“Faith Formation Project,” with Prof Katie Douglass
Amanda: Welcome to the SPU Voices podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Rev. Dr. Katie Douglass. She’s associate professor of educational ministry and practical theology at Seattle Pacific, and she and her team have received $1.3 million in grants for the Faith Formation Project. This project is all about partnering with congregations and families in the Pacific Northwest to help kids grow in faith. If you’re a parent, you know today’s fast-changing world is making your job even harder. Professor Douglass is here to help. Katie, thank you so much for joining us today.
Katie: Thanks for having me. I’m thrilled to be here and to share what for me is both a research interest, but also something that’s really personal as a mom.
Amanda: That’s great. Let’s just start with where did the idea come from for the Faith Formation Project?
Katie: That’s a great question. A number of years ago, Chris Smith, in 2009 — he’s a researcher who studies faith, and he started a project where he was looking at the faith lives of youth and what was having an impact on them. He was looking at youth across the United States, every religious identity. And one of the findings from that initial round of interviewing 3,000 young people was that when they controlled for every single variable, like where they were in the country and how frequently they attended church, the overall theme or the biggest impact on their faith was the faith of their parents. So parenting was seen as kind of the biggest predictor of faith in kids. Every four years, they conduct this study, following the same cohort of young people. That started in 2009. Every four years he seems to publish a new book, and recently he came out with a book that basically said, “Look, parenting, over all these years, has been the biggest predictor.” Which kind of was the impetus for what my grant is connected to through the Lilly Endowment.
Also in my own research that I’ve done, the first study I ever did while I was in graduate school was around how becoming a parent affected the faith life of the mother, how her capacity for both love and rage grew (laughs), how her reading of Scripture changed, and how her sense of God’s love for her expanded. In a more recent research project I did on confirmation, one of the findings was that parents play a really vital role during these middle school years for young people as they’re trying to understand what they believe and make faith their own. So where it comes from is many places, but it’s something I care about really passionately, around Christian parenting and making sure there are resources available.
“Chris Smith, in 2009 — he’s a researcher who studies faith, and he started a project where he was looking at the faith lives of youth and what was having an impact on them. He was looking at youth across the United States, every religious identity. And one of the findings from that initial round of interviewing 3,000 young people was that when they controlled for every single variable, like where they were in the country and how frequently they attended church, the overall theme or the biggest impact on their faith was the faith of their parents.”
Amanda: Well, I think all of us who are parents and who raise children within a church community understand that you want to provide that for your child, right? You want that to be available to them at the very earliest stages. On the other hand, we also know that at some point you have to make that faith your own, and having worked at a Christian university for a decade, for me — and I’ll let you speak to this too — we see over and over again, because that’s that time when you first move away from home and you don’t have someone saying, “You have to go to church because we’re all going,” right?
Amanda: It becomes that individual’s choice, that that is just such a vital time.
Katie: It’s so true, and actually there’s a really unique and interesting study that was done by a man named Vern Bengston, and he followed 350 different families and looked at how generationally they passed on faith. One of the things that I think is a bit surprising, but maybe a lot of us know intuitively, is that when we give kids freedom to explore other faith traditions, when we take them to a synagogue or a mosque or to a Roman Catholic service or an Orthodox service or expose them to a variety of religious options and identities, it doesn’t have the effect of them leaving our tradition or faith. In fact, it helps them articulate better why they decided to stay within the faith that they’ve been raised. And so I, as somebody who teaches college freshmen — I call them the kindergarteners of college — I try to invite them to do a bit of that faith exploration, to say you’re not just any tradition or any denomination. You were raised in a really specific way, and this is an opportunity for you to learn more about what that means to you, but also to learn about the plurality of religions that you live within, and you’re exposed to that with your roommate or the people on your hall.
Amanda: Yeah. I know for myself — and I know not everyone — but any time I’m given a choice, I feel like, then, when you make a choice you feel better about that choice. When you just have the one choice, you’re sort of left thinking, “What else is out there?” Right? And yet, like you said, if you’re exposed to other traditions, you can start to say, “Okay, and I see why this thing is important,” or, “I see why this decision was made.” And then, like you said, you start to make that choice your own.
