In 1989, Maria Harris, a Roman Catholic educator, published Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church, and Christian formation leaders have been trying to live into her vision ever since. The clarity of that vision has guided the Center for the Ministry of Teaching in its work with congregations, dioceses, and seminarians. Her ideas are as fresh today as they were in 1989. Her book has been read and reread, and marked up by formation leaders, and shared with learners and students everywhere.
What you need to know about Maria Harris is her central theme—faith is formed throughout our lives and in every area in the life of the church. For Harris, the church itself is an educator, teaching to and through various forms to shape us into the people God has made and is making.
The Big Idea
Following the metaphor of church as teacher, Harris says we might think of the different areas of church life as curriculum. She means that in the broadest sense, as both the way we teach as well as the subject matter.
For Harris, five curricula together comprise the vocation of the people of God:
- Koinonia, Greek for community, is the curriculum that gathers people together. “The fashioning of a people,” Harris says, “does not occur unless a people exists to be fashioned.”
- Leiturgiais the curriculum of prayer, including both corporate worship and personal spirituality. Harris is quick to note that we cannot separate prayer from the other curricula that call us to action in the name of justice; leiturgiais truly the workof the people.
- Didache, the curriculum of teaching, concerns not only the doctrines and traditions that are received and passed on, but also the manner of this transmission. So catechesis is a part of teaching, but so is preaching, discussion, reinterpretation, or any activity that results in people being critically engaged.
- Kerygmais proclamation, the message of scripture and the sharing of it with others. Harris reminds us of the way Jesus understood his own proclamation, with special attention to “the unheralded, the unsung.”
- The final curriculum is diakonia, or loving service, which includes caring and gathering, empowering and advocating. It is no coincidence that she names this one last because service to others springs from gratitude.
Integrating a Vision of Christian Formation
The power of Harris’ work in Fashion Me a Peopleis its integrated vision. She knew that Christian formation doesn’t just happen on Sunday mornings. It happens whenever and wherever the people of God live into their vocation. This attention to formation in all aspects of the church can reenergize congregations that may lack numbers or funding for fancy programming.
The lasting gift of Maria Harris is the reminder that to form faithful Christians, our most important job is to be the church together.
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher: Winter 2019 Special Issue, page 8