Observations from a Graduate of the Forma Certificate in Youth and Family Program

I have known since I was a teenager that I am called into vocational ministry. As I entered the Certificate in Family and Youth Ministry program I was in my fifth year of youth ministry, things were going well in my context, and I was looking for an opportunity for continuing education that would give me wings to fly. Participating in the program through Forma and Bexley Seabury completely transformed my approach to ministry.

This program equipped me with tools I didn’t even know I needed to have. The practical skills, such as creating a ministry plan, set me and the ministries I lead up to be sustainable and successful. During the weeklong in person portion of the program the conversations we had, ranging from practical theology to ministry in times of tragedy, enlightened new ways of thinking about my role as a youth and family minister. The depth and flexibility of the online portion of the program made learning foundational material intriguing and approachable. What I learned in this program empowered me to reenter my ministry context with more confidence. I am now able to more fully articulate my approach and orientation to ministry. I was able to take what I learned and run with it.

I am also so grateful for the relationships that I formed with the other students. Since completing the program we have stayed in touch. They serve as an informal network of support and encouragement. Not to mention the mentorship provided by the program’s teacher. Even after receiving the certificate the teachers have been an invaluable resource to me in my ministry.

I would recommend the Certificate in Family and Youth Ministry program to anyone looking to deepen their ministry skillset. Participating will certainly stock your toolkit. I would participate again in a heartbeat.

Samantha Haycock
Director of Children and Youth Ministry
Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda

Sign Up Today!

For more information and the 2016 dates go to: http://faithformationacademy.org.

How The Episcopal Church Can Learn from Forma

Previously posted on Rows of Sharon.


I have just returned from the 19th Annual Forma Conference in Philadelphia, and it occurs to me that our Church can learn much from how this organization for Christian Formation leaders in The Episcopal Church has been behaving lately.

We’re always hearing about the decline in church membership, the “graying” of those in the pews, and younger generations who are choosing to stay away – preferring to be “spiritual” rather than “religious.” These past few days in Philadelphia gave me time to reflect on what was different (and exciting) as I listened, watched, and rejoiced in what was going on all around me.

First, a little history. Most of my adult vocation has been in Christian education on a parish, diocesan, or church-wide level. I’ve seen decline in church attendance, alongside the budget cuts of formation positions (and education funding) on all church levels. I’ve been a Forma member almost since its inception (which began in 1997 as NAECED – the National Association of Episcopal Christian Education Directors), joining when I was a part-time Church School Coordinator.

Forma Leadership in 2002 in New Orleans

I’ve been to at least 15 NAECED/Forma conferences, with my first one in New Orleans in 2002. There were about 40 people present and all our sessions were together in a small hotel conference room. We were all women (with maybe two men), mostly lay folk, and most involved in children’s ministries. And we were aging – just like the church in general. We did not represent the diversity that exists in our communities. As years (and annual conferences) went by I was beginning to wonder if there was a future generation to follow in my footsteps, or if the vocation of Christian education was to go the way of the dodo bird (and maybe organized religion).

Today the organization remains the same: same purpose, same passion for formation. But different. And in ways the Church can learn from.

FoIMG_0006rma is now almost 600 members strong from all over The Episcopal Church and beyond. We are lay and ordained, volunteer and paid, gay and straight, racially diverse, and representative of almost all dioceses, even outside of the United States. And we’re growing.

In the early years, the organization struggled. Leadership was within a small group of individuals, although the group always tried to broaden the base. Conferences were more like a get together of friends for support, inspiration, and a time to get out of the trenches for refreshment and fun. With a conference held every year, it was always tough to break the 100 attendance mark. Membership stalled, with a difficulty in maintaining its peak of 200 or so.