Katie: One of the things that’s really interesting that’s been happening, and I think it’s happening a lot in the Pacific Northwest, but really across the United States, is a movement among today’s parents of young children, to deconstruct the faith that they once had. Rachel Held Evans has written a number of books that have really led people toward this rethinking, deconstructing what they were raised with to do things differently. Pew Research also recently shared a study where parents are doing things differently than they experienced when they were children around values, like how they define marriage. Who is marriage between? How do we talk about people with disabilities? When we pray, are we praying for the healing of somebody’s disability? Or are we praying that a community would be open to being changed and find new ways to welcome the gifts and leadership of those who have disabilities within their communities? So this is a really poignant moment in Christian parenting in America where there’s been a lot of deconstruction. There’s a lot of critique, but also I think Christian parents are really longing for something constructive that aligns with their values where they say, “I’m not afraid of my child being exposed to other religious groups. I want to be inclusive in the way I teach my kids about ability. I want to be a family that’s antiracist. How does that align with how I parent?” I’m really excited about this project that we’re doing because it really brings that to the forefront. And a number of authors of different books have said, “Somebody should really study parenting,” and this was the moment when I raised my hand and said, “I would love to do that.” (laughs)
Amanda: Well, I think something that you said really stuck with me, and let me see if I can articulate this back to you, and you tell me if this is right. I feel like sometimes we’re very scared of all the questioning and we need to be less scared of the process of questioning and just get better at dealing with the questions.
Katie: I think you’re absolutely right. One of the things that I think, I mean, for all of us during this pandemic, we were left to sit with our feelings alone and a lot of discomfort and a lot of questions around, why is this so miserable? Or, why was that interaction so awkward? And I think congregations right now have an opportunity to come alongside parents as they try to discern, you know, “My beliefs about, for example, gender and sexuality, are they aligned with what my church believes or not? And how do I renegotiate that? And how do I talk to my kid about their transgender friend at school or their friend who’s using they/them pronouns? How does my faith interact with that?” A lot of people’s sense of gender identity comes from their congregations. It comes from Scripture and different interpretations. And those can be really uncomfortable spaces, and people will think, “Oh the church is not the place where I should bring this up,” or, “Oh, I think I already know what they would say.” So my hope is that we create the space and create a community of learning around these challenges.
In fact, the first week of November, we’re hosting an event where we’re having a marriage and family therapist, Laura Benton, come and just talk about supporting kids and mental health. The mental health of kids and families, especially as they’re coming out of the pandemic, especially as they’re renegotiating things like gender identity among their friendship groups, kids who want to be antiracist and aren’t always doing that in ways that we think are good and helpful. I hear my kids when they’ll say, “Oh, that was a racist thing,” and I think, “Well, that wasn’t racist.” Like noticing differences is actually antiracist and a valuable thing if we say it the right way, right? So parenting is complicated. And then you want to intervene but you don’t always know if you’re doing it right.
Katie: And it’s also our kids are learning things in public school that we want to be part of the education that’s happening there, but a lot of us as parents, we weren’t taught what to say or what to do. There’s new information we don’t have yet. So part of the goal of this grant is that we would all learn about the hardest things together and we’d create a space for adults who love kids, whether they’re youth pastors or ministry leaders or parents, to just come together and say, “Let’s talk about these hard things and learn what we can so we can parent better.”
Amanda: Right, because parenting itself is hard, right?
Katie: Oh, yeah.
Amanda: We laugh today — our youngest is 21 and she’s in college now, and we laugh about when she was 12 and it was the early days of bring your own bags into the grocery store, and we pulled up — I don’t remember the right brands, but it won’t matter. Say we pulled up at QFC and I grabbed a Trader Joe’s bag to go into the store, and she said, “Mom!” And I was like, “What? What? What?” And she said, “You cannot bring that into the store.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “It is the — no, you can’t do that. If you’re going to bring it in, I’m staying in the car.” And I was like, “Okay. Stay in the car, because you’re crazy.” And we laugh about it, and not that many years later I told that story at dinner once and she was like, “I didn’t do that.” (laughs) Like, yes, yes you did. Yes you did. And so I think it is so hard to pick apart when is it the Trader Joe’s bag and we need to roll our eyes and move on? And when is it real, true questioning that we need to sit down and spend time and effort because this is a formative moment, right?
Amanda: It’s almost impossible sometimes to know if this is 12 being 12 or if this is a real, true question, right?
