Ministry from North to South

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Susan Young Thornton is curating a series highlighting ministry on the Pacific coast — a diverse, rapidly changing, and dizzyingly complex part of the country, and home to our upcoming 2019 National Gathering. We’ll hear from individuals serving in a variety of ministry settings about the struggles and blessings of living into God’s call on the West Coast. What is it really like to serve in this region? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Karen Claassen

More than 2 decades ago I said to my spouse, “How could we not raise our daughter in a place that talks about bald eagles like city people talk about pigeons?” This sentiment sums up my experience of ministry in the West. Alaska, Washington, the greater Los Angeles megalopolis…these have been my stomping grounds. All are larger than life.

The communal faith life in these places is tenuous. Sometimes demographics just don’t fit denominational goals. Sometimes the local way of life works against the imposed model of church. Sometimes the flaws in the context undermine engagement. What do I mean?

Six months after ordination, at my first COM meeting, I asked, “Why are you considering closing that church?” The conversation that ensued shaped my next twenty-plus years in PCUSA ministry. Why this church and not that church? Did numbers matter? Which number mattered more: people in the building on Sunday morning or churches in the community?

If a PCUSA congregation was the only faith gathering in a small place, why would the presbytery close the church? (Or really, shut down the building? No outsider can “close” the church; it would just move to someone’s living room.) Because some city person says the town or congregation is too small? How small is too small to deserve an organized, connectional gathered community? What happened to “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them”?

The little church we discussed at that first COM meeting was in an Alaskan village whose population fluctuated from 200 to 350 people, depending on the season. Five years after that conversation, 80 attended Easter worship. 25-40% of the town was in the worship service. How many churches can say that? How do we measure success and viability in such a situation? That is ministry in much of the Western half of the United States: small congregations serving remote communities, often as the only organized representative of Christ.

Then there is the challenge of always meeting on Sundays. In the Pacific Northwest, subsistence or recreation or work consume the weekend. How is a congregation to gather if the people are scattered? Perhaps the answer lies, as one PCUSA church found, in running a Thursday night service during the summer that exactly mirrored the Sunday morning service. It was so successful for three summers that it became a permanent, year-round offering. Washington hunters deserve to gather for worship too.

Imagine my surprise my first three-day weekend after moving to Los Angeles. I planned for low numbers, constructing a beautiful, intimate, interactive experience that could not be done on a Sunday with the regular attendance. But the context had changed. A three-day weekend in Southern California offers time to get a lot of chores done and light traffic, so the worship service becomes a priority. There were MORE people than usual. It wrecked my plans and reminded me of the importance of understanding where I minister.

Each place I served is different. And yet, all my Western service, regardless of the locale, the communal faith life has proven tenuous. None of those areas could boast even a 30% church rate among the population. Each is a mission field that requires creativity and tenacity — and the ability to not lose one’s temper when someone from Louisville or Philadelphia calls at 5:00 or 6:00 AM, “the start of the business day.”


Karen Claassen has served congregations in four states and six presbyteries for the past 20 years, helping people encounter and love the Spirit more intensely. She constantly explores changing modes of discipleship and outreach in the 21st century in order to live her zeal for equipping Christians and encouraging congregations into a brighter future.

Unexpected Learning

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Susan Young Thornton is curating a series highlighting ministry on the Pacific coast — a diverse, rapidly changing, and dizzyingly complex part of the country, and home to our upcoming 2019 National Gathering. We’ll hear from individuals serving in a variety of ministry settings about the struggles and blessings of living into God’s call on the West Coast. What is it really like to serve in this region? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Candie Blankman

A woman was visiting some very good friends of mine and they brought her to worship. My friend had told me that this woman was largely un-churched. Her father was an atheist, a controlling husband who forbid his wife to bring her and her brother to church. Knowing this, I was very curious about how this woman experienced our worship service. When I asked her what she thought, she responded surprisingly fast. “Kind of preachy,” she said.

