Farm Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!


By Allen Brimer

About a year ago, I stumbled across an inspiring idea in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He writes to Eberhard Bethge on 30 April 1944:

What is bothering me incessantly is the question [of] what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience – and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore… How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless…? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity… then what is a religionless Christianity?[1]

Bonhoeffer’s question arrived in my lap at almost the same time the idea of Farm Church did. My co-planter, Ben Johnston-Krase, dreamed that he took a call to a church sight-unseen. He arrived and people were worshiping in a barn on straw bales and pumpkins and calling themselves ‘Farm Church.’ He called me the next morning and shared his dream to which I said, “That’s it!”

farm churchSince then, we have both left stable pastoral positions in traditional churches to start Farm Church. Everywhere we go, people both in church and out react with enthusiastic curiosity about Farm Church. Time after time, people have said, “I want to see what Farm Church looks like! I can’t wait to come visit! I want to be a part of something that looks like that in my own life!” Some people have even pulled out their checkbooks on the spot and asked, “How can I donate?” – sometimes in large amounts! It is encouraging, affirming, and exhilarating to have received a calling that people are genuinely excited about! It gives me hope that there is something about Farm Church that is answering -however intuitively – Bonhoeffer’s question(s) for those who sense the same things that he did.

On the other hand, I am also challenged and humbled by the vision of Farm Church and its demands. Challenging, even upsetting news is coming to us in a steadily increasing flow from ecological and agricultural sectors. Given the threats before us, I ask myself Bonhoeffer’s question: Who IS Christ for us today? What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean for a people facing such potential threats?[2]

How can the church address these kinds of questions meaningfully? How can a church on a paved city block with a 200 year old, multi-million dollar building to maintain get its congregation onto soil to form spiritual community around the basic elements of light, life, rain, and seasons so that they come into contact once again with the very elements that gave birth to religion? How can the church of today with all of its institutional baggage release that which is weighing it down in order to dig deeply into the basic areas of human affairs where it might influence humanity spiritually instead of religiously? Could this be what Bonhoeffer meant?

Farm Church is perhaps a new model – a model of church that seeks not to organize itself around buildings and grounds apart from the nit and grit of human affairs, but immersed in them. This model of church can happen, indeed needs to happen in the other sectors of human affairs. What if there was a Corporate Bank Church or a Capitol Hill Church or a Conflict Mediation Church for Reconciliation? I have marveled at groups like Alcoholics Anonymous who have managed to reach broken people spiritually in the very context of their brokenness. What if every church did that?

Bonhoeffer’s prophecy certainly has played out in Europe, where cathedrals and churches stand largely empty. We can clearly see that the same pattern is slowly playing out in the United States as well. Is it because the church has set itself apart from daily life? And who is Christ for us now? What is the Church in a post-religious Christianity?


Allen Brimer is co-planter of Farm Church

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. ed. Eberhard Bethge, Enlarged Edition (NY: Touchstone, 1997), 279-80.

[2] Ibid., 280.

Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba and the Cahaba Environmental Center

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Kim Hall and Benga Harrison

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. – Psalm 8:1-8

river 1

From the beginning, God gave humankind dominion over creation; thereby, creating humankind’s first call to stewardship. God has never taken that command away. This call to stewardship, to make “disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), and to “let the little children come to me” (Matt 19:14) inspired the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley to create sacred space – Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba.

In 2001, the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley sold two camping facilities and purchased a unique and important site in central Alabama. It is located on 440 acres of majestic forests and fronts 4 miles of the Cahaba River, one of the most biodiverse rivers in all of North America.

Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba continues the presbytery’s long tradition of youth camping and spiritual retreats. It is a place of natural and spiritual beauty where the soul is nourished and the spirit renewed. It is the perfect place to teach the importance of God’s call to stewardship.

Held by the waters of Living River, the Cahaba Environmental Center (CEC) was created with this in mind. What better way to teach people how to take care of the land than by showing them the ways to fall in love with it?