Katie: Right, right, totally. Totally. Yeah, I was at the swimming beach — I live near Green Lake — and some boys were playing with a ball. They were sitting on the lifeguard chair and it flailed down and they said, “Hey, lady, get that for us.” And I said, “Oh, I’m not going to get that for you,” and I just sort of kept reading my book. And I’m white, for those listening, and the boys sitting in the chair were Black, and the boys said to me, “You’re a racist.” And I feel like in parenting, not only are we parenting our own children, but we’re parenting — I mean, for me, I worked as a youth minister, so I always feel like they’re all God’s children. I have a role to parent all kids. So my response to this boy, I said, “You know, I’m white, and there might be racist things that I’m working on to change, but me not getting the ball for you is not a racist thing. It’s an adult thing and I’m reading a book, and a kid thing would be to go pick up that ball.” And so then what was crazy about this encounter was that my kids are sitting right there with me, right? They’re watching, “What is my mom’s response, my white mother’s response when she’s called a racist in public by someone who’s Black?” And I think all of us have these moments when we think, “Did I do the right thing?” Living in Seattle, we have a lot of encounters with folks who are living outside, and I want to model for them love and respect toward a community that’s dehumanized probably more than any community, and it’s actually really hard, right? How do I model for them, as well as talk to them and debrief afterward, and say, “I did the best I could. I don’t know that I actually even did it right, but here’s why that was hard for me. What did you notice?” And having those conversations is really vulnerable and it’s really hard. And for a lot of us, our parents were taught to not talk about stuff if it was awkward. Like you should just not go there.
“And I think all of us have these moments when we think, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ Living in Seattle, we have a lot of encounters with folks who are living outside, and I want to model for them love and respect toward a community that’s dehumanized probably more than any community, and it’s actually really hard, right? How do I model for them, as well as talk to them and debrief afterward, and say, ‘I did the best I could. I don’t know that I actually even did it right, but here’s why that was hard for me. What did you notice?’ And having those conversations is really vulnerable and it’s really hard.”
Amanda: Well, and never show vulnerability, right?
Amanda: Like, never show that. Go behind closed doors if you’re going to talk about anything you’re unsure of.
Katie: Right, exactly. And around gender identity, I recently was talking with one of my kids with somebody on his soccer team, and I said, “You know, I think they use they/them pronouns.” And I said, “Is that right, George?” And he said to me, “I think that’s right.” It’s like we’re learning it together. We’re wanting to be respectful together, but we’re wanting to do it in a way that doesn’t place a burden on this child who’s on my kid’s soccer team. And it’s complicated. And for a lot of us parents, it’s kind of like when my mom first got an iPhone. She would go around to her friends her age and she would be like, “How do I use this? What’s going on? Tell me, how do I close an app? Can you close an app?” It’s like we don’t know what we don’t know, but we know that we don’t want to do harm in the meanwhile.
Amanda: Right, right, which is why it’s so important to open these spaces to ask questions and share with each other. Because if you’re just supposed to know without being able to ask or define, that’s unreasonable, right?
Amanda: We can’t know without asking. We can’t know without being told. So okay, let’s get back to the project here. From what I’ve read, I see three basic arms of the Faith Formation Project. Can you talk us through those three sections?
Katie: Yeah, I would love to. The three would be to create a community of learning around families and how they parent and how congregations can support them. A second arm would be we want to just support congregations and ministry leaders, being really specific about how we do that. And then a third piece is that we’re conducting research on families and Christian parenting.
So I’ll talk to you a little bit about the first one. Each year we’re hosting, or creating, hosting, partnering with congregations to host three events. One is a lunch in the fall. This year I mentioned it’s going to be Laura Benton, who’s a marriage and family therapist. The idea is just to provide lunch, a short presentation from Laura, and then have conversations around tables just around the challenges related to the mental health of the children in our lives. And then we’ll have a time for questions for Laura, and I have a feeling it’s going to be like a giant group therapy session, because I already know I’m coming with, like, 10 questions I want to ask her. And I imagine for many, this will be thinking through, “How do I engage marriage and family therapists in my ministry? How do I make sure that’s a resource that people in my congregation are connected to?”
In the winter, we’ll have an event that’s at a local congregation. We’re supporting them financially but also showing up and providing leaders in different capacities. This winter it’ll be at Bethany Community Church. We’re planning something called the Care Conference, and it’s going to be just anyone who cares about kids and their wellbeing, so parents, teachers, private school teachers, public school teachers, congregational leaders. And the guest speaker will be Mark Oestreicher.
