Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lay Academy

I belong to the United Church of Christ.  It is a denomination, like Catholic or Lutheran or Methodist are denominations.  The image above is a "slogan" of the UCC.

This is a large part of what I like about the UCC.  It is ever changing, ever growing and encourages learning.  And here is Lay Academy.  This is the only form of self care that I participate in regularly.  OK, it's not a relaxing thing, but it fills my spirit.

Lay Academy is a series of 5 classes held during the school year.  There are various topics, depending on what class you are enrolled in.  You can take the classes for personal growth, for use in your church or to discern whether or not you want to go into ministry.  My reasons are the first two.  I have NO calling to become a minister, although my friend, Beth, heard that call very clearly during our classes and she is now studying to become Pastor Beth. I am so proud of her!!

These classes can be taken as a series (which I highly recommend) or you can pick and choose which years to attend.

Years 1 and 2 are "Faith Foundations" years.  These cover the Old and New Testament, Ethics, Thinking Theologically, Caregiving and various other topics.

Year 3 is Lay Leadership skills.  This series is highly useful to those who are active in their church, serve on committees, or want to improve their own participation.

Year 4 is the year I am in now. It focuses on preaching and worship. I put this off for two reasons.  I'll get into the second reason in a bit.  A huge reason was that I would have to give a sermon in front of my class.  I have absolutely no problem with public speaking.  I am not shy.  BUT, the thought of giving a sermon terrified me.  I don't feel solid enough in my theological knowledge to give an intelligent sermon.  I was thrilled to find out that it is going to be different this year.  We are to bring a written sermon to our class, but the class will instead focus on teaching us how to give a sermon, and we can modify our sermon during the class.  I have made a commitment to my pastor that I will let her read it when I am done, and if she thinks it fits with our Lenten themes, I will deliver the sermon during a Wednesday night service.  WAY outside my comfort zone!!

There are also two single years that are stand alone.  One is on Christian Education, and the other is the reason that I put off taking Year 4 when I did.  It is Youth Ministry.  My passion is working with youth and this class was being offered at the same time as Year 4 when the rest of my friends were taking it. I opted to do Youth Ministry, rather than trying to cram two classes in at the same time.

I love my time in Lay Academy.  The classes are a couple hours from my home and take place Friday night and Saturday. I spend the night rather than commuting, so I have time for me.  I have also made great friends during my classes.  My friend, Beth, that I mentioned above I met only because of Lay Academy.  She is one of my dearest friends now and I am so thankful that we met.  Another friend I made is a woman named Bonnie.  She was also a foster parent and worked at a women's shelter, helping moms who had lost their children to social services develop a plan and regain custody.  Truly an amazing woman and we had so much in common.  I met wonderful people and friendships that will last for years, and hopefully, life.

This is why I recommend taking the classes as a series.  The friendships you develop will carry you through hard times.  At the end of one of our years a classmate left because he wasn't feeling well.  It was the last class of the year.  At the end of the class, it was announced that he had been diagnosed with ALS.  It was a horrible shock to us.  However, we banded together to keep in contact with him.  Most of us didn't get to say goodbye before he passed away a few months later.  But when our group reassembled for the next year, we took a group photo at the hotel to send to him.  We wanted him to know we loved him and he was with us in spirit.  This is the relationship that develops during these classes.

We come together because of our love of God and our desire to become closer to Him.  We gain so much more than knowledge.

I cannot tell you how much these classes have changed me and made me grow in faith and just as a person.  I recommend it to everyone.  You don't have to be "smart" or a biblical scholar to take these classes.  I sure wasn't, and I'm still not a great scholar, but I have a better understand of Scripture, how to read Scripture and that it's OK to ask questions.  If you ever have the chance...take the classes.

God is still speaking to us, if we take the time to listen.

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