I was taken aback, to say the least. I am a preacher. She was a guest in a gathering where preaching is the centerpiece of the service. My insecure, autopilot, preachy self almost kicked in. Somehow, the Spirit of God prevented me. I suddenly realized that this woman may have a whole lot to teach me. In a moment of spiritual openness I realized this woman was the kind of person that the church — disciples — was given the Holy Spirit to go and proclaim the good news to. I wanted to hear about what that was like.

We connected via email to begin a conversation where I was the student and she was the teacher. I told her I wanted to learn from her “un-churched” experience. She was very receptive. She said she had wanted to talk to someone about her experience related to the church and faith for a very long time. So often as Christians we are so afraid of offending people. We are so sure they are so hostile or so uninterested that we don’t even bother to try and have a conversation. I have learned this is hardly ever the case. When I approach others with honest curiosity about their experience and take time to listen, they are not offended or put off. They are eager to talk.

This woman had more “church” in her than I could have ever imagined. Her mother was a Christian and had an uncle who was a Methodist minister. She doesn’t remember exactly when it was but she described the event in vivid detail. Her mother took her and her brother to a forest preserve near where they lived. The Methodist minister came along. In a small clearing in the woods was an old bird bath. There in the middle of the forest preserve with the only other witnesses being birds and ground squirrels who lived there, in the birdbath, the Methodist minister baptized her and her brother. Yes. You read that right. She and her brother were baptized in a birdbath in the woods.

I was without words, a rare occasion for me. The silence lasted long enough that she finally broke it with a question. “Does that count?” she asked. More silence. But now it was not silence caused by surprise. It was silence caused by awe. Finally, I realized she was interpreting my silence as disapproval. I broke the silence with an excited and enthusiastic, “Does that count?! Does that count?! That is one of the most powerful baptism stories I have ever heard!”

And that was not the beginning or the end of her story. I have learned so much from her. And I do not know it all yet! But what started out as a seemingly judgmental response about preaching turned into the opportunity of a lifetime to learn how God was at work in the life of another person who had spent very little time inside a church. I have since learned to listen more carefully, respond much less quickly, and ask as many questions as a person will tolerate. I have since learned many more lessons from the most unexpected people about how God is about the business of calling to people to experience his love and grace and mercy. And, I have learned that sometimes I am being called on to be a part of that work and sometimes I am just the student learning how it has been done. Funny thing is I think that learning this has also made me a better preacher. Ha! Who knew?!


Candie Blankman is Minister of Discipleship and Care at San Clemente Presbyterian Church in San Clemente, CA. You can visit her website to learn how this and other similar conversations have become a congregation wide ministry of listening, learning and presence called Groundings.

Ministry on the Pacific Coast

by Susan Young-Thornton

The first image that comes to mind when hearing “the Pacific Coast” is one of Beach-Boy-sunny-shores, surfers, bikini-clad sunbathers, and children building sand castles. But there is so much more.

The U. S. Pacific Coast stretches from sun-drenched San Diego to Alaska’s frigid Aleutian Islands. The territory in between is as varied as these two extremes suggest: America’s hot spot, Death Valley; the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe; the snow-capped volcanic mountains of Oregon and Washington; the mighty, electricity-producing waters of the Columbia River; the life-sustaining, food-producing soil of California’s Central Valley; Redwood forests and gigantic Sequoias. Pull out your atlas and explore God’s infinitely creative imagination.

Photo from Los Ranchos Presbytery Facebook page.

The communities that have arisen in this landscape are equally diverse: crowded, traffic-jammed cities; planned suburbs; small towns; one stop-sign rural villages; family farms; and large scale agri-business enterprises. Imagine the multiple interests, needs, and conflicting opinions of the inhabitants of glamorous Hollywood; innovative Silicon Valley; artsy, foodie Portland; fire-ravaged Paradise; tech giant Seattle; bucolic college towns; the threatened Arctic tundra; sprawling national parks and forests; and the manicured lawns of master-planned Irvine.

The Chumash, Washoe, Umpqua, Chelan, Skokomish, Aleut, Haida, and their hundreds of indigenous people cousins were joined in this land by successive waves of immigrants from around the globe. Some came as explorers and conquerors, some as settlers, some to satisfy the endless need for cheap labor. Others migrated to settle farms, rush for gold, escape persecution, find adventure, study the natural wonders, flee the dust bowl, seek employment when rust belt factories closed, bask in the warmth of sunnier skies, and to seek asylum from the horrors of war, violence, natural disasters, famine, and disease.