And then in the spring, we’re hosting more of a traditional conference where we have a main speaker and workshops. The idea for that event is that people can come with their ministry team, they can hear one speaker all together, and then maybe go to four different learning opportunities. Last year we had a session on the moral lives of children, how they think about morality and how that develops over time. We had one session on how to read the Bible with kids and different Bibles that are age appropriate. We had one session on accompanying families through divorce and another one on becoming a culturally conscious congregation, so thinking about the cultural identity of your congregation, what it means to be located where you are and have the heritage that you have, and ways that that can shape, in healthy ways, the way you do ministry.
So that’s the first part, is this community of learning, gathering together, learning together. We’re not doing it online. It’s all in person, so, sadly, if you want to come, you’re going to have to get yourself to the Pacific Northwest. But it’s a great part of the country, so maybe people would want to come.
Amanda: And if you’re listening to this thinking, “I have to get there no matter what,” we will put the link to the website into the description of this episode. So if you are driving or running, don’t you worry about it. Look that up online and you can go to the Faith Formation Project and see what’s going on.
Katie: So related to that, actually, we put money into the budget to partner with and support ministries in Hawaii that are often underfunded or are not often part of these larger grant projects, so we have funds to bring ministry leaders from Hawaii for the spring event every year. So if you’re a Hawaiian ministry leader and you’re listening to this, just look me up on the internet and send me an email and we’ll try to find a way to get you to Seattle.
That’s part of the second piece, which is supporting congregations. We designated $20,000 a year of our budget to just give directly to ministries who are trying to work with families as they navigate marginalized identities. We just received our first round of grant applications, and I wish we could fund them all. They’re such beautiful projects, and they range from things like creating rooms that are trauma-informed and sensitive to kids with autism, like just renovating a classroom. Some are to hire student interns to work with families that are harder to reach. Some ministries are in Hawaii, specifically Maui, as they recover and come out of the pandemic. One is for an after-school program for kids in a neighborhood that’s not well resourced. There’s just a really great, wide-ranging variety of ideas that have come out. Our idea with this was we just want to amplify what people are already doing. People in ministry are doing great things. They’re often overworked and underpaid, and we wanted to make funds easily accessible and to just trust that God’s doing something there and we don’t need to mess with it very much. We just want you to keep doing more of it.
Another piece of this supporting congregations and people in ministry is that we plan a pilgrimage — or we’re in the process of planning a pilgrimage — to go to Hawaii, specifically to visit a leper colony on Molokai that came into existence during the years when Hawaii was being colonized. It’s a really tragic story, actually, about how when people came in, they brought with them diseases, specifically leprosy, that was known to be very contagious. And as local Hawaiians began getting this bacterial infection, as they later realized it was, they decided to isolate them by dropping them off on the island of Molokai. So you have an intersection of a number of things this project cares about, how the pandemic has exacerbated some of our existing problems; how things like racism can isolate people from one another; and a disease is experienced with greater magnitude among certain groups than others. Also, this place represents how families have been separated by disease. And for a lot of us in COVID, we did not see family members, sometimes because we were just physically too far away to take a flight, but some around issues related to what was considered safe. So the goal of the pilgrimage is to go and visit and to try to learn from this community that was isolated and to think through what healing might look like for all of us and what healing eventually looked like for that community as well. And also maybe what was broken that really cannot be recovered from, that just needs to be lamented. So that’s the second part, is the money going to congregations, taking people on a pilgrimage.
And then the third part is to conduct new research around Christian parenting and how parents are navigating issues related to marginalization. So the example I gave of, as a white mom, how do I talk about racism with my kids in real-life conversations? Or how do I practice inclusion with regard to disability and teach my able-bodied children how to interact with kids with disabilities? Or a family that has a disabled child, what do their prayers look like? How do their congregations support them? Or how can they support them? So our hope is to do interviews with a number of families to learn from them, and then potentially also create a national survey that would capture a lot of the experiences that people are having but also the resources that they would like to see or that they need. And so for that part of the project, I’m working with a number of folks at SPU who have expertise in these areas. I love group projects. Maybe some people don’t, but I love them. So Brittany Tausen, who’s a social cognitive psychologist, is working with us; Jenny Vaydich, who does clinical psychology; Sara Koenig, who’s an Old Testament scholar; and then Joyce del Rosario, who does practical theology and mission. So I just feel like I have the very best team of people working with me to do this project.
And I should mention, too, we have a program director, Tiffany Acker, and she’s the one who’s doing such a beautiful job hosting and collecting our events, working with our student workers, and doing all of our social media and promotion. She’s just been a total joy to work with.
