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Serving Our Creative God in Creative Ministry and Ecofeminist Theology

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Layton Williams is curating a series we’re calling “Ministry Out of the Box,” which features stories of ministers serving God in unexpected, diverse ways. What can ordained ministry look like outside of the parish? How might we understand God calling us outside of the traditional ministry ‘box?’ We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Abby Mohaupt

I knew I was going to seminary by the time I was 14.

Actually, by then I knew I was going to McCormick Theological Seminary to get an MDiv and then be a pastor in a church where I would preach about how Jesus is pretty cool and God loves everyone.

I thought I would say prayers over bread and juice and I would baptize babies.

I did enroll at McCormick when I was 22 years old, but between my middle school self and my post-college self, I fell in love with creation. I realized I was better at listening to God when I was hiking in the prairie than anywhere else. I studied religion and sociology as an undergraduate and my white, able-bodied, educated, middle class self learned to unpack categories of difference and systematic oppression on the streets and in a shelter of Chicago.

When I met with my presbytery, I knew I was really called to do environmental ministry and antiracism work. I could tell you about my ordination process—how I often forgot to talk about how much I love Jesus until I started talking about how he’s like Captain Planet or how I felt a lot of joy in taking the ordination exams or even how my first call let me explore ministry in really prophetic ways.

But my ministry has never been traditional.

My first call was in a wonderful congregation that let me spend 10 hours a week at a non-profit that works with farmworkers. When those 10 hours stretched into 15 and 20 hours a week, I knew that my heart was not fairly in the work of the congregation. God was calling me to be immersed in the work of a rural northern California community seeking to build bridges between farmworkers and the people who eat food every day. I fell in love with the children I worked with, who taught me to sing boldly and to carry stickers and chocolate with me at all times. I grew from meeting with congregations who sought to build relationships with the rural community, and I learned to be fierce in asking congregations to pray and to give their time and to share their financial resources.  My heart grew three sizes from working long days with colleagues who made me laugh and who wondered if my two graduate degrees in environmental theology really qualified me to sort through the donations of crayons and toiletries we so regularly received.

I gave thanks over juice boxes and granola bars and held children’s hands as we explored the scientific properties of water.

About a year into that second call, I realized that I was being called away. My love for studying and reading and teaching was an indication that I might be called to a PhD program. I looked for programs in ecology and theology and applied to four schools. In one week I visited three of the schools and knew by then I would be moving across the country to the east coast to learn to be a professor/clergy/activist.

It mattered to me just how I’d tell my beloved community I was leaving, and I eventually chose my program at Drew University based on conversations with some of the farmworkers and locals.  

This is a third call—a call in which I spend my days auditing extra classes and learning to be a better organizer and antiracist ally, in which I write papers about political and ecofeminist theologies and climate trauma and in which my heart swells with the four-month-old friendships of my peers. This is where I talk about how much I love Jesus for his solidarity with the poor, and how I see God’s heart breaking by the state of creation in climate change. I don’t preach anymore, unless you count the freelance writing and multi-media art I do, grappling with the sacred texts of the Bible.

There’s an arboretum here, and I run through it, listening to God and seeking joy, grateful for work my 14-year-old self would never recognize but for which she deeply longed.


abby mohaupt is a PhD student at Drew University in the Religion and Society Program. She’s the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA, co-editor of Presbyterians for Earth Care’s EARTH newsletter, and a member of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s activist council. When abby’s not reading or running, she’s often drawing with crayons and seeking joy. she splits her time between CA, IL, and NJ.

Moments When the Spirit Moves

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah Are

Sometimes new life lands in your lap like a summer thunderstorm- strong, sudden, and powerful.

Other times, new life shows up like a melody, or a sleepy cat- waking up, stretching its bones, and assuming its position back in the sun, back in your memory.

For me, the NEXT Church National Gathering this past February felt like that. All of that.

tsr_4819_webNEXT was an IV drip of coffee, energizing me in ways that I forgot I knew. However, it also was a reminder that the Holy Spirit moves, adding strength and memories to weary muscles.

I think we all have those moments- moments when the Spirit moves, and all of the sudden you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Those moments slide past us like water, taking with them the frustrations of previous aches and pains.

For me, some of those ministry moments have involved warm cups of coffee on church steps with the homeless folks that slept there the night prior. Some of those moments have involved youth group, where the “cool” kid stood up for the kid with autism, and it was holy ground. Others have involved 1,000 youth at Montreat, or three other young adults at bible study.

I crave the certainty of those moments.

I know that currently, seminary is where I am called to be, and I feel invigorated by that. However, my view of ministry has changed since being in seminary. I have struggled to discern where I would fit into a church that is both saturated in tradition, yet simultaneously growing and evolving, and at times have missed the calm certainty that comes only with sensing the Spirit.

In the seminary world, there is an acute sense of change in the air. The church is stretching. We cannot all find jobs, and when we do, they often look different than what we had imagined. We are being forced to tap into our creative side and our risk-tasking side, as we dream up bi-vocational ministries, new church developments, and fundraising tricks to cover the cost of a full time salary.  Pension plans are not a sure thing, and residencies provide sweet relief as Christian education and associate positions dwindle.

