422 Brenau Avenue, Gainesville, GA 30501
The School for Christian Practice is an intentional framework that nurtures the community’s mission to seek reconciliation and wholeness with God and one another in Christ. By centering ourselves in our practice of prayer, we can grow in our awareness of our union with God and one another, and we can foster a spirit of transformation in our personal lives and in our community.
We find ourselves in a situation where the institutional Church faces decline in terms of membership and attendance. Why is this the case? What questions do we need to ask, given that we truly believe in the life-giving presence of the Spirit that calls us to this shared ministry of reconciliation as a Christian community?
Recent data lays out a picture that is quite stark. In the past decade, The Episcopal Church has lost twenty percent of its membership. A recent article lays out our own internal numbers that demonstrate the wider reality of our particular Episcopal community.
If this trend continues, with a twenty percent decline each decade, we can see where this leads. Our own particular story of decline in The Episcopal Church takes its place within the wider context of spiritual interest and socio-religious dynamics in our nation and wider world that the Pew Forum and other agencies have been exploring for some time.
A recent in-depth study by the Fetzer Institute is intriguing for what it shows regarding the role or importance of spirituality in American culture today.
It is clear that spirituality plays a very important role in the life of Americans. Indeed, in the Fetzer study, seven in ten participants shared that spirituality plays an important role in their lives; however, they also note that the lived dynamic of spirituality is complex and diverse. What does it mean to “be spiritual?”
As we see the institutional church struggling in terms of both membership and participation, how can we more fully engage these questions of spiritual seeking and practice? With such an interest in spirituality within the wider culture, what may we be missing? What do we need to pay attention to?
Recent studies within The Episcopal Church highlight the importance of cultivating an intentional practice of prayer and spiritual growth that can support the life of the parish community.
To be sure, our goal or hope as a parish is not merely to grow in numbers. What our own story tells us is that we seek to nurture this deeper space of reconciliation and transformation so that we live differently–more compassionately and prayerfully–in the world. A deeper focus on spiritual growth and our core identity will nurture the growth of the community.
We need a structure that can introduce these core elements to the wider parish, so that we can continue to do the deeper transformative work we are called to explore.
What if we actually formed a school at the heart of the parish’s life, an intentional space that could foster this level of engagement and practice within the wider community? What if we intentionally asked ourselves this question, with everything we do and explore: How can this opportunity nurture the transformative reconciliation in Jesus Christ that lies at the heart of our mission? Our core cluster framework can support this level of intentionality through our planning and development with Administration, Compassion, Formation, Participation, and Liturgy & Creative Expression.
There are four key areas for focus that will provide a level of proficiency and practice for the entire community. All of these focus points are grounded in the shared vocation to reconciliation, that is a lived awareness of our union with one another and God in Christ.
At the heart of our practice is our worship of God, so we place this focus first on the list. How can we explore the broader Christian tradition with regards to actual practices of prayer? How can an intentional practice of prayer nurture the transformation we are called to embody? What are different types of prayer, and how do these connect with our lives and nurture spiritual gifts? How do we understand our relationship with God in Christ, through the Spirit?
How can we understand where we are and where we are called to be with regards to our stages in life, etc. To practice Christianity means to grow throughout the stages of our lives. Connections here to psychological development and family systems are key.
How can we learn more about our story and the way that our sacred texts shape the way we see the world? How can we engage our texts more–and see how a deeper reflection on these stories shape our lives? How do we understand the role–and complexity–of language in trying to describe our experiences of God?
How can understanding of how our shared prayer transform the way we live in the world (Eucharistic and Baptismal identity)? How can we explore a more robust reflection on the practice of Christian virtue, etc?
As well, we can continue to explore how “doing” shapes “believing.” One example is around how and why we “give.” What neural pathways are created or strengthened when we give, and how do we manage our giving so that it continues to serve the “greater” good; i.e., outside of ourselves, and not only because it makes us feel good?
This School for Christian Practice can serve as the foundational framework for our ongoing development at Grace, and we should encourage everyone to participate. For those who have been at Grace a long time–or have been active in other Episcopal parishes–it would be helpful to see how the religious environment is developing. The Tradition is very much alive, and we should be thankful for this. How are we being called to listen to the movement of the Spirit?
When folks are “new to Grace” the framework for the School is the primary focus they have. We can fill in the particular facets of the Anglican/Episcopal Tradition, but we must move past a hyper-focus on our tendency to overly focus on an Anglophilic aesthetic and delve more deeply into the heart of an incarnational/sacramental understanding of spiritual and religious life that is the true witness of the Anglican Tradition. We are more than our romanticized English and cathedral-centered customs.
To learn more about the School, and to discover what opportunities are offered, please contact