The Grass Withers and the Flower Fades

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Today’s piece is excerpted from a sermon preached by Joe Clifford on December 6, 2015 for the second Sunday of Advent at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas. You will see that it does not directly answer the question that has guided our blog postings this month, but you will also see that question is answered by God’s promises to us in scripture – promises that save us. To listen to the sermon in its entirety, click hereWe invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! 

By Joe Clifford

Isaiah 40:1-11 (click for text)

“Comfort, Comfort my people,” says your God.

That is the call God issues to the prophet Isaiah in the midst of the people’s exile in Babylon. No more indictment for idolatry. No more rebuke for ignoring widows and orphans. No more calls for repentance. There was a time for that, but now the call is to comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her time is served, a new day is coming.”

In the midst of our world of exile, a world defined by terrorism, born of a dangerous mix of extremism and distorted religion, a world where in this nation mass shootings have occurred at a rate of more than one per day this year, surely that is the word we are called to offer our world: comfort, comfort my people. A new day is coming.

Cry out! The Hebrew verb there is better translated, “Preach!” That’s what Isaiah was called to do. And that is what we are called to do. Cry out! Preach! The good news. The good tidings.

How does Isaiah respond to God’s call? “What shall I cry?” he says. “All people are grass,” dust in the wind, as the old saying goes. Every Advent for the past twenty years I’ve heard this passage and preached on it. I’ve heard its beauty. I’ve heard its comfort. I confess this year I heard something different. This year I heard Isaiah’s cynicism. What shall I cry? What shall we cry in a world gone mad?

December 2nd, 14 dead 21 injured in San Bernadino. November 29, 3 dead and 9 injured in Colorado Springs. October 1st; 9 dead, 9 injured in Roseburg, Oregon. July 16, 5 dead, 3 wounded in Chattanooga, TN. June 18th; 9 dead in Charleston, SC.[1] May 17th, 9 dead, 18 injured in Waco, TX. Those are some of 355 mass shootings in this country in 2015.

What shall we cry? Racism? Terrorism? Extremism? Gun violence? Mental illness? Xenophobia? Security now? What shall we cry?

“The grass withers, the flower fades,” says the prophet, “…surely the people are grass.” For some reason this year, I know how Isaiah felt. Don’t you?

How does God respond? This is a matter of interpretation, but I believe God says, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.” The word of our God will stand forever. What shall we cry? What shall we preach? What shall we proclaim? The word of our God! And what does this word say in Isaiah? Let me give you a taste.

Later in Isaiah 40, that word says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

What shall we cry? In Isaiah 43, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

What shall we cry? In Isaiah 2, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up the sword against nation…ain’t gonna study war no more!”

What shall we cry? In Isaiah 58: “Loose the bonds of injustice… let the oppressed go free… break every yoke… share your bread with the hungry… bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, … cover them, and do not hide from your own kin…Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

What shall we cry? Again in Isaiah 58: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

This is what we are called to proclaim. This is what we are called to embody. Or as the Lord tells Isaiah and all the people, “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. All people shall see it together. ALL people shall see it together.”

What shall we cry? The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our Lord endures forever.

[1] Los Angeles Times Staff. “Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings: 1984-2015,” published in the Los Angeles Times on December 2, 2015. Cited here: http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/


JoeJoe Clifford is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas. He serves on the NEXT Church Strategy Team.

When Creativity Saves You from the “F” Word in Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Lisle Gwynn Garrity is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Lisle Gwynn Garrity

We all know the feeling.  You’re neck-deep in sermonizing, lesson-planning, worship designing, or any venture that requires you to put your blood, sweat, and tears into creating something as an offering to others, and then the “F” word starts to rear its ugly head. FEAR is creativity’s brute oppressor; it shows up right when we’re in the thick of imagining or creating something new, and whispers not-so-sweet nothings in our ears.

“This is the WORST sermon ever written–even Calvin will be snoring from his grave.”

“We can’t possibly try this new youth activity–the youth will mock it and laugh in my face.”

“Members will certainly LEAVE THE CHURCH if I suggest we do something different for the prayers of the people this Sunday.”

