Living Into It

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During May, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Nate Phillips is curating a month of blog posts exploring models of shared ministry, inspired by his pitch for an IGNITE presentation at the 2015 National Gathering. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Nate Philips (featuring a film by Joni James)

Spoiler Alert: If you have not watched the end of “Veep: Season 3,” I’m about to ruin it for you.

Credit Lacey Terrell/HBO

Credit Lacey Terrell/HBO

Perfectly set in an unkempt bathroom, Vice President Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) breaks this news to Gary Walsh, her assistant and hopelessly devoted “bag man.”

“Gary, I’m going to be President.”

“Oh, of course you are.  I mean there’s always hope, ma’am.  We have plenty of hope in this world.”

“No, no, no.  I mean, POTUS is gonna resign and I’m about to become President of America.”

Then a small trickle of blood emerges from Gary’s nostril and he sets off on this really weird combination of convulsive laughter and lament.

“Why is the inside of my nose bleeding?” he moans through his hysteria.

Gary’s entire identity is so wrapped up in Selina’s dream that he nearly combusts at her good news.

He makes us laugh because we love Gary and we know him.  He is the endearingly loyal helper that would jump in front of a sneeze for the Big Cheese. He actually does that in the show.  In the Presbyterian Church we wouldn’t call Gary a “bag man,” of course.  We would call him an Associate Pastor.

Ok, I admit.  That’s too provocative.

But consider this scenario.

When I first began my ministry as an associate, l was handed a preaching schedule that honored the promise that I would preach once a month, but included only the lowest attended Sundays.  I was informed which day off would be mine depending on the (sometimes finicky) personal preferences of the Senior Pastor.  I was also told that if the Senior Pastor left the church for any reason, I was to uproot my family and go too.  But what really got me was when I was told that, ultimately, my work in the church was meant to enhance the reputation of the Senior Pastor.

It seemed to me that all of this was a far cry from message of that Isenheim Altarpiece that Karl Barth was so fond of – the one where John the Baptist takes a long finger and points to Jesus.

The Isenheim Altarpiece, c.1512-15 (oil on panel) Grunewald, Matthias (Mathis Nithart Gothart) (c.1480-1528) BRIDGEMAN (GIRAUDON)

The Isenheim Altarpiece, c.1512-15 (oil on panel) Grunewald, Matthias (Mathis Nithart Gothart) (c.1480-1528) BRIDGEMAN (GIRAUDON)

It goes without saying (but obviously needs to be said) that the role of the Associate Pastor should never be more Gary Walsh than it is John the Baptist.

Many times it isn’t.

But sometimes it is.

And, when it is, it has to stop, don’t you think?

There are any number of ways to retool our staffing patterns to better honor the gifts and abilities of all pastors.  There are no rules that state that we are stuck with rigidly hierarchical pastoral staffing patterns.  For us, change meant leveraging allowances in the New Form of Government that make way for Associate and Senior Pastors to shift into a Co-Pastorate.  Everyone told us it was doomed to fail, but it hasn’t yet.

Here is our story:


 

Nate PhillipsNate is co-pastor at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.  He is the author of the upcoming book for churches and leaders, “Do Something Else” and a devout Red Sox fan.

 

 

JoniJamesJoni James is a filmmaker and photographer from the mountains of western Maine. When she’s not behind the camera, you can find her homeschooling her crazy kids, or outside watching her adorable chickens. See what she does for churches and families at www.photojoni.com.

 

Transforming our Tradition

By Emily Powers

Over the past two months I’ve done a lot of reflecting over my experience at NEXT. I have come to some conclusions.

  • First, there is nothing better than celebrating the church with a bunch of Presbyterians.
  • Second, we all are looking for some kind of change and renewal.
  • Third, setting the scene is just as important as the content at the conference.

As I prepared to leave DC for a week, I found myself getting more excited, it helped that my housemate is the NEXT YAV (Young Adult Volunteer). I was extremely excited to get to hear Brian Ellison, my pastor of 13 years, preach and to get to see friends from all over the Presbyterian world. I also found myself excited to see a conference that was going to focus on not just creative preachers and speakers, but also focus on a creative and artistic approach to liturgy. Worship is always something special when art is valued as an important part of the experience.

Throughout the conference the audience became a part of the artistic experience. It started by taking pieces of Presbyterian works (the hymnal, the confessions) cut into pieces. First, we wrote on these pieces of our tradition what was holding us back. I wrote of my fears at putting my life into the church. Then we turned them in and they were linked into a chain wall that divided Fourth’s sanctuary. In the next service, we got up and wrote what was holding us together, as Joy Douglas Strome preached, our third spaces. I wrote about my YAV community and the amazing women I’ve been sharing this year with. In the next worship, we broke down the wall and everything that was holding us back. It was a moving experience to tear down the physical barrier that we built up around us and between us, and to see our power in community to move beyond those walls.

This was an amazing experience but what was truly remarkable was witnessing what these broken chains became. The next morning, the final day of the conference, we walked into the sanctuary to see a phoenix hanging above us. Its feathers and flames were created from our fears, our safe spaces, and our love for one another. A truly wonderful sight to see. Not only was it beautiful, but it showed the transformation that can come from all the fear and pain in the world. This collaborative art gives us hope–

  • that together we can transform the parts of our tradition that have hurt and excluded beloved children of God
  • that together, we can reconfigure the parts of our tradition that are beautiful and meaningful to fit our evolving context
  • that we can truly rise from the ashes and become something whole, created by us all.

 

2015Bird

 

That is what I took away from the National Gathering. That we all have different stories and different opinions, but when we work together to break down those barriers, we can become something new. The church has a long way to go to be the best it can be, but like the phoenix, we have the opportunity to be new again. I learned a lot about starting again and remembering where you came from, but also that we are better together. We learn more when we listen to all the voices, especially the voices who are often ignored. I think if we can learn all of this from something so simple as scraps of paper, then we’re off to a pretty good start.

Editor’s note: For another perspective on liturgical art at the National Gathering, check out “Scraps of Paper” by Christopher Edmonston. 


Emily Powers Emily Powers is a Young Adult Volunteer at the Washington, D.C. site where she serves with Capitol Hill Group Ministries and the Washington Seminar Center by doing street outreach and advocacy with D.C. residents experiencing homelessness. Emily is a connoisseur of hotdogs, macaroni and cheese, and–according to Netflix–‘Emotional Dramas Featuring a Female Lead.’

Blog Reflections on NEXT Church 2015

2015 communion

Photo Credit: Fourth Presbyterian Church

Just as the energy and learning that happened in Chicago carry us back into ministry, participants in the NEXT Church national gathering reflect on different pieces of the gathering — what they mean for our life together as the church, how we are being challenged, and where NEXT might be headed.

Jessica Tate offers some reflections on the places of tension at NEXT Church 2015.

Leslie King reflects on the difficulty of bridging thin places as we seek to be the diverse community of the church.

Jodi Craiglow writes about the experience of being in the minority when the results of the vote of 14-F were announced at NEXT 2015.

Therese Taylor Stinson argues for contemplation as a path for the church to engage on the way to racial justice.

Christopher Edmonston and Emily Powers share reactions to the art we engaged in worship.

Rebecca Messman reflects on George Srour’s challenge to the church.

Tony Sundermeier, pastor of First Presbyterian in Atlanta (host church for the 2016 National Gathering) raises questions that linger with him from Chicago.

The Presbyterian Cage Match

by Nate Phillips (featuring a video by Joni James)

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During May, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Nate Phillips is curating a month of blog posts exploring models of shared ministry, inspired by his pitch for an IGNITE presentation at the 2015 National Gathering. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

There is a great conflict taking place in the church.

It is not a fight between the session or deacons, it is not between old folks and young upstarts, it is not between organists and drummers, it is not between local mission people and international advocates, and it is not between those that would put a screen in the sanctuary and those that view that as anathema.

Today’s real conflict is far bigger and important than any of that and most church drama serves as a distraction from the cage match about to take place.

Standing in the blue corner, hailing from the middle of the 16th century, is the champion of the Presbyterian church, “Structure”.  In the red corner, the challenger for the countless time since the creation of the world, “Movement”.

At first, everyone loves “Movement” and the crowd goes wild when her name is announced.

But, with the end of every round, the crowd shifts a bit closer to the other corner.

“Structure” makes us feel safe.

“Movement” is impatient.

“Structure” keeps the right people in control.

“Movement” asks us to risk something.

“Structure” helps us to be taken seriously.

“Movement” might get us laughed at.

Presbytery leaders cannot help but be enthused by movement, at least at first.  But, predictably, they are some of the first to shift allegiance, leaving the “Movement” crowd wondering if they were ever with them in the first place.

But what if Presbytery leaders shared ministry more loyally than they served process?

You might find more programs like F.I.R.S.T. (Freeing the Imagination of the Recently Seminary Trained) emerge.  F.I.R.S.T. is a Presbytery mechanism for movement that joins recently trained pastors with a wide-open charge to enter the mission field as evangelists in New Castle Presbytery.  It began as a ministry initiative shared by the Chairperson of COM, Presbytery Treasurer, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Campus Chaplain with the hearty endorsement of the Presbytery Executive.

Through F.I.R.S.T., the Presbytery is standing, not necessarily with “Structure” or “Movement”, but with people – people left out of the embrace of most of our current churches, people that most of our local churches dare not stand with at all.

Rev. Holly Clark-Porter initiated a ministry she calls, “Big Gay Church” and describes it as “a queer community working on learning who the community is–that means, we are theologically helping one another and the Church look at gender, sexuality, transgender, cisgender and non-gender specific issues.”  Holly leads a monthly worship service and is starting a youth group in the fall.

Rev. Edwin Estevez just kicked off his ministry with F.I.R.S.T. last fall, a video on his dream after his first few months is below:


 

Nate PhillipsNate is co-pastor at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.  He is the author of the upcoming book for churches and leaders, “Do Something Else” and a devout Red Sox fan.

Multicultural Ministry

These resources were recommended by participants in this month’s church leaders’ roundtable: Books: The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb (Eric Law) Holy Currencies (Eric Law) But I Don’t See You as Asian (Bruce Reyes Chow) Preaching to Every Pew (Nieman and Rodgers) White Awareness (Katz) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Tatum)


Helpful Websites:


  NEXT posts:

Accompanying Discussion questions:

  1. Tasha asks, “Am I, are you, willing to enter each encounter with a posture of humility, desiring to learn, believing that the very heartbeat of God already exists within each person?” Spend some time sharing one another’s stories in your gathering. Practice this skill with one another so that you are better able to do so with people who are radically different from you. How might this storytelling space be created? Who are potential conversation partners?
  2. What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “cultural humility”? What must be learned and unlearned in order to cultivate it?
  3. Consider and reflect on this quote by anthropologist Wade Davis in light of the article: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.”
  • Video of Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman’s keynote on Diversity Inclusion from the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago
  • A recording from a regional gathering in Durham, NC in 2012, Franklin tells the story of the Gospel exploding in the creative and reconciling work of creating community out of three distinct, yet unified, worshipping communities. Franklin is the Co-Pastor of Durham Church in Durham, NC.
  • Lunch for the Soul Webinar with Becca Messman and Edwin Andrade

  Share your recommendations for resources on multicultural ministry in the comments below!

2015 National Gathering: Linda Valentine

Linda Valentine provides testimony on the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

2015 National Gathering: Tom Taylor

Tom Taylor speaks at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago on behalf of the Presbyterian Foundation.

2015 National Gathering Ignite: Erin Thomas & Paul Knopf

Erin Thomas and Paul Knopf share their Ignite presentation on the Tapestry Youth Collective at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago.

2015 National Gathering Ignite: Tara Spuhler McCabe

Tara Spuhler McCabe’s Ignite presentation on concierge ministry at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago.

Changing the Vibe

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During May, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Nate Phillips is curating a month of blog posts exploring models of shared ministry, inspired by his pitch for an IGNITE presentation at the 2015 National Gathering. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Nate Phillips (featuring a film by Joni James)

“We’re going to lose him.”
“She’s going to find something better.”
That becomes the mantra of almost every church when they notice they have a good pastor – especially when it comes to an exceptional younger pastor. It doesn’t take long either. Younger pastors begin hearing that kind of language in the first months of their ministry and, as soon as they do, they begin wondering if their parishioners are right. Maybe they are exceptional. Maybe they could do better. Maybe they shouldn’t stay for long.
That was certainly a possibility for John Molina-Moore.  I can remember interviewing him for Director for Youth position (eventually it transitioned to an Associate Pastor position).  Our Director of Music was at the interview because, as everyone knows, the Director of Music is the real boss, and he said even then, “Hire him right now, before he gets away.”
John could “get away” at any time and someday he will.  Wherever he goes, the church will be fortunate to have him.  In the meantime, we’ve tried to be creative about helping John stay at our church, continue to grow in his ministry and, as a bonus, develop a partnership with a smaller church in a changing community that has never (ever!) had a pastor anything like him.
The video below by Joni James tells that story of shared ministry.

JoniJamesJoni James is a filmmaker and photographer from the mountains of western Maine. When she’s not behind the camera, you can find her homeschooling her crazy kids, or outside watching her adorable chickens. See what she does for churches and families at www.photojoni.com.