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2017 National Gathering Ignite: John Wilkinson

John Wilkinson, pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, gives an Ignite presentation on the Confession of 1967.

2017 National Gathering Closing Worship Liturgy

A video recording of the worship service that closed our 2017 National Gathering will be made available soon!

In the meantime, here’s the liturgy from the service. We hope it provides inspiration for you in your own setting.

2017 National Gathering Opening Worship Liturgy

A video recording of the worship service that opened our 2017 National Gathering will be made available soon!

In the meantime, here’s the liturgy from the service. We hope it provides inspiration for you in your own setting.

2017 National Gathering Closing Worship Confession

During the closing worship service of the 2017 National Gathering, Slats Toole read a powerful prayer of confession about humanity’s tendency to build up walls. We asked God to knock those walls down. The guiding scripture for the entire National Gathering was John 4:1-42; the scripture passage for this service was John 4:19-26. The prayer itself was written by Shelli Latham. Here is the text of the prayer for your own use.

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.