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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 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 Sermon: Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, gives the final sermon of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering during closing worship.

Scripture: John 4:19-26

The liturgy from this service is also available:


Paul Roberts is is president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, a position he has held since the spring of 2010. He is a native of Stamford, CT; however, he grew up in Bradenton, FL, which he considers his home. Paul graduated from Princeton University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture and African American Studies. Prior to his career in ministry, Paul worked in advertising in New York City. He later received the Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in New Testament Studies from Johnson C. Smith Seminary. He also is an Academic Fellow of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Celigny, Switzerland. From 1997 through 2010, Paul was the pastor of Church of the Master (PCUSA), a church founded in 1965 in Atlanta, GA, as an intentionally interracial congregation. He serves on the boards of the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA) and the Macedonian Ministry Inc. of Atlanta. He is the recipient of the 2016 Devoted Service Award from Louisville Theological Seminary. Recreationally, Paul enjoys tennis and yard work. Paul and his wife, Nina, have three beautiful children—one adult daughter and two teenage sons.

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.

2017 National Gathering Keynote: Soong-Chan Rah

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, presents a keynote at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering entitled: “The Changing Face of the Church.”


Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and the author of The Next EvangelicalismMany ColorsProphetic Lament; co-author of Forgive Us; and Return to Justice.

Soong-Chan is formerly the founding Senior Pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic church living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context. He currently serves on the board of World Vision and Evangelicals 4 Justice. He has previously served on the board of Sojourners and the Christian Community Development Association.

Soong-Chan received his B.A. from Columbia University; his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; his Th.M. from Harvard University; his D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his Th.D. from Duke University.

Soong-Chan and his wife Sue and their two children, Annah and Elijah live in Chicago.

Workshop Materials: The Church as a Learning Institution

At the 2017 National Gathering, Leslie King facilitated a workshop aimed at practical applications of Linda Mercadante’s book Belief Without Borders. A powerpoint was used during the workshop to frame the discussion. You can see that presentation (in PDF slide form) here:

Workshop description:

Following Linda Mercadante’s Monday night keynote, join us for a facilitated conversation making practical application of Mercadante’s work, Belief Without Borders. Together we will consider the real-life issues of membership, Christian education, and worship as it relates to organized religion’s interaction with folks who declare themselves to be spiritual but not religious. Bring your local ministry challenge and hopes to this discussion!