Special Guest Blog: We invited Rev. Stephen Bouman, the Executive Director of Evangelical Outreach and Congregational and Synodical Mission in the ELCA offices in Chicago to address the needs of children within the church, and to talk about a new position being created at the churchwide offices. Thank you Stephen for sharing with the Network!
When you walk the streets in Arusha, Tanzania, you hear a certain greeting as ubiquitously as “how are you doing?” in our society. They greet each other with this Masai phrase: “Kisserian Injera,” which means, “how are the children?” And the answer in Masai translates as: “it is well with the children.”
It is in this “kisserian Injera” spirit that I am very excited to announce that we in CSM will be posting a new position: Program Director, Ministry With Children. With this position we will now be able to accompany the networks across the church and our society which support the spiritual life and well-being of the first third of life. We will be able to connect to leaders called by the church to support ministry to, and with, youth and young adults. I am very grateful to all of the advocates, supporters, and long distance runners in ministry with children and families. Your faithful service, witness, and holy agitation have helped to make this happen.
I want to thank the Network for lending me the platform of the Network blog. I have been thinking of this question a lot lately: “what do children need in our world today?” These are some which have involved my thinking, prayer and action. You can add your own to the list.
Spiritual Identity: At a day care center for unaccompanied minors (refugee children) who crossed two borders from Central America to flee violence, poverty and reunite with family I had a conversation with a couple who have provided foster care for over thirty of these vulnerable children of God. “They come here so strong in their faith. We pray before meals and at bedtime. They are like little evangelists sharing their faith every day because of their gratitude for being welcomed and support for their spiritual lives.” We all need to know: “you are my beloved child.”
Safety: children are growing up in a world of bullies, gun violence in our schools, malls and neighborhoods, pernicious messages and predators coming at them through the internet, and domestic violence. At the border I spoke with a thirteen year old girl from Honduras whose family was being extorted, whose brother had been killed and she was next.
Advocates\Justice: When we baptize our babies of whatever age we do not leave them at the font. It is baptismal ministry to follow them into the world, to struggle for the quality of their schools, opportunities, mentors, communities.
Strong Communities and Churches: Children need the ballast of strong and durable connections, human solidarity to accompany their lives.
Noble Vision: They need help growing into their agency to make a difference in the world as a way to follow Jesus.
The Hope of Resurrection:
God bless you all as you play your part in an apostolate to, and with, the children of our church and our world.
Rev. Stephen Paul Bouman
Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission – ELCA
Dear Network friends,
The Network’s Board of Directors has drafted the following letter, to be sent to Rev. Stephen Bouman, Executive Director of Congregational and Synodical Mission at the ELCA. It requests that staffing in the area of children’s ministry at the churchwide offices be considered.
The Network Board invites you to co-sign the letter. If you would like to do so, please make a “comment” below the letter and in that comment, put your name, your role/title, your congregation or organization and your city and state. Please sign on or before June 17th to have your name included in the version being sent to Rev. Bouman.
Networked in Christ,
Rev. Stephen Bouman
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631
Dear Rev. Bouman,
Greetings, in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We are grateful that the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit of the churchwide organization added two program director staff positions for youth and young adult ministry in 2013. Thanks for your vision and commitment to forming and nurturing faith in youth and emerging adults. Paul Amlin and Rozella White have been marvelous partners with the ELCA Youth Ministry Network and great representatives of the churchwide expression.
We remain concerned however, about the lack of resources and support for those engaged in children’s ministry at the congregational, synodical, and churchwide level. As congregations have cut budgets and staffing, we are aware that a large number of youth and children’s ministry positions are being combined in our congregations. In our effort to identify and connect our members to training, resources, and support to those who do ministry with children we have recognized that there is no staff person on ELCA churchwide staff in the area of children’s ministry. We believe this is a gap that needs to be filled as quickly as possible.
We are aware of the importance of excellent faith formation beginning as early as possible in the life of a young person. Based on James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, and our own experiences, it is clear that our children from birth to age twelve require intentional shepherding and guidance in their faith development. If we take seriously that faith formation is a process of development, and that the baptismal journey is indeed a journey that begins at the font and continues throughout our life, then our church must provide guidance to parents, pastors, teachers, and lay ministers who are working with our infants, toddlers, and children at the beginning of this important journey.
