2017 National Gathering Ignite: Presbyterian College

Rebecca Davis, professor at Presbyterian College, and students Joaquin Ross and Jacob Kennedy, give an Ignite presentation on racial unrest and reconciliation on campus.

Becoming Who You’ve Always Been

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri

“What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!” These words by author Parker J. Palmer – a teacher, writer and member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) – exemplify part of the insights I gained reading his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Let Your Life Speak was recommended to me at a time marked by endings: service in a committee nearing its end, my father’s terminal cancer diagnosis, deciding whether or not to quit a job… I was feeling somewhat lost and wondering what was next, spiritually and professionally; where and how to best serve God, contribute to the church at large and the community.

Teaching about the gift of vocation and writing about his life experiences, including times of depression, Palmer conveys the message of claiming one’s truth and explains the concept of “true self.” His candid approach is refreshing and challenging. It encourages the reader to dig deep, recognizing limits, potentials, even failures and mistakes, as starting points in discerning “what’s next?” I recommend this book to all those who, like me, find themselves at a crossroads or for those who feel “true self” is still to be discovered. It is not a book to read over a weekend as it calls for honest reflection.

Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri serves as the moderator of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida and works part-time as an ESL teacher and trainer. She is also part of a CREDO faculty team. She has spent spent most of her adult life teaching teenagers and adults and serving in the church context. 

“Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Derrick McQueen

The book that is providing theological perspective and inspiration for me these days is Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics by Josef Sorett. It is a work that examines the African-American cultural movements and their artistic offspring. From the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920’s through the Black Arts movement, Dr. Sorett examines the pervasive effect religion plays on these commonly seen as secular literary visions. This work is exciting because it puts religion in conversation with the secular and in doing so allows the church/religion to erase the divide between what is inside and what is outside of the church walls, or the boundaries of religious life.

Spirit in the Dark does not attempt to answer the question, “How does the church make itself relevant in the secular world?” It lays claim to the ways in which the division between the sacred and the secular is an artificial one. In fact, it sees the religious as an integral ingredient in the African-American literary tradition.

Church book study group leaders will find this book extremely helpful in training the eyes and ears to the religious undercurrents in the secular literary tradition. As Dr. Sorett’s work deals with the African-American experience, the culminating lessons are also applicable or at least adaptable for many different communities. It is just that in Spirit in the Dark, Sorett’s impressive research makes clear that the African-American experience is one that able to be clearly defined and claimed as such in this rich tapestry of literary tradition and can serve as a model to other communities.

Specifically, it frees the preacher up to understand that the literary resource of the African-American literary tradition is ripe for bringing in texts to be in conversation with the Bible and the community. It also provides a way for preachers and pastors to parse culture without giving in to the demand to “do something new to fill the pews” by watering down the theological foundations upon which their churches and communities are built. This is an important book and readers will definitely find their own jewels within.

Rev. Derrick McQueen, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Director for The Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS) at Columbia University. He is also serving as pastor to St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem, N.Y., and is an adjunct professor of Worship and Preaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Derrick has been actively involved in work for LGBTQ inclusion in churches and society, facilitating dialogues and serving on the boards of such organizations as Presbyterian Welcome, That All May Freely Serve, More Light Presbyterians and Auburn Seminary. Recently he served as the Moderator of the Presbytery of New York City.

Building Communities, Not Programs

This month, our blog series is actually a vlog series – a video blog, that is! We’re calling it “The NEXT Few Minutes.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll share with you short, 2-3 minute videos from a variety of folks around the country with the hopes they spark your own imagination. We hope you’ll learn about some trends, ask questions, and think deeply about the practice of ministry in your own setting.

Jen James, a christian educator in the National Capital Presbytery, asks what would happen if we spent more time considering what happened outside of the church walls instead of church programming. What if this year, our churches committed to making healthier communities instead of building up our own programming?  Join the conversation by commenting on this blog post or on our Facebook/Twitter pages!

To see all of our videos in our “The NEXT Few Minutes” series, check out our playlist on Youtube.

