Welcome to Forging Our Faith! 

Forging our Faith is a new kind of communication from Fahs - for those ready for a deeper exploration of innovative faith formation topics. Here, we will share longer-form writing from your colleagues and fellow collaborators, once a month. Consider this an opportunity to engage, inspire, and invite you into a wider discussion of the great work we share. 

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Faith in Flux: The Great Work

"We face a new era - new inventions, new communications, new social planning, a new world community.  But what of our religious future?  Outworn beliefs and schedules have a tremendous hold upon us. Are we afraid?  Or shall we slough off our inertia, gather together our forces, train ourselves for a great work".   -- Sophia Lyon Fahs, 1945

In some ways, the news is disheartening: congregational budget drives and membership numbers continue to drop, and those who identify as religious and report religious habits are in the minority. Combined, these facts mean religious education programs are struggling; inconsistent attendance, low recruitment, and reduced resources create a compelling challenge. Some are even pronouncing religious education (as we know it) dead -- or at least, critically endangered.

So why are religious educators talking and thinking so passionately about how faith still matters, and ma king plans for its resurrection like true believers?  From a re-examination of James Fowler's faith stages theory, to a resilient response to the end of Sunday School, to the re-imagining of a classic UU curriculum with a multicultural social justice lens: the creative work of innovative faith development is going strong.  At Fahs, we are walking with y ou, looking for the opportunities for innovation and creative potential in every challenge we face together, in faith.

With you in "the great work",

Joy Berry, Assistant Director 
Mark Hicks, Director
for The Fahs Collaborative

Wrought Faith: Minding What We've Missed 
in Faith Development
by Joy Berry

James Fowler's classic theory centered the individual's progress through six stages of faith. The first four have "shorthand" names that make it easy to remember how development happens in each. Faith is caught in stage one, and then it is taught, bought, and sought in stages two through four, Fowler offered. Yet without a commitment to faith that is wrought - intentionally shared learning in our congregations - the promise of faith development, and indeed the very premise of a "covenantal faith", is in question.

Wrought is an old word that means worked. I use it because it rhymes with the those common shorthand versions for Fowler's stages. But also because wrought is a good old word: it describes something strong but flexible, able to be forged, changed, and strengthened, through active work. It's resilient and malleable: it's meant to be shaped with tools, by human hands. Its final form is determined by how it is worked.

Fowler believed that individuals move through the stages of faith in a linear process, and that most people never move beyond stage 4, to the "rare" stages 5 and 6.  Why would they be rare? 

What if Fowler's emphasis on the individual made him miss something essential, about how individual development always happens in a context of connection: that our own, and even our congregations' potential faith development is determined by how much of it happens in shared work, learning and growing together across generations?

What if our human blueprintfor faith development as individuals depends on the degree to which our communities of faith are engaged in shared faith work? What if our collective learning experiences are the the practice and training that determines how whole and strong and complete our faith can eventually become? Does that mean communities, like individuals, can be defined by their collective faith stage?

How much of our faith is shaped in shared work, in our congregations today? And how might doing more of it change the overall faith development stage of our congregations?

I believe this shared work I cal
l "wrought faith" is supposed to happen throughout the lifespan, from early days. And I'm beginning to believe that without more of it, we won't often be able to move beyond stage 4 as individuals, or as congregations. Fowler wrote that in stage 4, folks begin to question authority and that includes the rules and expectations of faith community. The UUA defines Fowler's faith stages here: one observation is that stage 4 folks often leave churches when they don't get their way. 

Stage four is about the individual journey: asking questions and seeking answers. It's where we become capable of setting aside the opinions of others and making decisions about what's best for us, about what we believe and don't believe, as independent and unique individuals. It's an important stage; but it should be a waystation, not a destination. 

Is covenantal community possible without a majority of congregants moving on to Fowler's stage five, when the "strong need for individual self-reflection gives way to a sense of the importance of community in faith development" and "a realization that other people's faiths might inform and deepen their own"?

The most compelling question of all, to me, after a decade as a congregational religious educator, is this. 

Can we expect to develop the faith of our children and youth beyond the faith stage of the adults we recruit to be their teachers and mentors and guides?  

