Adult Education Report 2017

Introduction: This is a first annual report for Anne Dickey, having had the privilege of completing four months of Adult Education programming at Pilgrim UCC. Adult Education consists of two primary ongoing programs, Adult Forum and Bible With Bagels, which share a core group that is committed, interested, and of deeply good humor. They care for one another and pray for each other and for the church, and they share a mature capacity to listen deeply to one another’s views and to consider new ideas from the curriculum with openness and discernment. It is a strong, kind, and intelligent group of faithful people and a rich example of Christian community. It is a terrific honor to be among them and to bring them new resources to enrich their Christian education.

Spring 2017 Programming: Spring Programming was conducted by Adult Education Program Founder Peg Bradley in a volunteer capacity in the absence of an adult education director. By her records, programming served at least 77 different individuals. In her view, the events that had the greatest impact were the following:
1. Faith vs Fear: A Faith Response to Gun Violence, A 5-Part Bible Study by the UCC, January 8-29, for Adult Forum.
2. Unpacking Whiteness, led by Rhonda Hill in May for Adult Forum.
3. The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice, by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, led by Karen Lindberg-Schuppe for Bible with Bagels, April 26-May 10th.

The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian, by Brian D. McLaren, led by Rev. Nathan Athorp for Bible with Bagels, March 22-April 19th.

Adult Forum has had a group of 15-20 regular attendees in fall 2017, with larger groups for both for events that command special interest. Fall programming began with a 4 week series on Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Ir-ving, led by Diana Hammer. Diana led a four week discussion series that continued the work done by Rhonda Hill on Privilege in the Spring. The book Waking Up White introduces important concepts such as headwinds and tailwinds, metaphors for privilege that is hard to see, but easy to feel when you have experienced its opposite. Attendees commented on the power of the reflections to help them think about the differences between their backgrounds and those of others they may meet – or may go out of their way to meet.

A four part series on resilience followed the series on Waking Up White. The first three weeks covered the book The Virtue of Resilience, by James and Evelyn Whitehead, led by Sister Patrice Rog and introduced by a video about Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor. This series explored the varied aspects and contexts of resilience, with an emphasis on the power of the community to support resilience. Dr. Matthew Doll of Agnesian Health concluded the series with a particularly well-attended (26 people) presentation on Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs), how they affect your health, and how you can address them at varied points in human development to lower global health risks.

The month of November in Adult Forum featured two-week presentations by two members of the Pilgrim community. Amateur historian Ben Blanc presented a thorough and fascinating overview of religion and faith during World War I entitled “Faith, Religion, and the Sacred in the Great War.” This well-attended talk reached 28 different people in its two week run; his superb slides are available from Adult Education (as are any other materials, upon request!). Secondly, Adult Education committee member and. UCC Lay Academy student Linda Stutz offered a spirited and helpful overview of biblical themes and books, drawing connections and bringing historical context to frequently overlooked scriptural material. Her talk was based on the book A Romp Through the Bible, which is available in the church library.

In December, there was only one week of Adult Forum, due to other church activities during the education hour. “Winter Mornings” drew from Pearl S. Buck’s story “Christmas Day in the Morning” and on Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” to delve into father-son relationships and the nature of love. January saw the first of the Communion Coffee Hours and a three-part series on nutrition led by Parish Nurse Sue Schmitz based on the documentary “The C Word.” Attendance for the first week of the series was 22.

Bible with Bagels meets from 9:00-10:30 am in the lounge and in the fall of 2017 had 15 regular attendees. The fall began with a four part series on the Book of Psalms by Pastor Ted, drawing on rabbinical and scholarly sources. The second series for Bible with Bagels was 5 weeks on Ten Prayers that Changed the World by Pierre Isbouts. These series were co-hosted with members of the Bible with Bagels group, and covered famous prayers and the historical context (accurate or otherwise) associated with them. Together we considered Martin Luther, George Washington, Constantine, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and St. Francis, drawing parallels between them about the nature of protest and non-violence, the influence of World War I (bringing additional connections to Ben Blanc’s talks), the more and less reliable parts of a historical figure’s legacy, and the sometimes unintended effects of historical characters upon our theology and broader culture.