The people differ across this vast expanse. Their needs are unique to their context and also universal. Great diversity can be found within small communities. A case in point is Orange County, California. This 948 square mile county, located on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, ranges from sea level to 5,690 feet in elevation and is inhabited by 3.19 million people. Its namesake orange groves are all but extinct, replaced by Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, luxurious resorts, single-family homes, condo complexes, apartment buildings, huge shopping centers, strip malls, and freeways. The county is a mix of older cities with quaint downtowns, newer cities with gleaming high-rises, street corners populated with sign-holding homeless, now-banned riverbed tent cities, McMansions, and sprawling suburbs.

The population hails from every corner of the earth and is now 44% non-Hispanic white. The non-white majority includes Hispanic and Latinx from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. One in five people are of Asian origin, hailing from Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Laos, plus the largest concentration of people of Vietnamese heritage outside Vietnam. Persons of African heritage are approximately 2% of the population. Orange County, the birthplace of the John Birch Society, has just elected Democrats to all 8 of its U.S. House seats.

The presbytery of Los Ranchos, which encompasses all of Orange County and a pie-shaped slice of an equally diverse Los Angeles County, ministers in this complex, confusing, multi-lingual, culture-rich environment. Its churches and their members are neighbors to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, Wiccans, the spiritual but not religious, agnostics, and atheists. Worship services are conducted in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Swahili, Khmer, and English.

What is true for Orange County and Los Ranchos is also true for the entire Pacific Coast region. It is diverse, rapidly changing, and dizzyingly complex. The work of the church is the same as it has always been – to speak a word of hope, to work for justice, to embody the love of God to all people. This holy work takes many forms inside church buildings and on the streets. The struggle and the blessing of living into God’s Kin-dom in this region is an ongoing story to be shared with you by those in the trenches in this month’s blog series. Join us.


Susan Young-Thornton serves as the Spiritual Formation Consultant to the Presbytery of Los Ranchos.

Art Giving Voice to #MeToo

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Ruth Everhart and Cheryl Prose

Ruth: An artist in Tennessee named Cheryl Prose makes art pieces corresponding to #MeToo stories that move her. She began with stories of friends, and came across my story in Sojourners. Since then she read my memoir, and this piece is based on the memoir.

~ The first image shows the piece in production. For “wallpaper” she tore pages from the book of Job from a large number of Bibles. The ink splotches represent gunpowder.

~ The second image shows the completed work, which includes folios of quotations, pieces from a “rape kit,” a gun, speaker wire (used to tie us up), and a plaque of a quote that especially moved her.

~ The third image is a closeup of that plaque, with the speaker wire.

~ The fourth image shows the inside of a folio.

I am moved that another artist found inspiration in my story. We in the church are often word-oriented and I appreciate these visuals.

Cheryl: I was a college student when a senior adult member of my church was kidnapped and gang raped by strangers. While a seminary student I learned that several of my classmates had experienced sexual harassment and assault at the hands of lay leaders as well as clergy—in churches where they grew up and in churches where they served on staff. As a college instructor, I listened as students told of being subjected to unwanted sexual advances—often at the hands of their Christian boyfriends. Where was the justice about which the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah spoke?

Fast forward to fall 2017. A number of my friends began to publicly tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. The details of what they endured at the hands of others were sometimes unknown to me but there was no shock that these attacks happened given the pervasiveness of sexual violence and given what I already knew from my days as a student and as a teacher. I acknowledged their pain and yet there was a gut-level need to do more. How could I stand by these friends? How could I help give voice to their stories? How could I practice justice? In response to those questions, the MeToo Art Project began.

It is my hope that this project will (1) give survivors of sexual violence an additional vehicle by which to speak their truth about their experience, (2) be a means by which to hold perpetrators accountable, (3) raise awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault, and (4) be a means by which solidarity is shown- without regard to gender- with and to those who have experienced this type of life-altering attack.

