This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person.
1. Tell us about your ministry context.
In 2005, I responded to a call from a group of (mostly) suburban mainline protestant clergy from the Philadelphia region to breathe new life into a dormant landmark church in Center City that in the last century was an important part of a vibrant urban landscape. That response led to my founding of the Broad Street Ministry (BSM) in Philadelphia in what was once the historic Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church along Center City’s Avenue of the Arts. BSM is an innovative Christian faith community that emphasizes the Gospel imperatives of extending generous hospitality, demonstrating justice and compassion, and providing a ground for artistic expression. Beginning with less than $8,000 in seed capital and no existing congregation, BSM has grown into one of Center City Philadelphia’s most dynamic and largest worshipping congregations. It is diverse in every way, and has worked aggressively in its common life to be hands-on in addressing issues that detract from people’s ability to experience the abundant life that God intends.
In 2008, I extended my pastoral ministry in Philadelphia when he became the Pastor of Arch Street Presbyterian Church (ASPC). Since 1851, Arch Street Presbyterian has been a worshipping congregation in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. When I arrived, this congregation was on life-support. But after assembling a dynamic team of lay and professional leadership, ASPC has undergone a rapid and dramatic revitalization. Collectively, this community has taken up its mat and is walking boldly into the future that God has prepared for it. The congregation is now a dynamic Sunday morning worshipping community, a church that welcomes children and families of every configuration, and a church that struggles alongside the people who work in the skyscrapers around it (and those who wish they were employed there) who aim to integrate their faith and work.
2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?
It is a core conviction of mine that God is already dynamically at work in the world and the priorities of the Kingdom are on view everywhere. I like to think that when we are at our best, Presbyterian leaders are like archeologists who are uncovering in the most unlikely places where God is up to something exciting and challenging. Specifically I have seen this wherever the church is taking risks that are real and scary. When we are not at our best, we tend to be the kind of people who want to know our ministry experiments will work without the risk of failure. Two women who are forging ahead with an attempt to be the church in a new way–who are sort of “alumnae” of BSM’s pastoral leadership program–are doing something that is really exciting (and fraught with risks). Rev. Karen Rohrer and Becca Blake are a couple of committed and talented seminary grads who have tried to be the church in a neighborhood that is rife with tension between those who have lived in the neighborhood for decades and a recent influx of hipsters and other young people whose presence is gentrifying the neighborhood. Through creative worship and a commitment to be the church that brings these divergent populations together, they are up to something really powerful but also very fragile. God is unmistakably present when those two elements are in place. Check them out! http://www.facebook.com/thewordatbeacon
3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)
My passion in ministry is connecting the core commitments of the congregations I serve with the concerns and dreams of people whose work and lives are in deep alignment with the Kingdom of God but who have–for whatever reason–been disaffected or disappointed by the church. I love to mix it up with “lowbrow” artists and the societal shot-callers who are often surprised by the passion and conviction of the people who call BSM or ASPC their church home. I love challenging the assumptions held by some that the church is limp, inert and overly concerned with comfort, safety and institutional survival. I like to get into the deep end with people who are trying to make a splash in society that could result in a more just Philadelphia.
4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?
I relish conversation with people who are looking for the courage and the company to be the church in a more generous and bold fashion. I met quite a few folks like that at NEXT last year. I tend to shy away from conferences but this feels fresh to me.
5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.
I have high hopes for NEXT but I am not sure we know yet what it will be. If I were to sum up my hopes for what NEXT will be is:Community for those who believe restlessness, courage, and relentlessness are spiritual qualities worth cultivating. (That’s more than 7 but that’s what I’ve got.)