The final series for Bible with Bagels in the fall was a mash-up of Advent readings from Goodness and Light from Orbis Books, a discussion of the personal heritage surrounding Christmas for group members, and an examination of the Danish concept of hygge, which is gaining traction societally as we realize the importance for caring for ourselves and our intimate friends in simple, life-sustaining and practical ways.

Bible with Bagels is off to a strong start in 2018 with the Uppity Women of the Bible series from Living the Questions, presented by Rev. Dr. Lisa M. Wolfe. Biblical women to be considered include Ruth, Esther, the unnamed woman in the Song of Songs, and Judith.
Mindfulness Group: In addition to Adult Forum and Bible with Bagels, Adult Education programming also includes the independent Mindfulness Group, which was started by former Pilgrim Adult Education Director Midge Miles, and continues to meet on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Pastor Ted and Lori Bowen lead the group in directing their attention to practicing the art of being present and cultivating a nonjudgmental, kind, and curious approach to daily interactions. The group is open both to the Pilgrim and wider community and has a regular attendance of five to six, with others who drop in to take part as they are able.
Jesus Seminar: A fourth component of Adult Education is the hosting of occasional special events. This fall, Peg Bradley and the Adult Education Committee reprised their role as hosts of the Jesus Seminar On the Road. “Changing Perceptions: Earth, Self, God” was held October 6-7th and had 100 attendees from the church, Fond du Lac, and all over the State. Clayton Crockett, Philosopher at the University of Central Arkansas, and Susan “Elli” Elliott, independent scholar and activist in Red Lodge, Montana co-led a new format for the Jesus Seminar and found it to be a successful experiment. Highlights of Elli’s talk included a discussion of the genius, a household god meant to embody a literal worship of ancestors and a the household as a theatrical set. Clayton Crockett, a philosopher, discussed future directions of theology, after tracing the development of the self in relation to concepts of God in broad strokes through western history. He concluded his talk with an exploration of the possibilities of the current research on energy as a resource for theological formulations.
The Jesus Seminar easily exceeded the committee’s minimums for a successful conference and resulted in a profit of $365 to the Adult Education budget. The work involved by the committee in hosting the conference was prodigious and far-reaching, involving extensive audiovisual upgrades, exceptional organizing and volunteer hours, and the unreimbursed donation of a nearly Ham Dinner-scale spread of homemade sweets and snacks. The commitment, organization, and effort displayed by the Adult Education Committee and by Peg Bradley as their leader is truly extraordinary and worthy of special acknowledgment in the history of Pilgrim.

Adult Education Committee: During the last few months, Adult Education has actively sought to coordinate with other ministries within the church. The Committee has embarked on an experiment in cooperation with the Worship Committee to provide a coffee hour the first Sunday of the month, so that there is more time for fellowship after Communion and an opportunity for more inter-generational social time. At the end of Spring Programming, we will decide whether to continue the coffee hour on first Sundays, based on feedback from the church – so if you like having the First Sunday Coffee Hour, please let us know!

The Adult Education Committee is also sharing time with the Solar Panel group to offer a discussion with Jim Funk of Energize, LLC on February 18th about the possibility of solar panels at Pilgrim.

Thirdly, the Committee has entertained suggestions from a church member that we bring more awareness of Latin American culture and concerns by bringing in three outside speakers in spring 2018 relating to immigration and the local Latino/Latina community in Appleton and Fond du Lac.

Fourthly, through a connection with Diana Hammer, the Adult Education Committee has entered into communication with the Out-reach Committee concerning participation with Feed My Starving Children, an event to be held April 6-7, 2018.

Lastly, Adult Education is coordinating with the Open and Affirming Committee to bring sessions during Adult Forum in the month of March around questions of the history of marriage and contemporary debates about marriage, and about precisely what the Open and Affirming designation would mean for the church. The church voted in December to continue study and discernment on this issue, and this program series is a first step in response to that vote.

Conclusion: We’re off to a good start in Adult Education. The weak spot for the Director so far has been communicating programming adequately far enough in advance; we have had a number of shifts in programming due to intra-church coordinating that have necessitated staying flexible as they developed, but the way seems clear to be able to set programming quite a bit further in advance now, and the value of intra-church cooperation is extremely strong. We look forward to taking advantage of that lead time to help Open Circle and the Sisters of St. Agnes, in addition to others, be especially aware of our offerings; they have been responsive to those invitations that they have received. We are looking forward to a joyful and interesting Spring!