Loneliness, existential questioning, inadequate budget – this is what many of us experienced in our diocese during Covid-19. Basic questions about life, faith, purpose, and God stirred our hearts and minds. I am convinced that Christian formation helps us live our everyday lives, especially in times of crisis, and is even a gift to the world, so this time presented a rich challenge. Over the last couple of years, my work as Missioner for Christian Formation responded to these challenges along three main lines.
When the possibilities of Zoom emerged, I thought we could respond to critical questions together, which is one of the things churches do at our best: learn and grow in community. We also heard from clergy the need for accessible introductions to faith and Anglican identity. Upon researching curricula that could offer a starting point for deeper conversations, I asked The Episcopal Church publisher, Forward Movement, for permission to freely adapt Transforming Questions for Zoom and to our Canadian context. I reconceived the course for “crowd-sourced” leadership and gathered a team of clergy and lay contributors. We ran the 11-week course twice during the pandemic. Over 70 people registered. A third of them went on to be baptised, confirmed, received, or reaffirmed in their baptismal faith. Last year, with a dedicated, local, and lay-led crew we edited, filmed, and launched a new iteration of Transforming Questions. The course is now available on the diocesan website as a plug-and-play series of 15-20 minute videos with small group questions and guides for leaders and participants.
This initiative is now being wrapped into another one for the diocese. “The Learning Centre for Mission and Formation” will be a clear, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use online ‘centre’ with training, events, and learning opportunities for Anglicans in this diocese to grow and practice the life of mission and discipleship in homes, parishes and communities. It will include a ‘one-stop shop’ for all current diocesan training programs such as those for Safe Church and Dismantling Racism as well as for parish development and spiritual formation.
This project extends the possibilities of online learning and relationship building that we acquired over the pandemic while renewing a focus on real life formation and training for mission. A partnership with VST’s Congregational Vitality Initiative, and working with John Roberto and a cohort of parishes to develop lifelong formation plans for their particular contexts, is only one example of the offerings the Centre for Mission and Formation is developing.
Finally, my third response as a leader in this time has been to gather energy and focus to reinvest in children, youth, and families ministry. This reinvestment strategy meets gaps in training – including funding for students in VST’s Certificate in Children, Youth, and Families (CYF) Ministry– builds a stream from junior youth to young adult engagement, strengthens Anglican identity, promotes CYF ministry positions as valid and paid vocations, and provides generous bursaries for youth retreats to ease the financial strain experienced by many families.
Transforming Questions Course
Jessica Schaap is an alumna of VST (MDiv) and was ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada in 2008. Most recently she served as Rector at St. Paul’s in Vancouver’s West End and previously as assistant priest at St. James in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She is a keen supporter and student of congregational development and of how to foster and cultivate the imagination for religious leadership.