The Place Where We Are Right

Jessica Rathbun-Cook finished her Masters of Divinity at Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2012, and is hoping to start a PhD program in the fall of 2013. Put simply, Jessica wants to tell people that God loves them. She sees that love expressed in community, and hopes that, in being known and knowing one other, we may begin to see everyone we meet as a child of God.  She blogs at http://www.clatteringbones.com/

“The Place Where We Are Right,” by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right / Flowers will never grow / In the spring.

The place where we are right / Is hard and trampled /Like a yard.

But doubts and loves /Dig up the world /Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place

Where the ruined House once stood.

*****

I always kind of chuckle when people ask me how my partner and I met.

“We actually grew up in the same church,” I reply, “so we met when we were in pre-school.”

wind_chimesThis answer elicits a range of replies – most often rooted in some form of surprise.  Though I have a number of childhood friends who have married people from my hometown, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Presbyterian youth groups (especially in East Texas) are not usually the place where same-sex partnerships begin.  Though we weren’t really friends in high school (we went to different schools and were a grade apart), and started dating about a decade after moving away from Texas, our relationship was built upon a foundation of care for one another that had been laid by the church community that raised us.  In many ways, we learned what it was to be part of a faith community from being part of that faith community.  We learned what it was to be cared for by adults who weren’t our parents, to be challenged and taught to live into our beliefs, because it was modeled for us in the lives of the people who took the time to teach us Sunday school, direct us in youth choir or bell choir, take us on trips.  The people in the congregation took the time to listen to us, to ask us tough questions – they showed us what it was to be loved.

When we got married, my partner and I received a number of gifts from some of those people who’d played such a big part in bringing us up.  One of the most treasured of those gifts is a set of wind chimes we got from one of my favorite Sunday school teachers.  They came with a note, telling us that the wind chimes were meant to be a reminder of our love for one another, so that even in the more difficult times we were sure to face we would have something to bring us back to the commitments we made, and the love we share.  As I write this, I can hear the wind chimes on our back porch being played by the cold air that sweeps through every minute or so, and it is with joy that I am reminded of that love.

Last year, after the ordination standards of the PC(USA) changed, opening up the way for the ordination of LGBT people, 75% of the members of my hometown church voted to leave the denomination.  Among this 75% were the bulk of people who had been most formative in my faith.  The same people who taught me what it was to be loved by God, and who showed me the love of a church community, have now left the denomination because LGBT people (people like me and my partner) can be ordained.  Because we live several states away, we didn’t have to hear people call us an abomination, unnatural, or unrepentant sinners (that burden has largely fallen on the shoulders of our parents and on the 25% who’ve remained in the congregation).  We didn’t have to feel directly the vitriol that some of the members displayed at various meetings.  I cannot help but recognize the irony in the situation – that the woman who gave us the wind chimes to serve as a reminder of our love for one another is no longer a member of the denomination precisely because people like us – LGBT people who feel a sense of call and want to serve as leaders in the church – can be ordained.

A few gusts of air just blew through, causing the chimes to clang with a briefly-heightened intensity.  They remind me not only of my love for my partner, but also of love that was offered to me by the people who raised me in the church, and of the love made possible in a faith community.  I am reminded that the church is a family, at times stunningly beautiful in its potential to make connections, and at other times heartbreaking in its imperfection and messiness.  The chimes tell me that even those who love us and nurture us cannot always travel with us down the road we feel called to travel.  They are a gentle reminder that we still exist in the now, even as we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on the not yet.

I’d be lying if I said I’d never had my heart broken by the church.  There are some days when my heart feels as if it might crumble under the weight of the things said and done in the name of God.  I temporarily forget that the church is made up of people, that it is imperfect.  In these times, it is easier for me to give in to the hurt and weariness that comes with the things that have been lost, with the struggles ahead, with the inevitable pain that comes when we strive to live authentically with one another.  Yet, in doing so, I am turning my gaze from the connections made, from the love that is offered and shared, from the bellies that are filled and the souls that are nourished.  I risk missing the excitement shared by the 25% who have remained in my hometown congregation, who have banded together beautifully to work and love and pray for the community, in many ways bonded more tightly because of the difficult times they have had to endure.