Fear has this way of gripping us by the throat, choking us of any God-breathed inspiration for which we are gasping. And, too often, the “F” word wins out, shutting down the whole creative operation.  God forbid, the “F” word may even have something to do with that dreaded and familiar moniker, the frozen chosen.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity1

As a liturgical artist, retreat leader, and worship consultant, my ministry is constantly butting heads with the “F” word. When leading worship arts retreats, where I invite anyone and everyone (artist and “non-artist” alike) to create art in community, I talk a lot about the “F” word. There’s something about a blank canvas and a paintbrush that tend to strike fear into the hearts of most grown adults. So we talk about that fear. I declare that, if the “F” word shows up, we can acknowledge it, observe it, and then move right past it. That is the gospel promise, after all–fear and death will not have the last word.

When creating live visual art during worship, I am forced to practice what I preach. Being a self-proclaimed “artist” offers no protection from the “F” word, believe me. Painting for an audience to witness and scrutinize any mistake is vulnerability at its finest. But, when I step past the “F” word, I can fully offer myself as a vessel to be shaped and molded by God. Giving my whole self to the creative process is a full-body prayer; in those moments of fearlessness, I am most open, most willing, and most able to offer my gifts to others and to God.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity

So, what’s your fear-stomping creative practice? What’s one way you can regularly practice creativity (perhaps through painting, singing, cooking, gardening, wood-working, etc.) to strengthen your capacity to confront the “F” word? What’s one way you can offer your whole self to a creative process and to God? Most importantly, how can tapping into your unique, God-given creativity open yourself to that wild and restless divine Spirit that is so ready to do good work through and in you?

Lisle Gwynn Garrity2

 


Lisle Gwynn Garrity HeadshotLisle Gwynn Garrity is a Pastorist (pastor + artist) diving into ministry with a creative and entrepreneurial drive. A recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, she holds master’s degrees in divinity and practical theology. If you’re interested in pushing past the “F” word to create art in community, sign up for her workshop, “Arts & Worship” at the 2016 National Gathering. See more of Lisle’s work at www.sanctifiedart.com or on Facebook at A Sanctified Art.

Greatest Hit: Worship as Pastoral Care in an Intimate Church

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on worship as pastoral care is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

By Esta Jarrett

Every Sunday, during the final notes of the last hymn at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC, I walk from the chancel to the center aisle of the sanctuary and invite the congregation to join me. We form a long, loose circle (as best we can, with the odd walker and wheelchair). We join hands, or rest our hands on our neighbors’ shoulders, as I speak a charge and benediction.

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

This moment of laying on of hands, friend to friend, daughter to mother, veteran to child, has become a highlight of the week…for me as well as the congregation. Our joined hands create a circuit through which the Holy Spirit jumps and sparks. The hairs on our necks stand on end.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I say in those moments. (Trying to read a scripted benediction is a mite impractical when holding hands.) I think the words tie in with the words of the last hymn, which relate to the scripture and sermon (hopefully), which connect to the church season.

Mostly, though, I just talk, and keep it simple. The benediction voices God’s longing and love for these people in this moment and in the week ahead. It’s something along the lines of, “Remember that you are loved.” Such ordinary words can hold such great power.

We started doing this a few months ago because we desperately needed to feel connected to each other. Our congregation has suffered significant losses this year, with far, far too many loved ones dying and moving away. It has sucked, at times beyond the telling of it. These blows to our part of the body of Christ have left us reeling.

We’re an intimate congregation (using the excellent terminology of Erik DiVietro, in his October 2010 blog post “Shifting from Small to Intimate”), with average Sunday participation of 20. Everybody matters. Everybody’s gifts and presence are valued. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

There’s been a lot of hurt lately.

In response, we look for ways to love on each other and build each other up in everything we do. Our worship services have become a form of pastoral care.

In addition to the laying on of hands during the benediction, we really enjoy passing the peace. It’s sacred chaos for a few minutes. Everybody gets hugged. Some of our members who live alone confess that these may be the only hugs they get all week. Sometimes there’s so much laughter that people don’t realize I’ve introduced the Gloria until our organist starts playing. (I’m totally okay with that. What is a Gloria if not holy laughter?)

