Christian education is an important element of the Congregational Church of Austin's ministry. Our church does not dictate specific doctrines, creeds, or beliefs. Rather, we encourage people to reflect on their beliefs, to understand and critically engage the church's traditions, to be in open-minded dialogue with others, to acknowledge and wrestle with their questions and doubts, and to continuously grow in their faith. We interpret the Bible with our heads and our hearts by bringing contemporary knowledge and events into critical dialogue with scripture.
Our Christian education with children focuses on the basics of our faith tradition through singing, stories, and hands-on projects. We introduce children to key Biblical stories, faith concepts, and the church's ministry. With older youth, we continue building on the basics, but include more opportunities for personal reflection on beliefs, and encourage reflection on the relationship between faith, daily life choices, and contemporary events. Adults focus on the interpretation of scripture, trends in contemporary theology, recent events, and the processes of spiritual discernment and growth.
The following describes our various Christian education ministries.
Rev. Tom VandeStadt teaches confirmation class for teen-aged youth who wish to reflect in some depth on their faith and their membership in the Christian church. The class helps youth better understand the Bible, the church's ministry, and faith as an on-going relationship with God and God's creation.
Children's Sunday School
The Congregational Church of Austin offers a weekly Sunday School program for children. The program includes Bible stories, faith exploration, singing, and hands-on projects. Children participate in the opening of our worship service and then proceed to the Sunday School program. The church provides professional childcare services for infants and toddlers.
The Congregational Church of Austin offers a weekly reflection group for older youth (late middle school and high school). The youth reflect on scripture, faith issues, contemporary events, and other issues relevant to their daily lives. They are encouraged to keep a personal journal that the church provides.
Adult Study and Discussion Group
The Congregational Church of Austin offers a weekly adult reflection group that meets at 10:00 am, one hour prior to worship. This group varies its approach, sometimes reflecting on the scripture readings for the day, other times watching video lectures on theological issues or church history, and almost always relating the topic at hand to contemporary events.
The Congregational Church of Austin offers a Discipleship Group that provides on-going support to people in their spiritual journeys as they follow in the way of Jesus Christ. This group meets once a month, with a focus on soul-work, personal development, and how we live our lives within our contemporary political-economy. From time to time, we reflect on readings that are helpful from authors like Ched Myers, Joanna Macy, Bill Plotkin, Parker Palmer, Walter Brueggemann, Richard Rohr, Pema Chodron, John Caputo, and Peter Rollins.
The Congregational Church of Austin offers a meditation group that meets once a month to practice mindfulness meditation with one another and to support one another in our daily meditation practices. On occasion, we hold single day meditation retreats.
Special Christian Education Series
The Congregational Church of Austin offers periodic special Christian education programs that meet either in the evening or after worship. Special programs have included the following:
Why Was Jesus Killed? Why Did Jesus Die? This series explored the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus' crucifixion and a variety of theological interpretations of Jesus' death, both traditional and contemporary. Participants were encouraged to reflect deeply on the implications of various theological interpretations of Jesus' death as well as the significance of Jesus' death for their own lives. Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
Jesus And His Interpreters: A Look At Jesus Through Film. This series explored the variety of ways Jesus has been portrayed through film. Participants watched excerpts from different films that portrayed the same events in Jesus' ministry and then reflected on what the film was attempting to convey about Jesus. Dr. Whit Bodman, Professor of World Religions at Austin Theological Seminary, led this series.
Kazantzakis, Coltrane, And The Incarnation. In this series participants reflected on the meaning of God's incarnation in creation, and their own lives, from a Process Theology point of view. The writings of the author Nikos Kazantzakis and the music of John Coltrane served as springboards for these discussions on incarnation, creativity, and transcendence beyond current boundaries. Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
Beyond Belief. In this series we read and reflected on Elaine Pagel's book, Beyond Belief. Our discussions revolved around the diversity of beliefs in the early church and the contemporary church, the tensions between creeds and on-going revelation, the place and authority of scripture in our lives, and what it means to remain spiritually open to God's presence. Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
The Sabbath. In this series we read and reflected on Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, The Sabbath, and works by Ched Myers on Sabbath Economics. We explored the spirituality and ethics of Sabbath practice and how we may incorporate them into our own lives. Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
Who Do You Say That I Am? In this series we looked at a variety of titles, identities, and roles attributed to Jesus by the early church, including King, prophet, savior, suffering servant, and God incarnate. At the end of the series participants were encouraged to write their own faith statements in response to Jesus' question, who do you say that I am? Rev. Dr. Whit Bodman, Professor of World Religions at Austin Theological Seminary, and Rev. Tom VandeStadt co-led this series.
The Prophetic Imagination: Freeing the Mind to Act Prophetically. In this series we read and reflected on Walter Brueggeman's work, The Prophetic Imagination, and Ruben Habito's Living Zen, Loving God. We reflected on Brueggeman's claim that the contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that it has little power to believe or to act. This is true not only of the church as an institution but also of us as persons. Our consciousness has been claimed by false fields of perception and idolatrous systems of language and rhetoric. We then reflected on how Zen meditation and Christian contemplation can help liberate our consciousness from the dominant cultural ethos. Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
What's Love Got To Do With It? In this series we read A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, and Saving Jesus From Those That Are Right by Carter Heyward. We reflected on love as an emotional, psychological, and spiritual reality within which human beings live and move and have their being. We reflected on Christianity as a way of life that cultivates loving hearts and relationships of justice rather than a belief system of doctrines and dogmas the mind must accept and assert as true. Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
Writing Your Spiritual Landscape. In this series folks worked through a process in which they looked closely at their lives and wrote their spiritual autobiographies. The goal of the process was to investigate with some precision how people's spirituality has formed throughout the course of their lives, how they articulate their spirituality in their own words, how their life experience has informed their spirituality, and how their spirituality has informed their life experience. Rev. Cecile Adam, chaplain at Seton Hospital, Greg Futch, and Rev. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
The Great Metanoia: Exploring Culture Change Toward Earth Community
In The Church. In this series, we explored the Christian experience of metanoia (repentance, coming to one's senses and turning around), in relation to our relationship to the earth and the phenomenon of climate change. We explored how our culture, through the media, inculcates an ideology of consumption and unlimited economic growth that's harming the earth, and how Christian faith and spirituality can help us turn from that ideology and promote attitudes and lifestyles that are sustainable and earth-healing. Elizabeth Freese and Talley Summerlin led this series.
Insurrection. In this series, we read and discussed Peter Rollins' challenging book, Insurrection. In his book, Rollins reflects on Jesus' words from the cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" In Rollin's view, Christians are not called to simply remember and commemorate Jesus' crucifixion on the cross, but to experience the agonizing abandonment of God that Jesus experienced on the cross. Passing through this threshold of abandonment, this crisis in faith and meaning opens up the possibility for a new experience of God in Christ through resurrection. Tom VandeStadt led this series.
The Underground Church. In this series, we read and discussed Robin Meyers' book, The Underground Church. In his book, Meyers writes that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is far more about following the way of Jesus Christ than it is about believing doctrines and creeds about Jesus Christ. If we truly follow the way of Jesus Christ, this will lead us to radical egalitarianism, distributive justice, non-violence, and anti-imperialism-all subversive and radically alternative stances vis-à-vis the dominant culture in which we live. Tom VandeStadt led this series.