We believe it is crucial that there be a person at the churchwide office, partnering with Paul and Rozella along with the rest of the CSM staff, working to make congregations aware of the best resources, to build partnerships around children’s ministry and to be a voice for those who work with the youngest within our church. We believe that it is essential that a person in this role
- Has experience and expertise in the area of children’s ministry
- Understands the full spectrum of faith formation as it spans all the ages
- Has skills in working in large systems to affect change and to grow ministries
We hope that you will consider providing resources for a churchwide staff position in the area of children’s ministry. This is a vital ministry for the present and future of our church.
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network Board of Directors
Erik Ullestad (chairperson)
Rev. Ben Morris
Rev. Todd Buegler
And the following members of the Network:
If you were to pick up the phone and call the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago, and said that you had questions about children’s ministry, or Sunday School, or something similar, there would be no one to take your call. It’s true. Say it’s a question about a resource…or perhaps about background checks for volunteer teachers, or maybe continuing education opportunities; there’s no one there who could help you. Or, go to the ELCA web site. There are no pages there that reference children’s ministry.
Don’t get me wrong, you’d probably get transferred to someone, and they’d be nice and would try to help. (They’re all really nice people there) But there would be no one there who could answer your questions, or even tell you where to look.
Those positions were eliminated years ago.
Now I don’t want to get into evaluating those moves. I don’t know why those decisions were made, and the folks who made them have moved on. It could be that in the world of the church, at that time, the decision made total sense. It’s not up to me to judge. But I’ve noticed something interesting:
A few years ago, after a massive restructuring of the ELCA offices, and a reorganization, there were no children, youth or young adult positions left. (The Youth Gathering remained staffed…but that’s self-funding.) After some time and reflection, new positions were created in youth ministry and young adult ministry. And I think the direction these new positions took makes all kinds of sense. No longer “Directors” with heavy programmatic responsibilities, these new position descriptions include being aware of and knowing the landscape; networking; communicating; convening; linking congregations to resources and leadership development for both youth and adults.
But nothing has been done with regard to children’s ministry. There is no one in our denominational offices that relates to those who do ministry with anyone from birth to grade 6.
To be clear, I don’t think that having this position in Chicago would solve our problems. It would not. Our problems with shrinking participation in faith formation for children (see my last blog entry) are congregational problems that will require congregational solutions. But what kind of statement does it make when our denomination doesn’t spend any resources on the first third, of the first third of life? I think that’s troubling.
Ministry is a continuum. We all know that…it’s been one of the operating principles of the Network since its formation (and the church in general for a lot longer than that.) So to expect that we can begin resourcing for ministry with young people when they hit age 12 or 13 without any attention prior to that isn’t realistic or healthy.
I also think it sends an unhealthy message to congregations. We know the developmental importance of engaging children and their parents in faith formation at an early, early age. There is so much ‘bang for the buck.’
I believe this needs to change. I believe churchwide resources should be spent in this vital area (Not at the expense of the other two, but in addition to them). A position structured similarly to the youth and young adult positions will allow for someone at the denominational level to ask the questions…to do the research…to network…to share resources…to invite practitioners to the table to think about solutions…to train…to think big picture with their colleagues…and… to answer the phone.
It would be both a gift, and a statement, to the church.
Networked in Christ,
A few months ago, I came across a powerpoint slide that Beth Lewis, CEO of Augsburg Fortress Publishers had used as a presentation to a group of pastors at a conference in Florida. (Thanks to Beth Lewis for the slide!)
When I saw the numbers, in all honesty, it took my breath away.
The slide presented a twenty year trend line for the number of children enrolled in Sunday School in ELCA congregations between 1990 and 2010. The slide also showed the differential during the same time period in enrollment in Vacation Bible School.
Here’s the data in a nutshell: During this twenty year period, the number of children enrolled in our Sunday School ministries decreased from 1,007,774 to 400,375. That is roughly 61%.
61% fewer young people were enrolled in Sunday School in ELCA congregations in 2010 than were in 1990.
Perhaps I’m overreacting. But my gut instinct is that this is a pretty big deal. No…it’s a really big deal. We’ve heard talk about the shrinking church for years, but reading these numbers creates (at least within me) a new level of reality and immediacy.