So what happened for this growth to occur, at the same time budgets and positions were being cut on all levels of the Church? I have some ideas:

  1. Communication. Members invited others to join – and gave a reason why. Personal invitation and networking fed the hunger that individuals had as their ministry (that was not getting much support financially on the local and diocesan level) was burning them out.
  2. The organization changed its name to better represent its growing membership from NAECED to Forma – acknowledging that Christian education and formation involves children, youth, and adult formation. Youth ministry, adult ministry, seminaries, camps and conference centers, publishers, non-profit organizations, and all orders of ministry (lay and ordained) are called to the ministry of formation.
  3. Leadership (always elected) was broadened with specific terms of service. Nominations were open in a process of invitation that led to more diversity in its Board of Directors.
  4. Dioceses provided membership dues for church leaders. And many provided scholarship to attend the conference. Perhaps the funds that might have gone to diocesan programming was channeled here (one would hope).
  5. It was not clergy centric, but diverse in leadership roles, including preaching and keynoting at conferences.
  6. Social media was utilized to the fullness: an up-to-date website, an open Facebookgroup (now over 1,200 and counting), Pinterest page for sharing ideas and resources, a list-serve for communication, and an active Twitter account.
    Forma Forms
    How are you being formed? Forma “swag” (Silly Putty) that was giving out at the Forma booth at General Convention 2016.
  7. Advocacy. Presence at General Convention to speak to issues related to the formation of God’s people – budget cuts, safe church training, seminary education, spanish translation of resources, supporting camps and conference centers as a place of formation, baptismal ministries including the Rite of Confirmation, and social justice issues. Forma became a force to be reckoned with and recognized as
  8. Partnerships were formed to support one another: DFMS staff are active in presence as well as support – offering workshops, scholarships, displays, and mentorship. The organization reached out to seminaries (students and faculty) to participate as their voices were needed.
  9. Forma stuck to (and finally) implemented one of the founding purposes of the organization: offering certification and education for those in the ministry of Christian Formation. In 2016 individuals graduated from the Certificate in Youth & Family Ministries program (in partnership with Seabury-Bexley Seminary) and individuals received the Certificate for Leadership in Lifelong Christian Formation after completing a rigorous program and capstone project in partnership with Virginia Theological Seminary. Two scholarship funds are now established: Janie Stevens Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Lifelong Christian Formation Certificate Program and the Youth & Family Ministry Certificate Scholarship Fund.
  10. The membership was willing to welcome the stranger in our midst. Hospitality is a core value at conferences and members take it upon themselves to welcome newcomers.
  11. We prayed together, creatively and traditionally.

Forma is now set to forge ahead, perhaps as a model for the rest of the Church. With seed money from General Convention as well as its own strategic planning with membership pledges/donations, it is ready to hire its first Executive Director. See the position description here.

There are many individuals who have brought the organization this far. From its “founding mothers” who gathering in 1997 to form an independent, non-profit group within the Episcopal Church to lift up the ministry of Christian education to today’s Board of Directors, the future is hopeful. As I looked out on the full ballroom as everyone gathered for dinner that first night and listened to articulate individuals ask questions during workshops, I saw that a dream born by many almost 20 years ago had become a reality.

Those of us who’ve been ‘around awhile’ need to step out of the way, offer our presence, support, and experience (when asked), and hand things over to the next generation. If you build it, they will come. But build wisely and inclusively; let others know  who you are, what your purpose is, and how they can participate in making a difference.

_MG_0139_5x7Previously posted on Rows of Sharon.

Sharon Ely Pearson
Author, Editor, Christian Formation Specialist
Sharon Ely Pearson is an editor with Church Publishing Incorporated, joining them in November 2007 as their first Christian Formation Specialist. Prior to joining CPI, she was the Children’s Ministries & Christian Education Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut for ten years.

Advent Devotional Series: Following the Star Returns

Star_square_300dpi(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) – Following the Star, the devotional series for Advent and Christmas, returns to Passport, Inc.’s devotional website d365.org November 27.

This series features scripture, prayer, and meditative thoughts accompanied by gentle music. Writers, including Kyle Oliver and Linnae Peterson who represent the Episcopal Church, have centered their thoughts on the classic themes of the season. Following the Star features a collection of piano arrangements from Ken Medema, Mark Hayes, Joseph Martin, and David Burroughs. The musical reflections provide a familiar and gentle backdrop that accompanies the daily devotional.

