In March I had the pleasure of participating in the Board of Cooperative Ministries’ virtual Leadership Focus conference. One of the sessions I attended was “Collaboratively Creating Virtual Faith Formation,” which shared how a group of Christian Education leaders worked together to create virtual Vacation Bible School and Sunday School content during the pandemic (and showed others how to do the same).
Even though it wasn’t about stewardship, per se, I was blown away by how this group was using their time and talent to both work together and utilize the abundance of gifts available despite the pandemic. Rather than going into scarcity mode and worrying about having enough to pull it off, they teamed up and created something remarkable.
I asked the leaders if they would be willing to tell me more about their collaboration so it could be shared as a stewardship story, and I’m happy to share that story as this month’s Spotlight on Stewardship. The following are responses from Jami Vandock (Certified Christian Educator, Raleigh Moravian), Margaret Norris (Certified Christian Educator, Home Moravian), and Beth Hayes (Certified Christian Educator, Board of Cooperative Ministries).
How did this group get started and how did you become involved?
Jami: This group started out of a healthy portion of necessity and a dash of panic. When the pandemic made our traditional summer VBS and family programming an impossibility, we reached out to one another in the hopes of creating something initially intended as a patch: something to just get us through until. To our surprise, the virtual hub we created for VBS 2020 was better attended than some of our past in-person programs! Realizing that “until” was going to be much further out than just our summer plans, Margaret Norris (Home Moravian) and I began widening the circle to see if other churches might want to join us in co-creating a virtual hub for the long game. Curating digital content involves a lot of time but sharing in this endeavor has lightened all our loads and included churches who may have otherwise not been able to offer children and family programming. We were thrilled to have Kernersville, Unity, and Estamos Unidos join us for fall 2020, and we have sustained in this partnership throughout the year.
How has the shared Sunday School impacted the children and parents in your church? How has it impacted you?
Margaret: It has helped to create groups between churches that, together, give us robust attendance and rich interaction for the different age groups. Also, parents tend to be present just offscreen (sometimes they are onscreen); that parent/child presence provides opportunities for continuing faith formation together.
Beth: I see this model as the way of the future for faith formation with other collaboration groups forming. It is a great stewardship of the various gifts of the educators and a way to share this wealth with others.
Jami: The children at Raleigh have seldom been able to participate in Provincial events given the geography of our church spread. This virtual collaboration has allowed my children and families to participate in a much wider Moravian family.
Many of the activities found in our Google Classroom (which we call “lesson extensions”) have, intentionally and unintentionally, engaged the entire family. For example, we love seeing pictures and videos of parents and children doing Story and Stretch body prayers together, or entire families gathered on the couch listening to the Godly Play story during our live Zoom. These moments bring a beautiful clarity to the impact of faith formation becoming a home routine rather than just an isolated Sunday morning experience relegated to little ones. In other words, “intergenerational” isn’t just a buzzword, it is the way forward!
What excites you about this ministry going forward?
Beth: It is exciting to me because faith formation needs to happen not only at church but in the home. By doing this and equipping parents with ideas, this can happen and it is exciting to see what has taken place. New relationships have been formed. The delivery of supply bags every month is a highlight of my work as I am sometimes greeted at the door by the kids who are excited to see what is in store for the month. During Lent, we did a continuous project of steps to grow paperwhites from bulbs to flowers and each kid shared their creation when it started to bloom with me via email.
Margaret: Children are getting to know other Moravian children from the province and leaders bring unique gifts in panning that the larger community can benefit from.
Jami: The ability to reach families where they are is the most exciting piece of this collaboration. Families who have moved away, are traveling for vacation, experience schedule conflicts, or face chronic medical issues are now able to access faith formation when and where life allows. We are also free from the struggle of relying on a single metric of measuring our impact or “success” by how many seats fill our physical classrooms. We can also count faces in Zooms, numbers of clicks on videos, comment threads on lessons, and uploaded pictures of engaged families.
Pastors and church educators have often spoken about the abundant and expansive nature of God’s table: where all are welcome and there is always room for another chair. Now, we get to live it by figuring out how to keep pulling up additional screens (rather than chairs) to the virtual table. I am excited by the commitment of these church educators and pastors to continue to invite more churches into the fold. Small churches or remote fellowships who are unable to offer programming due to low numbers, small volunteer pools, lack of staffing, or dwindling budgets might find a place at this new table. Find a friend, pull up a screen, and join one of these collaborative projects! We are excited to help you get started.
News of this collaboration was heard by some friends in the Northern Province and, through the blessing of technology, we have been able to help them begin a similar cohort.
What do parents have to say about their experience with virtual faith formation?
“We enjoyed the family activity ideas, like cooking and nature walks. We like the flexibility of being able to access items when we are able to and still having materials available to do them. We also like the collaboration between churches, even though we have not been participating synchronously. I feel like all of the virtual offerings and activities provided by our church allowed them to see God, Jesus and church outside of the building. We don’t have to go to church and be at church for it to be valid. Church activities were present even over the summer when virtual school stopped.” – member from Unity Moravian Church
As a … member of HMC, I cannot speak highly enough about the Sunday school program at HMC. We pick up the SS bags every few months and in each bag are the materials for all the activities for the next several weeks. This past week the kids made treasure boxes just like the wise men carried. The bags had all the materials needed: wood, nails, paint brush to paint it, suggested safety materials (goggles, etc.) that we needed to make the boxes at home in our kitchen. After a brief Zoom lesson about the wise men the kids loved hammering and painting their own treasure boxes. We’ve done cooking activities and coloring. Sign language and singing. My kids come in their PJs and often are eating breakfast – so there is no pressure for kids to be still! Though it is available every Sunday at 9:30 am, you can just join when it works for your schedule. – Margaret Turner, Home Moravian Church
Honestly, I was nervous it was going to happen with Sunday school once everything locked down with Covid. My boys were already doing so much Zoom, but I wasn’t really interested in adding one more thing to their plate. But the best surprise awaited me! I was so excited to have a joint Sunday school with the other churches. A large part of being a Moravian for me has been identifying so closely with people even if they did not live directly next-door. I think part of the bond of our small community is that we just know all the Moravians. It has been so fun to see other people’s kids. People that I grew up with, but moved away from when I went to college. It has been really fun to reconnect and have a larger body of Sunday school contributors. I especially have loved, as a Spanish teacher, hearing the prayers done in 2 languages and exposing my boys to their culture as well. – Suzanne Donders, Raleigh Moravian