We at the CEC invite students of all ages into our backyard and immerse them in this special place. Students spend between three to five days exploring creation in all forms, from the tiniest carpenter ants to a whitetail deer to the stars sprinkling the night sky on a cool autumn night. At first, the students may be hesitant, scared even of some of the amazing, unpredictable forces of the natural world, but soon, both children and adults at the CEC slowly but surely discover the power of wonder for the natural world. As Rachel Carson said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Whether they understand it yet or not, these children are falling in love with the land and steadily becoming stewards of both land and water here on Earth. Their experience on the Living River property prepares them to care for this sacred space, along with all other natural spaces they come in contact with.

river 2

At the Cahaba Environmental Center and Living River, we hope to open the door to the outdoors. We aim to bridge the gap between science and religion, between the environment and the church, between people and the land. We wish to someday live in a world where people understand the importance of becoming stewards of God’s creation. Our dream is to create this perfect world on a small scale, to build a model for how the world could and should be. And thus, we have created a Living River that we hope will wash away the barriers between people and the natural world, creating a path to stewardship and a commitment to a better world and a better us.

kimKim Hall is Director of the Cahaba Environmental Center, Contact her at




BengaBenga Harrison is Development Director for Living River: A Retreat on the Cahaba, Contact her at

Stewardship of Creation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September and October, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Read more

A New Heaven and a New Earth

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Susan Orr

There is a small, little worshiping community in the Presbytery of Genesee Valley named People’s Ministry in Christ. This store-front ministry is situated in a high poverty area in the city of Rochester. Set in a modest location, a former auto parts store, in fact, the room bursts its tiny seams on Sunday mornings, especially on days when a meal and fellowship are shared following worship. It’s the kind of place that reminds me how privileged I am, have always been, to live, work and play where I do. Members of this community embody the “least of these.”

People’s Ministry has been around for a number of years and so, unfortunately, doesn’t really qualify for the 1001 NEW Worshiping Communities initiative. Still, I am frequently amazed by the numerous ways this little church teaches me new ways of being the body of Christ. On Sunday mornings, a joyful noise can be heard ringing in the air. They don’t have a musician – no funds for that or hymnals sadly – so they sing along boisterously to Christian music from a CD player, lyrics projected onto a screen by an overhead projector. There’s hand-clapping, tambourine-tapping, even people dancing as they sing their glory to God.

A few years ago, I mentioned to my friends at People’s Ministry that I play the piano, not really well but enough to get by. I wholeheartedly accepted their offer to accompany their Christmas service, delighted to be able to share this gift. Jesus’s birth provides such a richness of song, does it not? We wouldn’t need hymnals or overheads, I thought. Everyone knows Christmas carols!   I was perplexed and I admit, a little ashamed when I called out a hymn – “Let’s sing Joy to the World. It’s one of my favorites! We sing it every year!” (yes, I speak in exclamation points). I was met with tentative voices from people attempting to read my lips as I sang. Do they not know this song? How is this possible? Can you be a Christian and not celebrate Christmas by singing Joy to the World after blowing out your little candle? What??

Glory to God’s introduction states: We know this hymnal will change lives. We know this hymnal will inspire the church. We know the familiar songs will sing anew.

This is what People’s Ministry does for me. They make me stop and think. Now when I worship with them, I try to be aware, at least more aware, of everything. Every song, every piece of liturgy, every testimony. To look with fresh eyes, with new eyes. To proclaim the words, not just speak the words. Or sing the words. Familiar songs, made anew.

They’ve taught me well. In the last few months, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to share the new hymnal, Glory to God, with the People’s Ministry family. On Easter, when they invited me back to the keyboard, we learned together In the Bulb There Is a Flower(hymn 250), subtitled “Hymn of Promise.” The lyrics so meaningful, so life-giving, that a parishioner exclaimed, “Let’s sing that one again!”

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

And just last month, we car-pooled from the city up to Lake Ontario so we could worship in creation and community. We read Genesis 1:1-2:4a and praised God for the glorious summer day and the ability to enjoy it with one another. This time, when we sang hymn 370, This Is My Father’s World, I wasn’t surprised the tune was unfamiliar to the gathered body. Instead, the lyrics resonated within me and were alive in a way they had never been before:

This is my Father’s world. O, let me ne’er forget

that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world. The battle is not done:

Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.

