Diversity and balance: Strengthening our Christian Education
By Mirim Kim
My journey as a seminarian started ten years ago. As a fresh graduate with a psychology degree, I began the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program at Knox College without fully knowing where I was going. Perhaps due to this uncertainty or unconfirmed “call,” I only studied for one semester and then moved on to the other areas of life.
I became a youth pastor’s wife and a mother of three children – and as time went on, I again felt the hunger and need for a theological foundation. I also saw the importance of the role of families and their major influence on both an individual’s and community’s faith journey. God graciously opened up the door in an unexpected way, and I am back at Knox College once again, gratefully studying in the field of Christian Education.
For the MTS program, taking the Theological Field Education (TFE) course is not mandatory. But I knew this course had great potential, as it presents students with the opportunity to experience practical aspects of ministry and insights that you cannot learn from books. So, with help from the registrar and a number of professors, I was given the exciting opportunity to participate in a TFE placement.
While searching for a placement, I met Dr. Tori Smit, a Regional Minister of Faith Formation with the Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda (CNOB), who graciously agreed to be my site educator. The Synod of CNOB consists of twelve presbyteries within in The Presbyterian Church in Canada and stretches from Kingston to Sault St. Marie, and from Toronto to Temiskaming.
Dr. Smit, a Diaconal minister and professional Christian educator, works with the 257 congregations providing education, support, and resources for their educational ministries. This involves workshop presentations, pastoral visits and on-site consultation, phone and email conversations, and the maintaining of a synod website as she works to empower, love, and uplift congregation members and pastoral staff, so that all may thrive in their faith.
For my TFE experience, I had three goals in mind: 1) to explore my calling as a Christian Educator; 2) to overcome my anxiety about public speaking; and 3) to explore the current state of theology and pedagogy of faith formation in Christian families and congregations within The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
These seemed like lofty goals, but I was able to meet them with the support of my site educator and others, including the members of my Lay Advisory Committee, Kim Shepherd and Naomi Goslinski.
Exploring the call as a Christian Educator
Just as I began my TFE placement, Tori and Rev. Bethany McCaffrey (minister at Melville Presbyterian Church) together envisioned “Loved and Chosen: A Bible reading Project” – and invited me to help lead it. Its main focus was to encourage all generations to consider chosen Bible texts and/or stories each day and to engage in reflection and dialogue at home.
The stories were then accentuated through Sunday and mid-week children’s activities, mid-week adult Bible studies, worship, and special projects. My children and I participated at the launch party through a mid-week program called “Wee Worship.”
I facilitated the final celebration with younger families at the end of this project, and I shared a message entitled “Christ the King,” including activity stations for children (from toddlers to grade six). I also presented the children’s story in worship that last Sunday, as the whole church reflected on their journey through the Old Testament together.
It was a joy to plan and design a platform through which children could express their curiosity, and think about the theological implications of what it means for Christ to be king in their lives. This joy helped to confirm my calling in this area, and it also helped to ease my concerns about public speaking.
To my surprise, my joy was apparent to others as well. The feedback I received from my Lay Advisory Committee and other congregational members had one thing in common: they recognized the joy and delight I had in sharing God’s Word with families in creative and imaginative ways.
Through this experience, I learned that God’s call is not simply about skills or worthiness, but most importantly is about our God who gifts us with such joy that we cannot hide or deny it. God’s work opens up and speaks to the hearts of others.
Exploring PCC Faith Formation
In this placement, I was hoping to meet as many Christian educators and visit as many PCC churches as possible, representing the widest variety of contexts – so that I might see the current approach of Canadian Christian education for families. I wanted to experience the theology and practice of educational ministry and pedagogy of faith formation within the breadth of the PCC. Dr. Smit graciously arranged these opportunities to make this goal possible.
My first opportunity came through participating in an eight-month program entitled Faith Formation Matters. Tori had designed this course for lay Christian educators to learn some of the theology and practice of faith formational ministry, as well as meet and support one another in their ministries within the synod. Twenty-three educators participated, from churches within a two-hour drive of Toronto.
We covered a variety of topics, such as the biblical and historical understanding of Christian education, the importance of family, developmental theories and applications, intergenerational ministry, lesson planning, storytelling, and curriculum. I was empowered to teach these leaders about family ministry at home, and I heard many wonderful stories and saw the passion these lay educators have for their young congregation members. They were truly teachers, mentors, and disciples of Christ who wanted to pass on faith and share the good news of Jesus, so that their children and youth may know God’s love and experience God’s grace.
I had also opportunities to visit a number of PCC churches and be a part of Christian Education Committee meetings in various contexts, including mono-ethnic, multicultural, and Western European churches. This opened my eyes to the broad spectrum of theology and pedagogy of Christian education within the denomination. Each church’s unique cultural, historical, linguistic, ethnic, and generational context works to form one loving community, one body in Christ in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
At the end of this TFE placement, I reflected on my personal theology and pedagogy of Christian education. I am a product of conservative and contemporary theologies, Eastern and Western faith traditions, a mono-ethnic Korean immigrant and multicultural Canadian church experience, and knowledge-based and experiential-based pedagogies.
During this precious TFE experience, one particular thought emerged and lingered in my mind: Wherever I end up in a Christian education context, perhaps what God is wanting me to seek is a helpful and uplifting balance in the diverse faith communities. This is about acknowledging both the strengths and weaknesses of the diverse faith expressions and practices, so that we may expand our hearts and minds while trusting God’s sovereignty; then we may support congregations, families, youth, and children, wherever they might be, to find God’s love and grace.
Furthermore, I would like to support the co-existence of intergenerational and intercultural ministries in the congregational context from a Christian education perspective, so that this grand faith community called The Presbyterian Church in Canada may continue to walk the path of harmony and unity.
Mirim Kim is in Knox College’s Master of Theological Studies program.