“The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard.”  It is the doubts and loves that turn the soil, the places we are broken that allow growth to spring forth.  What might the church look like if we honored the brokenness in one another, if we confessed our fear and our shame and the things we don’t know, rather than trying to convince ourselves that the ground of what we do know is a firm enough foundation to hold us all? Let us celebrate the unfamiliar, and see it as the opportunity to learn; celebrate our brokenness, and see it as the opportunity to be healed; celebrate our individuality, and see it as the opportunity to be part of something more.  Let us celebrate the silence that comes in the breaking of our hearts, and see it as the opportunity to hear the whisper that tells us we are all worthy to be loved.

5 Questions with Andrew Foster Connors

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado …

Andrew Foster Connors

Workshop Leader

Andrew Foster ConnorsAndrew Foster Connors has served as the senior pastor of the Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD since 2004. He currently serves as the clergy co-chair of BUILD, Baltimore’s largest citizen power organization, affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation. BUILD is responsible for the first living wage ordinance in the country, the College Bound Scholarship Program, the rehabilitation of the Sandtown and Oliver communities, as well as the largest after school program in Baltimore. He serves on the strategy team for NEXT. He is married to the Rev. Kate Foster Connors. Together they have two children, two cats, one rabbit, and two fish.

1. Tell us about your ministry context.

I serve a congregation of approximately 300, with a fairly even split among all age groups. The church sanctuary, built in 1870 is situated in old Baltimore neighborhood, just a few blocks from an arts college, in a zip code that includes some of the highest poverty rates in the state of Maryland. Though many of the congregants have some experience in Christian community, for many, our congregation is their first Presbyterian experience. Racial and sexual identity diversity is strong and growing.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

The congregation I serve almost closed its doors in the late 1970s due to a declining city population and associated economic challenges. During that time, the congregation was forced to reinvent itself. What I see emerging from those challenges is a willingness to try and fail, a joy in creativity, and a strong connection to the parts of the past that give life, with more and more experience in the work of grieving which is necessary in order to let go of ministry that may have been meaningful in the past, but no longer relevant today. It’s these experiences that help the church continue to connect with new generations without completely disconnecting from the theological and social witness of our tradition.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion is broad based community organizing that views God’s locus of power for life and transformation in relationships. The tools for organizing shape my view of leadership in the pastorate, which is about organizing people to act on the parts of their faith which are most meaningful and life-giving to them and to the community we serve as disciples of Jesus Christ. For me, these tools have helped me continue to view leadership development as one of the most important roles I play, rather than the maintenance of a building, of programs, or of the status quo. These are the same tools that have also helped me act with a coalition of other faith groups, schools, and neighborhoods for justice in Baltimore.

What keeps me up at night is managing my calendar, and sometimes one of our cats.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

Seeing old friends, colleagues, and debating partners, along with meeting all kinds of creative, energetic people who are excited about ministry, rather than simply depressed by the state of the church. Sharing what we’re excited about. Helping those who are struggling with specific concerns imagine new ways forward. Singing with people who like to sing. Identifying new leaders and finding ways to support them.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

The flint igniting the fuel already there.

Ideas for Preaching Series

by Tom Are Pastor, Village Presbyterian Church and Co-Chair of NEXT Church

Jesus and Galileo (explores the relationship between Christian faith and science)

Labor Daze: Church on Sunday, Work on Monday (theological conversation about vocation, call, stewardship and Sabbath rest)

Bible Stories from Childhood (sermons responded to submissions from congregation of biblical stories they remember from childhood… Noah and the ark, the Good Samaritan, Daniel and the Lion’s den, David and Goliath, the prodigal)

Joy Even on Your Last Day (a series on the Philippian Letter)

9-11: Things Remembered, Things Forgotten, Lessons Learned (preached the four weeks leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9-11)

Just Can’t Say Enough about That Baby (An Advent Series exploring the unique portraits of Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)

Where is God when it Hurts? (a series on theodicy)

Sacred Sound Bites (Words we hear every week in our worship liturgy)

Questions thinking Christians are asking (invited the congregation to submit questions on which they would like a sermon… preached on the most popular requests)

You can read more about Tom’s move from a lectionary preacher to a series preacher here and explore more of the series he’s preached at Village.

Preaching Series: A Testimony

by Tom Are

Adapted from the 2012 Currie Lectures, given at Austin Theological Seminary.

For 19 years I preached the lectionary. I loved it. I couldn’t imagine preaching in any other way. But I have changed my mind. I am among the growing number of preachers who find the most important approach to proclamation of the word for the salvation of humankind to be preaching series. I doubt I will ever return to the lectionary. My congregation just listens differently to series.

