Chase, Kansas: Population 436

by Catherine Neelly Burton

By any standard, Chase, Kansas, is small. The 2018 census estimate put the population at 436. Of those 436 people, 13 are members of the Community Presbyterian Church which sits at the corner of Oak and Grove streets in the middle of the 186 acres that is Chase.

Photo by Kealan Burke on Unsplash

Chase was always small, but there was a time when small towns thrived. Fifty years ago, Chase had a movie theater, restaurants, and a hotel. Those things are long gone. There’s still a school and one gas station where you can get a burger. There’s also a part-time bank, a post office, a senior center, and the co-op, but you can’t buy groceries in town or see a doctor.

This scenario plays out again and again in Kansas and other parts of the country. Migration from small towns is not new. Nothing about this is remarkable. What’s remarkable is the impact that the Community Presbyterian Church continues to have.

The name of the church is important. Over 80 years ago members of three churches in Chase united and formed a community church. They wanted the structure of a denomination, and since none of the three were Presbyterian, they decided to become Presbyterian so as not to favor one of the three. The important thing was to be a community church, and in 2020 they are that more than ever.

  • A few years ago, the congregation bought the house next door to the church, gutted it, and turned it into a community food pantry where they serve about 30-40 families a month, or about 25-30% of the town. They fund this with donations, grants, and church resources.
  • Any time the school social worker needs shoes for a student, the church buys them.
  • The school social worker gives the church a list of gifts needed for children each Christmas. The church buys and delivers the presents.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The people in the church love God and love their neighbors, and they want to show God’s love. The church is fortunate to have money, not tons, but a steady source of income in addition to tithes and offerings. Years ago, a church member left some land to the church. The church gets money from an oil pipe that goes across that land and money from someone who farms on part of it.

For a long time, church members insisted on saving the money. When “the Depression era” generation gave up power to those who currently lead (now retirees), they started investing the money in the community and in keeping up their facility. They put an elevator in at their church, so the building is 100% accessible.

When a woman who grew up in Chase moved back home, she tried to start Sunday School for children. She knocked on every door in town, and no one came. Not deterred, she adapted and created a Wednesday after school program, advertised at the school, and kids came. The children are fed, they play games, do crafts, and learn Bible stories. As the elementary children aged out of the program the church started a middle school youth group on Sunday nights. The church started paying for these children to go to the presbytery camp each summer. This year 26 children and youth were registered before camp was cancelled.

How do 13 people do this? They don’t do it alone. They pull in their friends and neighbors, continuing the mission of the community church. They do worry about what will happen when they can’t continue, but for now they keep going.

I asked if they had ever had conversations with the town 12 miles away, which has a part time PCUSA pastor, about a yoked pastorate. They wondered aloud about what a pastor would do. The pulpit is filled by church members, retired pastors, and commissioned ruling elders, and they – the members and community – do everything else.

It struck me that most of the conversations I hear around rural churches circle back to a clergy shortage. Chase hasn’t had an installed pastor since the 1980’s and has done quite well. Perhaps it’s time that the broader church stop centering itself around pastors and instead center itself on mission like they’ve done in Chase, though if a pastor were fortunate enough to serve in a place like Chase, I think they’d have a lot of fun.

Postscript:
Chase, Kansas, is in Rice County, which as of June 1 has four confirmed cases of Covid-19. The people in Chase deal with problems of the world such as poverty, drug abuse, domestic violence, and lack of opportunity, but the news cycles around the pandemic and protests seem very far away. I visited Chase (with my mask – good grief, I didn’t want to be a virus carrier from the city) on May 22, before any of us knew the name George Floyd, so I can’t speak to how the news resonates there.


Catherine Neelly Burton serves as the pastor of what is most easily categorized as a ‘traditional’ PCUSA congregation, even though that era is gone. She serves at Grace Presbyterian in Wichita, KS. Grace has about 350 members and is an amazing congregation with wonderful people. She is married to John, and they have a four year old daughter and a nine year old dog.

Catherine is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on rural ministry in Kansas. 

The Suffering that Lingers

(Note: Some identifying details of those mentioned in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy.)

by Holly Clark Porter

I remember the first murder victim whose body and family I helped care for after her death.

