Earth Day 1970 – Shock and Awe

When I was a third grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee, I participated in the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Lest you think events like Earth Day don’t impact children and youth, this very first Earth Day opened my eyes to why we all need to take care of the one home we all share.

I remember the bright blue and green posters hung along the halls of my school, but what I remember most is the short field trip we took that crisp and sunny April day. It was a field trip of only a few city blocks, but it shocked me into realizing how badly people in my community had trashed our natural environment.

Passing neat brick houses and well kept yards in our small city, we stopped by a creek running through the neighborhood. Trash covered every single surface of both banks of the creek. It was appalling, disgusting, shocking. I remember my friends and I were frightened, as well. Thousands of the old “pop-top” aluminum can lids littered the banks of the creek, and we were afraid to take a step, knowing how these razor sharp lids could easily take off a toe or a finger.

It was a moment of personal experience for the care of the earth. I lived in a chemical plant’s company town, and we knew the smokestacks belched out toxins we all breathed in. But the company paid virtually everyone’s paychecks, and there was nothing we as third graders could do about this powerful source of pollution. But the trash covering the banks of the creek running through the middle of town was a sin of a personal nature – every single one of us could take actions to keep trash out of the creek and off the ground.

Decades later, in writing resources to lead children and youth in creation care, I came across research saying that “shock” tactics such as this field trip to the creek are not necessarily effective in promoting environmentalism. Research shows that developing a sense of awe and wonderment for the beauty of nature is much more helpful. If a child learns to love one small bit of the natural world, he or she will likely grow up to love and want to take care of all of nature.

I think it takes both shock and awe to learn to take care of the earth. We all need a kick in the tail occasionally to get us to face difficult situations. But children also need time and space to play, have fun, and become comfortable in the natural world.

Many of us growing up in the late 1960’s and 70’s had that blissful, unplugged time and space in nature to develop this sense of awe and wonder. I spent hours upon hours using a magnolia tree in my backyard as my own personal “fort” – a play activity enjoyed by children all over the world since time immemorial.  One of the most fun times I had as a Girl Scout was setting up our very own “camp” – carving out our own special place in the forest for our small band of girls, setting up seating areas and tables, making it feel secure and comfortable. We experienced the magic of playing outdoors in an unstructured environment, with little supervision, allowed to let our imaginations run wild.

I hope children you know will get to have a magical time in nature, too. I hope all children will get to play in the woods and use their imaginations to turn tree stumps into chairs and tables and turn magnolia trees into comfortable playhouses. I hope we all, someday, live in world where the environment gives us a sense of awe, not shock.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youth and Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us. For news of upcoming publications and for blog posts, please follow this blog or her author page on Amazon.  

 

Christian Nurture in the 21st Century – About this Book (And What has Changed – or Mostly NOT Changed – Since I Wrote this Book)

I wrote Christian Nurture in the 21st Century back in 2003, in response to lots of social changes I saw that the Church had not adjusted to  – working women who no longer had time to volunteer for church work, ever-increasing demands on children’s time, and parents who had never learned the basics of the Christian faith themselves.

In my book, I advocated for high quality, professional efforts in the ministry of Christian formation.  I suggested that we pay teachers, train them, and take this ministry seriously if the Church intends to survive.  I also strongly advocated that the Church focus on the basics and use modern teaching methods and knowledge to provide quality adult formation, meeting adults where they were in their lives with timely, relevant resources. 

What’s Happened in Children’s Christian Formation

At the time the book was written, I headed up a formation ministry that served 185 children between the ages of 3-12, almost all of whom attended regularly.  Within a couple of years of writing the book, most of the conservative church members had left my parish, and this number dropped to one child at one point. That number has gradually crept back up, but it will almost certainly never be the robust program it once was.  The aging population of Episcopal parishes has taken its toll as well.  With the average age of parishioners going up and up, the number of children attending parishes will, of course, decrease.  I think efforts to restore the old Sunday School model of formation are pretty much in vain.

On the brighter side, Episcopal schools and camps seem to have picked up steam.  In my own neighborhood, I’ve seen the local Episcopal school grow from a tiny start-up into a large elementary school, along with a middle school and pre-school – all with daily chapel services and a weekly religion class led by a seminary-trained chaplain. Clearly, there is a demand for quality educational programs led by paid professionals. 

Episcopal camps also seem to be popular and well attended.  I think their success addresses several social trend I discussed in my book – the lack of time during the week, increased homework, weekends filled with extracurricular activities, but too much free time during the summer.  Parish VBS programs also seem to retain their popularity, likely for the same reasons.  I’m glad to see these summer programs flourish.

As far as resources go, we’ve seen some new initiatives to provide high quality curriculum resources to Episcopal parishes for little or no cost.  I’ll give a lot of credit to Episcopal Relief & Development for providing the Abundant Life Garden Project and Act Out resources digitally and for free.  I think the success of these programs and others like them showed that if quality, flexible content is provided, teachers and formation leaders will enthusiastically use them. 

I’d love to see more new initiatives to provide resources to address issues people actually face on a daily basis.  It’s now possible to provide resources quickly and at very little production cost.  (You can now publish an e-book or a paperback book for free.  Believe me, I’ve done it.)  I’m aghast that development of resources by the mainstream Episcopal publishers continues at glacial speed.

Adult Christian Formation is Now DIY

One of the reasons I went into Christian formation was the huge transformative change the church’s adult programs had made in my own life.  The vehicles of this transformation were small group Bible studies I attended in my late twenties and early thirties.  I had an opportunity to ask questions, share my story and my journey with others, and get wise advice and guidance from others. 

But sadly, these groups at the end of the 1990’s were apparently the tail end of the small group adult Bible study movement in the Episcopal Church.  By the time I graduated from VTS in 2003, these groups had ended.  With the exception of an Alpha group here and there for newbies, there were no study groups for adults.  Did I offer to start or lead one (or several) myself?  Oh yes.  My offers have yet to be accepted.  The few adult study groups that exist are attended almost exclusively by seniors and retirees

So here in 2017, I really wish I had friends my own age in the Church (locally, not just on Facebook), but I don’t.  I truly wish I had some sort of support group or study group I could attend.  But there isn’t one.  No, I’m not going to hang out with women my mother’s age to attend the only programs that meet during the few times my schedule is free.  And I’m no longer willing to give up my family time in the evenings, either.  That leaves Sunday mornings, but I look at the few groups meeting on Sunday morning, and they look like either self-serving info-sessions (e.g. “stewardship”/ how to give more money to the Church) or topics that simply don’t interest me.

Yet my own formation continues.  All of us continue to change and grow through the years.  These days, my formation has taken on a much more quiet, meditative character.  I take walks in nature with my dog, do yoga, write in my journal, or knit as my daily spiritual time.  I’ve found myself using these old-fashioned things called “books” to help guide me through my continuing spiritual journey.  They cost very little and arrive on my doorstep with a couple of clicks on my laptop. Formation has become do-it-yourself for me – and likely for many people.

In this time of vast change, I look forward to what happens to the Church in the future.  In the meantime, I’m mostly content with DIY formation.  It is what it is.  What happens next will certainly be shaped by social changes which started decades ago – changes the Church simply hasn’t adjusted to yet. 

Christian Nurture in the 21st Century is available in both paperback and Kindle editions at this link.  The book is also available through many online book sellers and distributors, including Amazon’s worldwide affiliates.  This book is included in Kindle Unlimited.

***Important Note:  The Kindle edition of this book will be FREE on January 14-16 ONLY.****

 

 

Publication of Christian Nurture in the 21st Century

Sycamore Cove is delighted to announce the publication of its first book, Christian Nurture in the Twenty-First Century: A New Vision for Christian Formation.  This book, by Cynthia Coe, envisions new ways of nurturing children and young people in the Christian faith – backed up by scripture, church history, and theology.

Christian Nurture in the Twenty-First Century is available in both print and e-book editions through Amazon.com at this link.  This is a great book for Christian educators, clergy, vestry members, and anyone else looking to re-think their Christian formation programs.

Here’s more information about Christian Nurture in the 21st Century:

The light of Christ is passed from one generation to the next, keeping the faith alive. Christian Nurture in the Twenty-First Century imagines a new vision for sharing the Christian faith with young people. Based on scripture and a fresh look at how Christian education was done in the past, this book presents new ideas and models of nurturing the Christian faith of young people.

Cynthia Coe asks church leaders to give the ministry of Christian education a “fresh think” and explore new but more effective means of passing the Christian faith to young people. Coe also gives churches a theological and scriptural basis for trying new ways of Christian formation, such as paying Sunday School teachers – providing well trained, well prepared teachers in a world where volunteers simply can’t or won’t spend the time to provide effective Christian education programs. She also strongly advocates teaching parents who never learned the basics of Christianity before these young parents attempt to ingrain their children in Christian values and morals.

In a series of essays included in this book, Cynthia Coe tackles many specific challenges facing Christian educators, such as quality adult programming, Vacation Bible School programming, and how to reach children most in need. Based on her field experience as a Director of Children’s Ministries and curriculum developer of Christian education resources, Cynthia Coe presents a fresh voice and insightful ideas to better pass the faith to young people in the twenty-first century.

Cynthia Coe is an honors graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Tennessee College of Law. She also holds a degree with highest honors in the College Scholars program of the University of Tennessee, focusing on Honors History.