What’s In a Name?

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.Isaiah 64:8

This spring, along with the changes made to our staffing structure, I received a new title: Associate Pastor for Christian Formation. The use of “formation” rather than “education” was intentional—the first step in a move to broaden vocabulary beyond education, better aligning it with our mission of shaping the faith lives of all who seek to follow Christ at Westminster.

While most of us are accustomed to hearing “Christian Education” or “Sunday School,” the language of “formation” is newer to many. Here is one way to understand the differences between the terms:

Christian Education is understood and perceived as having to do with traditional classroom models of teaching and learning for the purpose of gaining ‘head’ knowledge.

Spiritual Formation is understood and perceived as having to do with practices of devotion and a focus on the inner work of the soul for the purpose of attaining ‘heart’ wisdom.

Faith Formation is understood and perceived as an engaged process of learning and practice integrated throughout all aspects of congregational and daily life. This definition allows for the combining of ‘head’ and ‘heart’ knowledge into a more holistic understanding and embodiment, rather than creating a dichotomy between these two areas.

(Excerpted from Foundations, Findings, and Futures: Christian Faith Formation and Education in the United Church of Christ (2012))

“Formation” gives a sense of the molding of the whole self—not just through classes which impart knowledge about God, but through experiences which invite us into deeper knowledge of God and relationship with God and our community. “Formation” calls to mind the prophet Isaiah’s imagery of God as the potter, who shapes us throughout our lives. “Formation” reminds us that we are a people always seeking to be re-formed by God.

We do not strive to fundamentally change the strong programming we currently offer, which in many ways is already aimed at formation, but to continue to expand and enrich it to include an even more balanced set of classes and experiences aimed at furthering the growth of our faith lives.

What a blessing it is to be formed alongside all of you. I look forward with gratitude to what lies ahead.

Grace and peace,