While working for a funeral home, you learn that people die constantly. I won’t say you “get used to it”, because that isn’t quite right. You become familiar to the oddness, the smells, the sadness. You get comfortable. You’re comfortable with death at 10:00am or 3:00am. You’re comfortable because most of the time, the bodies who you take into your care are bodies ravaged by age or sickness. You can see that their body needed to die. As a pastor, it was easy to quote the Christian commendation and say in my head, “they rest from their labor, their suffering has ended, and they have found peace.”

But then there are deaths, faces, families, for whom those words were empty, empty to the family, but also empty to me, even though my theology, my faith tells me better. Sometimes, I’m not even sure I understand the commendation until I have heard and taken on the charge and benediction.

As I looked at this young woman, maybe 20 years old, on our embalming table, I didn’t know from what she rested. Her body hadn’t been suffering. She was an innocent victim of a gas station robbery. And, I looked in disbelief at her body, her body which seemed so normal, so healthy. Her face, perfect. Her face looked just like the pictures her family brought us; a graduation party and hanging out at Rehoboth Beach, smiling big. Other than the two marks in her torso made by a knife, her body didn’t look like it needed to rest.

Her suffering ended. But her suffering also lingered.

I cannot help but think of the funeral home who will take George Floyd’s body into their care—the people who will wash his body, stitch up his skin, who will put makeup on his bruising, and try to give his family and friends a glimpse of the life now taken. I wonder if they will step back and look at Mr. Floyd’s well-maintained muscles and striking jawline and wonder why he had to die.

His suffering ended. But his suffering also lingers.

Photo source: https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2020/05/30/wilmington-protests-george-floyd-turn-violent-night/5295496002/

In the lingering suffering, we have commended him with protests and signs of “I can’t breathe” and anger and sermons and posts—a commendation not everyone is sure what to do with. But, now it’s time we give power and understanding to the commendation by hearing our charge and our benediction.

One of our very own youth at my church, a 15 year old young man, gave me that charge and benediction. With anger, questions, yearning, he took to Instagram decrying the horrific murder of George Floyd and he lifted up so many other names of black people who have died at the hands of racism, but what he said that called to me was: “someone please.” “please” he said over and over. “Please someone.”

In this pandemic caused by Covid, we have been willing to completely change the way we do everything. In a matter of months, we have changed our eating habits, how we shop, re-imagined our rituals, we’ve taken Communion with Dr. Pepper and Doritos, and we were willing to endure a tanked economy all for the sake of people’s lives.

We’ve had years, decades, centuries to change the virus of racism and yet, because it’s uncomfortable or maybe unimaginable or too scary or there’s too much risk or there’s too many unknowns, we’ve just let it infect every cell in our social bodies.

In my more cynical moments, I think we’ve adapted so quickly to the Corona virus because “all lives matter” and this virus threatens the lives of all people, white people, black people, Asians, but that racism only threatens the lives of people of color. In my more whole, more realistic moments, I think it’s because you can’t put a mask on racism or socially distance ourselves from prejudice language and hope to end racism. It’s more difficult than that. It isn’t as simple as choosing to wash your hands; it’s choosing to notice the things we don’t notice. It’s choosing to hear the stories of people of color. It’s choosing to realize your heart just leaped because a black man is jogging behind you. It’s choosing to wonder why white people names are seen as normal and black people names are seen as strange. It’s choosing to notice who fills our TV screens, our town halls, our best schools.

Someone, please. Let us hear this charge to put an understanding around the difficult commendation that often ended in looting. Let us hear this charge as a way to grapple with that which we can only see as destruction instead of a release. Let us hear this charge and take it up with God who calls us, Jesus who walks with us, and the Holy Spirit who gives us breath so that before breath gets taken, we are the someone’s who act when we hear “please.”

And until all lives really do matter, may we take on the labor, the work, and suffering from which George Floyd rests.

(Author’s note: As a queer, white woman I know some forms of discrimination, but it pales in comparison to systemic, prolonged racism. Rather than write about Pride for June’s Pride celebrations, I felt it was necessary to continue to write about black lives. I hope that my words help rather than harm. May we continue to see the stories that are ignored, stories about black trans lives, stories about queer POC, stories that don’t make the news and may we never forget how each story is a part of our story, if we bother to hear them.)


