Mary E. Klassen
AMBS is launching the Center for Faith Formation and Culture to help congregations, families and individuals not only nurture faith but also become aware of how their contexts shape their faith.
“This Center will keep our focus right where it belongs—on how we form communities of faith where life abundant can flourish from the early years on through the final years of life,” Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, said.
The work of the Center will include offering resources and conducting research to help congregations read their cultural contexts and foster faith-building practices. It also will foster connections among others working at faith formation in Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.
Andy Brubacher Kaethler, assistant professor of faith formation and culture at AMBS, will direct the work of the Center. Since 2004, Brubacher Kaethler has directed !Explore: A Theological Program for High School Youth, in which youth in grades 11 and 12 ask theological questions, test gifts for leadership and explore ministry. Now his attention will expand to three categories: children and families, youth and young adults, and adults and seniors. However, Brubacher Kaethler emphasizes, “We really want this to be intergenerational. Faith formation doesn’t happen in isolation at these life stages.”
Each year the Center will focus on one of the three life stages. Initially the offerings will be workshops linked to courses in the seminary’s curriculum that deal with faith development at different times of life.
For 2014-15 the emphasis will be children and families. Rachel Miller Jacobs, AMBS assistant professor of congregational formation, will teach a semester course on faith formation in families, and Brubacher Kaethler is planning a workshop that will explore reading the Bible with children. The workshop, while being part of the course, is intended for broader participation, including church leaders and families. He hopes to involve people working with Christian education curriculum and resources in children’s literature at nearby Goshen College.
For the focus on youth and young adults, Brubacher Kaethler is aware of several ways in which the Center may be a resource to the church. In the ministry of catechesis and preparation for baptism, Brubacher Kaethler wonders, “Is it time to consider something more robust like mentorship or apprenticeship?” He also is looking at the experiences of youth and families who are new to North American cultures, along with the challenges their congregations face in fostering faith development.
For the year in which the focus is on adults and seniors, Brubacher Kaethler imagines some events or sessions being held at Greencroft, a retirement community in Goshen. He has occasionally been asked if AMBS will offer a program like !Explore for seniors. So as he anticipates concentrating on later stages of life, he will use that model to look for ways of encouraging and supporting people who have either long-standing or new questions about their faith.
As the Center becomes more established, it may host pastors in residence for several weeks. They will have opportunities to research related topics, share in AMBS classes and contribute to developing resources. Broader sharing in print and digital formats will be done as the work of the Center gains momentum.
“Events will be open to people from all across North America,” Brubacher Kaethler said. “We hope they will be for families and children, as well as church leaders.”
AMBS is well positioned to launch this Center, Wenger Shenk pointed out, because of AMBS’s long legacy of spiritual formation. Through teaching and practice over many years, AMBS has a history of providing spiritually mature pastors for congregations, workshops and seminars on spiritual formation, and print resources such as the Anabaptist prayer book. In addition, Wenger Shenk pointed out that with !Explore, “we are practiced in what the Center is about—faith formation and cultural discernment among youth. We can adapt that for people at other stages of life as well.”
The breadth and depth of the faculty and the leadership of Brubacher Kaethler also position the seminary well for the challenge of this work on behalf of the church. “Our faculty has long taught in ways that equip people to be theologically articulate and culturally astute, combining biblical study and spiritual practices to foster authentic faith development.”
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