Amanda: Well, let me just back up a little bit, because I think the importance of research can really be overlooked when you’re talking about the faith realm, because I don’t know whatever faith tradition you grew up in, but I grew up in a very charismatic church, and so I think there would be people that would be almost anti-research, right? It’s like, “You ask God. You don’t do it man’s way, you do it God’s way,” right? And yet we know so well that we often think the answer is X. If we could just get X, everything would be fine. I mean, you look back from the beginning of recorded history. The smartest people all believed that if we could just have a widespread way of communicating to folks, that the world would just be okay, because everybody could talk to each other and we could get the right message to everyone. And we know that that’s not true. We know that the more information is available to the more people, the crazier it has become, right?
Katie: Oh, yeah.
Amanda: With misinformation and all this. So all that to say I think research is so very important because sometimes a community will spend decades working towards this goal that they think is going to solve a problem, and it turns out that is not the answer to the problem at all.
Katie: Yeah, so actually Brittany Tausen and I have been doing research over the last couple years around dehumanization. The flip side of that coin is loving your neighbor. But what we looked at was … The best example of this is let’s say your church has a free dinner. And that’s a good thing, right? Serve the poor. That’s something Jesus wants us to do. But if people only ever serve and they never eat with the people who are gathered, it can kind of reinforce their stereotypes about people who are less fortunate than they are. And that isn’t really loving your neighbor, actually. You’re serving them, but you’re not really loving them. Sometimes we’re doing stuff and we’re total hypocrites. We have the opposite impact that we want to have. And I think with regard to Christian parenting, we have the best of intentions, right? We want to raise faithful kids. Like that one study I referred to earlier, we might think, “Oh my gosh, I have to protect them from every religious group to keep them in the faith,” when the reality is, actually, if they know about the whole religious landscape that’s available to them, it helps them articulate even better why they would want to stay in the faith that they’ve inherited, and retention for faith, if you want to call it that, becomes much higher. So I think research can help give a clearer picture of what’s going on and help us be the people we really do want to be. I think that’s research at its finest, is when it adds clarity to our understanding around the goals that we have and the life that we want to live. It helps us become more loving. That’s my goal with the project at least.
“[L]et’s say your church has a free dinner. And that’s a good thing, right? Serve the poor. That’s something Jesus wants us to do. But if people only ever serve and they never eat with the people who are gathered, it can kind of reinforce their stereotypes about people who are less fortunate than they are. And that isn’t really loving your neighbor, actually. You’re serving them, but you’re not really loving them. Sometimes we’re doing stuff and we’re total hypocrites. We have the opposite impact that we want to have. And I think with regard to Christian parenting, we have the best of intentions, right?”
Amanda: Well, that’s a pretty great goal. That’s a pretty great goal. I think we forget sometimes as parents how deep our children actually think. Because they aren’t thinking deeply all the time, and so we sort of assume that they aren’t thinking deeply about anything, or not much anyway. But I don’t know about you. I have memories of being a kid and being dismissed by adults and thinking, “Are you serious? You really think I don’t know what’s going on right now?”
Amanda: Or, “I care just as much as you do about this situation.” So I think projects like this that force us to talk, force us to look at things, to show research, to say, “Hey, yeah, your kid’s thinking about this by third grade. No question about it.” That just sort of wakes us up to reality sometimes.
Katie: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I spoke at an event and was sharing just what my son within the past week had brought up, all the topics he had brought up and he’s in fourth grade. It was, like, death, sexuality, gender identity. It was every single topic that we’re discussing. Disability. Anyway, it was just a really interesting … It’s the life I’m living right now and the stuff we talk about every night. Even the ethics around how we interact with each other. Yeah, they’re definitely there. I think you’re right. My hope is that Christian parents, or all parents, would really take these moments really seriously with their kids. And in moments when you don’t really know what to do, even my interaction with the kid on the lifeguard chair, did I handle that perfectly? I don’t know that I did. I hope I did right by him. I hope that his interaction with this white lady was one that maybe caused him to think as well, but I also think I can do better, right? But we don’t have a chance to evaluate ourselves and our interactions unless we’re vulnerable enough to go there and stay there in the discomfort of saying, “Wow, I had this interaction and I don’t really know how that went.” And then I could say candidly to my kids, “You know, this is what I was hoping to communicate. How did you interpret that?” and actually look to them for wisdom.
