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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.

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 Transformative Learning III

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 third session from Tuesday morning.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning II
Transformative Learning IV

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Ann Hartman

Ann Hartman gives an Ignite presentation at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering about her experience interning at a Presbyterian church in Yukutat, Alaska.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Racial Awareness & Mindfulness Festival

Therese Taylor-Stinson and Glenn Zuber of National Capital Presbytery give an Ignite presentation on the first-ever DC Racial Awareness & Mindfulness Festival at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Accepting the Invitation

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 Glen Bell

During January, six servant leaders gathered in Sarasota, Florida, to begin to write a statement of faith. Katie Baker, Chris Currie, Brandon Frick, Bertram Johnson, Cindy Rigby, and Layton Williams came together to explore and proclaim what our Christian faith demands to in this moment of national difficult and discord. Jessica Tate, Robert Hay, and I hosted the gathering.

Did we all know one another? No.

Were we similar theologically, politically, personally? No.

Was travel easy? No.

Was the goal a bit daunting? Yes.

The process was filled with the yin and yang of dynamic discussion, replete with push and tug. There was a moment or two when some of us suspected we may not be able to finish. But it turned out to be a joyful, transformative experience of God-given connection with one another.

We have become convinced that stating our faith is NOT a task only for carefully-selected groups, empowered by a General Assembly. We believe that Presbyterians and Christians both within and across congregations are called to gather to discern and state God’s call for us.

We must proclaim our faith, not only in the familiar words we have received, but in our word  for our time.

There is something special about the Sarasota Statement – and also nothing special about it at all. It represents the heartfelt poetry and prose of six faithful servants, determined to answer God’s call. But most importantly perhaps, it points beyond itself, inviting and challenging all of us to do the same, in our place, in our time, right here and now.

Will we accept the invitation? A gathering of youth or adults in a congregation might study the Presbyterian confessions and then craft their own statement of faith. Three neighboring congregations could come together one evening to name and confess the most pertinent parts of our Christian tradition.

May God give us the strength and determination to reflect on our faith and to name and claim it anew!


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

Called To The Uncomfortable Place

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 Layton Williams

I sometimes struggle to figure out where I belong in the church. I am an openly bisexual woman and a strong advocate justice for those the church has historically neglected. At times, I dream of being one of those unapologetically radical liberal Christians, who pull the church forward by refusing to compromise their ideals. But over and over, I find myself at the table instead, trying to remain true to my convictions and bring people along at the same time. It’s a role I can’t seem to get away from, though I am not always comfortable with it.

So, when Jessica Tate reached out to me last November and asked if I’d be interested in joining a task force to work on a new statement of faith in response to our current reality, I told her I needed to think about it. And then, I immediately sent a message to my friend Brandon, who Jessica had told me was the person who had sparked the idea. I asked Brandon, “Can you promise me this isn’t just a statement to force unity or appease people? Can you promise we’re really going to dig into the hard stuff and wrestle to figure out what our faith is saying?”

Brandon said yes, he could promise me those things. So I said yes to Jessica too.

The reason for my hesitation is pretty simple, and when — on our first group call — we explained to each other why we had signed on to work on this statement, my reason for hesitating was also my explanation for why I said yes. I told the others on the team that I had seen the church fail to show up when it really counted on more than one occasion and this time, I wanted to be a part of the church doing better and really showing up.

On the far end of this experience, with the Sarasota Statement making its way into churches and conversations, I am proud of our efforts to show up in the way I had hoped we would. It was not easy process, and the statement is an imperfect document, but I know that it was the result of hard faithful wrestling between people of different perspectives.

At one point, I told one of my colleagues on the team that I had never been so aware of both my privilege and lack thereof as I was during this process. My race, gender, and sexual identity combined with my traditional Presbyterian education and my untraditional non-parish job placed me uniquely and intensely in the midst of the various identities represented in the group.

I was acutely aware of the need for those who were people of color in our group to be heard, respected, and trusted. I knew, too, that it is unbelievably rare for a bisexual voice to represented in a conversation about the church, faithful living, and justice. I found myself constantly pushing for us to be more outspoken that we were entirely comfortable with; I kept saying I wanted the document to be “an equal opportunity squirmer.” Meanwhile, I spent much of my energy in the group helping folks keep dialoguing, reframing, hoping, and trusting that we would find our way forward together — into a document of which we could all be proud.

