Photo Credit: St Andrew's Episcopal Church
By Day Smith Pritchartt
What would you do if the families in your parish were exceptionally regular in their attendance at worship, but only a few were committed to church school; the well of prospective teachers was truly dry; you had a Vestry who was willing to take risks and try new things, and a Rector who had your back at all times and in all places; and Virginia Seminary’s Digital Missioner Kyle Oliver and CMT Director Lisa Kimball dared you to try something different (and promised to help)?
What did we do? We shut down Sunday school. Let me clarify: We adopted a pilot program of online faith formation, and we suspended our Sunday morning classes. St. Andrew’s FISH program (Families Integrating Sunday and Home) began in September.
At the Forma Tapestry Conference in Albuquerque last winter, “The Church, Post-Sunday School” was a topic much discussed in workshops and after hours, including in my conversations with Kyle Oliver. Many of us struggled to discern whether the church school model had served its purpose in a changing church and world. I came home with a head full of ideas and the energy to try something new.
After attending the e-Formation Conference at Virginia Seminary last summer, I designed a website. Yes, you read that correctly; I’m middle-aged, amazing with email and Facebook, and that’s it. I set up my website using Weebly, with coaching from Kyle.
I purchased and adapted the lectionary-based curriculum Living the Good News (Multi-Age) and set up the website so that the home page talks about what we’re doing and why. Pages for each week offer the Gospel story, a family discussion topic, and a prayer starter. Then, I added the FISH Blog, where I post a weekly prompt and people share their experiences at home.
Every four to six weeks, we gather after worship for a potluck lunch, some topical teaching, an activity, and a fun time together. We call it “Sunday FISHing,” and the first topic was “About the Bible.” The next session was our Outreach Carnival, where the price of admission was the cost of a school lunch in Haiti for one child for one month. Our third session focused on Advent wreath-making and spiritual practices for the season. Turnout has been great, and this type of event is what we’ve always done really well.
What would you do if you weren’t coordinating a weekly church school? So far, I’m enjoying spending more time planning our weekly family worship, and integrating teaching on the church year and sacramental theology into our worship; investing more time in our outreach and fellowship activities, trying to make them truly multigenerational; supporting other digital communication efforts in the parish, such as the website and Facebook page; helping the adult formation committee imagine programs that will help us all grow into the full stature of Christ; and keeping the FISH site current. This is a prayerful process that I do in direct response to each Sunday’s worship.
It is too soon to say how it’s going. Participating in the CMT Hybrid Faith Formation Network Initiative is very helpful, and I continue to have new ideas from the readings and from the other members. I imagine the program will continue to evolve throughout the program year. After all, we did call it a pilot. But I’m excited to see what the church could look like “post-Sunday school,” how our parents may become more active in the faith formation of their children, and how our congregation can grow in the depth of our discipleship.
Day Smith Pritchartt, a graduate of the VTS Master of Arts in Christian Education program, is Executive Director of the Evangelical Education Society and Minister to Families at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, VA.