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What Do We Say?

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 Jessica Tate

In the wake of the hyper partisanship of the 2016 presidential election, I began hearing from pastors across the country who were wondering, “What do I say on Sunday?” Some were crafting liturgy for congregations of young adults who felt despondent and afraid after the election. Others were writing sermons to congregations of supporters of the then president-elect, pleased with the results. Still others knew that sitting in their pews on Sunday would be a “purple church” – Democrats next to Republicans next to Independents, and that party affiliation didn’t necessarily correlate to one’s vote. Everyone I talked to was wrestling with their own reaction to the political moment alongside the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel.

What do I say on Sunday?

It is always the church’s job to proclaim the hope of our faith. To tell and retell the story of God – our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. It is also the church’s job to interpret the cultural moment and the human condition in light of our Reformed theological understandings. The Sarasota Statement is an attempt at proclamation and theological wrestling for this particular moment. At the same time, we know that every statement we make about God and ourselves is limited, and not without error. This statement is an attempt to take seriously the theological claims on which we say we stake our lives with the humility to recognize and confess the ways we continuously fail to live out those beliefs. It is also an invitation and commitment to live differently going forward.

The writers of the Sarasota Statement began their work with the recognition that they are but “a small and imperfect reflection of the church.” They would not – and could not – presume to write a confession of faith for all people for all times and all places. Nor could they assume the mantle of writing on behalf of the church, as is usually the process by which Presbyterians develop confessional statements. Rather, this group gathered because it seemed an important and difficult moment for leaders around our church to name the convictions of our faith alongside the disconnection and division in this country. What do we say?

The Sarasota Statement also began from the premise that any word for this particular moment must be a word that can be said by multiple voices. This is not to suggest that this particular statement contains exactly the right words in exactly the right way and that every person agrees with everything that it says. Rather, the Sarasota Statement is an attempt to stand under the judgment of our theological convictions – taking a posture of humility in recognition of our own blindness, stubbornness, willfulness, and idolatry. We hope this posture invites more voices into conversation and reflection, rather than furthering well-worn lines of division.

Further, we pray this statement can be useful in the practice of faith – in worship services, in small groups, in personal reflection – in the ways people actually engage in faith formation. We hope it provokes conversation and deepening thought. We hope it invites others to do their own theological reflection, their own wrestling with the human condition in this particular moment in time.

Ultimately, this group of writers doesn’t have the right words. We have a word, an offering, and we pray that it will be a blessing. More importantly, we hope it will be a catalyst that provokes you to ask, “What do I say?” If there are places of disconnect, how would you say it differently? If there are places of discomfort, why? If there is something you long to see here that is not, what is that? How can you say it? If there are pieces of the statement that resonate deeply with you, what longing do they meet? What truth do they express?

We hope you will wrestle with this statement and invite others to join you in the wrestling. And we pray that wrestling will invite you to generous listening, risky truth-telling, and ever-deepening faithfulness to a Savior who continually invites us to be undone and remade.

What will you say?


Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.

A Confession for This Moment

by Brandon Frick

“the church writes confessions of faith when it faces a situation of life or a situation of death so urgent that it cannot remain silent but must speak, even at the cost of its own security, popularity, and success.”

– “Confessional Nature of the Church Report, I.B.,” PC(USA) Book of Confessions

It began almost a year ago.

In May of 2016, I submitted an article to the Presbyterian Outlook about the promise and possibilities of a Reformed confession of faith for the 21st century. As I surveyed the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions, replete with helpful theological language, there was a nagging feeling that those confessions and statements seemed to be speaking past our current cultural moment. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was struggling with was how the church could reverse the disintegration of communal bonds in the midst of what has since been defined as the “post-truth” era – an era in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In short, I was plagued by this question: How could we proclaim Jesus as Truth in the midst of a world that, like Pilate, could look right at it and ask “What is truth?”

As election season wore on (and wore everyone out), I grew to believe ever more strongly that the church needed to speak a word of hope in the midst of cynicism and despair. As I watched my congregants, yellow-dog Democrats, Tea-Party Republicans, and everyone in between, get ground up in the gears of the politics of antagonism, it became clear they needed a word of renewal. Then, the morning after the election, friends who felt, too, the election as a rejection of their right to belong and congregants who needed their church reached out en masse.

As I sat in our sanctuary, wrestling with the pain that so many — conservative and liberal — were voicing, I asked God the questions that would ultimately lead to the composition of the Sarasota Statement: “God, what am I supposed to do? As a pastor, what is my responsibility in all this?” The answer was revealed over the course of a day: it was time to put my money where my mouth was. If I really believed all the things I claimed in that article, then we needed a confession to address the world and the church and claim our hope in God for this particular moment.

So, there was the answer, all I had to do was get a team of people together to write a confession. Funny thing though: no one has written Confession-writing for Dummies. I needed help, so I reached out to Glen Bell, who I had recently gotten to know in the Pastoral Development Seminar hosted by the saints at First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, FL. Several weeks later, both NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation pledged their support to the endeavor.

Through Glen and Jessica Tate’s hard work, a team (that I am now privileged to count as friends, and from whom you’ll be hearing this month) was put together. We began corresponding over the intervening weeks, sharing resources and ideas, and then met in January at First Pres Sarasota for a little over a day of intensive work.  What began there, and was shaped over ensuing weeks by our group (thank God for the internet!), has become a document that I am honored to have had a part in crafting.

In the trust, grief, and commitment described in the Sarasota Statement, I take great hope for myself, the church, and the world, and I pray others do as well. What I did not expect is the degree to which I find hope in the process of actually composing the Statement and the friendships that have been formed there. Eight people who love God and the church, but who come from different contexts and perceive the world differently, gathered together to hash through some massive theological and cultural questions, and now together, we lift our voices to witness to Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Reconciler of all things. What a testimony to God’s goodness and fidelity in a world where we told consensus is impossible!

This month, the NEXT Church blog will feature reflections from the team on the Statement and the writing process. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from them over the month of April; I know I will.


Brandon Frick is Associate Pastor for Adult Education, Small Groups, and Young Adults at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, MD. He is married to Aaryn and has played in almost every sandbox around the Chesapeake Bay with his two boys. 

A New Statement of Faith

On Tuesday, March 14, at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering, we released a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. It’s called the Sarasota Statement, and it was made possible by a partnership between NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation. We hope you’ll take the statement into your own life and context, using it as a tool to declare your own faith statement, proclaiming the light of Christ.

Glen Bell, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota and member of the NEXT Church strategy team, has written more about the genesis of the Sarasota Statement. Please continue reading to learn more.


by Glen Bell

Near the beginning of 2017, Brandon Frick, a former participant in the Pastoral Development Seminar at First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, contacted me. Brandon was convinced that in this moment of difficulty and division in the life of our nation and church, we needed to write and profess a new statement of faith in a non-partisan way, beyond any ideology.

Brandon asked me if NEXT Church, which is committed to a vibrant future for our Presbyterian tradition, would be interested in hosting and sponsoring the writing of such a faith statement. Jessica Tate, the director of NEXT Church, and I communicated with the strategy team (board) of NEXT Church. They enthusiastically agreed.

The Sarasota Statement team

Presbyterians have always been a people of confessional statements. We have adopted statements of our beliefs, Catholic, Protestant and Reformed, in our Book of Confessions, part of the constitution of our Presbyterian Church (USA). Some confessions represent the common convictions of the Christian faith (for example, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed). Others reflect the roots of the Reformation and our Presbyterian tradition (for example, the Scots Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith). Still others speak a powerful word in light of specific challenges in certain times and places (for example, the Barmen Declaration and the Belhar Confession).

A group of eight diverse participants in the Presbyterian Church (USA) gathered in Sarasota on January 23 and 24 of this year. Together, the group wrote a first draft of a statement of faith. Over subsequent weeks, the group refined their work. The Sarasota Statement is being released publicly at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City, March 13-15.

The primary writers were: Katie Baker, pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Chris Currie, pastor in Shreveport, Louisiana; Brandon Frick, pastor in Severna Park, Maryland; Bertram Johnson, pastor in New York, New York; Cynthia Rigby, professor at Austin Seminary; and  Layton Williams, audience engagement editor at Sojourners Magazine. Hosts, conveners and secondary writers were Jessica Tate and I.

In the past, almost every statement of faith created and publicly distributed across the church has the result of the selection of a diverse group of scholars and leaders, authorized by a General Assembly. The group works carefully and creatively over several years, and the result is then approved by a subsequent General Assembly and included in the Book of Confessions.