Later in the service, we spend a few minutes talking about a faith-related topic. We used to call this the “children’s sermon,” but the adults (who now threaten that they want to come sit on the steps like the kids) love it too, so now this is simply a time for open conversation. We talk about fear, and hope, and the meaning of Advent, and the origins of Santa Claus…whatever is relevant and engaging.

This pattern of connection in worship sprang out of our deep need for Christ. It all began in a moment of prayer in September, when the session gathered for our own service of healing and wholeness. We went around the circle, anointing and praying for each other, praying for Christ to heal us and use us in our brokenness.

Ever since, we have felt and seen the Spirit at work, binding us up, making us one. We are given inordinate amounts of courage and hope, so that we can go out and feed homeless kids in the schools, visit the home-bound, and share God’s love throughout our little town. Our enjoyment of worship spills over into our daily living.

And, I can’t deny that all this feeds my spirit too. As we laugh, and hug, and celebrate being a church – as we minister to each other – my heart is filled with gratitude. God is faithful. God is using us, as we are, who we are, here and now. It’s a blessing to be part of it.


 

esta jarrettEsta Jarrett is the Pastor at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton NC, through the “For Such a Time as This” small church residency program. She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary (although she still calls it Union PSCE in her head).

Looking for more? Here are more resources from NEXT:

Learning Through Discomfort

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Sophia Har

Four o’clock. The teacher must be on her way, I thought. Still, to ease my North-American anxiety towards punctuality, I went to find the woman in charge.

“Mabel, is Shirley coming?” I asked.

“No, she couldn’t make it today,” came the reply. “Maria can help you.”

I never found out who Maria was. When I returned to the patio, girls and boys were already forming a semicircle of chairs in preparation for their weekly Bible lesson. Not wanting to lose their attention, I quickly took my seat. The children returned my gaze, eager and ready to listen. That brief moment was so full of potential I didn’t want to speak. I knew that once I opened my mouth, my accent would betray my act of competence.

That is exactly what happened. The more I tried to engage them, stumbling over words and executing ideas as they came, the more restless the children became. The older ones chatted among themselves while the three-year-olds just looked confused. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when five o’clock finally arrived.

Yet I could hardly keep from laughing. Admittedly, my eyes burned a little, but it was too funny to cry. Within minutes I’d gone from being the silent teacher’s aide to being the unprepared sub. I could imagine kids telling their moms about this random lady from los Estados Unidos who tried to get them to sing, speak English, and act out the Nativity of Jesus. Or kids not recalling anything because it’d been so chaotic.

There were numerous moments during that long hour when I could have lost it. I could’ve given into perfectionism, counting every smirk as a mark of failure. I could’ve pretended to be ignorant, letting the kids run wild as an act of surrender. I could’ve chosen anger, blaming under-communication, the teacher, my basic Spanish skills, the children … I could have, because I have chosen these responses in the past.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about surviving in Colombia as a non-Spanish-speaking foreigner, it’s this: laugh at myself.

Because locals are going to laugh at me whether or not they know me.

Because I’m often early, even when I’m running late.

Because meeting times will change and I’ll only find out if I call to confirm the meeting.

Because people always ask, Where are you from and Where are you really from, due to my accent and appearance.

Because my heart still races when I cross the street.

Because if I keep living as I did in the United States, with the same expectations towards social norms, time commitments, race relations, and traffic laws, I would probably become frustrated, resentful and isolated.

I don’t dismiss the challenges of culture shock or the emotions that come with it. I certainly would appreciate hearing fewer jokes or stereotypes about my ethnicity. But I’ve come to see each experience of dissonance as an opportunity – an opportunity to appreciate difference, to examine assumptions, to laugh.


sophiaSophia​ Har currently serves as a Young Adult Volunteer in Barranquilla, Colombia, where she supports the North Coast Presbytery in its peacebuilding efforts. She accompanies local Presbyterian churches in their ministries in various neighborhoods. Her work includes practicing Spanish, teaching English to children, participating in a Bible study with people of all ages, and visiting a displaced community called El Tamarindo. She also enjoys playing soccer in the park, dancing, and chatting with people without worrying about time. She blogs about her YAV experience at http://sophiahar.wordpress.com.
Prior to serving in Colombia, Sophia lived in Washington, DC, where she worked for Jubilee USA and for Sojourners, two faith-based advocacy organizations. Next year she will return to DC, where she hopes to work in international development and with Spanish-speaking communities.