Perhaps this just mirrors the membership trend in the ELCA? Looking at ELCA data from the same source, membership over roughly the same time period decreased from 5.2 million to around 4.2 million. Substantial…but roughly a 20% decrease. Worship attendance over that period decreased by roughly 53%, much closer (but still less than) the church school numbers.
Interestingly, the numbers of young people enrolled in Vacation Bible School have remained more stable than the numbers in Sunday School, decreasing “only” somewhere between 35% and 40%. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s interesting that those numbers have not declined nearly as quickly as Sunday School or worship attendance.
But if these trends continue…we’re on a course towards ecclesiastical irrelevance (at best) and extinction (at worst). Sure, we roll our eyes when we hear people say that children and youth are the church of tomorrow, knowing that they are the church today. But we’ve got to be honest: they also are the church of tomorrow. And trends like this make it clear that our church is at risk. I fear that the slogan of the future might be “God’s Work – No Hands.”
What most alarms me? There is no broader conversation about this. The conversation is taking place in isolated pockets…at seminaries…in local networks…at the Extravaganza…but why isn’t this a part of a larger churchwide conversation? Why is there not a sense of urgency about these numbers? The ELCA responds well to crisis. When a tornado or hurricane strikes, the ELCA is present with the promise that we will accompany those victims for the long haul.
A 61% decline in young people participating in one of our foundational faith formation ministries is a crisis. I’m not advocating that we continue on the same path we have been on. Clearly our problem has been “business as usual”. And the solution is more than just adopting a different model…or a new program. I believe that the problem lies within our church’s very understanding of faith formation; it lies in our very DNA.
I don’t have a quick solution. I’m not sure one exists. But whatever the future looks like, wherever God is calling this church, we need to take on this crisis with the same level of urgency and commitment that we do when a storm hits. And don’t get me wrong. I do believe there is a solution. I believe God is calling us to something new, something powerful and dynamic. And I believe God has given us the gifts to figure this out.
I am hopeful that these conversations will move from the periphery to the center of our church. We are committed to push for, and to create space for these conversations.
Please join us.
Networked in Christ,
The second phase of the Practice Discipleship Initiative will launch in January of 2013. This project is the result of a dynamic partnership between the ELCA Youth Ministry Network, the ELCA and its Youth Gathering, ELCA Lutheran seminaries and colleges and their faculty who teach children, youth and family ministry, and resource providers of the church.
The Practice Discipleship Initiative fosters faithful, thoughtful and intentional leaders in congregations who follow Jesus in their daily lives.
The Practice Discipleship Initiative will:
Train leadership to accompany young people on their faith journey.
Develop partnerships to strengthen faith formation opportunities for and with young people.
Gather leaders for mutual support and encouragement in ministry.
The project is made possible by funding provided by the ELCA, the North Carolina Synod, Luther Seminary and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.
Training opportunities for adults who work with children and youth will take place in several different formats. Seven webinars are being developed to be presented every two weeks beginning in January. The team of educators developing these webinars is led by Dr. Jeremy Myers of Augsburg College.
These webinars will also be presented live as workshops at the 2013 ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, to be held January 25-28 in Anaheim, California.
One coach from each of the 65 ELCA synods will also receive specialized training at the Extravaganza, to return to their synods and present workshops to professionals and volunteers.
The Practice Discipleship Initiative will be directed by Catherine Anderson, the Coordinator of Youth Ministry for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. More information on the project, including all of the training resources from the first phase of the project, can be found at www.practicediscipleship.org.
I have been wanting to write something about the crisis/fiasco at Penn State University for a few weeks. However, to be honest, I needed to give myself some time to get my mind wrapped around the strong emotional reaction I had when the details about the allegations began to surface.
I react very very strongly when I hear about adults who abuse young people. I’m sure many of you do too.
I’ve tried to spend some time trying to figure out why I become so angry when I hear about cases of child abuse. First and foremost, for those of us who work with children and youth, our hearts break for the victims. I can’t begin to imagine the pain they will live with. I believe that God’s heart breaks.
But I think that another source of my anger is because I am so keenly aware of what is at stake in the work that we do with the young and the vulnerable. I feel that all of us who are called to work with the young are given a sacred trust to protect. And I am aware that when that trust is broken, when an adult commits misconduct, the work is made that much more difficult for all of the rest of us.