The Reverend Holly Clark-Porter is an irreverent revered who adores people, even the annoying ones. In her work, she hopes to bring people back to Church by uplifting the importance of a joyful community, the strength of working together for justice, and by giving voice to the relevancy of faithful love over hate and destruction. She has a passion for preaching, writing, and nerdy church things. Holly received her B.A. in English at Schreiner University and her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she was a recipient of the Charles L. King Preaching Award and a member of the Scotch Council. She has served as pastor of Big Gay Church and Calvary Presbyterian, both of Wilmington, DE. She was also a funeral director and funeral chaplain at McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes (DE). Holly and her wife, The Reverend Kaci Clark-Porter, recently moved from Delaware to El Paso, Texas, where they serve as Co-Pastors of Grace Presbyterian. They love camping, travelling the world in search of food and wine, and spoiling their pitbull, Hazel.

Holly is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on how death shows up in the life of faith.

The SHIFT: It’s Time to Make That Change

by Freda Marie S. Brown

I was both mad and sad when I first became aware of the public murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. “Here we go again, I thought. No justice for injustice, no rest for the weary; how long must we endure this, O Lord, how long?” I am quite aware of the cries of my ancestral lineage that goes back almost 400 years. I will never get over the fact that THIS, is the place at which America has arrived; the place where her enduring ethos of white supremacy and racist hatred can now be seen and called what it is in the light of day. For most of the people who look like me, we have known all along the insidious cancer that has fed upon this soil. As an African-American Episcopal priest and mom I will NEVER get over the fact that the list of names has grown longer and not shorter in the past 4 or 5 years. Say their names: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor. Four-hundred years and this s—continues? My heart literally hurts.

Besides all of this, I have been unable to get over the fact that the vast majority of my non-POC “brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus” in the Church have been reticent to speak with a single voice about this enormous and ongoing SIN of racism in America. Because I love Jesus Christ and his body deeply on this planet, I have a bone to pick with the Church in its whiteness. I am both mad and sad.

Governments come and go, but the Kin(g)dom of God—that governance which we claim rules forever— is given nary a thought in the minds and hearts of many of you professing Christians. Your submission to the ONE whom we call GOD is often lower than the recovering alcoholics to their higher power of the Big Book. It is simply amazing. Could this be because you are using a limited map of reality, one that no longer fits the current state of growing in spiritual (not necessarily, religious) awareness?

Albert Einstein is famously quoted to have said, “the mind that got us here, will not be the mind that gets us out.” You need a BIG PARADIGM SHIFT; indeed, we all do. A new cosmology is required to accommodate the work of the Holy Spirit at this time in creation. Along with that new map of reality, comes the practice of continuing repentance, instead of some one-shot deal that you have played with oh, these many years. The old mechanistic, predictive, hierarchical, anthropocentric, competitive cosmology will no longer do. It is time for new wine in new wine skins. A dynamic state of self-awareness, mindfulness, and readiness to change must take root within you.

The overwhelming masculine energies of the ages that have given us our current state of affairs, is no longer holding. Witness the state of the nation and of the world.

I want to be clear in my use of the term “masculine energy” though, as opposed to males or men. I am a woman who loves men. No problem there. But the grip of patriarchy has devasted both the world and the Church. For me, the Church’s influence has often been in death-dealing ways that fail to reflect the LIFE of Christ so that others want to live that life. Besides males and females are comprised of both masculine and feminine energies. The imbalance in these energies is expressed in the woundedness, anger, and outright hatred we are observing all around us and in the suffering of oh, so many. I often wonder, “do non-POC Christians really believe a ‘new life’ in Christ exists? No? Is that why so many of them can easily accept the status quo?”

The rise of compassion, collaboration, mercy, and kindness, generosity, and hopefulness are all feminine energies. (Again, not female) and are needed to balance the overly masculine-energized reality that has been created—primarily by you, I am sad to say. You have forgotten who you are.

