Four Lesson Plans (from Rev. Katelyn Gordon)

SESSION ONE

Concept
     The purpose of the first session is to explore Bill Harkins’s lead article on the concept of resilience and how it can be understood and practiced in our faith communities. Participants will apply Harkins’s research on resilience in the areas of nature, family systems theory, change and transition, and neuroscience to an experience of adversity within their own congregation.

Timeframe
     The lesson is written for a 45-minute class period. Adjustments may be made to fit the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
     Participants will:

  • Consider what resilience means to them
  • Summarize Harkins’s findings on resilience with respect to nature, family systems theory, change and transition, and neuroscience
  • Apply Harkins’s research on resilience to a particular situation of adversity in their own congregation
  • Reflect on the relationship between resilience and hope and their own experiences of this relationship in their church

Preparation

  • Participants should have read Harkins’s lead article, “Transition, Resilience, and Fireweed.”
  • Arrange the room in a way that lends itself to discussion. If your group is larger than eight people, consider forming smaller groups of four to six members.
  • Write the statement, “When I hear the word ‘resilience,’ I think of ____________” on the board or on a sheet of newsprint.

Materials

  • Bibles
  • newsprint
  • markers
  • paper
  • pens/pencils
  • copies of the Harkins essay

Sequence
Opening
     As the participants arrive, invite them to respond to the open-ended statement (“When I hear the word ‘resilience,’ I think of _______________.”) on the board/newsprint with a partner. After a few minutes, invite people to share their responses with the whole group, and record their answers on the board/sheet. Take a few moments to notice the similarities and differences in people’s responses. What are some themes in their responses?

Explore
     Ask participants to share their initial reactions to Harkins’s article in a two- or three-word phrase. Record their responses on the board or on a sheet of newsprint.

Encounter
     Harkins explores the concept of resilience as it is seen in nature, in family systems theory, in experiences of change and transition, and in neuroscience. Divide the group into four small groups with each group focusing on one area. Pass out copies of Harkins’s article to each group, and give the groups four or five minutes to come up with a two- or three-sentence summary of Harkins’s findings in each section.
     Come back together into a large group, and have each small group share their summarizing sentences. Ask a scribe from each group to write the sentences on a sheet of newsprint or on the board, so the whole group can see them and refer to them throughout the rest of the discussion.

     Harkins observes that resilience necessarily involves loss, suffering, or adversity of some kind. Have the group spend a few minutes identifying some experiences of adversity in their congregation. Choose one particular experience to focus on. (If the group is having a hard time coming up with an experience, you may remind them of a time when the church was in between pastors or when a pastor left unexpectedly, when there were concerns about the budget, or when the church experienced division over a theological issue, etc.)

     Have members go back into their four small groups, and ask each group to think about the congregational experience of adversity in light of their summary of each section and to reflect on the following questions.
•  Nature
     o Harkins writes how his “vision had been limited only to what was most obvious to the eye” and how the forest’s resilience was apparent when he began to pay attention.
     o Were there moments in the situation when the congregation’s vision was limited? How so? What was the congregation overlooking in those moments?
•  Family systems
     o Harkins cites Froma Walsch’s conclusion that resilient families are “successful in reclaiming or retaining a positive outlook following a crisis or a period of change.”
     o How was this true or untrue for your congregation during its identified period of adversity?
•  Change and transition
     o In this section of the article, Harkins talks about translational leaders and boundary leaders – or those leaders who “imaginatively embrace different ways of being in the world” and “have strength of imagination.”
     o Who were some translational or boundary leaders for your congregation in the midst of adversity? What made you identify these people as this type of leader?
•  Neuroscience
     o Harkins concludes, “Resilience at the level of neurochemistry, we are learning, occurs best in community.”
     o How did your congregation demonstrate resilience in the identified situation? Were there particular communal practices (prayer, worship, Bible study, fellowship) that contributed to its resilience?

     Reconvene after five minutes of discussion, and allow each group to share their thoughts.

     In his closing section, Harkins asserts, “Hope is deeply connected to our ability to cope with life’s difficulties and to live within – and into – communities of faith in ways that are life-giving and resilient,” and he continues to say, “[C]ommunities of hope – the calling of all Christian communities – are actually places that have resilience written into their being.” As a group, discuss how members have experienced these statements to be true or untrue in their congregation.

Respond
     Ask someone to read Romans 5:3-5. After today’s study and conversation, what words in the passage resonate with you?
     Encourage the class to read this passage throughout the week and reflect on how it speaks into their daily lives.