Among the completed pieces is the story of Rev. Ruth Everhart who pastors a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Maryland and who has written a memoir, Ruined, which outlines the sexual assault she suffered. In terms of design, I knew I wanted to incorporate text from the biblical book of Job. Job’s friends offered religious platitudes in light of the horrors he faced. Ruth experienced similar inadequacies and insult from the church in the aftermath of her horrifying ordeal. The ink that is splashed over the text is a reminder of the fingerprint powder that covered the crime scene. The multi-level case is reminiscent of the multiple-story house in which the attack took place. Because Rev. Everhart’s Me Too story is a hard one to hear, I wanted the viewer to have to work to access the story and so the individual books that carry details of the crime are intentionally stiff and difficult to open.

Sexual harassment and assault appear in many forms from street harassment to workplace harassment to date rape to assault by strangers. If you are willing to have your Me Too story expressed in a visual format, contact me at metooartproject@gmail.com (Participants may choose whether or not to be identified.) Together we are breaking the silence and inviting justice to roll down like water.


Ruth Everhart is an author, speaker, and Presbyterian pastor. Her next book about #MeToo and the church is forthcoming from InterVarsity Press in fall 2019. She is the solo pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, MD). Connect on Instagram: ruth.everhart, FB: RuthEverhartAuthor, Twitter: @rutheverhart.

Cheryl Prose spent nearly two decades as an adjunct professor of Religion in a private liberal arts college. She now spends much of her time sharing stories of those who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted—many of those episodes having ties to the church and other religious entities. You can follow the MeToo_Art_Project on Instagram.

It Was a Sunday

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

This blog was originally posted on A Church for Starving Artists and has been re-posted with permission.

by Jan Edmiston

Calls reporting sexual assault spiked 147% on Thursday, September 27 according to RAINN – the largest sexual assault hotline in the United States.  Counselors, therapists, and clergywomen like me received phone calls, texts, and direct messages from women all over the country.  As women were listening to Christine Blasey Ford, they not only relived their own assaults but they were emboldened to report their own.

I know this firsthand.  Yesterday I made a call to report mine.

My assailant was someone I had been in a relationship with which is why I never reported it.  Who would have believed me?  I wasn’t sure I believed it myself.  We had recently broken up and he’d wanted to continue being friends.  But one night he was angry and wanted to teach me a lesson.  Seriously, that’s what he said.

I’m honestly grateful to be able to type these words openly.  I feel okay about it. Strong even.  Secrets have enormous power to chip away at our spirits if left sitting there in the dark and I’ve been working on shedding some light  for a while now.

I’m inspired by one woman’s attempt to prevent her assailant from becoming a Supreme Court Justice.  Maybe he’ll indeed be confirmed but at least she has spoken her truth.

Those of us with such experiences know some things about men who assault women:

  • They can be charming and “such good guys.”
  • Being smart and drinking too much are not mutually exclusive.
  • Just because a long list of women can vouch for them, it doesn’t mean they never assaulted others.

It’s possible that Dr. Ford’s assault happened on July 1, 1982.  Mine was September 18, 1983.

#BraveryIsContagious


Jan Edmiston is General Presbyter of The Presbytery of Charlotte. She serve in two congregations in New York and Virginia as a solo and co-pastor, and was Associate Executive Presbyter in Chicago for seven years. Jan was also Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly with Denise Anderson.

Bodies. Trauma. Resilience.

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by abby mohaupt

Listen:

most days I don’t think about the men who betrayed me

the men who saw the line and crossed it

the men who watched them do it

the men who told me to be quiet.

 

But some days,

the moments of betrayal are like coals—

if I blow on them, the pain burns into life

and all my old scars ache.

 

the days when the new pastor at my first church apologizes to my father but not to me

(even though I was the one who lost herself)

the days when the photo of my rapist at my fifth church appears on my social media

with the high praise from others accompanying him with singing

the days when the tune of his grooming rings in my ears:

“heart of my own heart whatever befall”

 

I’m not asking you to fix me

(thank you, Jesus)

I’m just asking you to sit with me awhile

and wait for hope.