Repentance, like conversion, is a returning repeatedly to Holy Mystery, whom we call GOD. I commend to you Jim Wallis’ very timely book, A CALL TO CONVERSION, written more than 30 years ago. It is the only way the mind of Christ might truly be formed in ALL of us. I am sorry to inform you that the concept of autonomy has no place in the Kin(g)dom of God. Let me know if you find it in the bible, please. We can remain in a state of continuing repentance by asking the Holy Spirit (with thanksgiving) for it. We pray for all sorts of things. Why not something that really matters?
The entire world, but America in particular, is on a highly desirable path of human evolution. So, discreetly discern when you judge what your eyes are seeing, or your ears are hearing. Human evolution is the telos for which we, POC and non-POC were all created; to be a paradise for the Beloved Community.

That evolution will hurt and be inconvenient to you. It will require the death of many dreams, hopes and most certainly ideologies. But it will not kill you; not if we hold faithfully to the truth of Ultimate Reality—that we are already ONE. As much as you like to feel comfortable and hate being inconvenienced, the Church in America can no longer remain as it is and go with G-D. G-D is on the move. LIFE is dynamic and changes abound. It is time for divinization. It is time to take on Christ-consciousness for the sake of the world.

I and so many other siblings of color can no longer tolerate your apathy, Church. Each one of us must become the change we wish to see in the world. We need you to step up. God grant you the grace to receive this gift and to live into it with us.


The Rev. Freda Marie Brown is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland currently serving as Associate Rector at The Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore. She formerly served as the Executive Director of St. Vincent’s House in Galveston, a 501(c)3 non-profit and Jubilee Ministry of the Diocese of Texas. Prior to coming to the Diocese of Texas, she was the Associate Rector at the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in the Diocese of Dallas. She received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and was employed as a clinical laboratory director for 21 years at St. Paul Medical Center in Dallas before saying “yes” to God’s call to be ordained priest in His Church. She earned a Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas and a Master of Arts in Religion (with a concentration in Anglican Studies) from the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. For 7 years she served as a Palliative Care chaplain in hospice and hospital settings and has spent many hours serving the dying and those who love them.

She loves her work among God’s people and is constantly amazed by the many disguises of Jesus Christ —especially among the marginalized. She enjoys yoga, gardening, cooking, hiking, reading, writing, and listening to jazz. She loves good food, good wine, and good conversation. She is Crystal’s Mom.

Freda is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on the intersectionality of Christian spirituality with what may commonly be called energetics or specifically energy medicine.

From My Neighborhood in Minneapolis

by Heidi Vardeman

I am writing this from my home in Minneapolis, half a mile from the Third Precinct police station that burned on Tuesday night and a block from a neighborhood bar that is still smoldering.  Military helicopters fly close overhead.  The air smells of tear gas and smoke. Images swirl in my head.  Guilt weighs heavily on my heart.   I worry about where we go from here.  

Images, sounds, smells—Day #1 The horrible video of George Floyd’s murder.  His black body face down on the pavement, his neck crushed by a white cop’s knee.  For eight minutes and 46 seconds. The policeman stares at the camera with a terrifying calm. Other cops press down on his body.  We watch George Floyd die. 

Day #2:   The Third Precinct building goes up in fire. Protesters heave shopping carts into the conflagration.  The crowd chants, “No justice.  No peace.” Over and over again.  Sirens, shouts, smoke, teargas, gunshots. 

Day #3:   Looted buildings, including a public library, health clinic, charter school, a Wendy’s and a Target, two grocery stores, countless small minority-owned businesses on Lake Street.   Sirens and helicopters. 

Day #4: In the daytime, people wearing masks walk by our house with brooms and garbage cans to help with the cleanup.  Late at night a car without license plates drives slowly down the same street. White supremacist websites have called for people to come to Minneapolis.

Feelings–I am tired, teary and have a strong sense of guilt. I and my fellow white Minneapolitans know that the Minneapolis Police Department is racist. We have known for years that there are white supremacist elements in the police, but since it did not inconvenience us, we did little if anything at all.  Despite Minneapolis’ liberal reputation and self-congratulatory self-image, there is a terrible racial gap in education, health care and home ownership. My neighbor, who is African-American and about my age, tells me he is bone weary of this bullshit that has gone on and on and on.