Thanks be to God!



susan orrSusan Orr

Presbyter for Mission and Education

Presbytery of Genesee Valley

In the Shadows of Our Past

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Laura Fry

Covington United Presbyterian Church

Covington United Presbyterian Church

At a bend in the road, encircled by cornfields and cows, our small congregation loves to sing. From the days when only psalms were sung and the pitch set with a tuning fork up until the present day, music has remained a central part of our life together.

As our church dedicated the Glory to God hymnals this spring, we retold this history of song, recalling the musical reformations that have taken place here over the years: the introduction of an organ, an ever-expanding repertoire of song, and gifts of bells, chimes, and several editions of new hymnals.

We did more than tell this story though; we sang it, as our ancestors did. We began unaccompanied, singing a psalm, led by a precentor. Next we added the organ, then several beloved hymns of the 19th and 20th centuries, and children’s songs from Vacation Bible School, accompanied by guitar and bells. As we sang we claimed our story once again; we were amused and encouraged by our spiritual ancestors who persevered amid debates about the propriety of organ music during worship; and we celebrated the truth that our tradition as a church and denomination is one of reformation.

Each congregation’s musical heritage is unique yet we Presbyterians share a common refrain: We are reformed and always to be reformed by God. Our musical life is no exception.

Brian Wren invites us to hear the beginning notes of reformation “Deep in the Shadows of the Past” and to discover the many ways God’s promise changed and grew.   In the very name of our God, “I AM WHAT I WILL BE,” we find the pitch of faith set for our on-going reformation. (See hymn 50, Glory to God)

The future of God’s people has always been unknown—wonderfully, beautifully so. Our faith has always been emerging.

We do not know how the church will change and grow, only that it will.

We do not yet hear the musical variations of faith in the years to come.

What do we know? We know the God who gives us song.


Laura Fry

Pastor, Covington United Presbyterian Church

Pavilion, NY

A Church At Rest

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Carin Farmer

photo credit: 6315 Houck's Ridge, Gettysburg via photopin (license)

Gettysburg – photo credit: 6315 Houck’s Ridge, Gettysburg via photopin (license)

“The Church’s One Foundation” is the hymn that has haunted me for years. I first met it as hymn 333 in the old pine green 1933 hymnal. I saw the dates of the 1860s – and heard this hymn as the great cry of faith against the division and violence of the U.S. Civil War. The third verse – “’Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war, She waits the consummation of peace forever more, Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest” – echoed in the church of my childhood as I tried to understand what it must have been like to have Christians fighting Christians, each side’s churches proclaiming the justice of their cause.

I was wrong, of course. This hymn was written over a very different battle – one in England between two bishops. Bishop Colenso brought modern scholarship and historical techniques to his understanding of Scripture, questioning the historical accuracy of the Pentateuch and Joshua. Bishop Gray opposed Colenso’s writings and the disagreement between them became a church-wide controversy. This is the fight that inspired Samuel Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation.” Samuel Stone feared that the fight within the church was taking the church’s eyes off Jesus, off her oneness in “One Lord, One Faith, One Birth.”

The third verse continues to haunt me and challenge me. After all, I remain part of a church that fights. I remain part of a church that is tired of fighting and is offering a discernment process, whereby churches may peaceably leave. I was quite young (age 3) during the Angela Davis controversy – and yet that was brought up to me by elders as recently as last month (despite the 45 year intermission). I was just leaving for seminary when there was controversy about women calling God “Sophia” (Greek for Wisdom) at a conference. During my years at seminary, we fought over “Amendment B” – we fought so much over it – it continued to be called an amendment, even though it was in the Book of Order. And then it wasn’t. I hear debate about abortion, Israel, and marriage, and yet I continue to be haunted by that line – “the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.”

I am seeking a church at rest. A church which hears that Jesus has said “take my yoke, learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls.” I seek a church at rest – where the dividing walls of hostility have crumbled into rubble. I seek a church resting on her one foundation in Jesus. I admit it is tempting to add “and.” I want a church at rest in Jesus AND agreeing with me politically. I want a church at rest AND matching my social and economic priorities. I want a church manning barricades of my choosing – which perhaps is all that needs to be said about why we are not a church at rest.

