Byline: Janet Souter
Thanks to the staff at Arlington Heights' First Presbyterian Church, its adult religious education program goes beyond the Sunday sermon in challenging the minds and hearts of the faithful.
The program, known as First Forum, has as its purpose the enhancement and encouragement of spiritual growth for people of all faiths. It's a three-pronged approach: worship, study and serve. Each supports the other - as a person explores the more profound aspects of faith, worship takes on a deeper meaning. This then helps in working with others to serve God and mankind.
First Forum is relatively new - it was initiated in the Spring of 2000. According to Dianne Shields, the church's associate pastor for education, the staff and officers of First Presbyterian saw that to further the church's mission statement -"To know Christ and make him known" - they needed to take a new approach toward that purpose. Adult education, they felt, needed to be dynamic and "fleshed out."
They sought the help of the Rev. Thomas Tewell, pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. In the late 1990s, Tewell had initiated the Center for Christian studies when he saw that education could serve as a vehicle for renewal within the church.
"My own personal interest, is that I was a teacher before I was a pastor," Shields says. "I have a vision for education to be dynamic. Education has to connect with other types of education. For example, while adults may continue their education throughout adulthood to further their careers, they stopped at educating themselves in matters of faith."
The core curriculum is divided into five tracks: The Bible; History and Theology; Christian Living; Spirituality and the Arts; and The Church and Ministry.
Does this sound dry? Look again. Under Christian Living, the courses offered include "I don't want to grow up - I'm just a Toys- R-Us Kid." The Bible track includes a course titled "Paul on Trial," based on the book by John Mauck who contends that the book of Acts is not just a biblical chapter, but a legal brief written by Luke for Paul's defense in his upcoming trial in Rome. …