Icons are windows to the divine. Not merely beautiful works of art, they are prayerfully painted (or, more properly, “written”) reflections of God’s beauty and radiance. Though many of us close our eyes when we pray, icons offer an alternative form of prayer, one in which our eyes are wide open to God’s glory. What we see in an icon imprints itself on our heart, carving new pathways in our minds and souls to God.
In this course, The Rev. Dr. Randall Warren, an author, teacher, and priest, introduces us to the ancient and sacred practice of praying with icons. He discusses the reasons for their creation and use, the fraught history of icons in the Western Christian Church, and then offers some guidance on how to pray with icons in our own devotions. Along the way, he walks us through several beautiful and famous icons, teaching us some of their most prominent symbols and meanings.
If you are interested in learning more about icons, in enhancing your prayer life, or in finding new ways to encounter and relate with God, this course is for you. For a preview of the course, please click below.
The Season of Advent may be the one time during the entire year designed for us to stop — to reflect, wait, be truly still. Advent for Families offers ideas for intentionally and peacefully celebrating this liturgical season, in ways that embrace the joy and fun of the holiday season without losing sight of the real meaning of Christ’s nativity.
Advent teaches us how to model faithful observance for our children without having to reject popular culture entirely. The Rev. Heath Howe, rector of Church of the Holy Comforter in Kenilworth, Illinois, offers ways to incorporate parties, cookie-baking, and the magic of Santa Claus into a time of preparation and spiritual growth.
The Rev. Heath Howe
Each of the four lessons in this course teaches us about Advent–its significance, meaning, and rituals–while offering concrete practices for its commemoration. We learn about Advent wreaths and calendars, ways to bring Advent into our daily lives and homes, and themes to focus on as we prepare our hearts and lives for Christ’s birth. This course is one that will help families find greater joy and peace in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and offers opportunities for lifelong learning and growth.
What Does “Updated” Mean?
Just as books with high-quality content need to be updated occasionally, some of our earlier courses do as well. When we relaunch a course, that means we have reviewed its video content and find that it remains strong and relevant, but the accompanying materials (introductions, discussion questions, supporting materials) could benefit from an update, either to remain consistent with what we’re doing now in terms of style or content or because references we made might have started to feel dated. When we find a good course that needs a little routine maintenance, we update it and re-launch it so you know it’s been reviewed and revised to remain current and helpful.
We hope you’ll take advantage of this unique Advent offering. The course is ideal for families and children’s ministries. For a course preview, please click below.
The Religious Society of Friends, informally known as Quakers, emerged as a Christian Protestant denomination during the English Civil War in the 1600s when many different approaches to the Christian experience were formed. Many Quakers moved to North America, where they were able to thrive in some colonies (most famously Pennsylvania) but were persecuted in others (notably the New England colonies).
Today, Quakerism takes a unique space in the American religious landscape. It is rooted in Christianity but when you ask if Quakers are Christians today, the answer varies. Quaker.org, a website run by the nonprofit Quaker organization that publishes the Friends Journal, writes, “Most Quakers believe in… something. It’s when you ask if that something is ‘God’ that the answer becomes more complicated.” Across the world, Quakers range from groups that would describe themselves as Christians to groups that make no representations about what exactly their members believe.
What unifies the Quaker experience? Most Quakers emphasize listening. Contemplative prayer focused on discerning the word of God for the world, the meeting, and the individual is central to the religious Quaker experience. Likewise, Quakers practice nonviolence and value simplicity, especially in worship. Quaker meetings also tend to emphasize inclusiveness. In the U.S. Quakers have historically advocated for equality and justice; for example, many Quakers were abolitionists and later, passionate advocates for racial justice during the Civil Rights Movement.
In this class, Quakers Gary Gillespie and Sarah Bur describe the contemporary American Quaker experience. They discuss basic history, beliefs, values, worship style, and other important elements of Quaker life and worship today. This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about different ways of approaching Christian faith and worship.
I try to get a check-up each year. Each year, my doctor discusses various issues with me. She asks me if I am exercising regularly. How is my diet? She tells me that as a middle-aged woman I need to lift weights because my bones are beginning to decline (she uses much more impressive language like impending osteopenia). She talks about the coming of menopause, checking for breast cancer and other issues. It is a detailed exam, and I am grateful for her thoroughness. I am truly blessed to have medical care.
Why do we not examine our spiritual health with the same intention? I believe it is time for faith leaders to provide our people with ways to measure, nurture, and develop the life of the spirit. Just as we care for our bodies, so we must learn to care for our hearts, minds, and souls. The physical life and the spiritual life are both vital. One influences and impacts the other. Why do we spend time on our bodies alone and not also on our souls?