 

Racial Justice: For White People Who Want to Do Something

Michael Brown.

Eric Garner.

Tamir Rice.

Freddie Gray.

Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. Depayne Middleton-Doctor. Clementa Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson.

Sandra Bland.

Samuel DuBose.

Friends, it’s been a heavy year and we’ve had much to grieve. Our sanctuaries and worshipping communities have held space for lamenting our loss, uncomfortable learnings about white supremacy, but unfortunately, devoted very little action to racial reconciliation. Many of us are trapped by white guilt and white fragility–paralyzed from acting by the fear of doing it wrong and revealing that though we desperately want to build God’s beloved community, our subconscious thoughts and actions are shaped by racial biases.

So instead, we work to educate ourselves about white privilege. We teach a Sunday School class on The New Jim Crow. However, at the end of the course–when the media frenzy surrounding the latest instance of police brutality against a person of color dies down–passions fizzle out and we put our work for racial reconciliation on hold until the next grave injustice garners our attention again.

Here is a proposal–hardly unique–that we hope will build accountability and momentum for moving past the white fragility where many of us get stuck. It’s simple: reverse the order. Instead of beginning with education and research with the hope of discerning how best to act, begin with the action to generate the energy needed to continue moving.

Act. Hold a prayer vigil. Collaborate with local racial justice groups in a parade or demonstration. Partner with a neighboring black church for a mission project and relationship building. Audit your church’s children’s library and add books until 50% of characters are represented as non-white. (Then move on to the adult library and add books until 50% of the authoring theologians are non-white.)

Reflect. Evaluate your action. Discern directions for what comes next. Grapple with addressing your own racial biases. Find the gaps in your education and follow your curiosity to begin learning more.

Educate. (We like to think we’re great at this!) Begin filling in those gaps. Research and lay the groundwork for your next action.


To help you get started, here are some resources for each phase:

ACTION: Do something concrete.

  • If you’ve ever thought, “If I weren’t so busy, I’d have time to do something about race,” Showing up for Racial Justice has action tool kits that conveniently lay out actions that you can take based on time commitment. If you have 2 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or more, SURJ has suggestion for how you can make the best use of your time do something.
  • For a more holistic approach, Laura Cheifetz’s blog post outlines eight concrete ways to address racism, from shifting your news source to supporting black businesses to hiring a consulting firm to partner with your congregation for training.

REFLECTION: Take some time to process and evaluate.

  • This NEXT Church resource runs through the basics of an IAF-style evaluation. In this instance, your “big picture” goals may have been “show solidarity and support” or “further develop relationships and foster understanding.”
  • Our blog topic in June 2015 was Contemplation and Social Justice–here is a list of all posts. Contributors from the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. shared reflections on their experiences of race and the transformative power of contemplative practices. These authors model how to integrate faith and action with making sense of racial oppression. (Intimidated by the list? Try starting with For what shall I pray?)

EDUCATION: After doing something and reflecting on that experience, where does your curiosity lead you?

  • For the novice: Have a burning question about race? Ask a white person. This site is run by a group of experienced racial justice anti-oppression educators for peer-led discussion. While tempting, it isn’t fair to turn to our POC friends and colleagues and ask them to shoulder the burden of educating white folks by sharing their experiences of oppression. Is there a time and a place for meaningful sharing and discussion around racial justice? Absolutely. But do your research first. This is a great place to start.
  • For the group learner in need of structure: There is a free online class taking place in August. It’s an introductory course covering systematic racism, white privilege, racial bias, and being a good ally. Learn more and sign up here.
  • For the independent learner: In the wake of the massacre in Charleston, an academic twitter conversation (#CharlestonSyllabus) emerged for folks trying to make sense of the tragedy by studying its historical context. This is a list for voracious readers and historians that covers a wide range of topics from the specific context of race in Charleston — colonial times through reconstruction and the civil rights movement–to systematic white supremacy, and even how to talk about race with children. (And for those of you who would rather watch documentaries than read thick tomes, there is an similar film syllabus as well!)