Following the Star is part of the year-round devotional site, d365.org, a ministry of Passport, Inc., and sponsored ecumenically by Passport, Inc., Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Presbyterian Mission Agency, and the Episcopal Church’s Youth Ministry Office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. d365.org hosts daily devotionals and three seasonal series for Lent, Advent, and the beginning of the school year, as well as over two million visitors annually. Daily devotionals are available on the web, and through the free iOS app.

Download Following the Star Bulletin Insert.

If you are interested in writing for d365, please send sample devotions to the Missioner for Youth Ministry, Bronwyn Clark Skov.

Stepping Up in Leadership

1382002_10151953115018664_2012246037_n“I just faithfully do my thing at my church/in my diocese and don’t have time to do more meetings.”
“I don’t care about General Convention and all that political stuff – I just want to engage my ministry.”
“Why would they pick me? I’m just a youth minister!”

Lifelong Faith Formation is an integral part of EVERYTHING we do as we engage God’s mission in the world as the Episcopal Church. The above statements are the objections frequently heard when youth ministers and formation professionals are asked to consider running as General Convention Deputies or to serve on Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards (CCABs). Both deputies and CCAB’s are the bodies that help form the church and set the mission and priorities of the work of the church.

When asked to step up in leadership, a first response may be, “But I’m just a youth minister, children’s minister, young adult leader…” As Jesus was calling the disciples, he chose the unexpected folks, just as they are, just where they were to bring their passion, gifts and talents and follow him. He chose people to serve their community in a new way, to learn new things, and to bring others along side them in this journey.

As formation professionals, we are being called to step up in leadership. We are being called to bring our experience, passion, gifts and talents to serve God and to serve the church. Stepping into these new roles of leadership may be challenging, difficult, frustrating, life-giving, life changing, or nurturing.

As passionate people who serve God in the church, we cannot continue to abdicate our responsibilities and leadership. If the voices of people doing formation with children, youth, and young adults aren’t being heard, the church will not be able to engage the changing context of our mission field. Some of the passionate leaders who have been faithfully serving in these capacities and have been the strong advocates for ministry with rising generations are aging out and retiring. We need new wine for the new wineskins as the church responds to calls for change. And we need the voices of the formation networks speaking up in ALL aspects of our mission and ministry across the church.

We are praying that many of you will offer yourselves for leadership in three ways:
  1. Complete a nomination form to be considered for appointment to a CCAB. They are due August 14 and ask you to share your gifts, skills, and passion. Be bold and thorough! (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2015CCABNomination) A draft list of the CCAB’s can be found here: http://houseofdeputies.org/episcopal-church-interim-bodies-2016-2018.html
  2. Run for election as a General Convention Deputy in your diocese.
  3. If not you, then who? Nominate someone else who you believe is called to this sort of leadership. And if it is a young person who comes to mind, please walk with her/him and provide mentorship and pastoral care on the journey.

Official Youth Presence Research

BenToday’s guest blogger is Benjamin Cowgill, General Convention Official Youth Presence Class of 2012 from Province IV. He’s coming back to General Convention with us in two weeks to serve as an adult mentor, and to conduct some research!

Three years ago I was privileged to be a part of the Official Youth Presence (OYP).  For me OYP was one of my highlights of high school and a life changing event. It affirmed my vocation to serve the church, and since has made me more aware of global issues and the work of the Episcopal Church. In college I have had the opportunity to do religious studies as well as take classes in youth ministry to continue my passion in the field.

Following my main youth ministry class last fall, I found myself asking questions. Much of the contemporary research in youth ministry focuses on the reason Christian teens leave the church during young adulthood.  I wanted to know what made teens want to stay.  By partnering with my college and the Youth Ministries office for the Episcopal Church, I get a chance to answer this question. But I will need some help from my fellow GCOYP alumni, from my class and other General Conventions.

This summer I am investigating the link between participation in church governance and the religiosity of youth and young adults.  By surveying and interviewing both the current members and alumni of the General Convention Official Youth Presence, I hope to build both a narrative history of this program for the Episcopal Church, as well as see if this program and others like it have a positive effect on involvement in the church bridging from high school participation to continued young adult engagement.

