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Making Room at the Table

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 Katherine Lee Baker

Beloved in Christ Jesus, I feel like an imposter among you! In fact, even as my heart abounds with joy and gratitude for the opportunity and honor it has been to be part of the Sarasota Statement as a NEXT Church initiative, I must admit that I felt quite out of place in participating.

I celebrate that I am a relatively young, recently divorced, first-generation pastor and I am a spirited woman of color, but (dare I say it) I am not ordained in the PCUSA. Now, I have served several of your congregations by formula of agreement and I have mooched off your institutions for my theological training, but truthfully I am committed to the Reformed Church in America and I remain largely naïve about the ongoings of your tradition. Heck, I’ve never even been to Montreat!

And so while my ecumenical colleagues were deep in thought (searching for words and wisdom to describe what we believe and how we might respond as people of faith), I was completely panicking – wondering whose seat I had accidentally taken in order to be there.

Who were the people, really, that needed to be present at the table?

Would hearers of the message be critical that an outsider’s voice had been included?

What could I possibly contribute as an individual not entirely familiar with the spiritual mores of the denomination?

All these fears and doubts came with me from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Perhaps they got lost with my luggage because they never made it home.

You made room for me. You welcomed me as one of your own. (And you didn’t even haze me or subject me to a trust fall!) From the first Skype call to the final blog post, I have genuinely felt that I am part of this conversation as a collaborator and peer. I showed up to listen, and you let me speak. I showed up to dialogue, and you let me dream. You gave me a place – especially at a time when I felt out of place.

In a day and age when so many people have chosen to write a “Dear John” letter to the church, the ministry of NEXT Church seized the opportunity to write the Sarasota Statement that actively demonstrated what it means to include one another and to seek out the alien and stranger. I am blessed by your courage to broaden the world’s understanding of God’s kingdom and I have renewed my commitment to do the same.


Katherine Lee Baker has a passion for worship, discipleship, and community engagement for the whole church. Currently serving as a pastor at Central Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI), she actively seeks opportunity for ecumenical collaboration, interfaith dialogue, and empowering our next-gen leaders. Follow her on Twitter at @RevKatieBaker.

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.

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.