And so for the pain those young men endured, I have to admit that I feel deep sadness.
And towards the perpetrator(s) of these crimes and this injustice, I have to confess that I feel great anger.
There is another aspect to my anger, however.
On so many levels, this shouldn’t have happened. Organizationally speaking, where were the institutional controls that possibly could have prevented these things? There was massive failure, and blame to go around.
So here’s the question that we have to ask ourselves? What are our institutional controls? In what ways are we as the church of Christ vulnerable, and therefore putting our young people at risk?
Why are there still congregations within the ELCA that don’t do background checks for volunteers? Why do we still put our adult volunteers and youth in high risk position by having them share rooms at gatherings and retreats? Why do we take the “warm body” approach to identifying and training adult volunteers?
There is history which would indicate that the church is fertile ground for perpetrators. Those of us who have leadership roles also have responsibility to tend to these important issues. We have a responsibility to know the issues. We have a responsibility to train our volunteers. We have a responsibility to protect the young people God has called us to serve.
It is one thing to be angry. It is another thing to take that anger and to turn it into action that will protect the well being of all of God’s children.
Take that action. Please.
Networked in Christ,
There are people within the Network that you will interact with from time-to-time. These folks have different roles that hopefully
provide support and assistance to you, certainly in your relationship with the Network; hopefully also in your ministry. I thought it might be helpful for you to (at least virtually) “meet” these folks so you know with whom you are interacting.
Laurie Hoium is the Network’s Database Manager and Registrar. She is awesome. Laurie and her husband Bruce live in Moorhead, They have 2 grown children.
Minnesota. Laurie is responsible for maintaining the Network’s membership records, recording new and renewing memberships, and handling the Extravaganza registration process. She is the friendly voice who answer the Network’s toll-free phone line (866-EXTRAVA) and the face that will likely greet you at “check in” for the Extravaganza in New Orleans.
Laurie has years of experience working at congregations in the Moorhead area in children’s and youth ministry. She has a deep passion for faith formation for young people.
In addition, Laurie and Bruce are both artists. Laurie’s medium is tile-mosaics. The artwork she produces are beautiful. Bruce does amazing wood carving.
Laurie designed and created the giant mosaic ELCA emblem that is found in the lobby of the Lutheran Center in Chicago, where the ELCA offices are located.
Laurie has played a significant role with the Network since its early days and we are grateful to her for the ways she shares her gifts with our community.
Next: Meet Debbie Clipson
I had a “proud parent” moment this morning. Please indulge me while I share:
Our boys had ushered before. They enjoy handing out the bulletins, welcoming people and helping to collect offering.
It is our practice that during the offeratory, one of the ushers carries the offering plates up the center aisle. The pastor who is behind the altar comes down to the base of the chancel to meet the usher, and takes the plates up to the altar.
Today I stood behind the altar, raised my arms and asked the congregation to stand. As the offeratory music started. I looked to the back of the Sanctuary and there stood Nathan and Samuel, holding the offering plates.
- The plates are the polished gold brass type plates. They are heavy.
- It’s kind of a long walk up there.
- What if they trip?
These nervous thoughts all went through my mind. But our lead usher this morning, Sandy, had briefed them well, and they carried the offerings up to the front to meet me, with big, proud smiles on their faces.
I bent over and whispered “thanks!” to them and received the offering, bringing it to the altar. It was a proud parent moment. But as I reflect, it was also more than that. It was also a moment when two my boys were engaged in worship. It was a moment when children carried the offerings of the people to present to God. They had been coached and prepared. It was a moment when children played a role in leadership.
(Broad, sweeping generalization alert here) There aren’t enough opportunities for young people to bring their offerings to God. In the church culture in which we live, we don’t integrate, we segregate. Young people don’t practice their faith as much as they “learn” about it. Even though we know all that we know, we persist in following practices that we know aren’t effective.
Children and youth are rich with gifts to bring to the altar. Their gifts don’t look like the gifts that you and I bring, but they are gifts nonetheless. In the ministry to which we are called, we worry every day about how young people will remain engaged and embedded within our communities.
This morning reminded me: Perhaps if we honor and use the gifts of young people, our congregations will be places where they will want to continue to use them.