What other resources for ACTION, REFLECTION, and EDUCATION would you add to our list? Let us know.

Saying “No”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Adam Copeland is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Adam Copeland

I think it was in seminary where I first encountered the phrase, “Say ‘no’ to say ‘yes.’” Saying “no” is saving my ministry right now.

I teach at a seminary myself these days, and I’m also finishing up classes towards a Ph.D. Without sharing the hairy details, let’s just say the end of the semester can get a bit full. There’s an increase in meetings. There’s writing term papers. Oh, and there’s grading. Mountains and mountains of grading.  

But I’ve learned to say, “no.” And so I’m not supply preaching in December. And I’m not taking outside writing commitments in December. And I’m not pretending my calendar is open to schedule any meetings over time I have already committed to grading and writing.

Overuse of the phrase “time management” has made the concept practically meaningless for most of us. But in recent weeks, I’ve wondered about reclaiming time management with a Christian hue. After all, one of my favorite definitions of stewardship is the management of all of life, with Christ at the center.

Startup Stock Photos

And so, God’s gift of time is something that I must manage—or, as I prefer, steward. By saying “no” to opportunities—sometimes, great opportunities—I’m able to better align God’s gift of time with my ability and energy.

I’m in my fourth year of teaching now, so though I’m still quite young, I have at least made it through several end-of-semester crunches. As I’ve gained experience, I’ve noticed a significant shift in how I approach the semester’s conclusion. Previously, I could never rest easily until all the exams and papers were graded, and all the scores sent dutifully to the registrar. The stacks of papers loomed over me like an unplowed driveway full from a blizzard’s worth of fresh snow.

Today, when I welcome the “say ‘no’ to say ‘yes’” approach, I am freed from this always-present feeling that I should be grading. Instead, I give myself permission to workout, spend time with friends, and even enjoy a hobby or two between rounds of grading. It’s my little attempt to steward God’s gifts wisely.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even find time to play David LaMotte’s song, “Deadline,” and sing along to the words of the chorus: “there’s no time like the present, and there’s no present like time.”


Adam Copeland CCAdam’s workshop: No More Tithing: Inspiring New Language and Practices for Giving

Christians give away an average of 2% of their income to congregations, yet most churches teach “tithing,” a so-called “biblical standard” of 10%. What should we make of the disconnect between what we say about financial giving and actual practice? What feelings of guilt and inadequacy does our rhetoric of “tithing” create? In formal presentation and group conversation, this workshop explores new language and practices for giving. Offered Monday during workshop block 1. Learn more and register now.

Adam Copeland teaches at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he serves as director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders.

 

The Disciple at My Dinner Table

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Amy Morgan is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Amy Morgan

What is saving my ministry right now? The disciple at my dinner table.

Being a minister has never come naturally to me. It often feels like a pair of jeans that is too tight in the waist, squeezing the breath out of me at times.

20150702_134250 (2)But motherhood came much more naturally than I had anticipated. My son enveloped my life like that favorite cozy sweater I’ve worn forever.

And so it has been natural for me to share my faith – my real, authentic, no-holds-barred faith – with my son as he’s grown. It started with singing hymns in the middle of the night as I tried for hours to coax him back to sleep. I will never forget the first time he started singing the hymns back to me on his own. Then we started finding all kinds of ways to pray – at meals, bedtime, and when someone needed help. Child-like forms of lectio divina, made-up songs, or prayers learned in nursery school. When he says, “God is great, God is good,” I believe him.

One day, we got some very bad news about my sister’s partner. My son began searching the house for a candle and set up a little shrine on his bedroom floor where we prayed for his recovery.

When we got our first dog, my son wanted him baptized. So Watson George Morgan was baptized in the birdbath.

My son asks me questions like, “when people use guns, did they forget about God?” and “how do we know God is real?” He listens to the conversations my husband and I have about faith, justice, and how to live as Christians in this world. He takes it all in and shares his thoughts, which never fail to teach me something deeper and truer than all the theologians I read in seminary.