Nor are we “the great church victorious.” We seem to be losing ground yearly in almost every measure of money or people we use. Perhaps there are more casualties to our battles than we have counted and more damage to our foundation than we have considered. St. Paul suggests we “look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others,” or in another letter that we “outdo one another in showing honor.” The command to love one another is clear, but I love my own ways, my own thoughts, my own interpretations as well – perhaps too well. I hate to give up the fight – but that line continues to haunt me “the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.” If I want the church to be victorious, perhaps I need to learn to rest. Perhaps I need to stop adding the word “And” after the word “Jesus.” The greatest foundation ever in existence surely ought to be enough for me. This hymn reminds me to focus on the One. I need that now more than ever.


Carin Farmer


Central Presbyterian Church

Avon, New York

We Are Walking

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Pati Primerano

I have sung in the Chancel Choir of Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester, NY, for almost 24 years. We have an amazing array of musical groups at Third Church, including five choirs, about that number of bell choirs, plus ad hoc music groups for specific events. Music has been, and will always be, an important part of my life. I served on the committee to look into the new hymnal, Glory to God, and appreciated an early look at this extensive hymnal, which we recommended for adoption, and has since been purchased, distributed and dedicated. I was impressed by the number and quality of new hymns. Some of them we have already used in worship, when a more appropriate hymn was not available in the previous hymnal.

When thinking about a particular hymn in Glory to God that holds meaning for me, that choice is different now than it would have been a few weeks ago. Having spent a week at Montreat with some of the youth from Third Church in July, I was thoroughly immersed in many hours of singing. This singing happened in a huge hall, surrounded by 1200 youth from all over, plus assorted support adults. Some of the music was written that week, specifically for week 3 of the conference, some were well-loved standards (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for example) and some were from GTG, which is the hymnal used in Montreat.

Anyone who’s been to Montreat will understand that the schedule is jam-packed, and it’s impossible to do everything available. One of my boys decided to sing in the evening worship choir, a volunteer group that rehearsed after lunch. I wasn’t sure if it was open to teens only or included adults, so I had my son find out for me. Since adults are included, I went to the next rehearsal with my son. They handed out copies of a hymn familiar to me already, “We Are Marching in the Light of God,” which has been sung by our Junior Choir, with the congregation joining in. This hymn is not found in the old hymnbook, but is the last hymn in GTG, hymn 853. The leader modified it to “we are walking,” and we alternated that with the verse in Zulu, “Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos.” If that looks tricky, trust me, it’s a bit tongue-twisting as well. We memorized it, as we would be singing it as we walked and clapped. This was to be the benediction response at the end of the service, and we walked from the back of the room to the front, sang a last set of verses, and then exited as we sang. We reunited outside, on the steps into the building, and sang at least four more verses, just because. For me, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Montreat. The use of the hymn was perfect, memorable, and accessible to the congregation.


Pati Primerano

Member, Hymnal Committee

Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester NY

I am a retired city school district Spanish teacher, married, and the mom of three boys. My retirement gift to myself is my wonderful dog, who trains with me, learning obedience and agility. I am a member of a Dining Room Ministry team at Third Church, which serves a hot, homemade lunch every Saturday. I am an advisor in the Youth program, as well as an alto in the Chancel choir. We have a home near a popular local park, where we enjoy walking, photography and picnicking. I’m pretty busy in retirement, and honestly not sure how I managed it all while working full time…

Whole Creatures

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Laurel Nelson

“O God, in whom all life begins.” (Hymn 308, Glory to God)

This is a new hymn to me. It jumped off the page, speaking to me about God stirring the mystery of life in a worshipping community.

I write this overlooking my mid-summer garden, where the sunflowers are beginning to raise their cheery faces, tomatoes redden, and corn tassels blow in the wind. The mystery of life is no longer microscopic in this mid-season garden; life brazenly prances around.

I am twelve years into my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. The first six of those years were spent in the garden of a congregation, and for the past six I’ve had a lot more time outside literally gardening, as well as nurturing a small nonprofit into a ministry. I look back at those equal time blocks with gratitude, for I have had the blessing of being both in the whirlwind of congregational ministry, and in a (much) less defined role as co-director of Lagom Landing ( In both of those “gardens” I have been a witness to God beginning life, birthing seed to fruit, blessing lives, and letting love find root (v.1).

