Photo by Kathy Bozzuti-Jones
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been hearing the same question everywhere I turn: “Will this year ever be over?” So it’s my pleasure to begin this newsletter with a hearty, “Happy New Year!” While 2020 wends its way through December, the church year begins anew with the first Sunday of Advent (November 29 this year). One of my privileges in this role is to facilitate Bible studies where I always learn more than I teach. The other day, a group I meet with regularly online held up a vision of Advent as a time of starting over. They meant not simply a “yes, let’s do it again,” but rather an opportunity to move from the ground up more fully toward God’s kingdom of compassion, human dignity, and joy.
In that spirit, may I take this opportunity to share some personal news? After three decades of ministry at Trinity (a figure I still can’t believe), I am retiring at the end of 2020. I’m excited on two fronts: for myself, the opportunity to pursue personal interests in research and writing; for Trinity, the fact that Summerlee Staten will step into the role of Executive Director of Faith Formation & Education starting January 1. Many of you know her and recall that she joined Trinity through FF&E. Then she served at the right hand of the Priest-in-charge, so she knows Trinity inside and out. Now she returns to lead the fantastic FF&E team (all of whom will continue) into the future — good news indeed.
We generally use these monthly newsletters to share a bit of theological reflection, and it occurs to me in an Advent time of renewal, taking a moment to remind ourselves what we’re doing here would be valuable. Summerlee shared a perspective with me recently, one I heartily agree with: “Formation” is not simply a fancier synonym for “Education.” Knowledge is a good thing, and biblical literacy, awareness of Christian tradition, and informed perspectives on social justice will continue to be emphasized.
The heart of faith formation is paying attention to the things that shape us as human beings. The late Margaret Guenther, former head of the Center for Spirituality at General Seminary, related it to what Augustine of Hippo called the ordo amoris, the “ordering of our loves.” Modern psychology echoes what spiritual directors have long taught: we create our reality by what we choose of focus on.
Guenther wisely observed that there are many spiritualities competing for our attention: consumerism, pursuit of self-interest, and even violence, emotional and physical, are examples of what she called competing spiritualities. Do we direct our attention toward things that will reinforce those cultural imperatives, or do we choose to focus elsewhere? To say that we are being formed as Christians is to commit to a spirituality centered love of God and love of neighbor. That’s the deeper reason we engage in worship, scripture study, service, contemplation, and fellowship.
As I reflect on the past thirty years, I am grateful for the ways that the Trinity community — parishioners, clergy, and staff — have formed me. It’s a gift I will carry forward.
Director, Faith Formation & Education