 

The video below (the first part is intentionally dark) originally appeared at Ecclesio in an article entitled “Bodies of Hope and Harrasment.” It is, in part, my grappling with what it means to survive in a #metoo and #churchtoo world.


abby mohaupt is a long distance runner and multi-media artist. An ordained teaching elder, she regularly teaches on vocational discernment, eco-feminist theology, and creativity.

Anger That Saved Me

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Sophomore year of college. It was not a good year. For a variety of reasons, depression was consuming me — me — not sure who I was or what I believed. The world seemed very unsteady under my feet. This was not my first dance with depression, but this was different, this was brought about (or arrived concurrently) with that very natural part of growing up, figuring out the difference between what you believe and what you were taught as a child. I’d grown up going to church. Ministry had appeared as a possible calling before, but I didn’t have the slightest idea what that meant, and didn’t enter college with that in my heart. Still, faith in God was my baseline.

Now, I wasn’t even questioning if God was real. I’d not dared to say those words aloud — I could hardly admit such doubt to myself. It seemed blasphemous. Weak. Scary.

And then, I found myself at a party where I was introduced to a man who was a student at a nearby seminary. It seemed providential. I immediately had a million questions. I know that it wasn’t fair to place that burden on him. He was in school. He wasn’t my pastor. But I certainly wasn’t going to take these questions to church, and he had appeared before me.

I waited to open up to him. We drank. We were really getting along. Finally, it became clear that I would probably be spending the night at the house (my friend who had brought me was staying. She was my ride. She was staying.). He invited me to stay with him. I did what most of my friends did in similar situations. I stated my intentions. I could stay over, but I wasn’t going to have sex with him. I didn’t do that. But we could kiss. We could cuddle. He agreed.

We went to his room, where we got in bed. I was clothed. And we talked, his voice soothing and comforting. I asked him question after question about what he was doing in seminary, what he believed about God. After a while I went in for the big question: “How do you know that there is a God? What if God doesn’t exist?”

My question came with tears, released with the desolate reality of what I had suggested.

As I cried, he made his move. I said no. I tried to move away. He wasn’t violent, but I couldn’t fight. He raped me. And he didn’t even answer my question first.

Morning, or something close to it, finally arrived. As soon as enough light came through the window I went to find my friend and told her we had to go. I made it to the car before I started to weep. I don’t know what I told her. I don’t know if I ever said what had happened. I do know that he had no idea anything less-than-delightful had happened.

The next few months were hard. Depression seemed to be winning. But somewhere, sometime, a few months later, anger began to rise from within me, and it was an anger that would save me. Anger at knowing that what happened wasn’t right. Wasn’t okay. Wasn’t of God.

I put myself in the presence of preachers, women preachers, whose words were the Holy Spirit to me, helping me rebuild my faith, block by block, moment by moment. I began to understand what a call to ministry meant, and that I was, in fact called, a call that had been within me for some time, I just hadn’t had words to name it.

This understanding of call, the one I still inhabit today, decades later, had a new companion that I hadn’t known the first time God tapped me on the shoulder: anger. Anger at what had happened. Anger that the man who had assaulted me was someone who would be entrusted with a congregation.

I never spoke to him again and never told anyone else until I told a therapist, years later. I still google him from time to time — on the surface, at least, he’s doing fine. He’s still a pastor. He has a family. I have no idea if this was an isolated incident or not. I hope that it was.

I’m still angry. Angry, because the church deserves better. Jesus deserves better. And over time I’ve come to embrace that this is part of my call — if I detest what he did, then I cannot leave. I must stay and do better, show better, live better. Love deserves no less. Jesus deserves no less. The church deserves better. I will do everything within my power to keep #churchtoo from happening on my watch.


This post was written by an anonymous author.

The Sermon I Tried Not To Preach

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Shannon Kershner

This was a sermon I tried not to write or preach. Why? One reason is because I do grow tired of being told I am either too political in the pulpit or not political enough. I have received that kind of feedback ten times more in the last three years of my ministry than I ever did in the first 16 years of ministry. Another reason is because I do not want every sermon I preach to feel like it is a “response tweet” to the latest news cycle, which also usually changes between Friday and Sunday.

