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I’m thrilled to say that I received a direct message on my Twitter account (@psdlund) the other day from Frederic Brussat regarding these small group ministry session I’ve been putting together using material from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s website spiritualityandpractice.com. He said he was “thrilled & honored by your small group ministry sessions organized around our…practices. They are helpful, accessible & elegant!” As I said, I’m the one who’s thrilled by this. And I’m honored to say Frederic has given me permission to go ahead and create more of these sessions based on their Spiritual Rx practices they’ve developed. My goal is to add a new one each Sunday. So, without further ado, here’s the first: Attention (because they’re, you know, in alphabetical order).

Discovering the World Anew

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Permit me to say without reservation that if all people were attentive, if they would undertake to be attentive every moment of their lives, they would discover the world anew. They would suddenly see that the world is entirely different from what they had believed it to be. — Jacques Lusseyran in Against the Pollution of the I

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

A Teaching Story from Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation by Henri J. M. Nouwen

In this volume of his lectures, Henri J. M. Nouwen shares his reflections on four clown-like elements in the spiritual life. In this passage the author exhorts us to pay close attention to the natural world.
“Our difficult and very urgent task is to accept the truth that nature is not primarily a property to be possessed, but a gift to be received with admiration and gratitude. Only when we make a deep bow to the rivers, oceans, hills, and mountains that offer us a home, only then can they become transparent and reveal to us their real meaning.

“A friend once gave me a beautiful photograph of a water lily. I asked him how he had been able to take such a splendid picture. With a smile he said, ‘Well, I had to be very patient and very attentive. It was only after a few hours of compliments that the lily was willing to let me take her picture.'”

Questions: Share a story about a time when paying attention enriched your understanding of a relationship, an event, or the natural world.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Just remember that those things that get attention flourish. — Victoria Moran in Shelter for the Spirit

To Practice This Thought: Take time to really see what is right in front of you.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Attention from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Attention.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

The technology people at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio are doing something right. Not only was their website (http://ginghamsburg.org/) one of the eight examples of “full-featured” church websites by the Faith Formation 2020 folks, their “Church CyberGuy,” Mark Stephenson (a.k.a. Ginghamsburg’s Director of CyberMinistry and Technology) has just come out with a new book called Web-Empowered Ministry: Connecting With People through Websites, Social Media, and More, which may just turn out to be the book on how to build an internet ministry (at least for the next few month’s or so). According to Stephenson, who started the Ginghamsburg CyberMinistry in 1996, “the website has thousands of pages and over 50 GB of streaming video,” and receives “over 50,000 user visits per month.” Clearly, they’re doing something right.

Ginghamsburg Church Website

Obviously there’s a lot going on here. Since this site has thousands of pages, I’d like to lift up just one example of how Ginghamsburg is using the internet to connect people physically and virtually. This is from the fourth section of Faith Formation 2020: Designing the Future of Faith Formation, “Bringing Faith Formation 2020 Scenarios to Life”:

One example of this integrated approach to adult faith formation is “Bible with Brian” from Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio. Brian Brown, the teaching pastor at Ginghamsburg, teaches through the entire Bible in a year, including practical application on how to live out God’s truths everyday. Every Tuesday and Wednesday nights, “Bible with Brian” follows the book of the Bible featured in the daily Transformation Journal produced by the church. The journal is centered around a weekly topic and provides Bible verses about that topic, wisdom about the day’s study from authors, and questions to help people apply the reading to their daily life. The Bible study begins with a meal from 5:30-6:30 p.m. and then the program from 6:30-8 p.m. or 7-8:30 p.m. Children’s care and activities for birth through grade 5 are available. In addition to the gathered program, the program is available as an MP3 audio file so people can listen to it online or download it to their computer or mp3 player. Adults can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and listen to current and past episodes. Adults can download the “Bible with Brian” handout and use it to follow along with the audio broadcast of the program. People can also subscribe to the “Bible with Brian Spiritual Vitamins” newsletter—a daily take on the Transformation Journal from Brian Brown. (For more information go to http://ginghamsburg. org/biblewithbrian.)

This is a perfect example of augmenting face-to-face experiences in the church with online/digital media (podcasts, downloadable study guide, etc.), and vice versa. People who’ve never set foot on one of Ginghamsburg campuses can participate online with the same material. Note as well that these weekly events are 100% family friendly, with meals and childcare available for busy families.

So what’s the take away here? More and more congregations are already recording their sermons and making them available as podcasts. And many congregations are also doing some classes like Bible with Brian (on an admittedly smaller scale). What’s keeping us from recording those classes and making them available as podcasts, along with a downloadable handout of notes for the class and a bibliography? These are fairly simple things to do nowadays. And they may must be the sort of things we need to start doing in order to ensure that liberal religion survives (and maybe even thrives) in the coming decades.

Last week I posted a list of ways congregations can use digital media and web technologies to enhance their faith formation offerings. I believe there were roughly eleventy-twelve items on the list, which makes it a bit unwieldy. Fortunately, those fine folks at Faith Formation 2020 have come up with a handy-dandy visualization to help us wrap our heads around the relationship between physical places and virtual spaces when it comes to faith formation.

They say there are two ways to envision the relationship between  face-to-face and virtual faith formation, between the physical and virtual:

  • The first approach begins with people’s participation in face-to-face learning activities (small group, large group, whole church, community/world) and then uses virtual online spaces with learning activities, print/audio/video resources, and social networking to extend, deepen, and support the learning that began in the physical program.
  • The second approach begins with people’s involvement in online/digital learning activities and leads them to participate in face-to-face learning activities.