My husband told me that if he were blogging on a hymn, he would choose hymn 15, “All Creatures of our God and King.” St. Francis beckons us “creatures” to lift up our voices and sing with brother sun, sisters moon and water, and mother earth to worship God with humble hearts.

He and I reflected on how we humans often forget our “creature-li-ness.” Being called a “creature” could be a putdown to our inflated human egos. Lost in a climate-controlled world of screens timing out our commitments and visions, we (unconsciously?) feel we are the ones in control. It can be hard to see how we are creatures when we hurry through all that is truly essential for life (meals eaten on the run, water consumed when we think of it, homes full of electronic distraction).

One of the greatest gifts of these last six years has been getting in touch with my “creature-li-ness.” I love to dig in the soil and see all that’s going on there, and even am learning to tolerate the bugs that like to gnaw on me (as a spiritual discipline in creatureliness, of course). These creaturely habits, whatever they are, return us to God’s nurture, bringing forth the Spirit’s gifts of patience, joy, and peace.

The second verse of hymn 308 speaks of uniting our minds and hands and hearts. Learning our bodies’ needs is a part of creatureliness, and a growing edge for the PC(USA). I was struck by our denominational disregard of bodies when I visited the General Assembly in June 2014. The weather was phenomenal—72 degrees, sunny, no humidity (rare in Detroit, I’m told). I was just there as an observer, so I was more freed up than those who had stressful debates to prep for and committee business to process. But it astounded me how hard we grind ourselves down in the name of business. Looooong hours, rushing through the sunshine to the dark, air-conditioned cave of the COBO Center. I know it would not have been practical or even logistically possible. Still, I wonder how getting in touch with our creatureliness by going outside, feeling the sun on our faces, and talking to our fellow creatures who had no idea who we Presbyterians are might have affected our humble openness to the Spirit connecting our minds and hands and hearts.

Especially since we were meeting in Detroit! A city synonymous with struggle and re-birth, innovation and restoration, urban gardening and edgy art! The tears and laughter, grief and joy (hymn 308, v. 3) of that city has so much to teach us about enlarging our trust and care. Reminding us that we are all community, called to risk and dare.

What happens when you claim that you are a creature?

My hope is that you get in touch with your creatureliness, deeply knowing the truth in the fourth verse of St. Francis, “Christ bears your burdens and your fears; so, even in the midst of tears, sing praises! Alleluia!”

LaurelLaurel Nelson

Teaching Elder, Presbytery of Genesee Valley

Co-Director, Lagom Landing


Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Katie Styrt

“My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great.” The worship hall in Stony Point’s retreat center looks big until you crowd it with millennials. Dozens of future Young Adult Volunteers were packed in, worshiping with our fellow Presbyterians in a way that didn’t feel very Presbyterian at all. There was no stained glass, no pews cemented to the floor, and no bulletins, just us singing loud enough to shake the rafters. I’d signed up to spend a year in discernment and service, and already I was learning new things. We sang hymns brought back from other countries by past mission workers. My favorite was “Canticle of the Turning,” (hymn 100 in Glory to God) a loud, brash song.

More like a pirate shanty than a traditional hymn, the song retold the Magnificat to an Irish tune. Sung as a crowd at the top of our voices, Mary’s words sounded more like an anarchist manifesto than a virgin’s hope. “From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.” I sang it and I believed it. Soon our group would be spread throughout the world, completely devoted to fighting injustice with groups in their communities. I had spent years praying for change, without the focus to actually do something. Now I would finally get my chance.

A year went by quickly. Unsurprisingly, I was changed more than the place I served. Also unsurprisingly, I went on to seminary (if you want to feel excited about the future of the church, go be a YAV). Now I’m at my first call, a church in a stately behemoth of a building. And here, we sing the “Canticle of the Turning” every Sunday of Advent.