This model is quite different. We believe in times of need or crisis, we are called to turn to the biblical and theological roots of our Christian faith to remember our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and say anew what we believe. The hope of NEXT Church and the writers of the Sarasota Statement is this: We encourage groups of Presbyterians, in a rich and colorful diversity of relationships, both within and beyond congregations, to conceive and declare their own faith statements, proclaiming the light of Christ. 

This statement speaks to the church. It represents only the eight writers individually (as well as NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation, which facilitated its creation). It does not speak on behalf of any of the churches or organizations the writers serve. We are eager to hear your thoughts and reflections about the Sarasota Statement. In April, this blog will feature pieces from those involved in the creation of the statement. Join us then to continue the conversation. In the meantime, comment here, or send us an email. We hope the Sarasota Statement might move you in your own context.

To God be the glory!


Glen Bell is head pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, Florida, and serves on the NEXT Church strategy team.

Belhar: A Reconciliation Place for the Sake of the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Quinn Fox

belhar-ga

Allan Boesak addressing the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly

I had the blessing to have been in the room of all the G.A. committees that had anything to do with the Confession of Belhar’s journey into our Constitution (all four times committees voted as well as the final recommendation for inclusion in the Book of Confessions). Between 2008 and 2016, my role changed. I began as committee resource coordinator (2008 & 2010); I was asked by National Capital Presbytery to serve as overture advocate (2012) for a reconsideration of the narrowly defeated overture. In 2014, I moderated the Committee on Theological Issues that (again) recommended adding Belhar. Last June in Portland, as an observer, I witnessed the final GA committee vote to recommend the inclusion of this remarkable confession in our constitution. Remarkable primarily for the context out of which Belhar proclaimed the central gospel message of reconciliation.

To change our Book of Confessions requires the majority vote of three General Assemblies, the recommendation of a special committee appointed by a G.A. moderator, and a super-majority of presbyteries. It’s the most difficult constitutional change to make, because the Book of Confessions is our foundation.

The basement, or foundation, is sometimes forgotten about or taken for granted when there is lots of activity going on upstairs. In recent years we’ve been remodeling our PCUSA “house.”

Remodeling work is chaotic; it can be all-consuming. During those “remodeling” years most Presbyterians didn’t think much about the basement (we were squabbling about where there should and shouldn’t be walls in our Book of Order). A few went down to see what they could find to make a case for what they wanted to see happen upstairs, but that was the extent.

One is unwise to change a foundation hastily. It takes time and significant consensus, especially in the Presbyterian house.

After eight years of process, our denominational basement has an addition—a fortification and amplification of our core Reformed theology, articulated to engage issues we face in our 21st century context. After decades of divisive debates about the upstairs remodel, we have also voted to change our foundation. Now there’s a basement room dedicated to reconciliation and justice. Of course, we have a 50-year-old justice and reconciliation room that calls prophetically for the abolition of racial discrimination—a voice of reconciliation in the public square. Perhaps more circumspectly, no doubt less ambitiously, our “Belhar room” calls for reconciliation within the church … at a time when our culture is deeply divided (and lacking in justice). And not only our culture. Hundreds of congregations are seeking to depart. Our ecclesial strife is inseparable from the larger cultural divides.

Belhar attests: the gospel is fundamentally about reconciliation. Our world, our nation, our local communities desperately need reconciliation and justice. Christians know something about this… the reconciliation God has given us in Jesus Christ (as individuals, as God’s people and as God’s covenant community). This message of reconciliation is desperately needed in a world of over 65 million refugees and displaced persons, in a country polarized by vitriolic political campaigns. Belhar tells us that the church’s message is reconciliation; Belhar also tells us that we need to hear the message ourselves! Will we?

We have rich reconciliation resources—not only in Belhar but in our larger Book of Confessions. I invite you down to the basement for a look around. It’s a very cool place once you leave all the hustle and bustle going on upstairs. It’s my favorite room in our Presbyterian house.


quinn_foxQuinn Fox, associate pastor for Discipleship at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., attended Fuller and Princeton Theological Seminaries before earning his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in the history of Christian thought. Prior to this, he served as Associate for Theology and Director of the Company of New Pastors in the Office of Theology & Worship.