August 2016

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New Words For Basic Things

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

Some of you may recall the Danny Kaye film with his comic routine “They used to call it dance; now they are doing choreography!” Lots of Christian terminology has changed over the years since Oliver Cromwell remarked “new presbyter is only old priest writ large!” Some of the change is helpful and some of is doubtful. We don’t say “Christian education “or “Sunday School” much any more, instead we refer to “Christian Formation” and even the seminaries use the term “priestly formation” to state their raison d’etre. I prefer to speak about “Christian growth and development” or “lifelong Christian learning,” because that’s what we’re really talking about, especially as we approach our new fall programs. And there is a valid point in changing our terminology.

Psychological research has proven that our minds, emotions and personalities do not remain static when we reach 18, but rather that adults as well as children pass through developmental stages and changing perspectives throughout our lifespan. Some people do seem to get “stuck” at one level of feeling or understanding, but for most of us (as an example) the challenges of aging and an increasing consciousness of our own mortality cause profound changes in our thinking and overall outlook as we become “senior citizens”. Our understanding of what it means to be and live as Christians changes at different stages in our adulthood and prompts us to learn and practice new spiritual insights. What was once comfortable, familiar religious habit is often experienced by us as inadequate and unsatisfying. Many instances in Holy scripture show us how the stress and suffering of adult life caused prophets and saints to struggle spiritually and with God’s help and grace to reclaim their faith at a higher level and with new understanding and maturity. One Eastern Orthodox writer, in commenting on the lives of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, said that westerners don’t understand that a Russian can be a believer and a doubter at the same time! He was really talking about the constant battle we have between faith and skepticism that is only resolved by achieving a new stage of Christian growth and maturity, only to be challenged by an advanced level of spiritual conflict. James Fowler, a theologian and teacher at Emory University made this topic of ongoing religious growth and development the theme of his book “Stages of Faith”.

What does this have to do with us, here at Manakin Church? It means that our Christian Formation Committee is busy brainstorming, debating and planning a whole range of expanded programs and activities for this Fall and coming years, not only with the education of our children in mind, but with the needs and concerns of church members at every age level from cradle to grave. Our goal is to ensure that in the future all our members may find opportunities for growth in their spiritual lives to meet the changing conditions and challenges both in ourselves and in our society. Expect to be asked to join this discussion and to try new educational opportunities and worship experiences as we move into a new church year.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer