Bishop Teresa Snorton, chair of the Family Life Committee and of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church began the first of three discussions in Friday’s afternoon workshop focused on changing dynamics of familial models and how the church should be prepared to respond to the needs of their community in a non-judgmental and context appropriate manner.
She first laid out traditional definitions of nuclear and extended family models and discussed Biblical and legal concepts of kinship before transitioning into a discussion on more modern and culturally sensitive definitions including consanguine (related by blood), conjugal (related by marriage), and what she deemed “affinity family” – relationship by choice.
“Affinity family is a great descriptor for us in the church,” Bishop Snorton said, “because we choose to be a part of the Methodist family by affiliation. We choose to be family through our baptism. We increasingly find that there are families who are simply choosing to be families without blood relationship or without benefit of marriage. Adoptive, blended, step, divorced parents that share custody with other children, foster families, unmarried families, single adults, same sex families – they all challenge us to realize that family relationships often simply exist by choice. No blood, legal, or religious relationship binds these persons together, but they make a choice to become family.”
Snorton added that bonds are formed in ways that cannot be simply described with common nomenclature. “In the church we must be prepared to embody family as family exists. It is not ours to define family but it ours to minister to families. To never deprive persons of a sense of family regardless of how that family is created or how it is defined… I tell my pastors if you’re unable to offer ministry to someone in need, the very least you can do is offer them a ministry of referral. You should go out of your way to find out and be prepared to tell them who they can go to in your community that can offer them a safe place to get help… May we the church lead the world in celebrating family.”
Quiet Zones – Prayer Spaces
The second part of the workshop was led by Rev. Suva Catford who serves in the Darlington District of the British Methodist Church. Her contribution was focused on family in congregational life, and centered on setting up quiet zones, a special prayer ministry involving creating a space in a community for meditation and reflection. The zones within the space are designed as stations, some with tactile items such as a tray of sand in which to write names you’ve been called then to wipe them away, writing the name you prefer to be called or a prayer labyrinth or prayer wall.
“It’s really hard to describe, because the experience for everybody is so different. At face value there are lights, and curtains, and cushions, and sand. But people who come into the quiet zones get a deeper experience of themselves and also a deeper experience of faith… It’s just a space set aside and in each of the zones there’s a very simple activity which allows time for people to sit and think and pray.”
Creating Community for Family Engagement
The third part of the workshop was offered by Mrs. Josefa Bethea Wall, Director of Development for Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and Methodists Associated Representing the Cause for Hispanic Americans (MARCHA). She focused on creating community for family engagement and centered on a concept called asset-based community development.
“As people of Wesleyan heritage we are called to community,” Wall noted, adding: “Created in the image of God, we are bound together. So, how do we connect to the community of the church in an effort to engage the changing family of today and beyond?”
She went on to lay out a model on how to identify assets in a community including “individuals, community associations, networks and institutions.”
In putting the concept to work in churches, she suggested asking people in your community the following questions:
- What three things do you do well enough to teach someone else?
- What three things do you want to learn?
- Who besides God and me is taking this journey with you?
Finally, she read from Wesley’s secrets to community building from 1725. “To be continuously effective try new things, see what works, abandon things that fail, and innovate.”