As my emotions swirl about, today I recognize a new element in the mix of things: a feeling of fear.  Late last night I watched a car stripped of license plates drive slowly down my street. Authorities tell us that bottles with accelerant are being stashed in alleys in order to set fires.  As I note this feeling of fear for  my personal safety, I wonder:  is this how my black and brown neighbors feel whenever the police drive slowly down their streets? 

Where do we go from here?  One police officer has been  arrested and charged with the murder of George Floyd, but what of the others?   No justice, no peace: no peace in the irenic sense of peace and quiet nor in the biblical sense of justice and well-being.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  Today we weep over Minneapolis.  

I don’t know where we go from here, but I do know that we can begin to make a start with prayer.  

Gracious God, help us white people in Minneapolis to go beyond superficial clean ups and food drives to pause, to ponder, to examine our political and economic structures and our complicity in their brutality and inequality.  Help us not to be distracted by fear for our personal safety and selfish interests, for you are our refuge and strength, our very present help in trouble.  Keep us focused on what started this mess:  the sin of racism in both its systemic and individual manifestations.  Deliver us from our blindness to white privilege and our easy toleration of discrimination and inequality. Wipe us clean of our sin so that we may be made fresh and new—today, and then again tomorrow, and again and again. we have left undone so many things that we ought to have done.  Ever cognizant that we will again fall into easy racism, strengthen us in our endeavors, inspire us with your spirit and gird us with your hope. 

Forgive us for our complicity in the death of George Floyd and the murderous brutality of the Minneapolis police.  

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.

Amen. 


Over the course of her 40+ years in ministry, Heidi Vardeman has served Latino, African-American, and white congregations in the Northeast, South, and Midwest, ranging widely in size and economic standing. She has also done faith-based justice work both in D.C. where she was a national executive for United Methodists lobbying for peace during the Reagan administration and in Tampa, where she helped found the Tampa AIDS Network during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Additionally, she has done doctoral work both in speech communications and theology. She currently serves a tiny church in the suburbs of Minneapolis that nearly closed due to conflict prior to her arrival. The grandmother of three and the mother of two grown daughters, Heidi lives with her husband Frank and his service dog Zest in a diverse urban neighborhood of Minneapolis in a very old house that is always falling apart. Her hair is often highlighted with grout, plumbers putty or paint.

Heidi is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and her writing generally focuses on how our religious tradition (Reformed Christianity) is relevant in a postmodern/post-Constantinian world. 

Let’s Talk About that Asian Cop in the George Floyd Video

by Reverend Chris Dela Cruz

In the video depicting a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, slamming his knee onto George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, there is another officer prominently featured in a “supporting” role.

Officer Tou Thao, who had previously been the subject of six complaints with no discipline including an excessive force lawsuit resulting in a $25,000 city payout, casually guarded the scene like a watchman, projecting toughness and carelessness for a situation that warranted neither. He snarked “don’t do drugs, kids” to onlookers pleading for a man crying out “I can’t breathe.” He yelled and “kept order” while people, including an off-duty official, tried to reason with him to do something. Anything.

Photo by Josh Hild via Unsplash

Tou Thao, an Asian American from the Hmong community, just stood there, keeping his post, while a white cop literally was shoving the force of the state onto a black man. As a symbol of Asian Americans complicit in taking advantage of white supremacy as a sidekick, like the Asian man in the auction in Get Out, it was almost too on the nose. 

…..

Like many Asian Americans growing up, I had my own “go back to your country” moment. Specifically, I remember as a child walking in on my father recounting how someone told him to “go back to your third world country” to him. This is one of the ways white supremacy in American forever foreign-izes Asian Americans.  And like many other Asian Americans, I as a child, without understanding fully the larger systemic structures at play, internalized this otherness which led to self-hate. Filipinx hip-hop artist Ruby Ibarra raps about forever feeling like she’s in the “background,” her mom telling her to not stay in the sun too long to get tan. Last Jedi-star Kelly Marie Tran recounts how the vicious racist attacks she experienced online reinforced what she always felt about herself growing up.

“The same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviors, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me,” she said. “And for a long time, I believed them.”

The Asian American experience has a lot of pain and struggle, and we rightly should call out white supremacy’s systemic racism against Asians. But there’s another uglier side to our collective experience.