Taking risks and leaning into creativity is an exciting prospect, but it is also vulnerable, a little scary, and very exhausting.

This year’s NEXT conference was the first time that I have truly felt that this risk-taking creative solution making reality might actually be a blessing, and not strictly a challenge. For over the course of three days, I watched story after story of real ministry, that is faithful to the gospel and loving to the core, unfold before my eyes. I watched countless doors open, with new ministry models, and imaginative ways for old churches to continue faithful work.

For a long time, I have felt as if engaging in creative ministry models would be my uphill battle, but at NEXT, I was overwhelmed with how much is already being done, with how smooth those roads were being made.

As I walked through the big wooden doors at the end of the three days, I told myself- “this has to be the most exciting time to be in ministry, because there are no closed doors.”

I don’t know if it’s factually true – that this could be deemed the most exciting season.  

However, what I do know, is that it was one of those moments I crave. It was one of those moments where the Spirit moved, and all of the sudden, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be- dreaming, hopefully, about the future of the church.

Those three days gave me new life, and it sounded like a melody, and felt like a sweet summer rainstorm. I walked away humming to myself, “What have I to dread? What have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms?” For I am convinced, this has to be one of the most exciting times to be in ministry.  After three days at NEXT, how could I dream otherwise?


sarah are

Sarah Are is a second year student at Columbia Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. She is a book-worm, a food blogger, and a busy-body. Sarah was raised on sweet tea and in church pews, and re-microwaves her coffee every morning because she knows the world is cold. Kansas City and Richmond, Virginia are the two places she calls home; however discovering somewhere new makes for a wonderful day in her book.

Permission to Say “Yes”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post is an expansion of one originally shared on the Union Presbyterian Seminary RSGA blog.

by Rosy Robson

As a self-proclaimed over-programmed, very busy, major to-do-list-keeper, always-behind-on-reading seminary student, I’m often told that I need to start learning how to say “no.” Yet I appreciate NEXT Church for giving me permission to say “yes.”

rosy_ng_reflectionTo say “yes” to admitting our fears and lamenting over the parts of the church that we must say goodbye to, and to the parts that bring us pain. To say “yes” to confessing as to where we’ve gone wrong and to whom we’ve done wrong. To say “yes” to dreaming about where God is calling us to go and about who God is calling us to be in this crazy century we find ourselves in. To say “yes” to pastoring communities, not just parishes, in ways that are innovative, unique, inclusive and creative. To say “yes” to building meaningful relationships with colleagues and mentors. To say “yes” to daring to be a prophetic witness to God’s love for the world.

But now, the hard part awaits… How will we go forth from the NEXT Church National Gathering, and proclaim “yes”?

Since returning from the Gathering, I have tried to look over a few pages of my conference notes each day. In my prayers, I’ve been asking God and myself what am I being called to do next, in response to the insights, thoughts and challenges that filled my mind at NEXT and in the days following. The things that have come to mind include:

  • Getting serious about the elimination of racism and white supremacy and examining my own privilege.
  • Forging stronger relationships with those whom I call mentors.
  • Exploring how churches and communities are being partners in ministry together.
  • Daring to shape the rest of my time in seminary in ways that are transformative and eye-opening and, that ask me to examine what the church that I will one day serve will look like (and to practice some of that over the next two years).

This is no easy question, nor is it something that a few extra additions to my to-do list will satisfy (though, perhaps that’s a good place to start). NEXT Church asks a larger question of the church, about its identity and its future, one that we must continue to ask as we dare to follow Jesus in an uncertain world.

Asking these questions takes us along a winding and long road, but I pray a prayer of “yes” to God’s Spirit guiding me along the way.


rosy robsonRosy Robson is a second-year M.Div/M.A.C.E. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Rosy is passionate about creating spaces where people can come together and build relationships, whether that’s worshipping together in a pew or over a basket of tacos at a local eatery. Rosy feels called to parish ministry and is looking forward to discerning how bonds between church and community can be forged and strengthened.

Pursuit of the Faithful, Creative and Non-Traditional

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month we will be featuring reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation  on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on the Union Presbyterian Seminary RSGA blog.

by Owen Gray

Spending four days in Atlanta for the NEXT Church National Gathering was a great reinvigorating jolt of caffeine in the mist of our ongoing class work. Hearing from well-known figures like Allan Boesak (South African Dutch-Reformed cleric and anti-apartheid activist), Robert Lupton (author of Toxic Charity) and preacher Denise Anderson (DC-area pastor standing for co-moderator of the PC(USA)) was powerful. Even more powerful, for me, was hearing from folks serving in super diverse ministry contexts that are redefining every day what successful ministry looks like.

union at nextFor example: Miriam Mauritzen from First Presbyterian Kalispell, Montana. Her church, like many in the denomination, was aging, shrinking in membership and resources, and seeking identity. Several years back they began partnering with a local unaffiliated ministry called Serious Ju Ju. Serious Ju Ju is a weekly weekend gathering of area teenagers for skateboarding and fellowship. Many of the kids come from broken homes where parents are in and out of prison, experiencing substance addiction, or dire poverty. For some, Ju Ju is their only stable place for meals on weekends. After a while, kids who would never step foot in a sanctuary started calling Ju Ju home; calling it their church. It was equal parts comical and inspiring to see retirees from First Pres fellowshipping and serving teenage skaters in the church’s barn where they had set up a mini skate park.

