Episcopal communities? How long has a devotion to Mary been a part of these traditions? In this course, Jeff takes us on a mini pilgrimage to Mary through Scripture, prayer, holy sites, and worship.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in developing a closer relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus. For a preview of the course, please click below.
Many people have heard of PTSD — a mental condition that results from traumatic events such as war, assault, or accident. As a culture, we are just coming to learn about moral injury. Moral injury resembles PTSD in that it results from experiencing traumatic events, but it differs from PTSD in that people with moral injury take responsibility for inflicting trauma rather than being on the receiving end of it. In the words of David Peters, who instructs the course, “If we get PTSD from being the ‘prey,’ we get moral injury from being the ‘predator.'”
From an outside perspective, those experiencing moral injury might have done nothing wrong. A person who causes a car accident by making a mistake under difficult driving conditions, for example, has not assaulted people who get hurt — they’ve experienced an accident. A person involved in a war faces incredibly complex moral decisions related to following orders and people’s getting killed. Others may feel that guilt isn’t an appropriate response, but this opinion doesn’t always help a person experiencing moral injury, because in that person’s own estimation, he or she has taken actions (or chosen not to act) in ways that have violated deeply held moral beliefs.
Long-term experience of moral injury may have symptoms similar to those of PTSD, but ways to heal from it differ. In this course, David Peters, a priest, writer, former Marine, and veterans’ advocate who has written and spoken widely about his experiences with moral injury, teaches what moral injury. He talks about how it is misunderstood, how people often experience it, and the best ways to take care of yourself (if you are the person experiencing moral injury) or others (if you are in a support position for someone with moral injury) who have it.
This course is ideal for anyone who suspects they might be suffering from moral injury, for their caregivers, and for anyone who works routinely with veterans, healthcare workers, police officers, and others who face traumatic situations in their careers.
Teaching kids about giving to nonprofits is important step for their journey to adulthood. Global Philanthropy Leaders, a project that originates from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ridgefield, Connecticut, teaches youth not only to give, but to invest in people across the globe through lending.
This course is an introduction to the Global Philanthropy Leaders program. The program teaches kids how to loan money responsibly, evaluating investment choices according environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors, which measure an investment’s social and environmental impact. It introduces them to a website that facilitates loans to small businesses across the world and funds high school students who want to participate. The students decide where and how to loan the money for which the church has made them responsible. The program’s goal is to help teach skills that build toward the elimination of global poverty.
In addition to teaching responsible giving, this course discusses other benefits of the GPL program: life skills, leadership skills, and reliance on scripture that make a real difference in the faith lives of participants. How can your church teach kids to put money to work that makes this profound change, not only in the world but in the faith lives of teens? That is the question this course seeks to answer, based on St. Stephen’s success with the GPL program.
This course is ideal for churches looking for new ways to incorporate teens into the life of the church.
UPDATE: We have launched a curriculum for people who take this course and want to start a GPL ministry at their churches. Check it out here.
Minecraft is one of the best-selling games in the history of video games. (Some put it at the top of the list; others, second.) It has been available to the public since 2011 and is still going strong, with 126 million people playing it monthly as of May, 2020. In the world of video games, where games become obsolete within a couple of years, that’s like a 100-year-old athlete winning the Boston Marathon and getting ready to run it again next year.
Minecraft is unique in a number of ways beyond its exceptional, long-lasting popularity. Few games allow for as much freedom of creative exploration as Minecraft. Creative mode in Minecraft allows people to build anything from simple structures:
A simple Minecraft house.
to more elaborate ones:
Imperial Summer Palace in Minecraft. (You couldn’t make anything this elaborate without great expertise and many, many hours to devote to it but it’s fun to see what people can do.)
In this class, Elizabeth Brignac, Senior Course Designer at ChurchNext who has both used and written about using Minecraft in Christian education, and her son Joseph, who has used Minecraft to learn about the Christian faith, demonstrate creative ways in which Christian educators and parents and guardians can use Minecraft as part of a Christian education experience. In the first lesson, Elizabeth goes into the benefits of using Minecraft in Christian education. In the second lesson, she discusses and Joseph demonstrates how to use Minecraft to teach about churches. She goes on to talk about what Christian educators need to get started teaching with Minecraft. In the third lesson, Elizabeth discusses and Joseph demonstrates ways to use Minecraft to build structures and tell stories from scripture. The fourth lesson goes into other ways to use Minecraft to teach about Christianity. An optional fifth lecture talks about using Minecraft in remote learning for Christian education.
This class is ideal for anyone interested in learning new ways to teach kids about the Christian faith.
I was hungry and you gave me food
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.’
To contemporary, mainline Protestants, the idea that active civic engagement has any connection to spiritual discipline may seem incongruous. The notion that our Christianity belongs anywhere near our politics can even feel suspicious in a country that both over-politicizes religion and demands a separation between church and state. The relationship between our responsibilities as citizens and our Christian practices, in short, is complex for most of us.
In this class, Richard Hoehn suggests that, like it or not, our Christian beliefs should motivate robust political activism in a society governed by the people and for the people. Jesus says that the way we treat the least of his people is the way we treat him and even gives examples: food, drink, welcome, clothing, healthcare, prison. In our system, we decide to what extent the government will provide food security; whether regulations will protect clean water sources; how we will welcome immigrants and refugees; if (and how) sick people will gain access to healthcare; what laws will govern how prisoners are arrested; and how we treat prisoners when they are in custody. The state is the arm of the people. We can’t say that our responsibility to care for one another ends where the state begins when we are the state.
Richard, therefore, asks us to consider civic engagement as a spiritual calling. In his first lecture, he connects Christian values with civic responsibility. In his second lecture, he discusses examples of people living out the spiritual call to active citizenship and describes what that engagement looks like. Next, he suggests ways to build civic engagement as a spiritual discipline like any other spiritual discipline. Finally, he talks about congregations specifically, and how they can be a tool for civil discourse across political divisions.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in considering the relationship between our lives as citizens and our call to follow Christ.