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God’s Beloved Community

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

by Bertram Johnson

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Kingdom of God Is

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

by Chris Currie

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

–Taizé Chant

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

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

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

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


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

The Stupendous Promises of God

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

by Cynthia Rigby

My favorite part of the Sarasota Statement is the preface.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

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. 

2017 National Gathering NEXT Church Update

Karen Sapio, Lori Raible, and Shavon Starling-Louis give an update on the work of NEXT Church at the 2017 National Gathering. Following them, three writers of the Sarasota Statement give more information on this new confession of faith.