To so many, a successful church is marked by a healthy choir, extensive Christian Ed programs, abundant fellowship opportunities, a large budget and staff, and dynamic local and international missions. NEXT gives permission to move beyond that understanding (not that it’s bad, it just isn’t realistic for LOTS of contexts) and replace it with a pursuit of faithful, creative, and non-traditional ways to be church. Sure enough, First Pres Kalispell found new life in embracing a ministry that is, without a doubt, non-traditional.

You hear stories like this hourly at NEXT, many centered on congregational contexts, but many others completely unrelated to parish ministry. It’s almost impossible to leave the gathering feeling pessimistic about the future of the church. It speaks completely counter to the ever-present narrative that the church is dying. Doing all that in the presence of 500 other Presbyterian friends (and a huge group of Union folks!) was well worth the drive.


owen grayOwen Gray is a second year M.Div student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. A cradle Presbyterian born and raised in Kansas City, he is currently discerning a call into parish ministry.

Exciting Opportunity for Seminarians

By MaryAnn McKibben Dana 

NEXT Church is inviting two student leaders from each Presbyterian seminary to come together with seminarians from across the country immediately prior to the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

We have been dreaming up this event in hopes of deepening the strategic impact NEXT has in connecting and developing seminarians as leaders of change in our church. We are inviting each of our Presbyterian seminaries to send two students to attend a pre-gathering from noon on Saturday, March 14 through Sunday evening, March 15, 2015. The students are encouraged to stay for the entirety of the NEXT Church National Gathering, (March 16-18) if the limitations of their class schedules allow it.

Our goals for this pre-gathering are as follows:

  1.  Connect student leaders to each other across seminaries, to seed the relational network that will support, sustain, and challenge them throughout the course of their ministry.
  2. Hear from the students about their seminary experiences and their hopes for leadership in service to the church in the world beyond their seminary careers.
  3. Invite the seminarians into relationships with innovative leaders in the NEXT network who are the peers and mentors already working in and beyond congregations to bear the fruits of the gospel in significant and inspiring ways.
  4. Hear from the seminarians about their relationship to the PC(USA) as a denomination, and, if needed, help to strengthen that relationship.

Wayne Meisel, Director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick, will facilitate the two-day conversation along with NEXT leadership. Frank Yamada and McCormick have graciously offered housing for Saturday night, free of charge. NEXT will cover the cost of student registration and housing for the national gathering, if students can stay in Chicago through March 18th.

We are excited about this partnership! Stay tuned for updates about this new venture.

What’s NEXT for seminary students?

by Lindsay Conrad

What’s NEXT? I think that question had everyone’s heads spinning at the beginning of the conference in Dallas last year. How can we answer that question when we are mourning the loss of some of our churches? Severed and splintered over theological differences, we sat at this conference and thought about this question. The thought of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and walking forward in the footsteps of Jesus seemed out of the question. What’s NEXT just seemed like too much.

What’s NEXT? The video played begging that question at the beginning of our conference in Charlotte this year. Do you know what that question feels like to a student in the last months of seminary? It’s like looking down the barrel of a gun. It’s like being asked to jump from the place without a parachute. It’s that feeling like plunging into deep waters with no sure sign that you’ll reach the surface of the water before you run out of air. What’s next just seemed like too much, but it was coming at me whether I was ready or not – just like graduation!

What’s NEXT? The most awesome and terrifying part of that question is the very answer. All of us sitting in those pews and participating online via livestream and twitter and facebook – we came to the shocking realization that we are the next church. We are the vessels used by God to be participants and initiators of the NEXT. Like Nicodemus, we are charged to be reborn. Like Mary, we are charged to bear Christ into the world. Like Jesus, we are charged to be mindful that in our baptisms we have died to ourselves. And as we break the surface of the water gasping for new air and new life, we are one with the communion of saints before us and those to come. With them we hear the same words Jesus did bursting from the heavens – YOU ARE MY BELOVED. What’s next is us – the pastors and seminarians and faithful witnesses to the Spirit moving and shaking the church into something new, something better, something exciting.

What’s NEXT? We are answering that question in lots of that ways – many discovered here in Charlotte. We are pulling improvisation and storytelling practices into our worship experiences. We are learning to band together across denominations and cities to bring new ideas and insights into our programming. We are embracing world music that opens up our view of the church. We are shaking away the frozen chosen-ness that binds us to our pews and we are dancing. We are clapping. We are rediscovering gifts that make us the church reformed and always being reformed.

So, What’s NEXT? I don’t really know – but I’m thrilled and terrified, and hopeful, and grateful to be a part of the movement determined to discover the answers.


LindsayLindsay Conrad is a graduating senior at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is a candidate under care of Presbytery of the Peaks in Virginia and seeking ordination as a teaching elder this summer.