Closing
Close with prayer using your own words or the following:
God of hope, you have not promised us that life will be easy, but you have promised that you will walk beside us through the difficulties. By your Spirit, give us strength to endure life’s challenges and help us to see possibilities for growth in situations that seem bleak. We give you thanks for the gift of community and for those people who help us to see your presence and activity in the world, and we pray that we will be witnesses to the hope of Jesus Christ for others in the world. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

SESSION TWO

Concept
     The purpose of the second lesson is to explore David Casson’s claim that “resilience is the DNA of our biblical canon,” specifically looking at stories from the Hebrew Scriptures. Participants will consider how resilience is an underlying theme of the larger narrative of Scripture and will reflect on how this theme might shape congregational experiences of adversity.

Timeframe
     The lesson is written for a 45-minute class period. Adjustments may be made to accommodate the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
     Participants will:

  • Identify Old Testament figures and stories that demonstrate resilience
  • Engage with Casson’s claim that resilience is evident in almost every biblical story
  • Explore the scriptural passages from Casson’s article and what they teach us about resilience
  • Apply their learnings about resilience from Scripture to their particular church

Preparation

  • Participants should have read Casson’s response article.
  • Arrange the room in a way that lends itself to discussion. If your group is larger than eight people, consider forming smaller groups of four to six members.
  • Write the opening question on the board or on a piece of newsprint, “In your opinion, which Old Testament biblical character or story best exemplifies resilience?”

Materials

  • Bibles
  • Paper and pens or pencils
  • Newsprint
  • Markers

Sequence
Opening
     As participants arrive, invite them to reflect on the question on the board/newsprint (“In your opinion, which Old Testament biblical character or story best exemplifies resilience?”), and write their response on a piece of paper/index card. Once the class has had a few minutes to reflect, ask volunteers to share their responses and to offer a brief explanation for why they chose that particular person or story. After volunteers have shared, discuss the following questions:
•  What are some similarities between these characters and stories?
•  Casson suggests that imagination and hope are directly related to a person’s or a community’s capacity for resilience. How do these biblical examples demonstrate imagination and hope?

Explore
     In his essay, Casson argues that the most fertile “fireweed seed” for a congregation is “the habit of stepping together into the narratives of scripture.” He suggests that reading Scripture together will do more to foster resilience in a congregation than “resources of shared faith, prayer practices, ritual, music, [and] experiences and memories of deep community.” Do you agree with Casson? Why or why not?

Encounter
     Revisit the list of biblical stories and people demonstrating resilience from the opening activity. Ask the group to brainstorm additions they would make to the list (remembering to focus on the Old Testament), and encourage discussion about why the story or person is being included.

     Casson made “a mental list of biblical texts that demonstrate the quality of resilience” and came to the conclusion that “nearly every passage qualifies to some extent.” As a group, discuss whether or not you agree or disagree with Casson’s conclusion. Why or why not?

     Look at your list of resilient biblical characters and stories. (Hopefully your list will be rather long.) What does it tell us that resilience is a part of all these stories? What does this tell us about who God is? What does this tell us about who we are?

     Spend a few minutes reviewing Casson’s overview of the exile. Remind the participants of what a traumatic experience the exile was for the Israelites. Invite a volunteer to read Psalm 137:1-6 and spend a few minutes reflecting on the emotions expressed in this psalm.

     Divide the group into three small groups and give each group one of the biblical examples of resilience that Casson identifies in his response:
     •  Jeremiah 29:1-14
     •  Esther 3:8-9, 7:1-4, 9:24-28
     •  Daniel 1
     Give the small groups 5-7 minutes to read their passages and to discuss the following questions (you may want to write these on the board/a sheet of newsprint for the groups to reference):
     •  What is the challenge/difficulty in your passage?
     •  Where do you see resilience in your passage?
     •  How does the person or community in your passage demonstrate imagination and hope?
     Come back together as a large group, and ask for a spokesperson from each group to report the highlights of her or his small group’s discussion.

     Casson suggests that an understanding of Scripture as “texts of resilience…promises those who teach and preach these texts not only a better understanding of the documents themselves, but clues for how to help congregations experience scripture in ways that best enable a capacity for adaptive change.” For each story, spend time reflecting on the follow questions as a group:
     •  What “clues” do these passages provide that might “help congregations experience scripture in ways that best enable a capacity for adaptive change”?
     •  Can you think of a challenge the church has faced/is facing that is similar to your passage?
     •  What can we as the church learn about resilience from this story?
     Depending on how much time you have, you may want to reflect on these questions in reference to other Old Testament stories that are on the group’s list from earlier in the session.

     Casson takes Harkins’s assertion that “congregations play a significant role strengthening and encouraging resilience” a step further and says, “This is true in the moment, as a congregation helps members respond to unsettling circumstances. But it is equally true long before such circumstances arrive as congregations together learn and rehearse skills and habits that will prove to be the ‘fireweed seed,’ sprouting into adaptive change during challenges still in the future.”
     •  What are some of the skills and habits that your congregation is learning and practicing now that could foster resilience in the face of future challenges?
     •  What is the congregation learning about resilience from those practices?
     •  Are there other resilience-fostering practices your congregation could adopt?

