Conference explores discipleship and church vitality

The Rev. Grace Pritchard Burson leads her workshop, “Getting over the bridge: children’s formation that paves the way for adult faith.” Photo: Eileen Scully
Published May 13, 2024

During You Are Leaven, an April conference on faith formation and discipleship organized by General Synod’s Faith, Worship and Ministry committee, a team of delegates from the diocese of Rupert’s Land told the Anglican Journal’s reporter they would introduce a motion at their next diocesan synod to promote discipleship practices among diocesan leaders. The motion, said Bishop of Rupert’s Land Geoffrey Woodcroft, would require anyone elected to leadership or serving on a diocesan council to sign a pledge to be a lifelong learner in the subject of discipleship.

The plan, he said, was part of a running theme at April’s conference: taking action to use discipleship as a way to revitalize the church.

“It is so ultimately refreshing to be a part of a conference that is proactive,” he said. “There is much hope, but there is also this unlocking of great creativity and imagination.”

Conference attendees discussed definitions of spiritual formation, talked about how to promote it and participated in hands-on workshops teaching skills designed for them to take home and share in their home parishes. There were workshops on spiritual journaling; applying Examen, a method of prayerful reflection and gratitude, to meditate on the outcomes of church meetings and policy planning; and on improvisational theatre, among other topics.

The Rev. Monica Green, a former actor and current spiritual director at Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., ran the improv workshop. The goal, she said, was to teach participants how to listen meaningfully and build on one another’s ideas in ways that leave space for others to push the story forward further. She was inspired, Green said, by the idea of British theologian N.T. Wright that in order to live out God’s plan for the world, Christians should think of themselves as improvising what comes next based on the story presented in Scripture. By keeping these principles in mind as they return to the work of the church, she said, clergy and laypeople can seek ways to apply them in building the church’s future as a shared story.

The title of the conference, You Are Leaven, was aimed at reminding attendees that big changes can come about from small things, like yeast worked into bread dough, said the Rev. Jessica Schaap, one of the event’s organizers and missioner for Christian formation in the diocese of New Westminster. That symbol represents the presence of living things—both people and spiritual energy—at the core of Christianity and the potential for cultivating those things to result in expansion and growth. It’s also a reminder that these things take time.

“I really believe God loves [to use] the invisible and small to change the world,” said Schaap.

By investing in spiritual formation and deepening the discipleship of clergy, lay leaders and parishioners already in the community, she said, the church has the opportunity to create people who naturally and organically well up with good news to share. “Just like when we would go to a really good restaurant and be like, ‘Oh my goodness, you have to try their risotto,’” she said, when people have meaningful experiences in their spiritual lives, it shows and they talk about it to people close to them.

As the conference concluded, several of the attendees told the Journal that as well as the tools they had picked up in the workshops and the concepts they’d gone over in discussion, a main takeaway from the weekend was simply the energy of those present.

“I’m taking home renewed joy and enthusiasm about the life of the church—that people are the life of the church, not the programs, not the buildings. And that there’s something real still happening,” said Leah Postman, a spiritual director in the diocese of New Westminster.

“If we have our own connection to that God of our understanding, that’s going to spill over. We don’t have to have a program to get people to understand. If we can feed our own heart, that’s going to feed others.


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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