This is where we need your help more specifically.  If you were involved in GCOYP from 1997 onward, or know someone who was, we would love to have you take our general survey. To sign up, please email me at bncowgill@gmail.com. You can also request a return call from me at that email address to hear more about my research and get any questions answered.

Thank you in advance for reaching out – every person we can connect with will help us paint a fuller picture of how God is working through our church, and how both the Episcopal Church and Christ’s larger church as a whole, can improve the religious life of our youth and young adults.

General Convention Official Youth Presence and Alums - July 2012

General Convention Official Youth Presence and Alums – July 2012

Thank you, Ben! We look forward to having you with us at the 78th General Convention and to hearing about your findings. The Office of Youth Ministry is extremely interested in identifying as many former GCOYP participants as possible. Ben’s research is only covering the years in which the Youth Presence actually had seat and voice on the floor of the House of Deputies by a change in their Rules of Order which took effect in 1997. We know the program dates back to a resolution in 1982. Please forward this and ask GCOYP alumni to contact the youth ministry office’s current missioner, Bronwyn Clark Skov, at bskov@episcopalchurch.org or on Facebook. We would like you to join us for dinner with the current OYP and the Young Adult Festival on Monday, June 29. Questions? Call Bronwyn at 646-242-1421. See you in Salt Lake City in two weeks!

Bronwyn Clark Skov publicó: “El bloguero invitado de hoy es Benjamin Cowgill, clase 2012 de la IV Provincia en la Presencia Oficial de la Juventud en la Convención General. Él vuelve con nosotros a la Convención General dentro de dos semanas para servir como mentor adulto, y para llegar a cabo alguna investigación. ¡Hace tres años!”.

El bloguero invitado de hoy es Benjamin Cowgill, clase 2012 de la IV Provincia en la Presencia Oficial de la Juventud en la Convención General. Él vuelve con nosotros a la Convención General dentro de dos semanas para servir como mentor adulto, ¡y para llegar a cabo alguna investigación!

Hace tres años, tuve el privilegio de ser parte de la Presencia Oficial de la Juventud (OYP, por su sigla en inglés). Para mi la OYP fue uno de mis hitos cuando estaba en la escuela secundaria y un evento que me cambió la vida. Afirmó mi vocación de servir a la Iglesia y desde entonces  me ha hecho más consciente de los problemas globales y de la obra de la Iglesia Episcopal. En la universidad he tenido la oportunidad de hacer estudios religiosos, así como tomar un curso sobre el ministerio de los jóvenes a fin de mantener mi pasión en este campo.

Luego de mi primera clase sobre ministerio de los jóvenes el otoño pasado, me encontré haciéndome algunas preguntas. La mayor parte de la investigación contemporánea en el ministerio de los jóvenes se centra en la razón de que los adolescentes cristianos se van de la Iglesia cuando se convierten en jóvenes adultos. Yo quería saber lo que hicieron los adolescentes que optaron por quedarse. Al asociarme con mi universidad y con la Oficina del Ministerio de los Jóvenes de la Iglesia Episcopal, tuve una oportunidad de responder a esa pregunta. Pero voy a necesitar alguna ayuda de mis compañeros que han sido miembros de Presencia Oficial de la Juventud en la CG, tanto de mi clase como de otras convenciones generales.

Este verano estoy investigando el nexo entre participación en el gobierno de la Iglesia y la religiosidad de los jóvenes y los jóvenes adultos. Al hacer una encuesta y entrevistar tanto a miembros actuales como ex miembros de la Presencia Oficinal de la Juventud en la Convención General, espero crear tanto un relato narrativo de este programa para la Iglesia Episcopal, como ver si este u otros programas semejantes tienen un efecto positivo en la dedicación a la Iglesia, al hacer que la participación desde la escuela secundaria se continúe en el compromiso de los jóvenes adultos.