Respond
     Revisit the question from the Explore section of this session. Has anyone changed his or her mind since the beginning of the session? Why or why not?
     Invite participants to share how they might use the study and discussion from today’s session in their personal lives as well as in their corporate life as a congregation.

Closing
Close in prayer using your own words or the following:
Faithful and steadfast God, we give you thanks for your Word in Scripture and especially for stories of resilience and hope. We thank you for your abiding presence with your people in the midst of exile and despair, and we pray that you will help us to turn to you and to your Word for encouragement when we are feeling helpless and hopeless. In the name of your Son Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

 

SESSION THREE

Concept
     The purpose of the third lesson is to explore Wendy Farley’s essay “Abiding in Love: Stories of Affliction, Resilience, and Hope” and to reflect on faith communities’ response and responsibility to those who are suffering.

Timeframe
     The lesson is written for a 45-minute class period. Adjustments may be made to accommodate the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
     Participants will:

  • Consider the relationship between suffering and affliction and the distinction between the two
  • Reflect on Farley’s observations about common responses to affliction
  • Recall biblical stories and personal experiences of affliction
  • Discuss ways their congregation may create a space where suffering is acknowledged and comforted

Preparation

  • Participants should have read Farley’s response article.
  • Arrange the room in a way that lends itself to discussion. If your group is larger than eight people, consider forming smaller groups of four to six members.

Materials

  • Bibles
  • Paper and pens or pencils
  • Newsprint
  • Markers

Sequence
Opening
     As participants arrive, invite them to find a partner and to share their reactions to Farley’s article with each other. What resonated with them? What seemed foreign?
     Spend a few minutes as a whole group sharing thoughts and reactions.

Explore
     Ask group members to share their thoughts about the words “suffering” and “affliction.” Jot down their responses on the board or on a sheet of newsprint.
•  Are these words they are likely to use to describe a personal situation or not?
•  If not, what words do they use instead?
  Why not use the words “suffering” and “affliction”?

Encounter
     Spend some time fleshing out Farley’s distinction between suffering and affliction. Invite participants to share what they understand to be the relationship between suffering and affliction and to identify what is unique to affliction. You may ask someone to serve as the scribe and record the group’s responses on the board or on a sheet of newsprint.
•  Have group members thought about this distinction before?
•  What do you make of Farley’s statement that we tend to be more sympathetic to suffering than to affliction?

     Divide into groups of four and give the groups four to five minutes to brainstorm biblical characters who experienced affliction. After a few minutes, invite the groups to think of what kinds of experiences of suffering might lead to affliction. Encourage participants to be sensitive in naming particular people in these conversations. Suggest that individuals share stories of their own rather than telling other peoples’ stories for them.

     Farley suggests that “Part of the difficulty may be that we experience afflictive suffering as alien to us; it is something that happens to other people, something that comes to those who deserve it.”
•  Do group members agree or disagree with Farley’s claim?
•  What situations might prompt someone to say, “I never thought this would happen to me”?
•  What does that sense of immunity to suffering and affliction say about our understanding of ourselves?
•  Revisit the earlier conversation about members’ thoughts on the words “suffering” and “affliction.” Did that conversation confirm or contradict Farley’s suggestion?

     According to Farley, it is not just society that isolates the afflicted; often churches cause afflicted persons more hurt by associating suffering with guilt.
•  Have you had an experience at church where suffering was associated with guilt, either implicitly or explicitly? What was that experience like?

     Ask a volunteer to read Philippians 2:1-11 for the group. Farley contends, “the Great Compassion bodied forth in the midst of this world not as an emperor or warrior but as a refugee child who grew up to be a victim of state sponsored execution. This intimacy of the Divine with suffering severs the connection between guilt and suffering, showing us that nothing separates us from divine compassion, least of all our suffering.”
•  How does Philippians 2 affirm Farley’s statement?
  What does Christ’s suffering mean to you in the midst of a difficult season of life?

     In the conclusion of her response, Farley asserts that, “what we say and do [as the church] must be good news even in the face of the most destructive affliction. It is the test of the truth of our faith.”
  How does your congregation acknowledge the reality of suffering?
•  How does your congregation acknowledge the reality of affliction?
•  What are some ways that your church could be more mindful of the afflicted who “are invisible among us”?

     Optional Activity: If your church is a Stephen Ministry congregation, you might invite a Stephen Leader or Minister to speak about the ways Stephen Ministers care for people who are experiencing afflictive suffering.

Respond
     Read Romans 8:35-39. Discuss how Farley’s essay echoes the message of this passage.

