Embracing curiosity can help church, educators say

The Rev. Mary Scifres helps lead the 50th anniversary gathering of Christians Engaged in Faith Formation meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by the Rev. Arthur McClanahan.
The Rev. Mary Scifres helps lead the 50th anniversary gathering of Christians Engaged in Faith Formation meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by the Rev. Arthur McClanahan.

This is a curious time to be a person of faith, particularly in The United Methodist Church.

The denomination is facing questions about its future as it looks to a called gathering of its legislative assembly, the General Conference, in February. More broadly, mainline denominations are struggling to be relevant in the digital age and engage young generations.

Recognizing that they have many questions without answers, 250 Christian educators met under the theme of “Curious Church” to get insights about doing faith formation in a time of dramatic change. The Oct. 9-12 gathering in Des Moines marked the 50th anniversary of Christians Engaged in Faith Formation, formerly known as the Christian Educators Fellowship. The group is ecumenical, but with a large United Methodist contingent.

“We think the church is going through a gigantic sea change,” said the Rev. Mary Scifres, a member of the event design team and program leader. People are nervous, she said, but she suggested a different mindset as General Conference nears. “We want people to be curious about it.”

She hoped the emphasis on curiosity decreased the level of anxiety for those attending the conference, she said. God has General Conference in God’s hands, she said.

“It’s OK to ask questions and … (it’s) important to listen deeply, not just to each other but to the One who’s trying to get a word in edgewise,” she said. When the church has been in crisis in the past, God has done transformative work, she said.

“Curious Church” organizers described how the conference could help the church.

“At this time in the life of The United Methodist Church, this conference could potentially have an important role in bringing folks to find unity … (and) nurture the faith that’s needed to see our way through into the future,” said the Rev. Fred Lewis, who led the design team.

The conference helps people see the giftedness of every person, he said. “If we put the best of ourselves together and stretch forward, we can meet these challenges.”

The 2019 General Conference was in the group’s thought processes as it planned the meeting.

“Whatever happens in February, everyone’s going to be emotional,” said fellowship President Patty Meyers. “The church, whatever it is called and however it is configured, is still going to be at the corner of one street and another ... and people are still going to need a foundation.”

That foundation comes through faith formation.

“Can there be a church without faith? I don’t think so,” Meyers said. “If the church crumbles to pieces, it is Christian educators that will put it back together.”

Tanton is chief news officer for United Methodist Communications. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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