Es aquí donde necesitamos tu ayuda de manera más específica. Si tomaste parte en la GCOYP a partir de 1997, o sabes de alguien que haya tomado parte, nos encantaría que contestaras nuestra encuesta general. Inscríbete y, por favor, envíame un mensaje de e-mail a bncowgill@gmail.com. También puedes pedirme, en esa dirección de e-mail, que te devuelva la llamada para darte más detalles de mi investigación y obtener respuestas para algunas interrogantes.

Gracias de antemano por haberte dirigido a mí —toda persona con que podamos conectarnos nos ayudará a pintar un cuadro más completo de la manera en que Dios obra a través de nuestra Iglesia y de qué manera tanto la Iglesia Episcopal como la Iglesia cristiana en general, pueden perfeccionar la vida religiosa de nuestros jóvenes y de nuestros jóvenes adultos.

Presencia Oficial de la Juventud y ex compañeros en la Convención General: julio de 2012

¡Gracias, Ben! Esperamos tenerte con nosotros en la 78ª. Convención General y enterarnos de los resultados de tu investigación. La  Oficina del Ministerio de los Jóvenes está extremadamente interesada en identificar a tantos ex participantes de la GCOYP como sea posible, gracias a un cambio en su Reglas de Orden La investigación de Ben sólo abarca los años en los cuales la Presencia de la Juventud tuvo en verdad asiento y voz en el pleno de la Cámara de Diputados, mediante un cambio en las Reglas de Orden que tuvo lugar en 1997. Sabemos que el programa se remonta  a una resolución de 1982. Por favor, divulga esto y pídeles a ex compañeros de la CGOYP que se pongan en contacto con Bronwyn Clark Skov, la actual misionera de la Oficina del Ministerio de los Jóvenes, en bskov@episcopalchurch.org o en Facebook. Nos gustaría que te reunieras con nosotros para una cena durante el actual OYP y el Festival de Jóvenes Adultos el domingo 29 de julio. ¿Preguntas? Llama a Bronwyn al 646-242-1421. ¡Te veré en Salt Lake City dentro de dos semana!


Youth Minisry Resources from CPI

WGP-Youth-Eblast-Art+April+2015Church Publishing Incorporated has just released a newsletter full of excellent resources and links to amazing materials that can enhance your youth ministry. Make sure to check out their latest offerings and sing up for the newsletter!

Click here to learn more!



Official Youth Presence Progress Report

General Convention Official Youth Presence 2015

General Convention Official Youth Presence 2015

When many of us received the acceptance letter to be part of the General Convention Official Youth Presence 2015, we were ecstatic. It is such an amazing honor to be a part of this group of extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and ambitious youth.

So what exactly is the Youth Presence? We are a group of 18 youth that have been chosen to voice the opinions and views of the youth population of the Episcopal Church. Because of this incredible responsibility we were required to attend training for this convention.

During the first day when most of us arrived, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. A few people knew each other from previous church youth events, but it was still a new experience. When we arrived we all quickly got to know each other through several exercises to “break the ice.” These activities included asking questions about where we want to travel, where we live, and to what congregation do we belong. One of the most helpful activities was the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile. This tool included taking a short survey about how you handle different scenarios. This not only taught us how our personalities work, but also how our peers’ personalities work. It helped us to learn about one another and learn about how each personality can bring out the greatest potential for the 2015 General Convention.

Along with scheduled “break the ice” activities, during break time the kids would get together and get to know one another on a personal level. There was an ease to getting to know everyone that was very much appreciated. The openness of the youth as well as the adult leaders made for a comfortable environment. After getting to know each other, we then learned all about how the convention works and the different committees in an interactive way. It was a lot of information at once, but the diverse teaching styles that were offered by the adults made learning easy and fun. Next, we had a brainstorming session to decide on different topics that we can bring to the table at General Convention, such as more funding for summer camps and more college scholarships from the church. This was very helpful because we all heard each others’ passions and were able to work together to find a balance. Through this we learned about how the Episcopal Church has been working in other states and countires besides our own. Of course, we also learned about expectations: dress code, attitude, and the importance of drinking water. All of these things were told to us in interactive ways which was really cool because it kept us focused and helped us to engage in conversation.