A Balancing Act

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Margaret Burnett

I love ministry in the church. I love the people, the mission, the theology, the relationships, the privilege of sacred spaces and thin places. I love it, and it totally overwhelms me at times—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. After nearly 20 years in ministry, I’ve learned a lot about the need for balance.

yoga-167062_1280For me the support of good friends, time with an excellent counselor, and much prayer are vital for maintaining healthy life and ministry. Twenty-four outreach ministries to coordinate, sermons to prepare, visits to make, classes to teach, emails to read (and maybe even to reply!), parishioners to meet with, community groups to support—then there’s being a wife, mother, pet owner, and friend. Oh, and I encourage people to take care of themselves, so I really need to do it, too.

When ministry became more of a juggling act than a joy, I decided to try something new. I began to work with a coach. Being coached is very different than being counseled. While counseling is important to face hurt, history, and conflict, coaching is focused on the next steps. Typically coaches work with people who are ready for something new rather than people whose focus needs to be on healing. Coaches enter the relationship believing that the person being coached is naturally creative, resourceful and whole.

My first experience with a coach helped me determine how to best guide the adaptive change of a new system for my church’s outreach ministries. I had the basics and knew the questions, but my coach walked alongside me, asking hard questions, challenging me, helping me gain confidence in newfound gifts, and offering tools that supported my growth and the health of the church. If he had tried to answer all the questions and “fix” the issues, the system would not have changed. Today our 24 outreach ministries are coordinated by a team of six people who are answering God’s call to faithfully use their gifts and skills. And when new ministries are suggested, we have the space and energy to be creative and realistic about adding another program.

My other experiences with coaches have helped me discern my call, discover gifts I never knew I had, work in healthy ways with colleagues, and prioritize my time at church and at home. I set goals with my coach, and he holds me accountable to them—no more resolutions for someday; he checks to see if I am actually moving toward those things I promised myself to do.

I would have never imagined that adding one more thing to my plate—-enlisting the help of a coach—would move my life to become more balanced and whole.

mburnett headshot

Margaret Burnett is Associate Pastor for Outreach Ministries at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN.

NEXT U: Mission Shift in Christian Education

medium_2975069958 (1)

Welcome to NEXT University! During the month of August, we are highlighting our most popular posts and videos on the NEXT blog from the past few years, with suggestions for how to use this content with church sessions, committees, staff and other leaders. 

Today we reprise one of our 2014 Ignite presentations, from Jen James, an educator in the DC area. At just seven minutes, the video is ideal for the beginning of a Christian Education ministry team meeting, session meeting or staff study.

Mission Shift in Christian Education — Access the Video and Transcript Here

The whole thing is worth your time, but here are a few highlights with questions for discussion:

“But the missional church, the next church, is a return to the original calling of the church – to go into the world to share the Good News of Christ, love our neighbors, and seek the welfare for our community. It recognizes that the local church is only as healthy as the community surrounding it.” 

  • Where are the places of health in your community? Do you see this health reflected in your congregation? If so, how?
  • Where are the places of brokenness in your community? Are those places of brokenness present in the congregation too?
  • What breaks God’s heart in your community?

“Consider Christian Education in the missional church to be like a greenhouse. It’s a place for new beginnings where plants are intentionally fed and nourished to become strong enough for transplanting. Plants will never thrive in the greenhouse the same way they will thrive in their natural environment.”

  • Make a “map” of your Christian education greenhouse. What’s currently growing there? Are there some plants that are thriving and others that are struggling?
  • Have you gotten stuck in the greenhouse? Or have you been transplanting these plants into their natural environments? How might you view Christian Education more missionally?

“The missional shift in Christian Education means our Children’s Ministry Committee will spend more time volunteering at a local elementary school than it will planning Vacation Bible School. It means you are more likely to find members of a Youth Ministry Team at the high school football game, or school play, or chaperoning a dance than in the state of the art youth lounge. It means adults will take a break from their study on Matthew to actually clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the prisons. It means bringing bagels and coffee to the families at the Sunday morning soccer game, and instead of rushing back for worship, staying to cheer for a child’s first goal.”