That’s another thing that I recently wrote about, and it’s not new. It came from Mary Belenky, who has a book called Women’s Ways of Knowing. What I think is really beautiful about her work — and I believe this to be true — is when our kids come into our lives, they change us.
Amanda: Oh yeah, 100%.
Katie: And the questions they ask change us. And having them watch us changes us. If my kids are watching me interact with a person, I do it differently than if they’re not there. Anyway, when I think about Christian parenting, it’s not just us handing on faith to our kids or what we do to our kids, but Christian parenting is also about how being a parent changes us. For some, it means if your kid is experiencing depression, suddenly you become an expert in depression in a way you never would have otherwise. If your kid is being bullied at school, suddenly you care about bullying and interpersonal dynamics between kids in a new way. If your kid’s being called a racist or if your kid’s doing things that are racist, suddenly you care about that in a new way. My goal is for our community to make space for parents to think about, “Okay, I don’t have to do it exactly the same way my parents did. I have a community that I can be vulnerable with that’ll help bring up topics that I really want to grow in,” and also that there are experts in the room who can help me. (laughs) That’s why we’re bringing in Laura Benton. I’m like, “This is going to be so great. I can ask you all the things that I feel like I want to do better on but I’m not even sure where to start.”
Amanda: Right, and it’s not going to be the same for everyone. Anyone who has more than one child knows every child is completely different.
Katie: So true.
Amanda: Sometimes you look at them both, or however many you have, and say, “How do they all have the same DNA?” They’re just so, so different. We have to have enough research and enough space and enough people providing answers that you have answers for everyone in your family. Right? It’s not even like this is the answer for a parent to a child. There’s so much nuance going on there, for sure.
Katie: Exactly, and they grow and change over time too. I have friends with kids who are a little bit younger and a little older, and I think, “Wow, the challenges I have now are so different than when they were three or four years younger,” or that I’m looking into the future with my friends. So I think it’s really good to have a community that we can learn together and know that we’re not going through it alone.
Amanda: Right, and that’s what community is all about, right? It’s being there for each other and so much more than just bringing a casserole when everybody’s sick. I think these days, probably with food delivery (laughs) that’s a lot less important than being able to sit and have a hard conversation, which is what we all need. We need to work on these things in community together.
So you’re a mom. You’re a professor. You’re a reverend. All these things are obviously so close to your own heart. You’ve given us a few examples already, but do you have a specific one where something you learned working on this Faith Formation Project, that you just couldn’t wait to come home and talk about with your own kids?
Katie: That’s a great question. I’ll tell you something that we did differently during COVID, and I’m stealing a word from somebody who’s a mentor to me. She says that she feels like she’s a permissionary. She gives people permission. I think sometimes when we think about forming faith in our kids, we think we’ve got to bring them to church on Sunday. We want to take them to Sunday School, make sure they have some friends in addition to their school friends, their church friends, and read the Bible together. I think absolutely all those things are embodied, practiced ways that we invite our kids into the community of faith to be part of that. One of the challenges for me during COVID, but even this continues — I mean, this was exacerbated by COVID — is there are just Sundays where we’re home sick or we’re traveling or we have soccer — we don’t actually skip for soccer games, but people have soccer games. We will only go to the ones not during church. But one thing we started doing at home that probably has been the most beautiful thing that came out of COVID, is that we’ll do what we call church at home. I want to go on the record right now to say that I give you all permission — you can blame me if you get in trouble with somebody — to create your own worship service at home with your kids. I think sometimes we think a worship service has to have these different elements and it has to happen in this certain place, but when we worship God, it can happen anywhere.
But I think we can say that and it becomes this disused thing, like “Oh, I worship God when I go hiking,” or, “Oh, I worship God around the campfire.” What we do in our family is really specific, like we have certain ritual elements. There’s the Call to Worship. This is when somebody yells around the house, like I’ll say, “Hey, let’s set up worship,” and somebody yells, “We’re doing church at home! Everyone come to the living room!” So that’s our Call to Worship. And then we have a special little placemat we set out and we have a candle that has three wicks for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And I have three boys, so everyone gets to light one of the wicks. And then I have one of my kids choose a Bible verse or Bible story to read. There’s one who always chooses David and Goliath. We have read that (laughs) a lot. But you know what? There’s something in that story that’s speaking to our family. And then we sing the songs that we know by heart already, and then we pray together as a family. My kids are young, so I’ll say, “What’s one thing we want to tell God thank you for? What’s one thing we want to ask God for help with?” And then we pray together and we’ll pray The Lord’s Prayer. And then at that point, church at home spins out of control and we end up playing more songs or … You know, it devolves at some point. There’s no formal ending to it, but it’s a beautiful ritual that I don’t think we would have done had the pandemic not really put a halt on our church participation. I felt so sad that I hated online church so much. (laughs) I was like, I turn it on and then they won’t watch it. And then I’m yelling at them, like, “Get in here and listen to the children’s message.” I mean, it brought out the worst in me. But instead, we created something different that really brings out the best in our family. It brings us all closer to God together. It’s just the most beautiful thing.
