This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Conference seeks faith formation for all ages

ELKHART, Ind. — Do Christians have the resources to pass on their faith to their children? The Deep Faith conference was organized to help promote faith formation for all ages.

John Roberto, left, speaks with Rachel S. Gerber, Mennonite Church USA denominational minister for young and young adults. — Walt Wiltschek/MC USA
John Roberto, left, speaks with Rachel S. Gerber, Mennonite Church USA denominational minister for young and young adults. — Walt Wiltschek/MC USA

More than 100 people from across the U.S. and Canada gathered at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary Oct. 6-8. The event grew out of conversations at a 2014 Mennonite Camping Association convention, which led to participants envisioning a first-of-its-kind conference “by faith formation workers, for faith formation workers,” according to planning team member Elsie Rempel of Charleswood Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Man.

“We chatted about learning from each other, and planning for an event began,” Rempel said.

Three keynote speakers — John Roberto, president of Lifelong Faith Associates; Rachel Miller Jacobs, assistant professor of congregational formation at AMBS; and Brian Quan, lead pastor of Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church — addressed the conference, which also featured daily worship, an assortment of workshop choices and optional evening activities.

Roberto, from Naugatuck, Conn., spoke on trends affecting North American churches. Weaving together images, humor and stories, he looked at the huge changes affecting culture and faith. There is growing diversity across the life span, a need for intergenerational spaces and the decline of “religious transmission” from one generation to the next.

He challenged participants to imagine a new future with new ways of carrying out faith formation.

“The message didn’t change, and the mission didn’t change. The gospel is just fine,” Roberto said. “The delivery system is problematic. That’s where we’re getting stuck.”

He proposed a “new faith-forming ecology” that is family-centered and intentionally intergenerational, spans the life cycle and takes advantage of new technologies and the abundance of material that already exists online to extend reach and impact.

“People are already online,” Roberto said. “If we can be part of their everyday life, they might check us out.”

Miller Jacobs focused on Anabaptist values of reconciliation and peacemaking with a look at “ordinary-time forgiveness” as opposed to extreme incidents — noting that the Greek word aphiemi has a more wider range of meaning (sending away or letting go) than “forgiveness,” which is how it’s usually translated.

She noted how one’s actions and words can offend someone — even unintentionally. She cautioned against the religious tendency of “perfecting” concepts and definitions to have such a narrow meaning that others with differing viewpoints can’t possibly be right.

“We often fall into a pattern of everyday harmful behavior while aspiring to virtue,” Miller Jacobs said. “How do we embody [forgiveness] in our family life and our congregational life so that we’re not just aspiring to, but actually practicing it? We have to become better practitioners.”

Quan centered on intergenerational faith formation at the congregational level, bringing perspectives from his multicultural church. Sharing stories with each other, he said, is an important part of faith formation, especially those stories that are deeply embedded in our hearts.

He reviewed results from a 2008 Search Institute survey that identified sharing meaningful conversations and discussing personal values as some of the most important elements in connecting with children, but then observed that the adults who responded to the survey generally weren’t doing what they thought should be done.

“Having intergenerational experiences helps us to connect,” Quan said. “I’m convinced it’s the way God wants us to grow.”

Nearly 30 workshops addressed a host of topics including the physical and emotional dimensions of faith and learning, specific faith formation resources, age-group dynamics from children to grandparents and other aspects of worship and Christian education.

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