  • What ideas would you add to this list, given the particulars of your neighborhood and congregation?
  • What’s one concrete action you might take to make a missional shift in Christian Education?


photo credit: Christiaan Triebert via photopin cc

Where Is My Place at NEXT?

by Helen Wilkins

As a sophomore at Presbyterian College who’s majoring in Christian Education and excited to follow a calling into ministry, the question “What’s NEXT?” is extremely relevant to me. I am a pastor’s kid, so I have grown up being very active in the church and I have had a deep love for the church and the PCUSA in particular for as long as I can remember. I have to admit, when I looked at the schedule for NEXT events, I was more than a little excited to see that the national conference would fall nicely in my Spring Break and was conveniently close to my college. My anticipation grew as I saw friends I have met through the years who would be in Charlotte as well. I drove to Charlotte Sunday and had a great opportunity to meet with seminary students for dinner, conversation, and a movie. After being at the conference for less than two hours, I was already eager for the making of new friends and the strengthening of old, for worship, and for continued discussion of the future of the PCUSA.

I woke up early Monday morning, eager for the conference to start and to talk about what’s NEXT. As I walked into the fellowship hall I was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of people and I quickly remembered just how introverted I actually am. Suddenly, the idea of talking with people at this conference about the church, religion, the future became much more intimidating because I could not help but to think that I was one of the youngest, and consequently, most inexperienced people in this large crowd of people. I wondered to myself about why I thought I should be a part of this conversation, what I thought I could possibly bring to the table.

In the midst of my uncertainties about my place at the conference, I made my way into the sanctuary before worship because I had been asked, along with some other college and seminary students, to help lead the congregation in the Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession. As a part of this, we were asked to spread out among the congregation. I found myself sandwiched in the middle of the pew between two total and complete strangers who were each at least 40 years my senior and who were not exceptionally talkative (but were very nice). As I stood in the pew, silently wondering why I wasn’t spending my Spring Break in my much neglected bed, the music leaders began to play a very familiar song. Within the first few notes of “The Canticle of the Turning,” the very kind women sitting next to me and I simultaneously grabbed each other’s arms and shrieked, with excitement that rivaled a 13-year old girl at a boy-band concert, “OH MY GOSH I LOVE THIS SONG!” In that moment, as we laughed about our over-enthusiasm about singing a beloved song I realized how much this small little interaction spoke volumes on what’s NEXT and on what’s now.

As the conference continued I had many opportunities to talk with people, to share ideas, and to create friendships. I remembered that one of the reasons I have always loved the church is for the fellowship and conversation with people of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Through the conversations and workshops I participated in throughout the conference I was able to talk with people and have my opinion and my ideas valued. When I think about what’s NEXT, I think about these conversations where I talked with people who had been pastors for 30 years or more, but how they still cared about what I had to say. I think about how I was able to listen to someone explain what she was seeing as a DCE in a church and how I could then offer something about what I am seeing as a college student. This conference reminded me that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we are meant to love one another and cherish each others’ opinions. Together, as members of the body of Christ, we work with each other, respect each other, encourage each other, and care for each other, because we are meant to be disciples with each other, and work in partnership with each other, not separate ourselves when we may not have many things in common. This is something that we often forget, so I am very grateful that I see it coming up in the discussion of what’s NEXT and is something that I have seen come into fruition, especially at the National Conference.

There’s no one person who can come and talk to us about exactly where the PCUSA will be 5 years from now and how we need to change or stay the same, but instead it is up to each and every one of us to be a part of the conversation and help discern where God is calling us. We are all children of God and are equally valued and we each have something unique and vital to bring to the table. At the beginning of the conference, I was uncertain about what my role in this discussion of what’s NEXT in the church could really be, but I was soon reminded that, despite my inexperience and insecurities, I am blessed by a denomination that respects and loves me, by an opportunity to talk with old and new friends about the church we love, and by the Holy Spirit that fills our conversations, prayers, and worship as we talk together about what God has in store for our future together.

HelenHelen 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.