Closing
Close in prayer using your own words or the following:
God of love, we pray for all of your children who are suffering and afflicted. We pray for those people who feel alone and isolated in their despair. Forgive us when we fail to see their hurt and when we speak careless words that cause them more pain. Help us to speak at every moment as though we were speaking to someone who needs to hear of your love. We offer this prayer in the name of your Son who was willing to suffer alongside us and for us. Amen.

 

SESSION FOUR

Concept
     The purpose of the fourth lesson is to engage with Martha Moore-Keish’s response to Harkins’s essay and specifically to focus on her understanding of cross-resurrection faith in relationship to resilience and hope. Participants will continue to explore the role of imagination, hope, and resilience in their personal lives and in the life of their faith community.

Timeframe
     The lesson is written for a 45-minute class period. Adjustments may be made to accommodate the group’s needs and circumstances.

Objectives
     Participants will:

  • Share biblical passages that have given them strength in adversity
  • Examine the exodus and the resurrection accounts as foundations to a Christian interpretive framework of resilience
  • Reflect on personal and communal experiences of cross-resurrection faith
  • Explore two hymns that speak to cross-resurrection faith
  • Consider how they can continue to engage with scripture in resilience-fostering ways beyond this study

Preparation

  • Participants should have read Moore-Keish’s response article.
  • Arrange the room in a way that lends itself to discussion. If your group is larger than eight people, consider forming smaller groups of four to six members.

Materials

  • Bibles
  • Paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Newsprint
  • Markers
  • Copies of the hymns “Canticle of the Turning” and “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less”

Sequence
Opening
     As participants arrive, give each person a notecard and ask them to jot down Scripture passages that have given them strength and hope in the midst of difficulty or loss. Have Bibles available for folks to reference if need be. After a few minutes, invite volunteers to share some of the passages they wrote down.
•  Do certain passages show up frequently?
  What about those passages gives hope and/or comfort?
  What, if anything, do those passages communicate about resilience?

Explore
     As a group, put Moore-Keish’s essay in conversation with Casson’s essay from two weeks ago. (It may be helpful to review the highlights of Casson’s article and the class discussion for folks who were not present at that session.)
  Where do you hear similarities?
  Where do you hear differences?

Encounter
     In the beginning of her essay, Moore-Keish asserts, “Christians have deep resources for such meaning-making frameworks: in our core narratives of suffering and hope, of death and life, of God’s faithfulness in the midst of disorienting change,” and she points to the accounts of the exodus and of Christ’s death and resurrection as two foundational texts. Review the key points of this section in Moore-Keish’s essay.

     Moore-Keish reminds us that we can’t jump to the resurrection (or resilience) without first experiencing death (or suffering). During Holy Week, many churches offer a Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday Tenebrae service to remember Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. If your church has a Good Friday or Tenebrae service, spend some time reflecting on the tone of the service.
  What is the mood of the service?
•  How is this service different than other worship services?
•  How does attending a Good Friday or Tenebrae service affect your experience of the Easter morning worship service?

     Moore-Keish writes, “We do not develop resilience without acknowledging, grieving, and making meaning of the real suffering our lives.” Spend some time reflecting as a group about this statement.
•  Thinking beyond the previous example of Holy Week worship services, what other examples from your personal life or from a community’s life can you think of that support Moore-Keish’s claim?

     According to Moore-Keish, “a Christian imagination fundamentally shaped by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection has a particular capacity for resilience, because cross-resurrection faith necessarily recognizes the reality of wounds AND refuses to let those wounds have the last word.” This interpretive framework of cross-resurrection faith has personal connections for Moore-Keish, and she shares a story about her grandfather and his resilience in the wake of a family tragedy.
  What resonates with you about Moore-Keish’s story?
•  Can you think of stories from your own life or your family’s life that demonstrate cross-resurrection faith?
•  What are some examples from the larger faith community?

     In the conclusion of her article, Moore-Keish references the first and final verses of the contemporary hymn “Canticle of the Turning,” which is based on Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55. Pass out copies of the lyrics to this hymn, and play the hymn (on a CD or Youtube video) for the group. Another (likely more familiar) hymn that speaks to this theme is “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” (PH #379).

     Divide the group into two small groups, and assign one group “Canticle of the Turning” and the other group “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less.” Ask each group to consider the following questions as they relate to their hymn:
  Where do you hear hope in the hymn?
  How does the hymn exemplify cross-resurrection faith?
  What does this hymn communicate to a congregation who sings it in worship?

     Reconvene as a large group and share highlights from the small group discussions.

Respond
     As a group, reflect on Moore-Keish’s suggestion that we “nourish our imaginations regularly, through reading and wrestling, prayer and proclamation, singing and meditation, on the varied scripture narratives that attest to God’s activity in the midst of change, turmoil, even destruction and death.”
  As group members conclude this series on resilience, what are some ways that they can continue to interact with scripture that will nurture their capacity for resilience?

Closing
Close in prayer and/or by singing the first verse of “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” (PH #379).

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