It was an incredible experience to be a part of this writing team — humbling and encouraging at the same time. It was also as uncomfortable a place as it has always been for me — fighting for us to be bolder and more just while trying to do so in a way that many different people could hear and be convicted by. I suppose it will always be an uncomfortable place — to be at the table — but I’m so glad it’s where I’m called to be.


Layton E. Williams is an ordained PCUSA teaching elder currently serving as the Audience Engagement Associate for Sojourners in Washington D.C.. Her work combines data analysis, creative communications, new media strategy, and relationship building to grow the Sojourners community in both breadth and depth. She is also a writer, focusing on intersections of faith, justice, politics, and culture with an emphasis on sexuality and gender. She previously served as Pastoral Resident at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and received her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

If You are a Primary Text, What’s Your Mission?

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 Lee Hinson-Hasty

“You are the primary text.”

Early in my ministry, my father-in-law, the Rev. Dr. E. Glenn Hinson[1] reminded me how closely both friends and enemies pay attention to one another. Counselor orientation week at YMCA Camp Sea Gull pounded this point daily in another way: “They watch and remember what you do, how you do it, when it is done, and where you do it, even more than what you say.”

Curating blogs this March by leaders who think theologically from across cultures and ethnicities, sexual and philosophical orientations, generations, genders, and a variety of geographic locations reminds me how much I learn and respect those I choose to be in relationship with. One of my favorite questions to get to know or catch up with someone (thank you, George Anderson) is “What are you reading?” Thank you, NEXT Church, for providing a wonderful opportunity for me and all who read, wrote, and participated to be a part of that question and to strengthen relationships and insight in these days entrusted to our care.

The recommendations, reviews, and responses to my question have hopefully added a few – if not many – new books to your wish list to read. But I have a confession to make. I asked another question to the writers: What is your vocation or call? I put it this way: “Please include in the blog a brief description of your social location and ministry context so people have a sense of who you are, what has been formative, the kind of questions and ideas you often address, and the way(s) God is calling you to serve.” Many dove into this question in amazing ways, giving all of us a deeper look into who they each are. In that moment, they revealed themselves in a more focused and clarifying way. They became, I think, a primary text for us all. For this, I am grateful.

So I was pleased to read Teri McDowell Ott’s description from the autobiographical notes of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son: In them “Baldwin shares what could be read as his personal mission statement: ‘I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.’”

Ken Kovacs points out that Charles Marsh “maintains that, [D]ogmatic proclamation would never be enough for Bonhoeffer, because every confession of Christ as Lord must bear concretely on the immediate work of peace. Obedience could not be separated from confession.’

I wonder if it is time for each of us to clarify our own vocation and write or re-write our own personal mission statements? What are we responsible for together and individually? And how are we living out those commitments?

Join me in giving thanks for those who contributed over the last month and the ways they are writing and living what they believe.  In so many ways, they are a primary text worth returning to again and again:

  • Derrick McQueen: “Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life: “One focus of my work is in bringing community and congregational experience into conversation with the bible through theological reflection. I am interested in reclaiming church as community on the inside to do the work of justice, love and righteousness outside the doors of the church.” He posits that “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.’”
  • Teri McDowell Ott: Prophetic Theology From a Non-Theologian: “After serving in parish ministry for 13 years, Teri now feels called to the liminal space between the sacred and the secular, the church and the ‘nones,’ the traditional and the contemporary. Teri feels called to build bridges between these spaces, especially through her writing and blogging.” She reminded us that James Baldwin’s “Essays… in Notes of a Native Son “reside in the realm of prophetic theology because of the extraordinary way they describe and illuminate the African-American experience and call to account those of us who live in privileged ignorance.”
  • Ken Kovacs: Bonhoeffer Biography Espouses Transforming “The Proud and Hateful” into Love: Ken says he has “come to believe that the social justice and advocacy engagement of the Church needs to be rooted and grounded psycho-spiritually in our individual core identities as children of God. Cultivating and nurturing the inner-lives of Christ’s people, helping individuals become more conscious of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, enhances the vitality of the church and strengthens the effectiveness of its witness in the world.”
  • Linda Kay Klein: Speaking Our Truth without Shaming Those Who Don’t See It: Linda blends research and stories to expose unseen social problems and devise potential solutions “for communities that are, like me, trying to find ways to unapologetically speak and fight for our truths while honoring the humanity of those who disagree with us.”
  • Erin Hayes Cook: Living in a Constant State of Motion: Erin believes her call is to be bridge between cultures and generations where she currently serves. She encourages us to “Be ready to be moved by the Spirit wherever she blows.”
  • Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri: Becoming Who You’ve Always Been: Vilmarie feels called to serve as a teacher/mentor, looking for ways to share the grace God has bestowed upon me without reservations. She recommends reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak to “those who, like me, find themselves at a crossroads or for those who feel “true self” is still to be discovered.”
  • Kathy Wolf Reed: Resist Right Now: Kathy reminds us that “God gives us not just an option but a direct order to place boundaries on our inclinations to perpetuate anxiety.”
  • Doris Garcia Rivera: Reaching Out with the Gospel in Intercultural Mode: Doris describes her “vocation as a teacher and my call and work as missionary in theological education and development for 23 years shaped me to develop ministries to reach out to others, to make connections, to create spaces for personal, community and spiritual growth.” She finds “Interculturality … defined as a posture, a disposition to share our lives with the other – a space where all cultures are required to truly read and interpret the world in a more comprehensive way, …(as) challenging” but an imperative.
  • MaryAnn McKibben Dana: The Civil Rights Movement: Important History, but Not in the Past: MaryAnn’s reading of King’s life and legacy has led her to understand her greater role in the world. “The struggles of 2017 are different, yet frustratingly similar. King was a pastor, like me. But that also means I am a pastor, like King.And it’s time for me — for all of us who lead Christ’s church — to make that real.”
  • Nanette Sawyer “feels called to guide people in spiritual practices that prepare us to be deeply rooted in God’s love and brave in extending that love to others.” Drawing from Jonathan Haidt, she encourages us to consider that “Our intuition is like an elephant that we ride – It’s large, powerful, and in control.”
  • Bridgett A. Green “resources people as they practice Christianity with the tools of sound biblical interpretation, rigorous theological inquiry, and good questions.”
  • Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is “committed to teaching as well as ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and writing on the intersections of theology, ethics, and economics.” The books she recommends, she says, “will disturb your conscience and force you to confront the realities faced by economic migrants and refugees. Their stories will remain with you as you develop your own theology of migration and sense of God’s mission for the church today. You will not be surprised to hear, Elizabeth’s stories and wisdom deeply influences my own vocation and theological thinking and action.
  • Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, lives out part of her vocation and reminds us to do the same saying, “We are called to be like Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, and not allow victims of racially motivated deaths to be forgotten.”

For each of these contributors, and for the authors they introduced us to or reminded us; for these cloud of witnesses, I am grateful. Lee

[1] Dr. Hinson would tell you he’s made plenty of mistakes, and you can read about many in his 2012 autobiography, A Miracle of Grace.


Lee Hinson-Hasty is senior director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation and curator of our March blog series.

Living in a Constant State of Motion

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 Erin Hayes Cook

Put away your Bible cassette tapes and overhead projectors: the future is now. Journalist and author Thomas L. Friedman pauses his life to hear the cultural significance of busyness in his latest book, Thank You for Being Late. What he hears is not what you expect. Friedman realizes that our technological innovations move faster than our society and institutions can adapt. We are left feeling exhilarated and left behind all at the same time.

Friedman interviews everyone from the CEO of Google X research and development lab, Eric “Astro” Teller, to his hometown’s mayor. What humans need to develop in this age of accelerations is dynamic stability. Teller points out, “there are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.” Yes, humans are adaptive creatures but we have never had to adapt so quickly and with such versatility.

Through Friedman’s colorful and thorough research, I’ve learned what many of us knew but could not put into words. The institution of the church needs to teach her leaders, people in the pews, and potential community members how to develop their adaptability skills. We no longer move at the pace of the printing press. It’s Twitter’s fault. How can we learn to share the gospel when the vehicles of human experience change so rapidly? Be ready to be moved by the Spirit wherever she blows. And get rid of the overhead projectors. I’m sure Apple will come out with an app for it next week.

Send this book to your pastor friends and those considering ministry. Anyone who enjoys a detailed read interwoven with human story will appreciate it. However, Thank You for Being Late would not lend itself to a book study in my opinion. If you’d like to use it as a teaching tool, I would suggest putting excerpts in a bible study or topical discussion.


Erin Hayes-Cook serves a multicultural PC(USA) church in the small city of Rahway, NJ. She believes her call is to be bridge between cultures and generations where she currently serves. Outside of ministry life you will find her at the CrossFit gym or looking for a new recipe.