I remember growing up in the Northeastern suburbs (important to note, we are more of a diaspora here, whereas in California there are larger populations that I suspect had many different experiences than mine). Many of us semi-kiddingly called ourselves coconuts – brown on the outside, white on the inside – or Twinkees – yellow on the outside, white on… you get the idea. I internalized as a child that the best way out of other-ness was to ally with and even become more “white.” If I performed enough acceptability to whiteness, then I would belong. Asian Americans whose accents were too thick and food tastes too smelly were labeled Fresh Off the Boat or FOBs  – this was to each other. I still remember my Lola – grandmother in Tagalog – staying with our family during my middle school years, and having this internalized rage at her, her accented exchange of the “P” sound for “F,” her lack of knowledge in basic American cultural milestones, her mere presence an embarrassment to friends who came over and to see that I was not fully like them. (Lola, God bless you in heaven, I hope you forgive me.)

I wish this were just the biographical story of one hurt but foolish child, but unfortunately there are aspects of this baked into parts of the modern Asian American story. It should be noted that late 19th/early 20th century Asian Americans had a much different experience. Just to highlight my own culture, events like mobs of white people rioting and hunting down Filipinos and burned down homes in the 1930 Watsonville riots and of course the mass murder and colonization of the Philippines led to explicit race-solidarity movements like Filipinx workers organized with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

But in the last few decades, many Asian-Americans have embraced the “model minority” myth as their ticket to white acceptance. See, we’re the good minorities, we work hard, and now we’re successful! We earned our spot here! 

Of course, none of this is an accident. The “model minority” myth was created by white America self-selecting highly skilled Asian immigrants as Cold War-era propaganda to squash calls for equality for black Americans – these minorities can do it, why can’t you? Even stereotypes like Asian men being sexually deficient were products of white men spreading false rumors after feeling threatened by Chinese and Filipino immigrant men connecting with white women – the same men whom America used to build its railroads and pick its fruit in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

But whatever its origins, many of us have embraced white-adjacency as our ticket to acceptance, at the expense of solidarity with the struggles of other people of color. Asian-Americans have been prominent in movements such as stopping affirmative action in colleges and protesting high school test reform. An alarming amount of Asian-Americans rail against “illegal immigration” since they “did it the right way,” and while various polls conflict as to the amount of support Asian Americans supported Trump, Filipino-Americans in particular seem to be near the top of Asian-American groups that have a significant minority of them supporting the man who called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers.

Is it no wonder that other people of color question our commitment to justice? When Hot 97 radio host Ebro recently re-posted an Asian solidarity post form DJ Franzen, I scrolled as I saw responses such as “They always been subservient to white man, they don’t care about us,” “Asians identify as white now,” “most Asian groups subscribe to white supremacy, period,” and “I won’t hold my breath waiting on them to be allies.” 

Now that we have been targeted with racism in this COVID-19 crisis, will we realize once and for all how futile it is thinking that standing guard for white supremacy and chasing white acceptance and “American-ness” will give us anything? In an article by Jennifer Lee and Monika Yadav, they said, “The president’s attribution of the coronavirus to China, and the virulent attacks against Asian Americans show how easily they can fall on “the wrong side” of America’s nativist fault line. Racial mobility is no guard against anti-Asian prejudice.”

I know there are many Asian-Americans and organizations organizing in their allyship for the black community, and perhaps my words serve just as much confessional as it is cry to action. And all non-Asian-American readers need to know that the Asian-American experience is one of the most diverse merely by the sheer size and number of Asian countries represented, and the prominence of relatively wealthy Asian-Americans in prominent professions such as doctors, accountants, and tech workers obscures the large amount of poverty in often refugee communities that make up a significant yet forgotten portion of the population.

But for every Asian-American in this country in this time, we are confronted with a stark choice. Will we pull up for black America and see the collective struggle of all people of color as our own, including accepting our relatively privileged place in it? Or will we just keep our post and guard white supremacy, hoping to lap up the crumbs of white acceptance? Will we just stand there?