Anyway, that’s something that I would say I want to give everyone permission. I think that’s come out generally from this project, is to be a spiritual leader in your home and to plan a special ritual that your family could do. Maybe it’s because you’re sick and you can’t go to church on Sunday, or maybe it’s something that happens as a special thing on Wednesday nights or, I don’t know, that you do together as a whole family when everyone’s there.
Amanda: Which really is so much of the point, right, is learning together as a family. I think that’s what kids remember when they grow up, are those special times that you all share. Even if it didn’t feel as special at the time, right?
Amanda: As an adult, when you’re trying to control the situation and it’s frustrating, they don’t remember that part.
Katie: They don’t.
Amanda: They just remember the being together part.
Katie: Yeah, and I think it models for them really well, like, “This is important to my parents. We don’t just show up and attend church.” Even though, I mean, you should still go ahead and attend church. We still do. But when we don’t attend church, we’re still Christians who worship together, and we can do that together and create that together, and they can create that together too, with us. We’re not the ones who tell them what to do. It’s like there’s a joy in getting to do your part or your role, which is fun to see how they take ownership of that and have us read David and Goliath again, for example, or a different story.
Amanda: And I think we know that from parenting, right? If you have the kid that won’t eat, you have them help cook dinner with you because that almost always changes things. And I think it’s the same thing, right?
Amanda: If you have a kid that feels disinterested, make them a part of the process and not just a spectator. I love that.
Katie: Yes, yes, yes. Also, whenever I lead in church, which I do frequently at my church, I try to find ways to get my kids up there with me. If you’re a parent and they’ve said, “Can you be the liturgist?” or, “Could you give the announcements?” or, “Could you do the children’s message?” I’ll give you permission now. You don’t have to tell anybody. Just have your kid do it with you and invite them up. It can be simple. Sometimes I’ll say to my kids, “I’m going to have this part read. Do you want to be a reader?” And I make it really special. I only let one of them do it, not all three. Or my husband was the liturgist and he had our son come up and invite people to give generously during the offering time. And those moments when they’re integrated into the community, it’s not Children’s Sunday, it’s just they’re part of the people who worship God on Sundays at this church. I think those are really powerful, formative moments. Like you said, those things that really stay with you over your lifetime. And as parents, we can be active in creating those memories for our kids. They really do powerfully shape them.
Amanda: Amen. Yes. 100%. In the description for the podcast, you’ll be able to find the link to the website to read more about the Faith Formation Project and all the places you can come to classes and receive resources. So now, Katie, we’ll ask you our famous last question that we ask all of our guests. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have all of us do?
Katie: This is like Hot Ones, like the hot wings question. I love it.
Katie: I would have everyone call their parents and tell them something they appreciate about the way they were raised or parented.
Amanda: I love that. And after four years, I think you’re the first person to give that specific answer. (laughs) I love that.
Katie: I think it’s easy to critique the way you were parented and say you want to do things different, but I think there are things we really admire about our parents that are valuable that we should tell them. My mom did a whole PTA education thing around kids with disabilities in our public schools, and I watched her practice this puppet show. It was so formative for me. My dad hired folks coming out of prison for his marketing research business. It wasn’t something he talked about a lot, but those things, I mean, all of us have things that we see that our parents did, and we don’t always have a chance to tell them. I think that would really help people’s relationships. I think our relationships are suffering after COVID, but I think that would be a good thing to make our world better, to honor and appreciate the generation that came before us.
Amanda: I love that. I love that. And can I even add if your parents are no longer with us, that you can still do that within a prayer and just be grateful within your own soul for things that your parents have done for you.
Amanda: Well, Katie, I have enjoyed this so much. We’re going to follow what you’re doing and I hope you’ll come back again and share more of your research.
Katie: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.