What do you think? What would a commitment to active, shared faith development look like? 
How might more "wrought faith" change the faith of our children, and our adults? 
How might it change our congregations -- and the future of our faith? Please share your ideas! 

The Once and Future Faith: 
Letting Go  of Sunday School, 
Leaning In to  Learning Together

Kimberly Sweeney's recent paper, The Death of Sunday School and the Future of Faith Formation has inspired many lively discussions among UUs. 
The title gets right to the point: Faith development as we have known it is in trouble -- and in some places, it cannot be resuscitated. Yet, hope remains: the way forward in faith, Sweeney offers, is one we can find together.
In UU congregations, our practice has been to separate children and youth from adults for the majority of their time spent in church, in the service of what Channing called "religious education". That Sunday School model worked for generations, but even with constant technical fixes, it is ill-suited to today's cultural and congregational challenges.
New practices are emerging, adaptive solutions to the changes we face. They also happen to reflect a deepening engagement with our theological commitments to inclusivity, generosity, and continued growth and learning for all ages, in covenantal communities. In worship, small group ministry, and multigenerational experiences, the "holy work" of faith development is still happening in church, even where Sunday School is not.
I spoke with Sweeney, a long-time professional religious educator serving most recently as UUA's New England Region Lead for Faith Formation, to find out more.

JB: Major changes, like the one you describe, aren't easy. But I'm noticing a surprising number of positive reactions among our colleagues. How are you hopeful or excited right now about the state of UU faith development?
KS: There is an energy from our people I haven't seen before. I didn't expect that; especially the responses coming from around the country and happening across professional groups. I've not seen that before now.
JB: Is the Sunday School model in trouble everywhere, or are there situations where it is alive and well?

KS: There are churches where the old model is still chugging along. Especially in places where families still go to church, but there aren't many options about where. And where the tradition and expectation is a separation of religious education and worship. But I talked to ministers in the New England region, in churches ranging from small to large, with varying congregational budgets and average income levels, and they all said, basically, this: "Sunday School isn't working. Attendance is down, and volunteer recruitment is down." 
JB: Those are pretty much the basic requirements for the Sunday School model, aren't they? So if that's the challenge, and we spend less time trying to sustain it...how can we support the solution instead?  What is the work to advance the future of faith formation in a mindful way? This could be a kind of to-do list for religious professionals.

KS: Worship. Whole Congregation worship know-how is important. Small group ministry work to support adult's continued faith development. Telling the story of this essential change in newsletters, etc. Teacher training that emphasizes the future we are working toward. And looking for partners to maintain momentum and grow capacity for family ministry.

JB: That reminds me of the missional adage to look for where the energy is now and try to expand or deepen efforts there.

KS: Right. And I don't believe the RE Council is the owner of everything to do with children or learning. How can the Social Justice or Stewardship be invited to begin to see how some of what they are already doing is faith formation. And go from there, with a shared ministry approach, to begin rewriting mission statements and defining the intersections of [those committees or groups and] faith formation.
JB: So, what has you concerned about the challenges you named?

KS: People are excited and want to start doing all the new things, tomorrow! There is too much of a sense of urgency, i think. We need to be able to set that feeling of urgency aside, but keep having this conversation. We are talking about a multi-year change in our congregations. We need to take the time to help that change happen. If we want it to stick, anyway. Over the next few years, work toward shared ministry and fa';mily ministry. Use the discussion questions in my paper. Help surface the anxieties and the possibilities. And just do one thing. If you do two Whole Congregation worship services a year right now, increase that number to five.
In her emphasis on family ministry and whole-church activities, Sweeney calls us to recognize what our interfaith colleagues discovered decades ago: the development of faith happens at least as much in the shared experiences of church as it does in separate, age-graded groups. Families benefit from and add value to worship and church events that welcome them without reservation, children and youth and young adults and elders benefit from being fully embraced and connected in one of the few multigenerational activities left in the post-modern world. Congregations benefit from the community-transforming effects of shared faith development as a ministry.