When he prays, it is from the heart. He is grateful, and hopeful, and endlessly compassionate.

I know every parent loves their child and hopefully sees the best in them. But right now, my child is saving my ministry. When church programs fail, when church members exhibit the worst parts of their human nature, when the I see the people who are supposed to be following Jesus running blindly after the ways of the world – I focus on the 10-year-old disciple at my dinner table, thanking God for family and sunshine and home; praying for friends who are sick; teaching the neighbor kid that sin is just part of how the world is but that Jesus came to break its power and give us hope. When I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, I look at my son and am reminded of how much God is doing right.

A couple of years ago, I took a sabbatical. I spent much of the time just trying to see what it would be like to not be a pastor. I volunteered at my son’s school. I cooked and cleaned more. I was there every day when my son came home from school.

Toward the end of the sabbatical, I asked my son, “Do you like that Mommy is a pastor?”

“No,” he replied. My heart sank.

But then he continued, “I love that you’re a pastor.”

And that is the love that keeps me going. That is what is saving my ministry today.

At the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta, I’ll be leading a workshop on faith formation in your family room. It will highlight ways to make the home the center of faith formation – for you, your family, and your church. We’ll explore resources available on-line and in print and some unconventional models for faith formation for all ages. This workshop recognizes that “home” is more than the houses we inhabit and so will address community spaces as possible loci for faith formation as well. Hope to see you at NEXT Church!


 

20151113_171557 (2)Amy’s workshop: Faith Formation in Your Family Room

Faith formation today requires more than classes on Sunday or weeknights at church. Discover new possibilities for faith formation that is portable, personalized, and participatory in this interactive workshop. Learn how to take faith formation for children, youth, and adults outside your building and into the family rooms of your congregation. Take away some concrete resources and ideas with which to experiment. Offered Monday during workshop block 1. Learn more and register today.

Rev. Amy Morgan, MDiv., serves as Associate Pastor for Missions and Community at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, MI, working with youth and young adults, leading mission trips, preaching and teaching. Amy is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and also holds a bachelor’s degree of Fine Arts in Drama from New York University.  She co-authored a book, “The Girlfriends’ Clergy Companion,” published by Alban in 2011.  She currently serves on the board of Yucatan Peninsula Missions and on the Planning and Visioning Team of the Presbytery of Detroit.  She is a past board member of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit) and has a strong commitment to interfaith dialogue. Amy and her husband, Jason, have a son, Dean.

Give to NEXT on Giving Tuesday!

Dear Friends,

As we near the end of 2015, we want to thank you for helping make NEXT Church what it is—a vibrant, creative space where leaders throughout the PC(USA) can dream about the church that is becoming, and help one another make those dreams a reality.

We’ve got big plans for 2016, but we need your help.

We’re thrilled to announce that a group of teaching and ruling elders has come together to offer a challenge gift of $5,000 to the ministry of NEXT Church. Any gifts given between now and the end of the year will be effectively doubled through this matching pledge. On this Giving Tuesday, can we raise an additional $5000? We absolutely can—but we need to hear from you today111-next-20140402-114237

If you’re one of the almost 4000 people who’ve joined our five national gatherings, in person or online;
…if you’ve attended one of our sixteen regional gatherings;
…if you’ve been inspired by blog posts, recordings of national gathering presentations, sermons, Church Leaders’ Roundtables, or webinars;
…if you’ve benefited from a resource shared on our Facebook page or Twitter feed;
…or if you haven’t gotten involved yet, but know that 2016 will be “your year,”
let us hear from you now.

Because we’re a grassroots movement, we’ve managed to keep our expenses low. But we simply couldn’t do what we do without the support and coordination of our director, Jessica Tate, a top-notch website (look for a reboot in 2016!), the vital support of a Young Adult Volunteer, and a brand new Communications Director!

The challenge is clear: $5,000 has been pledged to encourage gifts. Support NEXT now through a gift online. It’s quick and easy, two minutes, tops. Any amount can make a difference.

If you prefer to pay by check, make checks payable to Village Presbyterian Church with “NEXT” in the memo line and mail to: Village Church, Attn. Tom Are, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS 66208.