From what I understand of online learning, this strategy of face-to-face supplemented with online/digital activities and online/digital activities leading to face-to-face encounters is a real winner. And when you break those online/digital resources into the seven areas listed in the chart above (audio/video podcast, print resources, user-generated content, online courses, website links for further reading, online community, and topic-specific blog), a seemingly daunting task becomes somewhat easier.

The goal is to use the church’s website as a online spiritual development/faith formation center with a variety of existing resources. One example: the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) has been offering a monthly “Global Chalice Lighting” on their website since September of 2003. I could imagine a spiritual practice page on a congregation’s website offering a place for visitors to light a virtual chalice and reflect on that month’s chalice lighting words. (You can experience just how thoughtful an online spiritual experience like this can be at www.gratefulness.org.) Other online resources include the Tapestry of Faith curricula series, the complete texts of all the current UUA pamphlets, and the Worship Web.

The point is that any congregation can have a fairly robust online faith formation presence using existing resource. And with a little effort, those resources can be turbo-charged with contributions from the congregation’s leadership, as well as user-generated content from the its online community. To demonstrate just how easy it is, here’s are some closing words I just grabbed from the Worship Web:

May the quality of our lives be our benediction, and a blessing to all whom we touch.

—Philip Randall Giles

In last Friday’s post on rockin’ church websites, I mentioned that the fine folks at Faith Formation 2020 had something in particular in mind when they used the modifier “full-featured” in reference to said websites. Specifically, they were looking at churches that had an online presence which contributed to providing “comprehensive faith formation for everyone, anytime, anywhere, 24x7x365.” These websites are an integral part of a

Lifelong Faith Formation Network of programs, activities, and resources that incorporate a variety of ways to learn in a blended approach to faith formation integrating physical face-to-face settings and virtual online settings and utilizing a wide variety of faith formation resources and programs, people and communities.

In addition to the essential things church websites should do (give information on Sunday services, have a visitors’ page, offer some explanation of the congregation’s faith tradition, provide directions and contact information), these websites have been designed to give everyone—current members as well as visitors—the opportunity to engage in some serious faith formation activities.

The power of this “24x7x365” presence should be obvious. People are searching the internet at all hours of the day, looking for everything from President’s Day sales to the latest word on Justin Bieber, and some of those people might just be in your community, “trying to find the answers to life’s persistent questions.” And that’s where an online entree to a congregation’s Lifelong Faith Formation Network comes in.

As I mentioned last Friday, I’ll be taking a look at some of those “full-featured church websites” in the coming weeks. I’ll also be exploring these key features of a Lifelong Faith Formation Network:

  • A Lifelong Faith Formation Network addresses the diverse life tasks and situations, spiritual and religious needs, and interests of all ages and generations in the four scenarios by offering a variety of content, programs, activities, and resources.
  • A Lifelong Faith Formation Network guides individuals and families in discerning their spiritual and religious needs and creating personal learning pathways—a seasonal or annual plan for faith growth and learning.
  • A Lifelong Faith Formation Network incorporates informal learning as well as formal learning in faith formation.
  • A Lifelong Faith Formation Network utilizes a variety of faith formation models to address the diverse life tasks and situations, spiritual and religious needs, and interests of people: learning on your own, in small groups, in large groups, in the congregation, and the community and world.
  • A Lifelong Faith Formation Network blends face-to-face, interactive faith formation programs and activities with virtual, online faith formation programs, activities, and resources.
  • A Lifelong Faith Formation Network incorporates communities of practice to connect individuals and groups throughout the congregation.

So, how’s your congregation’s Lifelong Faith Development Network coming along?

Here’s the last of the five small group ministry sessions I designed to counteract the deleterious effects of consumerism. The first four were Hope, Hospitality, Forgiveness, and Gratitude. This week’s session is on Compassion.

Awakening the Heart of Compassion

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Twenty years ago I met a man from Montana who watched the news on television and read the newspapers because he said that doing so awakened his heart of compassion. Although not particularly interested in the news itself, he found these two forms of media rich sources for cultivating his growing sense of care for and connection to people, animals, landmasses, oceans, forests, and countries all over the planet. He went on to say that he would sit down in his living room, watch or read about some atrocity occurring in some part of the world, and feel his pain, his impulse to turn away, and, in turn, his sense of connection with all of these beings.

— Saki Santorelli in Heal Thy Self

Check-in/Sharing

Topic:

Lama Surya Das interprets ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings for American culture. Here’s a story about the spiritual firepower of empathy:

It is said that a long time ago, a Mahayana Buddhist master was teaching about Bodhicitta in ancient India, when his words were interrupted by the barking of a dog. The loud insistent barking so annoyed one man in the crowd that he threw a rock at the dog, striking him on the left side. At that instant, the master fell to the ground and cried out in pain. Later, when his worried disciples asked what had happened, they saw that on the teacher’s left side there was a large bruise. The dog’s pain had so touched this teacher’s noble and tender heart that it became his pain. He took it on himself.

Questions: Tell a story about a moral mentor you have known—someone who inspired you with his or her compassionate activity.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

If you see on the evening news a person who moves you by his distress, just breathe it in and breathe out to him love and strength.

— Andrew Harvey in The Direct Path

To Practice This Thought: Send love to a stranger you notice is in need.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Compassion from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Compassion.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

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