With all of the work, we also had time to explore Salt Lake City. The mountains were gorgeous. Some of the youth had never seen snow in person before, so the snow covered mountains were a sight to see. The whole group, youth and adults, were able to walk around Salt Lake City to visit where we would be staying for Convention as well as the Convention Center, where we will spend most of our time. Along with this sightseeing, we also visited the Mormon Temple which was a very fun experience. The flowers were in full bloom and it was a perfect place to get some sun and fresh air.

All in all, orientation for the General Youth Presence was extraordinary. We are all very excited to participate, listen, and represent the youth population in the Episcopal Church. We have a group of youth that cannot wait to share in this wonderful experience and learn a lot along the way.



General Convention Office Youth Presence Bloggers

Sydney Norman, Levi Thompson, and Amanda Zorrilla

Sydney Norman

Sydney Norman

Levi Thompson

Levi Thompson

Amanda Zorrilla

Amanda Zorrilla

Wired for Risk – Why the Church Needs Teenagers

BrainMy friend and colleague David Burroughs is the President and Founder of Passport, Inc., the organization that helps the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship produce our popular online daily devotions at d365.org. Today I share a recent blogpost of his reflecting on the science of adolescent brain development. David makes a wonderful argument for the natural and necessary intersection of science and religion in terms of youth ingagement in our faith communties. I am grateful for his reflections and encourage you to share your thoughts and comments.

Every so often, my family sits around and laughs at our kids’ favorite Vine and YouTube videos. The ones that garner the biggest laughs are of course, the ‘fail’ videos: kids jumping off sketchy ramps or crashing through doors. We watch these and think, “What were they thinking?”

A better question might be, “How were they thinking?” 

Here’s the link to David’s original blog post; I invite you to read, inwardly digest, and enjoy!



How Do We Address Peacemaking in Youth Programming?

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence.

The event was organized to help Episcopalians renew their commitment to the Gospel call to make peace in a world of violence. [Read more…]

5 Reasons Youth Ministry is Important to the Church Today

561824_755353144749_1854962609_nToday we welcome Karen Schlabach as guest blogger. Karen is the Youth Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. She has served in both volunteer and paid positions for parish youth ministries and diocesan youth ministries for eight years. Prior to that she worked in higher education and now has a passion for improving students’ transition from youth to campus ministries. This letter originally appeared in Karen’s Youth Ministry newsletter.

What is the Purpose of Youth Ministry?

I recently had the opportunity to go to the National Youth Workers Convention where the head of Youth Specialties, Mark Matlock, identified five things he thinks Youth Ministry is doing for the Church today. I shared some of these during my presentation at our Diocesan Convention. It strikes me that these are all things that are done, no matter the size of your congregation.

  • Youth ministry is vital to helping teens integrate into the larger, intergenerational community of the church.
  • Youth ministry resists the status quo, helping the church stay relevant.
  • Youth ministry focuses on inviting those who are not already part of the church into the deeper narrative of God’s plan.
  • Youth ministry reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the body, but co-creators and conspirators in the divine work of the church.
  • Youth ministry helps the church focus on the way of Jesus, which goes beyond tradition, dogma, and work.

DSC_0190Events and programs in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas are designed for youth to experience opportunities in Evangelism, Spiritual Formation, Christian Leadership, Mission, Fellowship, Scripture and the Episcopal Church.

Youth events in the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas strive to provide:

  • a safe, loving, and wholesome atmosphere for young people
  • a program which helps young people become formed in their faith
  • a variety of worship experiences that help young people connect with God and one another
  • teaching about the Anglican expression of Christianity
  • a means for young people to develop their individual prayer and spiritual life
  • assistance for young people in developing values, ethical norms, and a sense of Christian community
  • interaction with adults who authentically model the Christian faith
  • activities (games, sports, waterfront activities, crafts, etc.) which involve fun and the building of sense of worth

My hope is that we are raising young people who are committed to Christ, committed to the Episcopal Church, and have the Christian Leadership experience to make a difference.