The leadership of NEXT is on board. Are you?

Blessings during this Advent Season,

Jessica, Angela, Linda, and the rest of us with NEXT Leadership

Greatest Hit: Why We Welcome Little Children to Worship

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on children worship participation is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

At Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, MN, children participate fully in worship. This includes teaching the congregation at the “children’s message” time, writing and leading the offering prayer each week, serving as our usher team once a month, leading our monthly food shelf collection, leading opening liturgy for Advent, sharing in serving communion, and as other ways as we can find to have them lead us and share their gifts from month to month.  Here is why… (the below is taken from their pew insert).

WHY WE WELCOME LITTLE CHILDREN TO WORSHIP… At the time of baptism, parents, godparents and the whole congregation promise to bring children to worship. Not to do so would be like sitting down to the family evening meal but excluding the kids. Sure their manners might be far from elegant, but we welcome them because they are part of the family. Being with family is how we learn to be family. Worship is no different. Young people giggle, they poke, they ask questions and they swing their legs because they are young children. Children learn about worship and how to participate by experience, by how they are welcomed into the community, by what they see big people doing.

WHAT IS WORSHIP? Worship is how we respond to God. When we gather in worship we all come together to encounter Christ, and we watch together for God’s presence in Scripture, our own lives, and the world around us. When we worship God, we are reminded that we belong to God’s love, and we are empowered by the Spirit to participate with God in loving and healing the world.

HOW DO YOUNG CHILDREN LEARN TO WORSHIP?

  • By being taught they have a place in the community of the church.
  • By seeing, hearing, feeling, even smelling, the sanctuary as a place of welcome and worship.
  • By being around other children in the worship space.
  • By watching how their significant adults sing, and make prayers and offerings.
  • By sharing prayers, communion, and worship leadership alongside adults.
  • By being given ways to watch for God’s presence in their own lives, and encouraged to share where they notice God and how they participate in God’s love.

ADULTS LEARN TO WORSHIP by “becoming like a child” (Mt. 18:3). Children notice, absorb and feel deeply. They respond freely. Children perceive God.  Children learn to worship from adults and adults learn to worship from children. Bringing a child to church can be frustrating. Their behavior can make it hard for parents and others to worship. Then again, many facets of parenting can be challenging. It’s the rewards that make it all worthwhile. While we do not want our children to be disruptive or hamper the worship of others, all of us together need to be reminded that children are not the church of the future. They are the church of the present and are to be treasured as such. Children and adults alike are able to watch for God, and participate in God’s love and healing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITH CHILDREN

  • When possible, arrive in time to find a good place to sit. Let them sit next to the aisle, near a work station or in the front pews. Even let them stand on the pew next to you so that they can see.
  • Tell them before they come in what will happen in worship. Show them the parts of the service where they have an active role, and the parts where we all listen or watch others quietly.
  • Take advantage of the worship supplies and materials available at the door when you arrive, and bring them to your seat. Return bags and supplies to their place when you leave.
  • Worship with your child, guiding her or him through the service so they can feel what it is like to worship together.
  • Worship at home through saying Table Grace together, or Bedtime Prayers, or even, “God bless you.” Ask your kids questions about how they noticed God’s love in their day, and how they shared in it.
  • Remember that sometimes children just plain need to run around and play.  That’s why we provide a bright and safe Nursery space for your young child at any time during worship. Gather them back with you for Communion so they can experience God’s blessing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADULTS WITHOUT CHILDREN

  • Be helpful to parents of small children by not making them feel awkward or unwanted.
  • Acknowledge children by smiling, or nodding in their direction, to show your appreciation of them.
  • In fact, make a child’s presence a part of your worship by inviting their family to sit next to you, praying for them, taking an interest in them.
  • Make a special point of sharing the Peace of Christ with them when everyone else is greeting.
  • Find a young child before or after the service, make eye contact, introduce yourself, tell them you are glad to see them and will be looking for them next week.  You might just be the reason that family returns.

(adapted with permission and gratitude from pew insert by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN)  

Looking for more? Here are more resources from NEXT: