Formation for lay-led, clergy-supported congregations
ECMN congregations use an incredible diversity of approaches to leadership. We have faith communities with a full-time rector and staff; we have faith communities that are entirely lay-led, with Sunday supply preachers and on-call pastors. We have faith communities led by teams of lay and ordained folks, some stipendiary, some not. The variety of models here in Minnesota is a profound strength as the world around us changes. Our congregations are already adapting and experimenting into a future in which the church will surely be lower on financial resources and more reliant on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Learning alongside each other, we’re building a kind of institutional resilience in the face of a chaotic world.
And, as we step into that future, we know that all our congregations are more vital when led by committed, prayerful, skillful lay people. Individuals and families, practicing the way of Jesus in their own lives and bringing their faith and their commitment together, make the church. Our Vitality Commitments speak to the most important elements of our shared life together in congregations as we step into the future—discipleship, justice, faithful innovation, and congregational vitality. Lay leaders who drive those four priorities make their congregations more resilient in the face of change, whether from a leadership transition, a crisis, or an unexpected opportunity. More importantly, lay leaders who are grounded in the way of Jesus and working together make it more likely that a congregation can say yes when the Holy Spirit invites that community into something new. Faithful innovation brings its own kind of change; lay leaders who are grounded in discernment and integrity can make those changes an adventure rather than a crisis.
Regardless of how your faith community structures its leadership, bringing a sense of adventure to your congregation’s leadership is a profound blessing. Looking to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, trusting in God’s promises, and taking steps to do new things requires us to set aside some fear in favor of excitement. We believe that learning key skills and grounding ourselves in wise practices lets us see better, and respond more hopefully, to where the Holy Spirit is leading our congregations.
ECMN and the School for Formation offer a number of ways lay people can find support for their leadership; I’ve put a non-exhaustive list below. If you see an opportunity below that speaks to what you or your fellow leaders might find helpful, stay tuned for next fall’s School for Formation registration to open in June, and reach out to me with any questions!
Discipleship: Transformative Encounters with Jesus
Two key SFF courses ground all our work in discipleship. Practicing the Way of Jesus, a new course in 2022 taught by the Rev. Canon Blair Pogue, will focus on simple practices of faith that participants can learn and then teach in their own contexts—practices that you can use in your faith community and at home. Christian Spirituality, taught by Christine Luna Munger, Director of the Episcopal House of Prayer, invites participants to try on ancient Christian practices, pulling together historical and experiential approaches to understanding different ways of praying within the Christian tradition.
Since 2014, the SFF’s Building Bridges course has helped people from across ECMN discover their own internal assumptions and orientations around cultural difference—a key step in self-knowledge that helps those looking to do racial justice work to do so with wisdom, humility, and curiosity. The course starts in our shared Christian faith and asks participants to derive their approach to racial justice in their discipleship. Another key resource is being built right now, in partnership with the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Justice—a formation pathway that will speak specifically to the history and diverse experiences of people in Minnesota.
Lay preachers, and those seeking preaching licenses, have resources to draw on right here! In addition to the scriptural and theological learning offered by Education for Ministry, Deepening Roots, and the School for Formation, we partner with Backstory Preaching for two online preaching courses each year. Backstory Preaching, founded by the Rev. Lisa Cressman, serves preachers across the country by offering a uniquely prayerful approach to sermon prep and developing a community of practitioners working to support each other. Sermon Camp starts with an intensive week of learning a sermon-writing process grounded in lectio divina, and goes on for six more weeks of practice with preparation and delivery in a supportive environment. The yearly Preaching Lab topics rotate, from ‘Spirit and Schedule’ to ‘Storytelling’ to ‘Preaching the Gospel People Don’t Want to Hear.’ In the Preaching Lab, we’ve benefitted from Lisa Cressman’s research and leadership, supporting new and experienced preachers of all four orders.
Alongside those yearly opportunities, in 2021-22, ECMN won a chance to send a team of lay preachers-in-training to the Lay Preacher Training Institute (LPTI), a Trinity Wall Street-funded project of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. If their work continues, we may be able to participate again in future years.
ECMN’s partnership with Leaderwise has brought us two courses in the SFF. Intro to Pastoral Care teaches lay leaders about the key skills of pastoral ministry: listening, empathy, ritual, self-awareness, and boundaries. Pastoral Care: Advanced Skills builds practitioners’ confidence in walking alongside those who grieve, introduces family systems work, and breaks open the ways addiction impacts families.
Many ECMN congregations have adopted Community of Hope International’s approach to pastoral care teams. COHI grounds lay pastoral care teams in a Benedictine rhythm of shared prayer and reflection. We’re exploring offering a shared diocesan-coordinated training of Community of Hope in 2022-23. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d be interested in sending members of your faith community to such a program!
Lay liturgists can find abundant resources in ECMN. The SFF’s partnership with ChurchNext brings their short-form, on-demand trainings to all ECMN members for free. If you’re looking for trainings for Lay Eucharistic Ministers and Visitors, Lectors, or Acolytes, start by going to https://ecmn.pathwright.com/library/. Once you create a login and password, you’ll have access to even more training resources that you can use individually or with a group.
The School for Formation’s courses on the prayer book are invaluable for lay liturgists. In Prayer Book I: The Sacraments, taught by the Rev. Marcus Halley, you’ll find an introduction to the BCP, and a deep grounding in sacramental theology that will be useful to any lay liturgical minister. Prayer Book III: Holy Week and the Liturgical Year, taught by Jason Fout of Bexley+Seabury Seminary, covers the whole scope of the church calendar and the particulars of the services of Holy Week.
You can find more about the School for Formation’s courses in 2022-23 by looking at the 2021-22 course descriptions here. We’ll be opening registration for fall courses in June!
This list is not exhaustive. Please reach out to talk about lay formation in your context—we’d love to work with you to help find the resources you need.