Photo from Fourth Presbyterian Church Facebook page.

But the more fundamental reason I did not want to write or preach this sermon is because I felt too close to it. My father survived sexual assault as a child and he did not remember it until he was in his 50s. Other very close loved ones have experienced similar violence to their bodies and their spirits. The whole Supreme Court nomination process exhausted me and I knew how much pain was resurfacing for so many people I love. So I tried to avoid it. But then the time came, as it does, when I knew that if I did not preach about what was going on in our larger culture, then I would be doing a disservice to the Gospel.

But you should know that my father (retired PCUSA pastor) was the one who finally lovingly pushed me forward. He wrote down a couple of paragraphs and advised me that a pastoral approach might be what was called for at that moment and from this pulpit. It was his wisdom that led me to wonder how many other 70 and 80 year olds might be sitting in the pews with their own secrets or memories. I realized again it was a privilege for me to get to remain silent when so many could not. Their souls were screaming out. I had to say something that I hoped was faithful and true.

As I mention in the beginning, this is not a very well-honed sermon. Many of you could craft one that sounds far more elegant and nuanced. I did not do much revision to it, so it is a bit more “stream of consciousness” than my normal preaching voice. But it was what came on a long Saturday afternoon with Sunday looming. Thus, it is simply an offering from me to God, in the hopes that it might be of use for those who need to remember they are loved, and for those who need to be reminded that hurting them has never been okay with God. The church had to say that out loud.


Shannon Johnson Kershner is the senior pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church (P.C.U.S.A.). She grew up in Waco, Texas as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and an elementary school teacher. Shannon stayed in Texas for college and graduated in 1994 from Trinity University in San Antonio. In 1996, she began her theological training at Columbia Theological Seminary and received her Masters of Divinity degree in 1999. Her sermons and articles have been published in a number of journals, including The Journal for Preachers and Lectionary Homiletics. She is involved in leadership for NEXT Church and serving on its strategy team. Shannon is married to Greg, whom she met in high school at a Presbyterian summer conference at Mo-Ranch. They have been married for 21 years and are the parents of 15-year-old Hannah and 12-year-old Ryan.  

I’m Cursing Now

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Anne Weirich

I haven’t thought of this in decades.

I was raised in a small town. Woods and fields laced with trails connected my friends and me. And I was lucky to have close relationships, always, with boys and girls. My life continued in this way. And while I often got crushes on boys as I grew up, the friendships were always more important. When I left for college, I’d never been on a date, never been kissed, never even held hands with a boy.

By the second semester of college, new friendships had formed and I had been on some dates, been kissed, held hands and speculated with girlfriends about how we could get our hands on birth control pills and then “lose” our virginity – which seemed to hang upon us like an old fashioned artifact.

A guy who took classes and also delivered newspapers to the dorms in his little VW bug with an open rag top asked me out. We’d flirted some from my dorm room “balcony” – the fire escape. So I said yes. We went out a few times – walking to a local place for burgers and beers. Then one night he said, dress up a little – let’s really go out. He came by in a little sports car I’d never seen – wearing some better jeans and a new shirt. I had on my favorite 501 jeans that I’d embroidered with peace signs and a few favorite phrases, flowers, and designs.

But other than that, I only remember the very end of our date. We drove to a part of town I’d never seen before. He pulled the car over and turned off the engine. We started kissing. And somehow, in the confines of that tiny sports car, he made a move that stunned me. My heart stopped pounding with sexual energy and started pounding in fear. He was on the floor between my knees with his pants down – and his hand grabbed my waistband. I said nothing, staring in complete disarray. He was so strong – he ripped the fastener and broke the zipper on my jeans.

As he struggled to remove my pants, something took over in my being, something buried. I took my hands and put them around his throat, and squeezed. I pushed him away, straightening my arms. And tightened my hands more and more. I’ll never forget how red his face got and how much disbelief there was in his eyes. Even knowing he was stronger than me – I just held on – and he choked and finally stopped.