In my lectionary days I sat with the text, studied the text, prayed over the text until a word would come. Then I would turn and look at the people and search for the point of connection.

But, what happens if that process is turned around?  The people come to the sanctuary with questions and confessions, with hopes and with their own stories of faith to tell. What happens if the preacher begins by paying attention to the people? Begins with the questions and affirmations that are in the pew?  And once a clear engagement of the community is experienced, the preacher then turns to sit with, prayer over and study the text to find a point of connection—a word to speak to the context.

I believe this is how the New Testament has come to us.  Paul’s letters are not based on a text for the day, but are shaped by the issues on the ground. Matthew rewrites Mark because Matthew is speaking gospel to a different community.  The entire New Testament is shaped by the questions in the pew.

This is “incarnational preaching.” To begin with the people is faithful to a God who chooses to take on flesh and dwell among us.

What might this look like?

Let me give you an example or two from my own context.

I live in Kansas—only six blocks from Missouri.  In 2005 the Kansas Board of Education made a change in public school curriculum.  They determined that in addition to teaching the theory of evolution, public school science curriculum should include instruction in what they called “Intelligent Design.”[1]  This time, calling supporters of Darwinian evolution “fundamentalists captured by secular dogma,” the Board changed the definition of science, saying it would no longer be limited to searching for “natural causes for phenomena.”

Kansas City also boasts the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, one of the places in the nation that does stem cell research.  It has been hotly debated in the state, and the local Catholic Bishop has organized protests declaring the medical research conducted at the Stowers Institute consists of murder.

scienceThis is my town, so I preached a sermon series exploring the relationship between Christian faith and science. It was entitled “Jesus and Galileo.”

We explored Genesis 1 and the claims of Intelligent Design.

I visited with Dr. Bill Neaves, Director of the Stowers Institute, to learn what is involved in “somatic cell nuclear transfer” or stem cell research. The sermon explained the basics of stem cell research and also offered reflections on Psalm 139… you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

The series also included a sermon on Climate Change, again providing scientific research, not limited to but including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and reflection on Genesis 2 where finitude applies to not only the human creature but to all creatures, including the planet.

This is just an illustration of how a series can hold a longer conversation with nuance that the lectionary is less likely to provide.

Another example:

A few years ago I read David Jensen’s book, Responsive Labor.  That got me thinking about work.  I preached a series entitled Labor Daze: Church on Sunday, Work on Monday. To prepare I took fifteen members of my congregation to breakfast. Each was engaged in a variety of aspects of business.  I asked them to talk to me about how their faith connects or doesn’t connect with their work.  Their comments were very instructive for me in shaping a theological conversation about vocation, call, stewardship and Sabbath rest.

Some of the sermons were “What is your calling?” rooted in Mark 1:16-20 and the calling of the disciples and Exodus 3, the call of Moses.

A sermon about stewardship entitled “trust that you are gifted” proclaimed from 1 Corinthians 12.

The final and fifth sermon in the series was preached from Deuteronomy 5, and entitled “Sabbath: it’s a commandment, not a benefit’s package.”

One last example: Bible Stories from Childhood

I invited the congregation to submit requests of Biblical texts from their childhood on which they would like to hear a sermon.  Here’s why. Almost 70% of those who join Village Church do so by Reaffirmation of Faith. They come mostly as ones who do not know our practices, our language, our holy stories. Yet they may bring memories of their childhood church days. You can imagine the stories they would know: Noah and the ark, the Good Samaritan, Daniel and the Lion’s den, David and Goliath, the prodigal.

It was exciting to see members hear anew a childhood story that has grown up to become a new word that speaks with power and grace to orient the community?

I have changed my approach to preaching because I believe we must pay attention to our particular context.   It’s incarnational. It’s Biblical. It’s certainly not the only way to preach, but in our day it has much to offer.

Other examples of series:

Joy Even on Your Last Day (a series on the Philippian Letter)

9-11: Things Remembered, Things Forgotten, Lessons Learned (preached the four weeks leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9-11)

Just Can’t Say Enough about That Baby (An Advent Series exploring the unique portraits of Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)

Where is God when it Hurts? (a series on theodicy)

Sacred Sound Bites (Words we hear every week in our worship liturgy)

Questions thinking Christians are asking (invited the congregation to submit questions on which they would like a sermon… preached on the most popular requests)


[1]  Both times the following election cycle replaced enough of the Creationist/ID supporters that the curriculum returned to traditional scientific standards.