Our first week was an experience. Here was a song I’ve only heard on guitar and djembe, now ready to be performed on our sanctuary organ. I looked at the brick walls around us and tried to imagine this place in post-Kingdom revolution. I was surrounded by retirees and their grandkids in satin dresses. Our choir was robed up and immaculate. And then, we stood up sang about turning the world upside down.

It was perfect.

Week after week in Advent, our souls cried out. Every member of our congregation proclaimed that the world is about to turn. And we they took those words with us, out into our imperfect, stuck-in-the-mud lives.

I love singing “Canticle of the Turning,” because it reminds us how truly revolutionary Mary’s hopes for the Christ child still are today. Those big dreams and revolutionary songs fit in our solid church buildings just as much as in drum circles ; if anything, our established churches need them more. Song by song, we proclaim our allegiance to changing the world, whether it’s comfortable or not. We celebrate the dream of God’s kingdom, and admit that we aren’t there yet. The tension between our lives and God’s call resonates through us, shaking us forward to new things.

As we seek what’s next for the church we lift up these texts that demand revolution. We hold them close and cry out with joy, even when the gap between the gospel and our reality seems too far to overcome. That distance drives us to keep searching for the Spirit’s influence in our communities. Ready or not, our world turns, and we are preparing ourselves to turn it into the Kingdom of God, song by song.

katie styrt pic

Katie Styrt

Associate Pastor, Gates Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York and

Pastor, Laurelton Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York

There’s a Wideness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Colin Pritchard

The disciples did not choose each other. There is no way they would have chosen each other. Fisherman, zealots, brothers, tax collectors choosing to take this kind of extraordinary, dangerous, spiritually intimate journey together? Nope. In my experience, this just doesn’t happen. People choose the company of people like themselves when the going gets tough and the road is uncertain. Each unique, passionate, and particular, the disciples made for an idiosyncratic group. The brothers had to have moments of family drama. Peter had to drive the others crazy with some frequency. Did Thaddaeus ever say anything ever? Thomas didn’t believe the others even when they told miraculous truths. Scripture lets us know that while they may have invited some of their own number to “come and see,” the disciples did not choose each other.

And yet…they were undeniably and powerfully chosen. They journeyed and witnessed, struggled and served, loved and succeeded together, brought together by the One who changed the boundaries and embodied The Word. They did not choose one another, but each was chosen by Jesus. Not the same, but each essential: all a different part of the body that would go to the ends of the earth sharing love and life, hope and the Holy.

Artwork by Shawna Bowman

Artwork by Shawna Bowman

In these modern days we individuals, seekers and followers of The Way, we the Church, continue to walk an extraordinary, dangerous, spiritually intimate journey together. We are in the privileged place of having heard our names called by Jesus and having chosen his companionship. We are just like the first disciples: needed, blessed by opportunity, gifted in our own ways. We are also just like the first disciples: with different stories and means of employment, different personalities, and certainly plenty of family drama.

We share another thing with the disciples: the road ahead remains uncertain. I am certain of this uncertainty. I am also certain that the efficacy and integrity of our witness will be profoundly impacted by how we choose to walk together. We can retreat from the challenges of broad community and its particularities and limit ourselves to our gifts alone. We can participate in the drama of trying to be just a little more chosen, a little more right, and one step closer to Jesus than our sisters and brothers. Or we can wade through the chaos with our eyes set on the One who has called us all, remembering ours is only to do our part.

I have found that the second verse of the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (hymn 435 in the Glory to God Hymnal) can serve as a helpful reminder for us all.

“For the love of God is broader that the measures of the mind”: We love to study and debate and discern, but beyond our prodigious collective intellect, the love of God reigns.

“And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind”: So kind that the quiet ones and the zealots, the blue collars, white collars, and no collars, the broken families and the unique individuals are all wanted, needed, and guided by Grace. Christ’s kindness is a model for us all.

“If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s word”: If we remain deeply grounded in the love of God, then we will know our assurance of both pardon and security, we will compete no more, and we will trust not just the written Word, but also the resurrected living One.

“And our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord”: Who we are and how we walk together will be a worthy witness to the rest of this world. Friends we may well have not chosen each other, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’ve each been chosen to walk together.


Colin Pritchard


First Presbyterian Church

Victor, New York