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Course explores essentials of Christian faith

By Jacky Bramma

Christian Foundations, subtitled “A Grounding for a Life of Faith,” is so comprehensive that it might equally well have been dubbed, “All You Ever Wanted to Know About Christianity But Were Too Afraid to Ask.” This new nine-module course was written under the direction of the Rev. Canon Dr. Judy Paulsen, director of the Institute of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, with co-authors Patrick Paulsen and the Rev. Canon Susan Bell. There is an attractive handbook for each student, which is also a personal workbook.

Cover of the course booklet
Christian Foundations gives participants a basic introduction to Christianity.

A group of 40 parishioners from All Saints, Whitby, led by the Rev. Canon Stephen Vail, signed up for the course as a Lenten study this year, ending two weeks after Easter. Each Wednesday evening, a simple supper of soup and bread was offered before the course started, providing fellowship and an opportunity to forge new friendships. A repeat session was run by a lay person, Joanne Warman, on Thursday mornings for those unable to come on Wednesdays.

Starting with the basic tenet that God wants us to know him and pass along the invitation to others, the modules take participants through the story of Israel and the structure of the Old Testament. This provides a vital context to the arrival of Jesus, and who he is. The journey continues with the birth and development of the early Church and the New Testament. Key doctrines and the split that resulted from the Reformation come next. The final two modules deal with growing in one’s faith through spiritual disciplines and, lastly, how every Christian can grow as a disciple (or an “apprentice”) of Jesus. Each module is made up of information narratives, interactive exercises, small group discussion questions and fill-in-the-blank quizzes. Ms. Warman commented that Christian Foundations was a good refresher course. “It reminded me of the fact that God desires a relationship with his children,” she said.

Our group’s overall satisfaction was expressed in the feedback received after the final session:

  • “Great course, great workbook. I liked the order in which the topics were presented.”
  • “I learned a lot that I didn’t know that helped other information make sense.”
  • “I would recommend that everyone should do this course.”
  • “The book was informative, the quizzes challenging at times, but most of all I enjoyed the interaction with my fellow parishioners.”
  • “I especially liked the way the course gave an overview of the history of the church. Most of us were surprised to learn that the Anglican Church is not actually Protestant, but an ‘originally conceived and independent Christian entity!’ I also loved the way the final session came full circle, back to relationship with God.”

One of the challenges we encountered was making sure there were enough workbooks, especially for last-minute sign-ups, so planning ahead is necessary. Unlike other study sessions we had done in the past using handouts, the purchase of a book was essential. All Saints was fortunate to receive a donation that subsidized the cost for each participant.

Another consideration was the length of time needed to complete the course, both the number of sessions and the material covered in each module. Given the many demands of work and family on our time, setting aside eight consecutive evenings (we condensed the two Old Testament modules into one) required quite a commitment. The reading for the next module was assigned each week, so people came prepared for discussion. This enabled us to tailor the content to the hour and a half we had allotted. Also, if someone was unable to attend a session, they could make up what they missed at home or attend the other session.

There is no doubt that Christian Foundations was a worthwhile venture. It is a very thorough study of how Christianity was born and where it is going. At the same time, the clear layout of the book makes it easy to follow. The last word comes from one person who had never attended a Christian course before: “At first I felt I was going to be in the middle of a lake without paddles, but to my surprise a number of us felt that way. I am glad we earned our paddles!”

For more information about running Christian Foundations in your parish, visit the Wycliffe College website.

Jacky Bramma is a member of All Saints, Whitby.