What is Formation?
Formation is anything we do to further our apprenticeship to Jesus.
In our congregations, ‘formation’ is often a category of programs: Sunday School, adult forum, bible study. Attending courses and workshops, of course, is excellent formation: There’s a curriculum in those events, something that you’re supposed to learn, on purpose, in community. Those programs provide key places of teaching and growth, for the head and the heart and body, for Christians of all ages.
But formation doesn’t stop there. All our gatherings, practices, and communications as a faith community are also formation: The implicit curriculum shapes how we live. By ‘implicit curriculum,’ I mean, the unspoken teaching: How we treat each other here. How we live. What values we attend to, how we respond to conflict, how we see our purpose as a congregation.
Both the explicit curriculum and the unspoken values and culture of a congregation speak about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In the perennial Christian argument between faith and works, Episcopalians have asserted that the two are not separate: they inform each other, as praying shapes believing, and vice versa.
As we live into the next season of being church, our congregations are called to show up, as followers of Jesus, in their outward actions. Pandemic, politics, and climate change all call us to demonstrate — in our lives and actions — our commitment to loving our neighbor by placing the common good ahead of our personal, momentary needs.
For us to live those works faithfully, we need our actions to be shaped by formation in community, in conversation with God’s vision of Beloved Community, in deep relationship with Jesus.
Last week, Bishop Loya shared an invitation to all our faith communities to dwell in scripture together as a diocesan household throughout the coming year:
We have selected a text for each season beginning now through the Day of Pentecost, 2022. I’m asking that every meeting or other gathering in the diocese begin with either Dwelling in the Word or Gospel-Based Discipleship, using the text for that season.
This practice is one that seeks to shape us, in our individual imaginations and in our collective life, as followers of Jesus.
Sharing a practice of reading scripture together as a diocese shapes our imagination as followers of Jesus. As we read the text in community over time, it becomes part of the fabric of our life together and of our vision of what God calls us to be and do. These practices hone our ability to listen to others: They ask us to attend to what our neighbor said, and what we hear God saying, in the text.
In sharing the same practice and the same Scripture together over time, we are reminded of the connections between the many congregations of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota — practicing our connection as the body of Christ, deepening our sense of the ‘we’ rather than living individualistically for the ‘me.’
You can find more about the invitation to dwell in Scripture together, as a diocese, here.
As you consider how to approach formation in your faith community this year, I hope you will reach out to me and to others. There are robust networks and resources for thought partnership about what it looks like to make and support disciples – I’d love to connect with you, hear what’s working in your context, and dream about the next right step.