Formation groups as we hope you will pursue them are like early Methodist class meetings, but with a specific weekly focus. Each formation group is led by an experienced Christian, a seasoned disciple who can testify to how he or she has grown in living out the baptismal calling in his/her life, and how he or she is growing still. The role of the group leader (class leader) is to facilitate the growth of every participant in it, week by week, and to help the group as a whole watch over one another in love as they seek to learn and grow in the basic ways of disciples Jesus named in the baptismal covenant.
What’s at Stake in Today’s Baptismal Questions
by Taylor Burton-Edwards
The baptismal questions for today have three active verbs: renounce, reject, and repent. These are not synonyms. Each is its own concrete action, with its own set of implications for how Christians will live our lives. [Read more]
It is highly recommended that group size be between five to seven people, including the leader. This will make for a group where all have time to share what they need to share within one hour, and be just large enough that there is a sense of an agenda for the group’s time that needs to be honored.
Groups should plan to meet in homes or in third places (coffee shop, café, bar) where all can feel comfortable and all can hear one another without being overheard inappropriately. Strongly consider having the first meeting in the home of the group leader if the group leader’s home can accommodate group members comfortably.
Part of the work this first week is getting to know one another and setting ground rules, patterns, and plans as a group. Among the ground rules should be a readiness to listen to one another, to speak for and about oneself, and not to tell others what they “should” do. This group is about testimony and mutual support as people learn together and help one another begin to live out each of the baptismal vows or live them out more faithfully.
A suggested pattern for the first meeting is
- Brief, informal time of gathering (10 minutes or so) with snacks to share
- Formal gathering — seated in a circle in chairs or around a table — with brief introductions from each person (5 minutes)
- Requests for prayer for the coming week (10 minutes) — and prayer led by the group leader or unison in the group. If the latter, one practice I’ve found useful in leading such groups is immediately after a person shares, the whole group pauses, then says in unison, “Into your hands, O God, we commend our sister/brother/sibling(s) Name(s).” Proceed to the next person and repeat until all who wish to offer requests for prayer have had the opportunity to do so.
- Teaching and Testimony (30 minutes) — For this week, there are three verbs to focus on-- renounce, reject, and repent. Take each one, one at a time, for ten minutes each. Begin with a time of brief teaching/refresher on the meaning of each one, for one to two minutes. (See sidebar on the baptismal questions in Preaching Notes, or just below). Then invite people to share how they ARE working on each one, ways they’ve been able to exercise each one so far this week, and ways they seek support to improve, starting with the group leader to set an example for how to do this (8 minutes). People are free to pass if they wish. Then proceed to the next one.
- Gather in a circle or huddle, lay hands on one another, one by one, and pray in unison, “X, may you continue to grow in Christ in the days ahead.” (5 minutes).
- Thank all for coming, and send the group out to do it!
by Scott Hughes
Lent is a forty-day period of self-reflection, contemplation, and reconciliation. Lent is also traditionally a season connected with preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. The following Lenten Courageous Conversations materials are is an attempt to relate the vows made in baptism with people who are or could be feeling estranged.
The Courageous Conversations event each week should not be seen as displacing or replacing the work of other formation groups, but rather as supplementing and underscoring what it means for us to live “in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.” Given the persistence of deep divisions in our nation, divisions that are replicated within our churches and communities as United Methodists, we believe these weekly Courageous Conversation events offer an opportunity for mutual listening, care, and healing that are critical for our future as a denomination, yes, but more importantly critical for the future of Christian witness wherever our churches are across this country. Learn more about Courageous Conversations »
This series of lessons will focus on homeless people who often suffer in isolation due to stigma, despite the various causes of their homelessness.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “As people of faith and religious commitment, we are called to stand with and seek justice for people who are poor. Central to our religious traditions, sacred texts, and teachings is a divine mandate to side with and protect the poor...We share a conviction, therefore, that welfare reform must not focus on eliminating programs but on eliminating poverty and the damage it inflicts on children (who are two thirds of all welfare recipients), on their parents, and on the rest of society.”
This series of lessons will focus on immigrants (documented and undocumented) who often suffer in isolation due to language, culture, and even fear.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “Reflecting upon the Scriptures, we are reminded that United Methodists are a global church. In the United States, we may be descendants of economic immigrants or forced migrants, or we may have recently arrived in the US. We may have formal documents proving US citizenship, or we may be undocumented. Regardless of legal status or nationality, we are connected through Christ to one another.”
Prisoners live isolated from loved ones. Former prisoners carry stigmas that last long past their terms of incarceration. Without overlooking ministry to the victims, the church is also called to ministry with those in prison and those still carrying the baggage of being imprisoned.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “While acknowledging that the biblical concept of justice focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God’s wholeness, it is also important to understand that our Methodist heritage is rich with examples of ministries carried out in jails and prisons. John Wesley...had a passion for those in prison. As early as 1778, the Methodist Conference adopted action making it the duty of every Methodist preacher to minister to those who were incarcerated. United Methodists have reaffirmed and expanded the mandate for prison ministry and reform in many different chapters of our denominational history. This is a part of our identity and call.”
This series of lessons will focus on soldiers returning from war and/or from active duty who often struggle with physical and/or emotional injuries and have the difficult task of reentry into civilian life.
The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church invites us to consider: “that the Church commits itself to extend its pastoral ministry to members of the armed forces and their families during their time of service and after their return; and...that we call upon our churches to extend a welcome home to persons who return from service in their armed forces, to respect their stories and interpretations of their experiences, and to value and encourage expression of their contributions to the ministry of our churches...”