June 1, 2015
Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,
In the latter half of the 1700’s John Wesley preached in the fields of England. As a result, many uneducated industrial workers embraced Christianity. A question arose among the leaders: “The people have embraced the faith. Now what do we do?” The Church of England’s parishes couldn’t contain their numbers. The Methodists, or Wesleyans as they were called in England, started Sunday Schools. The schools helped the people read, write, and understand arithmetic. In America, public education met this need. In response the Methodist Church’s Sunday Schools morphed into Christian Education as we know it. Around 1810 the Methodists and later most Christian denominations found a way to offer socialization and relaxation from the isolation and hard work of the farm. Morning worship, Christian education, and evening worship became the norm of parish life. Lutherans and Episcopalians must have asked where Confirmation instruction fit into this model. The answer came easily. Confirmation instruction would not be eliminated but become a second, more intense period of Christian formation.
For over 200 years the Sunday Worship/Sunday School model has been our pattern of Christian expression. Around 100 years ago the car emerged to shorten the travel time from farm to town. By the 1920’s sports, movies, radio, and other entertainment caused many congregations to end Sunday evening worship. What about now in 2015? Is the current parish model meeting the needs of our people? Should what we have be modified, or has the time come when we must look to something new?
There is no clear answer to this question, but the pattern of transition used by the 18th century Methodists is helpful. As Episcopalians we need to look to young people (primarily those in their 20’s) for guidance and leadership. They know the needs of their generation. The story of Jesus and his teachings are as relevant today as in years past, but how can the message connect in the midst of so much else? I wouldn’t be surprised if our younger leaders bring forth ideas that may at first make no sense. Our response might be like an old Methodist in England asking, “What do reading, writing, and arithmetic have to do with Christianity?” What today doesn’t make sense could morph tomorrow into God’s new model of understanding the faith. Let’s encourage our youth. As God works with them important and good changes may occur. With my love and best wishes, I am,
Your brother in Christ,