This page details my current vision for educational leadership in communities of faith. This page also includes original content that I have created.
My Vision for Education
My faith journey and experience of religious education have proceeded through a series of stages that resemble the four scenarios (quadrants) of faith identity proposed by John Roberto. Each quadrant describes the experience and identity of a certain population, with respect to the presence or absence of a spiritual hunger and/or relationship to a faith community. I can see parts of my life history within each quadrant. In turn, these experiences together seem to bear upon my self-understanding as religious educator.
I think of my early childhood and adolescence as “unaffiliated and uninterested.” My family of origin rarely went to church, and I do not recall any faith formation happening in our home. Though my mother did arrange for two years of catechism, I barely remember the experience. I suspect the avoidance of faith identity in our home might have overshadowed my catechism experience. I think this gives me a consuming interest in the “why” of faith and belief. Why have faith at all? Why be connected to a faith community? How can I engage someone in conversation about faith if they do not find it to have inherent value, or have never had any conscious experience of it? I can relate to such outsiders as these assumptions were not inculcated in my childhood.
I think of my teenage and undergraduate years as “spiritual but not religious.” My initial defining experience was accepting an invitation from a high school classmate to go to her church’s youth group. In compensation for my own family’s minimization of faith, I found myself among peers with well-defined faith identities. Their passionate faith expressions began to awaken my own spiritual hunger. Oddly, I do not recall the youth group encouraging anyone to attend their church, though I did choose to worship there occasionally. Later, I chose a church-affiliated university (Valparaiso University), where my faith continued to grow primarily through relationships, rather than connection to a specific congregation. Because my initial faith formation occurred outside of an institutional context, I have an interest in issues of universality and particularity in religious education. While I ascribe importance to connection with a primary faith community, I know from experience that faith formation can happen outside of that context. Also, I currently have opportunities to engage people who either do not desire membership in the Lutheran church, or who primarily relate to churches with doctrine that conflicts with Lutheran understandings. In such times, a particularly Lutheran understanding of faith can be less useful or effective than a more universal or common understanding.
As an adult, I became “unaffiliated and uninterested” as I experienced some alienation from the church, as well as adversarial relationships with some Christians. This made me suspicious of Christianity, and led me to a time of atheism. But through changing relationships, I found myself drawn back to the church, specifically to an ELCA congregation. Initially, my rediscovery of the church had a character of “participating but uncommitted.” As I began serving through worship and music, I do not recall anyone engaging me in deeper faith formation, perhaps because my service was considered to be “enough.” But then, on transferring membership to my current ELCA congregation, I began to experience “vibrant faith and active engagement.” From the start, my pastor sought to establish a personal relationship, and engaged me with reading and faith conversations. I think his effectiveness lay in not seeking to instruct me, but rather in engaging my curiosity and interest, and seeming to prioritize our dialogue above other avenues of participation in the congregation. From these experiences, I have seen the importance of non-judgmental personal engagement, and a need to center focus more upon personal faith formation than institutional needs.
In these reflections on some phases of my life, I have identified learnings that look toward the attitude and skill competencies for educational leadership. I believe my experiences have instilled deep empathy and cultural awareness that prepare me to serve within diverse populations. Also, my reflective and self-critical nature opens me to questions and ambiguity, by which I can engage others without feeling threatened. Conversely, the knowledge competencies seem new and challenging to me. Due to my limited faith formation experience, I have much to learn about learning itself, particularly with respect to other age groups. I continue to become conscious of my own embedded assumptions and privilege, and these can pose difficulties in relating with people of other ages, races, and life experiences. Hence, I think my greatest challenges lie with learning how to provide educational leadership across the lifespan, as well as across class distinctions. Within my limited experience, I do not yet have a clear sense of my effectiveness as a leader, but I am hopeful for my formation as an effective leader through the courses I will be taking through the seminary.
Thus, my initial vision of educational leadership for faith centers itself in narrative and mutual relationship. Parker Palmer speaks of the communal nature of truth, of reality discovered and framed through mutual relationships, grounded in a shared commitment to that truth. Palmer also emphasizes the importance of cooperation and collaboration versus competition, and his communal focus seeks to turn knowledge outward, to become less personal or divisive. Likewise, Norma Cook Everist speaks of a ministry of “re-membering”, whereby we reconnect diverse individuals into a network of relationships in which we simultaneously acknowledge both our uniqueness and inter-dependence. Everist also speaks of the curriculum of religious education as God in Christ incarnate within the community, and the classroom existing primarily to facilitate encounter with the living God. These ideas reinforce my sense of my own faith formation as having occurred primarily through personal relationships. As well, the avoidance of faith within my family of origin gives me a hunger to re-member myself into a heritage of faith. Hence, I desire to re-member others into an ongoing shared narrative based in scripture, by which we graft ourselves into a community that spans time, within which we come to deeper self-understanding and awareness of our inter-dependency, and through which we experience shared incarnational encounter with God.