Tom AreTom Are is the Pastor of Village Presbyterian Church and Co-Chair of NEXT Church.

5 Questions with Amos Disasa

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado …

Amos Disasa

Preacher at National Gathering

Amos DisasaAmos was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1983. Downtown Columbia was the first neighborhood that they called home. Twenty-nine years later, Amos and his wife Sarah are Downtown again to help organize a new Presbyterian (U.S.A.) church in the city center of Columbia. Amos and Sarah went to Presbyterian College. She graduated on time (a detail she can’t seem to forget) and Amos finished up a few months later in 2001. After college, Amos went to Brazil to work with street children, made a small fortune working on a government contract, managed to spend it all while killing time in Clinton SC, and eventually completed his graduate studies, on time, at The Divinity School of Wake Forest University in 2006.

1. Tell us about your ministry context.

I’m the organizing pastor of a new Presbyterian church in downtown Columbia. While we meet downtown, our congregation comes from all over the city. Our ministry doesn’t have a geographic focus. Instead it’s oriented towards people who work, eat, learn, and play downtown.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

New church development is the most obvious and literal example of the church that is becoming. Given the opportunity (and freedom) to reconsider what is barely necessary to be a church, has been liberating for us. Now there is room to “become” something. In the past we might have worried about what must be sacrificed first

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

– coaching leaders and servants
– preaching
– finding ways to grow and stay small at the same time

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

– Since I’ve never been before, I don’t know what to anticipate. This is kind of like the future for the church.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Present and future church converge in Charlotte.

We Live, We Serve

by Helen Wilkins

The motto of Presbyterian College is “Dum Vivimus Servimus- While we live, we serve.”  It is a motto that finds itself deeply rooted in the hearts of our students, faculty, and staff, and it drives us to consider not only ourselves, but to act out of love and compassion for others. A group on campus for which service to other, and service to God, is the main purpose. This group, the Bluefish, consists of students who are trained and commissioned as Stephen Ministers, and who are called to care for the Presbyterian College community. Stephen Ministers are people who are trained to love and care for their care-receivers, keeping the environment safe, the conversations confidential, and Christ at the basis of our thoughts, words, and actions.

Stephen MinistriesAt this time, we have commissioned 27 students and currently have 16 in training. Our first class of Stephen Ministers completed all 50 hours of their training last year and have been learning how to best minister to this campus. Our atmosphere is unique and has therefore made our Stephen Ministry different from the typical Stephen Ministry that exists within a specific parish. Our Stephen Ministers are caregivers to students, teachers, and faculty who they may encounter multiple times every day. It is a ministry experience different to those set before us, but it is one that we have explored and grown into with prayer, conversation, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We had to work incredibly hard to find a time that fit all of our schedules, with classes, jobs, and other commitments so that we could meet to train and to share in community. We have learned how to deal with emotions, the resources that are available to us, and how to best serve our care receivers in making sure that, despite whatever they may be going through, we are a safe place for them.

In our group of Stephen Ministers we have Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and members of other denominations, we have Math majors and Christian Education majors, and we have aspiring scientists working alongside aspiring pastors. Our group is a diverse one, and is one that represents the diversity that exists not only in our community, but in our world. We recognize the need for each person to have someone who is there to care for them, no matter who they are. We embrace our roles as Stephen Ministers and show our love and the love of God to each person in our care, no matter what they believe, no matter how they act, and no matter what they need help with. We are called to minister to our peers and it is a calling that the 43 students, along with our leaders, have discerned and have decided to follow with open hearts and open minds. We are also able to use our ministry in our own churches, and will hopefully continue ministering to those around us throughout our lives. Stephen Ministry existing on a college campus, especially where there are college students serving as the ministers, is new and challenging, yet it is extremely rewarding.

Matthew 28:19-20 reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the goal of the Stephen Ministers on our campus: to demonstrate God’s abounding love for all of us in our discipleship, in our care, and in our ministry, and to recognize and proclaim that God is with us always, to the end of the age.


Helen Wilkins is a Christian Education major at Presbyterian College. She is currently a Sophomore and plans to pursue her calling to ministry after she graduates.

5 Questions with Bill Golderer

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Bill Golderer and his partner in crime, Julie.

