Deep Faith: Deeper (and broader) than I expected

2016_10_20_amy_eAmy Marie Epp is a pastor and has worked in worship and with children, youth and their families for over 10 years. Amy is married and a parent to a nine and a one-year-old. She loves reading (especially mysteries) and sewing (especially quilts). She is devoted following in Jesus’ wide way of just peace and to bringing others along. This is the third in a series of reflections from participants in Deep Faith: Anabaptist faith formation for all ages, held Oct. 6-8, 2016. For more on Deep Faith, visit mennoniteusa.org/deepfaith.

Because of the subtitle of this conference, “Deep Faith: Faith Formation for All Ages” I went with a pretty narrow expectation. It’s one I was looking forward to, but narrow nonetheless. I hoped to engage the question of how to work at education and formation intergenerationally.

What I came to experience in this conference was not wholly what I expected but was still pretty exciting.

Two workshops in particular had me excited to come home and think about how we might implement elements in DeepFaith_Mark_smallmy context. The first, led by Carrie Martens, was a workshop about marking faith and milestone moments across the life span. Like most congregations we offer some ritual life-marking moments in worship, like infant dedication and baptism. We also offer young adults hand-made comforters when they are ready to move on after high school. But I was challenged to think about the many other ways to mark life-moments as sacred through adulthood and at points throughout childhood: the beginning of school for a child, consecration of singleness for adults who remain unmarried, blessing on retirement when adults complete work marking a ‘fruitful past and fruitful future.’[1] Since there is no beginning or ending to the formation of our identity in Christ, ritual markers along the journey give us a vocabulary to name that identity. Being able to name our identity allows us to further deepen and claim it.

One of the areas we Mennonites have claimed as central to our identity is that of peacemakers. Yet it seems to me that it’s rare for a congregation to actively engage in educating and forming members (young and old) in practices of engaging conflict in healthy and transformative ways. I have certainly heard many stories of unhealthy and passive aggressive ways that churches have dealt (or not) with conflict.

That’s why Rachel Miller Jacobs’ concept of ‘Ordinary Time Forgiveness’ seems both so simple and so radical.

Rachel introduced the participants in her workshop to some tools for non-violent communication and in particular we had fun with her deck of ‘Feelings and Needs’ cards.[2]  Each of these cards, as the name suggests, names either a feeling or a need. When I am experiencing a conflict with another, I might use these cards as a tool to aid communication and bring clarity. After hearing another’s experience, as the listener I have an opportunity to exercise empathy by choosing feelings cards to which the other might relate. They can either agree and move on to identifying needs, or offer their own suggestions. In the needs round, we do something similar with the underlying needs. Each person can play the role of teller and listener in turn. Or, when I can’t or am not ready to engage with the other, I could do this individually, what Rachel calls ‘Feelings and Needs Solitaire’ to sort through my own understandings of my feelings about and role in a conflict. In either case, this tool helps move through conflict with clear communication, toward reconciliation.

It’s more complex than that, of course. And conflicts, like people, may be multi-layered. But because this is about the everyday, “ordinary time” conflict, it is important that each of us be formed with the useful tools of engagement so that we can confront the really fraught and complicated stuff. It makes so much sense to begin engaging the notion of conflict as normal and forgiveness as central in childhood. Then to continue to deepen our understanding of self and other as we mature, growing in faith and experience. I am looking forward to trying these and many of the ideas I encountered at Deep Faith, a conference that truly was dedicated to faith formation both intergenerationally and at all stages of life. I’m very grateful to have been able to participate.

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[1] Carrie Martens, “Faith Markers at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church (in worship),” table.

[2] Rachel received her cards from Malinda Berry, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. They were developed based on the Non-Violent Communication practices and principles of Marshall Rosenberg and much more can be found at Malinda’s website here.