Publisher’s Page: A Season of Shaping
Welcome to the March/April issue of Interpreter, which is arriving as we are in the midst of observing Lent. During the 40 days of Lent, we are invited to intentionally focus on our own spiritual growth and our relationship with God. The journey may involve periods of penitence, fasting, meditation or prayer. As we move toward Easter, the hope is that our spiritual lives will become enriched by these acts – our own spiritual formation.
The process of spiritual formation implies a journey of deep transformation, one in which we, as Christians, embody the character of Christ, both inwardly and outwardly.
This issue of Interpreter, in its cover articles, focuses on being "Shaped by the Spirit." At every step of life's journey, The United Methodist Church provides opportunities for spiritual development.
In the church, faith formation begins with the youngest congregants.
For example, at First United Methodist Church of Holland, Michigan, leaders have created the Grace Space to model worship and fellowship to its young children. The kid-friendly area in the sanctuary features child-sized chairs and soft toys where youngsters can sit and play during the worship service. Holland First Church has created a "prayground," a space specifically for young children to be in the midst of worship. Other churches provide age-appropriate services and activities, such as children's church, that may be concurrent to worship services.
As many children become youth, the teen years are a crucial time for discovering their own relationship with God. Through confirmation and other activities, youth and young adult ministry leaders creatively engage members.
At La Plaza United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, leaders teach youth that one person's graffiti is another person's spiritual expression. Through a program called "God in the Graffiti," young people engage in conversations about poverty, race, gender equality, urban youth, gangs and diverse ethnic minorities in the area, all with a goal of discerning how to respond through the work of the church.
As adults, we may desire to mature continually in our spiritual walk.
For more than 30 years, United Methodists, as well as members of other denominations, have sought deeper faith journeys by participating in Disciple Bible study. Originally a 36-week intensive exploration of the Bible, it has morphed into variations that incorporate all ages, shortened studies and an online version. It is available in numerous languages, including English, Korean, French, Spanish, German, two dialects of Chinese and several Southeast Asia languages. To-date, Disciple has graduated approximately 3 million students in 10,000 congregations.
"Disciple is transformational rather than informational," said Lisa Buffum, director of online education for the Institute of Discipleship, where Disciple and other courses are managed. "The scriptures are living and breathing and change with you, which is why Disciple has had such longevity in the church. You're learning, but that's not the focus. The focus is on how this is going to change your life. The Bible meets you where you are and tells you where to go."
Within our communities of faith, some members are called to leadership, resulting in a different, yet sometimes challenging, spiritual journey.
Amanda Kidd of Wallburg, North Carolina, was confident of her call when she headed to the Divinity School at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, this past August. She was less sure, however, how to juggle the course load and requirements with her desire to become stronger in her faith. Early in the semester, Kidd was placed in a spiritual formation small group, a new program at the divinity school designed to give students a place to deepen their own spiritual disciplines and prayer life with their peers and the guidance of a faculty member.
"We've been forced to stop and assess ourselves and our growth and where we are headed," Kidd says. "When you meet with the group, it's a time to set everything down and just be. We're a pep club for each other."
In addition to the articles on spiritual formation in this issue, you will find ideas for marking Holy Week and Easter at home and information about the new Rethink Church emphasis, UMCOR Sunday and Native American Ministries Sunday.
As we experience this holy time in our church, I pray blessings upon you for a meaningful Lenten season and Happy Easter.
Dan Krause is general secretary of United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and publisher of Interpreter.