Cursing me, he drove me home. Cursing me, he drove away. Cursing me, when I walked by to class the next day. Cursing me, until he didn’t.

I can’t tell his name. I can’t tell you the date.

But I can tell you this happened to me too.

And I can also tell you, I’m the one cursing now as high courts and church hierarchies and all the boys clubs protect their own.


Anne Weirich is pastor at College Drive Presbyterian Church in small village of New Concord, OH on the campus of Muskingum University. Her work there is coalition forming with focuses on addiction, civil discourse and the delights and strengths of small town connections and events. Anne serves on the General Assembly Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations and the Board of Trustees for the Synod of the Covenant. She travels annually to the Holy Land, leading pilgrims and renewing her faith in the power of the Spirit.

Black Congregations Matter

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Carlton Johnson and Denise Anderson are curating a series highlighting African American Presbyterianism. We’ll hear from individuals serving black churches about their ministries and the challenges and opportunities they encounter. How do resolutions or decisions made on the denominational level impact these churches, if at all? What are we going to do as a denomination to address the systemic racism that brought us where we are today? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Gregory Bentley

A high school classmate and clergy colleague of mine, Reverend James Ross, argues that the African American experience can be seen through the lens of five ‘Ps’: property, problems, performers, purchasers, and paranoia.

  1. Property: For 250 years African Americans were seen as chattel and worked from “can’t see to can’t see” to enrich the slaveholding class in particular and the nation in general. This is the foundation, along with the genocide of the Native people and the theft of their land, for the wealth of America and its super power status today.
  2. Problems: After Emancipation, what do we do with these four million ex-slaves? Houston, we have a problem, so let’s enact Black codes and vagrancy laws, keep them in their place with terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, and return them to a form of neo-slavery called sharecropping.
  3. Performers: Well, they sure can sing and dance and play ball. So let’s use them as entertainers for our amusement.
  4. Purchasers: Some of them have some money and want badly to spend it with us, so let’s do away with this pesky thing called segregation so that we can have unfettered access to their pocketbooks.
  5. Paranoia: Y’all see racism in everything. If you learn how to follow the rules, work hard, and be people of high character, you will make it in America. Stop blaming everything on racism. Y’all have had enough time to get your act together.

These five ‘Ps’ still persist in our day and time and are seen in the dynamics of the various responses to the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and many others like it. It seems that the legacy of another legal case associated with Missouri – the Dred Scott Decision, which essentially concluded that no Black person in America had any rights which any white person had to recognize – still haunts us to this very day. So what is the Good News in light of this persistent and pernicious reality relative to the PCUSA? Is there a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole? Is there a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul? Yes there is! That balm is love and the application of that balm begins with affirming that BLACK CONGREGATIONS MATTER!

This love of Black congregations must be expressed in concrete, tangible ways in every council of the church from session to presbytery to synod and General Assembly. These councils must be intentional about serving as “Paracletic ministries” to come alongside Black congregations to equip and empower them to be the mission stations and face of the PCUSA in our local communities. And yes, that means putting the critical question to struggling Black congregations that Jesus put to the man at the pool of Bethesda: “Do you want to be made well?” Those who answer “Yes,” let’s put every resource available toward that end. Those who answer “No,” allow them to die with dignity so that we can focus all of our energy and effort on those who will and not those who won’t. The challenges facing our communities are too daunting and dreadful to be preoccupied with a self-referentialness that doesn’t allow us to see clearly what is right in front of us. Another way of putting this is that we’ve got to love our communities more than we love being Presbyterian.

I believe there is still a vision for the appointed time if we would but summon the courage to see and to seize it. The choice is ours and I hope we move forward with the spirit of an old hymn of the church, “A Charge to Keep I Have”:

A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify
A never dying soul to save and fit it for the sky,
To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill,
May it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will.


Gregory J. Bentley has served the Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama since January 2012. When not juggling one of his many roles in local political and civic affairs, he enjoys good music, reading and playing chess. Rev. Bentley lives in Huntsville with his wife Diann and his daughters Miriam and Johari.