Making Room at the Table

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Katherine Lee Baker

Beloved in Christ Jesus, I feel like an imposter among you! In fact, even as my heart abounds with joy and gratitude for the opportunity and honor it has been to be part of the Sarasota Statement as a NEXT Church initiative, I must admit that I felt quite out of place in participating.

I celebrate that I am a relatively young, recently divorced, first-generation pastor and I am a spirited woman of color, but (dare I say it) I am not ordained in the PCUSA. Now, I have served several of your congregations by formula of agreement and I have mooched off your institutions for my theological training, but truthfully I am committed to the Reformed Church in America and I remain largely naïve about the ongoings of your tradition. Heck, I’ve never even been to Montreat!

And so while my ecumenical colleagues were deep in thought (searching for words and wisdom to describe what we believe and how we might respond as people of faith), I was completely panicking – wondering whose seat I had accidentally taken in order to be there.

Who were the people, really, that needed to be present at the table?

Would hearers of the message be critical that an outsider’s voice had been included?

What could I possibly contribute as an individual not entirely familiar with the spiritual mores of the denomination?

All these fears and doubts came with me from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Perhaps they got lost with my luggage because they never made it home.

You made room for me. You welcomed me as one of your own. (And you didn’t even haze me or subject me to a trust fall!) From the first Skype call to the final blog post, I have genuinely felt that I am part of this conversation as a collaborator and peer. I showed up to listen, and you let me speak. I showed up to dialogue, and you let me dream. You gave me a place – especially at a time when I felt out of place.

In a day and age when so many people have chosen to write a “Dear John” letter to the church, the ministry of NEXT Church seized the opportunity to write the Sarasota Statement that actively demonstrated what it means to include one another and to seek out the alien and stranger. I am blessed by your courage to broaden the world’s understanding of God’s kingdom and I have renewed my commitment to do the same.


Katherine Lee Baker has a passion for worship, discipleship, and community engagement for the whole church. Currently serving as a pastor at Central Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI), she actively seeks opportunity for ecumenical collaboration, interfaith dialogue, and empowering our next-gen leaders. Follow her on Twitter at @RevKatieBaker.

God’s Beloved Community

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Bertram Johnson

One of the things that I appreciate most about being Presbyterian is the interconnected nature of the denomination. While we express them in a variety of ways, our theology, liturgy, worship, and confessions affirm that our faith in God and Jesus are lived and shared in a diverse community with a common purpose and voice.

Although the previous statement is true, as an African American in this predominantly white denomination I have had many experiences that caused me to question the value of my presence in the PCUSA. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, there was a point after seminary when, due to the church’s polity, I decided to discontinue the pursuit of my call. At that moment, it was more important to feel wholly loved in my relationship with God outside of ordained ministry than to endure a fractured and incomplete life within it. Our theology, confessions, etc. have not always been used to create a place of welcome, grace, or inclusion for people who share my experience. Regardless of the past – or current – challenges I experience within the church, I know without a doubt I am called to serve Christ in this community.

When I was invited to help compose this statement of faith and action, I immediately felt a sense of apprehension. Not only was it a significant undertaking to speak theologically and prophetically to the issues of our day, I wanted to be certain that I could bring my whole self to the occasion. It was also vital that the communities in which I hold membership and those I care for see themselves, their struggles, and passions voiced here.

In writing the Sarasota Statement we sought to be faithful to where we sensed the Spirit leading us. Even so, it is not a perfect document. It does not speak to every person whose life and dignity are threatened by the culture and policies practiced by our nation or our Church. In its brief format, we do not address every sin that wounds our spirits, church, and world. But I hope that what you find here encourages you to discover a deeper faith, grounded in humility and courage. I hope these words inspire you to see and confront how our actions and lack of action prevent many from participating fully in God’s beloved community.

I am grateful to add my name to this offering to the PCUSA and the wider Church. I am proud of the ways our group wrestled with our faith and supported each other to achieve what I believe is a significant call to justice and radical love. I am also grateful to share in a denomination that is continuously being reformed, seeking deeper connections, broadening our reach, and exploring more authentically what it means to live in the unity and body of Christ.


Bertram Johnson is Minister of Advocacy, Justice, and Change at Riverside Church in New York City. He has provided pastoral care and social service leadership in churches, non-profits, and faith-based organizations dedicated to justice and public health. Most recently, Bertram worked nationally to promote awareness and access to prevention and support services among communities most disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. Bertram holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Master of Social Work from Rutgers University.

The Kingdom of God Is

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Chris Currie

“The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come now, and open in us, the joys of your kingdom.”

–Taizé Chant

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but there is a wealth of colorful descriptions that attempt to capture all our contemporary anxieties. Two of my favorites are ‘dumpster fire,’ and ‘hot mess.’ According to the Oxford dictionary, a hot mess is ‘a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination.’ It has been in our common lexicon slightly longer than ‘dumpster fire,’ which was just recently added to the Oxford dictionary and is defined as ‘a chaotic or disastrously mishandled situation.’ We live in a time of deep cultural anxiety and despair, with real and imagined hot messes and dumpster fires seemingly around every corner.

In such a time, what does the church say and do? Add to the drumbeat of distrust, name-calling, and resentment in our world? Shut up and just try to capture our market share? Storm the barricades? Perhaps the most countercultural posture the church can proclaim and seek to embody is one of confidence and hopefulness. Such a way of faith and action may demand that we live and act counter to our own preferences at times. It may require that we refrain from our knee-jerk inclinations to throw red meat to our ideologically preferred church tribes. But more than anything, such a countercultural way of living in the world is tinged with a refusal to despair. ‘Do not be afraid,’ is a refrain we hear throughout scripture from the prophet of the exile to the angels at the empty tomb. As we sing in the chant from the Taizé community, ‘the kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ These are the only distinct gifts the Christian community has to offer to our world, and in spite of their meagerness and lack of measurable virtues, they are gifts desperately needed in a world held captive by its own anxiety, despair, and fear.

My hope is that this Sarasota Statement was tinged with that confidence and hopefulness, that Christ has come and reconciled us, this world, and all creation, and that we refuse to let each other, our neighbors, even our enemies, succumb to anything less. The ‘real world’ is the kingdom of God, not the evening news, not our latest social media feed, not whichever ideological worldview seems to have the upper hand at the moment.

Our confession to trust, grieve, and commit seeks to challenge and comfort each other, our church, and the larger world with the Kingdom of God, but that’s not all. We also urgently proclaim to each other, our church, and our world that there is much more to do until we become what we already are in that kingdom.


Chris Currie has served as pastor/head of staff at First Presbyterian Church, Shreveport, Louisiana, since the fall of 2013. He is married to Stephanie Smith Currie, a speech therapist and clinical instructor at LSU School of Allied Health, and together they have three children: Thomas, Harrison, and Corinne. Chris holds a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity.

The Stupendous Promises of God

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Cynthia Rigby

My favorite part of the Sarasota Statement is the preface.

This is, no doubt, because I am wired like the theologian I am. And theologians like to think about why it is we are saying what we are saying even before we say anything. Thus, the caricature of the theologian is that we talk and talk before getting to the point.

So, enough already. I’ll get to the point.

The reason we dare to imagine what things should look like in this world (in the Sarasota Statement and beyond) is because God has made us stupendous promises. God’s Kingdom will come to earth as it is in heaven, we confess. Lions and lambs will lie down together. Tears will be wiped from suffering and grieving eyes. We will join Christ at the Table and hunger will be no more.

The reason we risk working toward realizing these promises in our world, today, is because Christ invites us not only to watch and pray for the coming of the Kingdom, but to join with him in doing the will of God that advances it. “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends,” Jesus says to the disciples, inviting us to live and act in the world as those who “know what the master is doing” (Jn. 15:15).

And the reason we submit to re-forming how we understand what it looks like actively to claim and enact God’s promises is because we believe the Holy Spirit continues working in us, in the context of the Christian community, conforming us to the image of Christ.

I’m sure the Sarasota Statement gets some things wrong, when it comes to the specifics of the Kingdom that is coming. I am even more sure we have left out a great deal, and have been humbled and excited by the good suggestions and queries Christian siblings have sent our way.

But what we get right is the affirmation that God’s Kingdom will come. What we get right is that we are called to do the will of the God who will bring it. What we get right is that we, as the children of God, are invited to claim the promise, to imagine it, to step into it, to live it.

We do these things, on this very day, with echoes of resurrection celebration ringing in our hearts: He is risen! He is risen indeed! And we remember, as our risen Lord instructed his disciples, that the journey is not over. The Holy Spirit will come upon us, and even greater things will yet be done. In the power of this remarkable promise, again, we join hands together to watch and pray, hope and listen, imagine and act. To God be the glory! Now: on with the work of the church!


Cynthia L. Rigby has been teaching theology at Austin Seminary since 1995. She holds a BA from Brown University and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the author of “The Promotion of Social Righteousness” (Witherspoon) and “Holding Faith” (Abingdon, forthcoming). She is one of four general editors for Westminster John Knox Press’s new lectionary commentary series, “Connections,” which will be coming out in nine volumes over the next few years.

2017 National Gathering Testimony: Tom Cramer & Tamara John

Tom Cramer and Tamara John of Los Ranchos Presbytery share their stories of ministry. Tom Cramer serves as the Presbytery Leader for Vision and Mission for the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. He brings together leaders to grow healthy congregations and start new ones. Tamara John is director for the Hope for Life Chapel RV ministry. At her RV Chapel, Tamara provides pastoral counseling and prayerfully guides and assists with needed resources and leads group gatherings.


Tamara John has a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and is ordained by the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) as evangelist in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. As director for the Hope for Life Chapel RV ministry, Tamara lives onsite in a custom-made fifth-wheel RV with a 12X10 chapel in the back. At her RV Chapel, Tamara provides pastoral counseling and prayerfully guides and assists with needed resources and leads group gatherings. Hope for Life Chapel (HFLC) RV Ministry serves the desperate, dechurched and unchurched people who live at an RV park on a permanent as well as short-term, transitional basis. Some have lost their homes, are going through divorce, are sick and need to be near a hospital, or because of their choices or other people’s choices–are in an upside-down emotional situation. The HFLC RV Ministry has a passion for the lost and hurting and helps those in the community who have derailed in life to get back up and walk boldly in the way God calls them.

Tom Cramer serves as the Presbytery Leader for Vision and Mission for the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. He brings together leaders to grow healthy congregations and start new ones. Tom received a B.A. in English Literature and Economics from UC Berkeley, and worked as a trade association executive in Washington, D.C. After earning his M.Div. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, he served as an associate pastor of Geneva Presbyterian Church for 21 years before being called to executive work at the presbytery. In his free time, Tom loves to spend time with his family and friends, cook and grill, travel, read, exercise, and play golf.

2017 National Gathering: Transformative Learning IV

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their final session from Wednesday morning.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning II
Transformative Learning III

2017 National Gathering Keynote: Rodger Nishioka

Rodger Nishioka, Director of Adult Educational Ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS, gives the final keynote of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.


Rodger Nishioka is the director of Adult Educational Ministries at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, KS. Born in Honolulu and raised in Seattle at the Japanese Presbyterian Church, Rodger is the son of a retired Presbyterian minister. He is one of the most sought-after and inspiring preachers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Rodger taught at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta for 15 years. In that ministry, he taught pastors to be teachers and leaders in the church’s educational ministry, specializing in particular on youth and young adult ministry.  

Prior to teaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, Rodger was the national coordinator for Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (1986-1999) and taught English and Social Sciences at Curtis Junior High School (1983-1986). Rodger received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Social and Cultural Foundations of Education from Georgia State University. He earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (with an emphasis in biblical studies and theology) from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, and a  Bachelor of Arts in English with Minor in History and a Teaching Certificate for Secondary Education (grades 6-12).

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Lee Hinson-Hasty

Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation, gives an Ignite presentation on the future of theological education and clergy at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.

2017 National Gathering Sermon: Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, gives the final sermon of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering during closing worship.

Scripture: John 4:19-26

The liturgy from this service is also available:


Paul Roberts is is president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, a position he has held since the spring of 2010. He is a native of Stamford, CT; however, he grew up in Bradenton, FL, which he considers his home. Paul graduated from Princeton University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture and African American Studies. Prior to his career in ministry, Paul worked in advertising in New York City. He later received the Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in New Testament Studies from Johnson C. Smith Seminary. He also is an Academic Fellow of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Celigny, Switzerland. From 1997 through 2010, Paul was the pastor of Church of the Master (PCUSA), a church founded in 1965 in Atlanta, GA, as an intentionally interracial congregation. He serves on the boards of the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA) and the Macedonian Ministry Inc. of Atlanta. He is the recipient of the 2016 Devoted Service Award from Louisville Theological Seminary. Recreationally, Paul enjoys tennis and yard work. Paul and his wife, Nina, have three beautiful children—one adult daughter and two teenage sons.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Mindful Ministry

Becca Messman and Chineta Goodjoin give an Ignite presentation at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering about NEXT Church’s work around mindful ministry.