In this class, a faith leader is going to do exactly what she calls for in her book: discuss ways to measure, nurture, and maintain healthy spiritual lives with the same care doctors urge in caring for our bodies. Each class will develop a section or topic of particular interest and will include opportunities for discussion and questions.
Here’s how it works: The course will meet in four sessions on Wednesday nights at 8:00 p.m. E.T. from October 26 through November 16 in a Zoom classroom to which participants will receive a link. 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.
The course costs $35. If you buy Kate’s book for the class, use the discount code “Vital Signs” when you register, and you will get 50% off the course.
Sign up here today! We look forward to seeing you on October 26.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gives the sermon during the Closing Service of the 2022 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury Cathedral in the United Kingdom. Photo: Richard Washbrooke for The Lambeth Conference. Sunday 7th August 2022
Originally scheduled for 2020 and postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the most recent Lambeth Conference finally was able to meet in late July and early August of 2022. All bishops in the Anglican Communion are invited to attend the Lambeth Conference, where they pray and reflect on scripture together and discuss issues of importance to the global church.
In this class, Bishop Eugene Sutton, who attended his first Lambeth Conference in 2008, offers his perspective on the 2022 Lambeth Conference. First, he offers an overview of what exactly the conference is and why it matters. Second, he discusses the current place the conference holds as an Anglican Church authority. Third, he talks about the main issues discussed at the 2022 conference. Fourth, he addresses the question of why it matters that the Lambeth Conference and other meetings between members of the global Anglican communion continue to happen.
Major themes Bishop Sutton engages include:
Why the Lambeth Conference is essential.
The nature and extent of the Lambeth Conference’s authority.
The major issues that divide the global Anglican communion and how they were handled at the 2022 conference.
The major issues that were discussed at the 2022 conference.
The necessity of maintaining a global perspective on issues facing the Anglican Communion.
The importance of meeting with other members of the global Anglican communion regularly.
Tensions that define the Anglican Communion experience across the board (e.g. the tension between our reverence for tradition and our openness to new ideas.
The Anglican Bishops attending the Lambeth Conference pose for their group photograph during the 2022 Lambeth Conference at the University of Kent in Canterbury, United Kingdom. Photo: Neil Turner for The Lambeth Conference. Wednesday 27th July 2022
Bishop Sutton’s video lectures include:
Lambeth and Moral Authority
We hope this class teaches you about the place of the Lambeth Conference in the Anglican Communion today and about how they are approaching issues of importance to the global church today.
A farm-faith partnership is a partnership between a congregation or group of congregations and a farmer or group of farmers in which the congregation’s members provide a market for the farmers to sell their produce. The goal: to close the gap between underserved farmers and farmers of color and the markets to which they have access. Faith communities benefit too in gaining access to fresh, local, nutritious food and also in access to education about how to build healthy food systems in their area.
Justine Post, who teaches this course, directs the Come to the Table program for RAFI-USA, a farmer advocacy nonprofit organization in North Carolina. Her program’s mission is to empower faith communities to participate in the creation of a just food system through collaboration, capacity building, and advocacy. She uses her expertise in forming connections between faith-based groups and farmers, particularly farmers of color, to teach others how to build this kind of collaboration and why they should do so.
Justine’s examples are based in Come to the Table’s mission, but you can start a farm-faith partnership anywhere. These partnerships could look like a group of churches that strengthen their collective purchasing power by purchasing multiple CSA shares for their congregants from farmers of color. Or it could look like a church hosting a farmers market in their parking lot. Through these farm-to-church connections, churches are able to participate in a just and healthful local food system while also engaging in relational ministries with farmers in their communities.
Her video lectures include:
Why Food and Faith?
The Farm and Faith Partnerships Project
Farming and Systemic Racism
Resources for Leaders
This course is ideal for anyone interested in combating systemic racism, learning about building sustainable food systems, and doing justice through food ministries. For a preview, please click below.
Gleaning is the age-old agricultural practice of collecting excess food for the hungry. For centuries, the edges of crops were left in the field for the poor to harvest. Over the years, versions of that practice remained standard in many cultures as a way of providing food for hungry people.
Today in America, we waste literally tons of excess food every year, either because it doesn’t fit high retail standards and nobody considers it worth harvesting or due to other inefficiencies in the food system. We, like those who came before us, have a responsibility as people of faith to nurture God’s abundance and to ensure that people who need help in our areas have enough food — and we have food available. Good, fresh food full of nutrition. Food that rots and gets thrown away if it isn’t recovered and made available to hungry people.
Ugly tomatoes like this little guy are discarded in our food system, even though they taste just like their prettier brothers and sisters. (Sometimes better!)
The Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) works with volunteers throughout the U.S. to help reclaim food that becomes available for poor people through the food system and deliver it to food banks and food pantries. In this class Michael Binger, SoSA’s Regional Director of the Carolinas, explains how gleaning works in the twenty-first century food system. He discusses the biblical foundations of this call and explains how and why people can work with SoSA or organize independently in our communities to get excess produce to those who need it.
Congregations can use this course to start learning how and why to organize groups to glean fresh food from local farms for local food banks — an activity with which kids can be actively involved and which does not require steady participation; people can join when they are available. Individuals can use it to figure out how to start gleaning with their family or on their own, from their own gardens or in local farms and urban gardens.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in serving the hungry. For a preview, please click below.
First, a brief explanation of what it means when we update courses, since we’ve re-launched a number of updated courses recently.
We’ve been looking at some of our older offerings to see if they hold up with time. Just as books with high-quality content need to be updated occasionally, some of our earlier courses do as well. When we relaunch a course, that means its video content remains strong and relevant, but the accompanying materials (introductions, discussion questions, supporting materials) could benefit from an update, either to remain consistent with what we’re doing now in terms of style or content or because references we made might have started to feel dated. When we find a good course that needs a little routine maintenance, we update it and re-launch it so you know it’s been reviewed and revised to remain current and helpful.
When We Get Angry with God, Laurie Brock discusses our discomfort with the idea of being angry at God. Years of conditioning have taught us that not only is anger bad, but that anger at God is almost akin to heresy. In this class, Laurie, an Episcopal priest and author, examines anger as an emotion that is part of the human experience, neither good nor bad. She argues that we must learn to see anger not as a negative emotion, but as a gift from God, placed in our souls to be a useful part of our spiritual growth and a holy part of what it means to be a person of faith.
Laurie presents anger as a transformative opportunity, likening it to fire which burns, clears and leaves way for new growth. Malcolm X once said, “usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” Laurie argues that anger can give us the transformative energy we need to move ourselves into a new and better place.
Laurie’s lectures include:
What is Anger?
Why Do We Get Angry with God?
Is Anger at God Okay?
Coping with Our Anger with God.
Transforming Our Anger with God.
This class is ideal for anyone who is angry. Which is a lot of people these days, so really, you should probably check out this class.
Frank Schaeffer is the child of fundamentalist Christians who has spent his adult life writing and speaking about his journey away from fundamentalist belief systems — including atheism. Frank sees atheism as one of the major world religions. What some might think of atheism as a staunch lack of religion, he argues, is its own committed belief system, complete with a faith– a faith that there is no God. Atheists claim the tangible, the scientific, the purely rational as the only means for understanding life and the universe rather than belief in a higher power. Frank believes there are rational arguments for atheism’s being a faith system of its own — one that cannot accommodate many aspects of human experience.
This course focuses on why atheism attracts people, especially in our time, and on those reasons being the ones people generally feel when embracing fundamentalist religious belief systems: impatience with gray areas, a need for clarity, a straightforward set of answers to the questions that hover around human existence. Frank also offers his reasons for preferring non-fundamentalist belief systems (as opposed to either fundamentalist faith systems or atheism, which he views as mirror image born-again experiences) and Christianity in particular.
Frank’s video lectures include:
What is Atheism?
Why is Atheism So Attractive?
Why Does Christianity Make Sense?
Why I Am a Christian
This course is ideal for anyone who is interested in atheism, who has ever questioned their faith, or who is interested in the relationship between intellectualism and faith. For a preview, please see below.
Luke is often read as the social justice gospel — the one that champions the poor, women, and others without power. Luke’s Christ has a universal message of compassion enacted in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. Who was the author? Was he the beloved physician and companion of Paul? A new convert? A gentile? Was he educated or uneducated? Did he actually know anyone named Theophilus?
Whoever the author was, and whatever his status in life, Luke’s Gospel takes us on a journey of head and heart; of divine inspiration and meticulous detail; of joy in the risen Christ and the need for discipline and action in our discipleship. We see through Luke a “new world order” – the inclusivity of God’s grace and the universal love that Christ has for all people. Luke tells us about the Holy Spirit that empowers us to do God’s will. The gospel gives special place to women and is often called the Gospel of Praise, having provided the world with The Magnificat, The Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis.
In this course, scholar and teacher John Lewis takes us through the Gospel of Luke. He talks about the most important themes and ideas in Luke as well as about who the gospel’s author may have been. John shows us Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as the friend of sinners and outcasts. He discusses Luke’s use of parables to show Jesus’ compassion for the lost and the poor and for those who suffer.
This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about Luke’s Gospel. For a preview, please click below.