Many religious professionals will note, Kim among them, that the call for change in our work, by religious professionals, is not new. We have been in conversation about the value of multigenerational community and new approaches to faith formation for a very long time. 
Gail Forsyth-Vail developed a worship and small group ministry model in 2001 after finding that "[the Sunday School model] had once served the parish well, [but] it was no longer adequate to meet the needs of families, of children, and of the adults in the congregation."  Essex Conversations: Visions for Lifespan Religious Education is an entire book brimming over with the wisdom of formidable religious educators encouraging a much more integrated form of faith development. Rev. Greg Stewart's essay there about his Way Cool Sunday School, an out-of-the-box multigenerational strategy has a title that presages Sweeney's own: Sunday School is Dead/Long Live Sunday School . And they weren't alone in calling for major change.

The truth is, there have been many warnings, over many years, that UU religious education was beginning to fail, but little has changed in congregations in response. Sweeney's observations and assessments support a dawning recognition that we have reached a tipping point, where critical challenges are observable in the majority of our congregations. The call for transformative change is clearer than ever. Sweeney's paper asks us to imagine how growing together in congregational community could be the salvation needed to save the soul of faith development.  The only question now is how we will respond. 

Creating Theology Together:  New Fahs Curriculum for  Building Faith in Community

Building Your Own Theology, by Rev. Dr. Richard Gilbert, is one of the best known titles in UU adult religious education. Partly in response to it, Rev. John Morehouse wrote a DMin dissertation called Creating Theology Together, calling for a re-imagining of the individualized search for truth and meaning and the development of a shared theology in UU congregations.  He wrote that such a shared curriculum " would begin to reinvigorate our foundational purpose and drive". In particular, he thought, a shared theology would support a congregation in doing social justice work grounded in shared values and mission.

Creating Theology Together joined the Fahs Curriculum Incubator program in April 2017, funded in part by the Fund for Unitarian Universalism. A team of religious educators, led by Julica Hermann de la Fuente, includes Rev. Katie Romano Griffin, Anna Bethea, and Rev. Kate Lore . They have been working with Morehouse's conceptual framework to develop the CTT curriculum for a 2018 release. In addition, a team of lay and religious leaders deeply committed to multi-faith community work are part of an advisory team:  Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, Christina Rivera and Elandria Williams.   

Creating Theology Together is an anti-oppression, anti-racist curriculum that reorients us from our individual perspectives, toward a shared theology. Using a covenantal community approach, it is intentionally multicultural. It supports individuals and groups in the work of shared faith formation and builds a community's capacity to engage in social justice work centered and grounded in theological principles and values.

Within: Discover -  Where Do We Come From?
Individuals will explore, articulate, and share their personal theology, arising from their family of origin, their culture, and their life experiences. Understanding where we come from is an essential part of becoming a person grounded in faith. Who are our people and our traditions? We take the time to lift up and honor the ways their stories, food, music, and more, have shaped and supported who we are today.

Among: Connect - What Are We?
Groups engaged in faith formation together become a sacred space where relationships will develop and strengthen, bringing people together in deep connections that span age, gender, race, and class differences. Understanding the theology of our Unitarian and Universalist heritage (including our core distinction as a covenantal faith) builds UU Identity but also connects our personal theology to the emerging faith values of the learning community. This co-creation of a shared theology will develop powerful group solidarity centered in faith identity, and orient the congregation toward meaningful work as people of faith, in the wider world.

Beyond: Transform - Where Are We Going?
Congregations who have developed individual and shared theological grounding over the course of this curriculum will be able to articulate and authentically embody a public theology. Social justice and anti-oppression/anti-racism work grounded in an understanding of our individual, group, and public theologies are likely to be more intentional and effective and to do less unintentional harm. This public theology has the capacity to inspire transformative change within a community, but especially prepares and calls participants toward work in the wider world, to bring about the Beloved Community.

As we reflect on Sweeney's assertion that the future of faith formation is in congregation-wide learning experiences rather than age-graded Sunday School, and Berry's suggestion that the shared work of "wrought faith" is crucial, and often missing, from faith development programming today, resources like CTT encourage us to respond creatively and authentically, as people of faith. 

Using a shared ministry approach, CTT supports a congregational learning experience; consider using this resource to engage adults as learners.  SIgn up here to stay informed or learn more about Creating Theology Together, currently expected to begin pilot testing in congregations in January 2018. 

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