1. Tell us about your ministry context. 

In 2005, I responded to a call from a group of (mostly) suburban mainline protestant clergy from the Philadelphia region to breathe new life into a dormant landmark church in Center City that in the last century was an important part of a vibrant urban landscape. That response led to my founding of the Broad Street Ministry (BSM) in Philadelphia in what was once the historic Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church along Center City’s Avenue of the Arts. BSM is an innovative Christian faith community that emphasizes the Gospel imperatives of extending generous hospitality, demonstrating justice and compassion, and providing a ground for artistic expression. Beginning with less than $8,000 in seed capital and no existing congregation, BSM has grown into one of Center City Philadelphia’s most dynamic and largest worshipping congregations. It is diverse in every way, and has worked aggressively in its common life to be hands-on in addressing issues that detract from people’s ability to experience the abundant life that God intends.

In 2008, I extended my pastoral ministry in Philadelphia when he became the Pastor of Arch Street Presbyterian Church (ASPC).  Since 1851, Arch Street Presbyterian has been a worshipping congregation in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. When I arrived, this congregation was on life-support.  But after assembling a dynamic team of lay and professional leadership, ASPC has undergone a rapid and dramatic revitalization. Collectively, this community has taken up its mat and is walking boldly into the future that God has prepared for it.  The congregation is now a dynamic Sunday morning worshipping community, a church that welcomes children and families of every configuration, and a church that struggles alongside the people who work in the skyscrapers around it (and those who wish they were employed there) who aim to integrate their faith and work.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

It is a core conviction of mine that God is already dynamically at work in the world and the priorities of the Kingdom are on view everywhere.  I like to think that when we are at our best, Presbyterian leaders are like archeologists who are uncovering in the most unlikely places where God is up to something exciting and challenging.  Specifically I have seen this wherever the church is taking risks that are real and scary.  When we are not at our best, we tend to be the kind of people who want to know our ministry experiments will work without the risk of failure.  Two women who are forging ahead with an attempt to be the church in a new way–who are sort of “alumnae” of BSM’s pastoral leadership program–are doing something that is really exciting (and fraught with risks).  Rev. Karen Rohrer and Becca Blake are a couple of committed and talented seminary grads who have tried to be the church in a neighborhood that is rife with tension between those who have lived in the neighborhood for decades and a recent influx of hipsters and other young people whose presence is gentrifying the neighborhood.  Through creative worship and a commitment to be the church that brings these divergent populations together, they are up to something really powerful but also very fragile.  God is unmistakably present when those two elements are in place.  Check them out!  http://www.facebook.com/thewordatbeacon

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion in ministry is connecting the core commitments of the congregations I serve with the concerns and dreams of people whose work and lives are in deep alignment with the Kingdom of God but who have–for whatever reason–been disaffected or disappointed by the church.  I love to mix it up with “lowbrow” artists and the societal shot-callers who are often surprised by the passion and conviction of the people who call BSM or ASPC their church home.  I love challenging the assumptions held by some that the church is limp, inert and overly concerned with comfort, safety and institutional survival.  I like to get into the deep end with people who are trying to make a splash in society that could result in a more just Philadelphia.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I relish conversation with people who are looking for the courage and the company to be the church in a more generous and bold fashion.  I met quite a few folks like that at NEXT last year.  I tend to shy away from conferences but this feels fresh to me.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

I have high hopes for NEXT but I am not sure we know yet what it will be.  If I were to sum up my hopes for what NEXT will be is:Community for those who believe restlessness, courage, and relentlessness are spiritual qualities worth cultivating. (That’s more than 7 but that’s what I’ve got.)

5 Questions with Jessica Tate

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado … 
Jessica Tate11. Tell us about your ministry context.

After five great years as an associate pastor in Northern Virginia, I’m excited to be the Director of NEXT Church, building relationships with Presbyterians across the country who are doing exciting, creative, Christ-led ministry. I’m fortunate to live in Washington, DC and be part of National Capital Presbytery, which is doing some good strategic thinking about the church that is becoming.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

In more places than I expected! Discovering these places has been one of the gifts of NEXT Church. All the leadership for the NEXT Gathering in Charlotte are glimpses of the church that is becoming…like the generative ministry at Broad Street Ministries and Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia…improvisational worship at Church of the Pilgrims in DC…Community organizing ventures across the country (Patrick Daymond, Andrew Foster Connors and Andy Imparato will highlight their experiences in testimony and a workshop)…highly contextual ministry like that of Caldwell Presbyterian in Charlotte…1001 New Worshipping Communities and New Beginnings ministries within the PCUSA…the Ecclesia Project in Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. I’m excited to catch other glimpses of good news at the gathering in March.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

Our culture is changing rapidly. Perhaps this has always been so, but it is nonetheless changing and with it, the place of the church changes too. But the call of the church remains what it has been through the ages: How do we experience the redemptive presence of God in our lives? And how do we communicate that presence to others so that we embody God’s love, grace, and justice in the world?  How do we do that today?

Like the women who show up at the tomb, stubbornly insisting on hope when death and despair rule the day, I am passionate about ministry that helps us tap into the resurrection hope that is God’s redemptive presence in our lives. When we tap into that hope–individually and collectively–we are free to be born again ourselves, to be born again as institutions and communities, and, I believe, to bear hope and light in a world where people desperately need community, desperately need hope, desperately need God-in-Christ.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

It’s hard to name just one thing! Of all the great things, I am most looking forward to the connections I make at NEXT gatherings (through what happens “up-front” and informally) that spark my imagination and help me grow as a leader in our church.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Relational. Hopeful. Creative. Resurrection.

Answering the Call: Starting a Young Adult Intentional Community (Hospitality House)

faith3A webinar hosted by Faith3 and the Presbyterian Mission Agency on January 16, 2013 from 3-4pm EST.

At the 2012 NEXT National Gathering in Dallas, Wayne Meisel made a compelling case for offering hospitality to the young adults in our midst. Join the webinar to keep the conversation going.

Hospitality is a central theme of the Christian tradition. Our approach is to extend that hospitality to a generation of young people who find themselves in times of transition — times when they may feel particularly vulnerable or isolated. In your community there are likely a number of young adults in need of food, affordable housing, fellowship, and community — young adults serving agencies like AmeriCorps and Teach for America. Their presence provides us a unique opportunity to live out our call to hospitality.

Join Faith3 and The Presbyterian Mission Agency for an informational webinar about Houses of Hospitality. You’ll hear from leaders of existing Houses and from visionaries such as Wayne Meisel and learn about how you can transform your church and community into a space of welcome.

Join the webinar on January 16, 3-4pm EST.

Space is limited–click here to reserve your spot.

 

5 Questions with Ashley Goff

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado … 

Ashley Goff is Minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) and ordained in the United Church of Christ. Ashley graduated from Union Theological Seminary in NYC where she fell in love with the art of liturgy.  She lives with deep gratitude for several communities which have formed her along the way: Denison University, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the Open Door Community, and Rikers Island NYC Jail. Ashley also finds life in Springsteen music, beekeeping, urban farming, vinyasa yoga, and her three kids and loveable spouse.

1.Tell us about your ministry context

I am Minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims, a More Light, urban, progressive, “we-drink-beer-during-Bible-study-at-the-bar-across-the-street” PCUSA congregation in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. I have been at Pilgrims 14 years and ordained in the United Church of Christ. When I arrived at Pilgrims in 1999, right out of Union Seminary in NYC, the congregation was at rock bottom in every way possible. Now, we have transformed ourselves into a lively, mutli-age/gender/race/denominational-history congregation. We thrive on innovative worship, community organizing, urban gardening, Biblical stories, and sharing food with hungry people.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

At Pilgrims, I experience a community that is and becoming an innovative, creative, collective body when we worship together, particularly when we take ancient practices and make them new to us. We are becoming when we roast marshmallows before a winter solstice service, walk in meditation before communion, learn new songs together, anoint each other after sharing the bread, and baptize with a thunderous voice that peace and justice are the Ways of God. We are becoming when I experience liturgy at Pilgrims and realize someone could see what we did in two ways: “what you did was profoundly Christian or barely Christian.” When we risk and take ourselves to an edge for the sake of Jesus we are becoming.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion is this creative edge for liturgy that creates space for us to experience the transformative nature of the Spirit. I have been most influenced by the ancient liturgical expressions of the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia, James Chapel at Union Seminary in NYC, and St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. These communities transformed me through their improvisational, liturgical ways, opening us space for God to be known to me. I’m passionate about carrying the methods of these communities into my work. I’m passionate how the revolutionary methods of the arts hold the most power for me in planning liturgy. I’m passionate about the intersection of urban gardening, liturgy, sharing food and how an Earth-Honoring faith pushes Pilgrims to tether itself to God whose unrelenting imperative is justice.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I’m looking forward to sharing Pilgrims story of liturgy and being with people, especially Laura Cunningham, who is a dear friend and whom I don’t get to see very often.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Collective. Imagination. Newness. Imperative. Must. Yes. Innovation.