Reverend Chris Dela Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a diverse, immigrant Queens, NYC congregation with over 30+ nations represented. His role includes building a co-working space for young adult entrepreneurs, coordinating kids and family ministries, and helping in community organizing efforts. He has written for Next Church, Presbyterian Outlook, and other outlets. Prior to being an ordained pastor, he was a journalist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

Chris writes about the intersection of faith, cultural trends, and American life.

Death and the Life of Ministry

by Holly Clark-Porter

A little over a week ago, my wife Kaci (also my co-pastor) and I opened up our daily quarantine news from the El Paso Times to find not the daily Covid count, but the announcement of the death of the 23rd victim of the El Paso Walmart Shooting. After being shot and in the hospital for almost 9 months, Guillermo “Memo” Garcia died. 

In that moment, two crises collided in our community and it felt almost unbearable. It made me feel useless and angry. It made me want to scream and cry all over again like that August 3rd day when a bigot (and other words) killed moms and dads, sisters and brothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, and babies because of the color of their skin. And now, the girl’s soccer team that Memo coached won’t be able to surround his family. The community won’t be able to gather like we did 9 months ago in vigil and pray together in two languages. This community and all of Memo’s friends and extended family won’t get to weep the way we need to—together. 

That day, August 3rd, carved its own Rio Grande in the history of our country, but it also creaked and seeped into my own ever-morphing understanding of ministry. Kaci and I had just moved from Wilmington, Delaware to El Paso, Texas to be the co-pastors of Grace Presbyterian.

Photo by Anton Darius via Unsplash

Our very first Sunday was the day after the Walmart Shooting. 

Our funny sermon written weeks ago would be scrapped for a sermon written in the early morning hours of Sunday, written with an impetus and energy only pain, injustice, fury, and Christ’s hope can create. Our new congregation, many of whom are Latinx, did not greet us with the smiles and cheerful hugs we had imagined just days before. Instead we were met with snot and wounded tears. People tried to still have some of that “fiesta” spirit for their new pastors, and we so appreciated that act of love, but we were all in a state of undoing and the only thing that would do, was the reality of what was before us, death and dying.  

That morning Kaci and I felt overwhelmed, honored, beloved; we felt strength and weakness; we felt sure and unsure. This shared grief allowed us to be their pastors immediately. And that is how we began our pastorhood at Grace, which is funny because death and grief have ordained much of my life and career. 

You see, I accidently and perhaps begrudgingly found myself working as a funeral director and a funeral chaplain for several years. This was unplanned and depending on how you look at it, a total deviation from my pastoral career or an absolute necessity. I did about 5 funerals a week as a pastor, while picking up dead bodies from homes and morgues and tending to their families and funerals. It was weird. And, I’ll tell you about that more later, but it was also wonderful. That’s I want to share with you in this time of NEXT Church blogging—the intricacies of seeing the embalming table so to speak—the behind the death scenes—through a theological, reformed lens and how this lens can inform the everyday life and living of the Church. 

If death isn’t your thing, re-think that. Because death and grief is all of our thing. In life and in death, we belong to God but in belonging to God, we belong to the realities of life and death. Those realities are present constantly, not just at bodily death, but death/grief of expectations, careers, ideas, understanding of society and one another. My time at the funeral home and other death experiences wasn’t just about death—they were about how we live, love, and have our being. 

So, yes, this blog will talk about the kind of death that comes with funeral homes and pastoring, but it will also speak to the universality of death and what it does to us. It will be funny, because OMG, death’s antics can be hilarious. It will be gut-wrenching and heartwarming. It will be honest. It will be a season for every purpose under heaven, a time to plant and a time to pluck up, a time to live and a time to die, a time to break down and a time to build up, a time to mourn and a time to dance. 

I hope you’ll join me in life’s juxtapositions as we lift candles to life, as we sit vigil in the darkness of death, and as we find empty tombs telling us to get back on the road, there’s work to do. 


The Reverend Holly Clark-Porter is an irreverent revered who adores people, even the annoying ones. In her work, she hopes to bring people back to Church by uplifting the importance of a joyful community, the strength of working together for justice, and by giving voice to the relevancy of faithful love over hate and destruction. She has a passion for preaching, writing, and nerdy church things. Holly received her B.A. in English at Schreiner University and her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she was a recipient of the Charles L. King Preaching Award and a member of the Scotch Council. She has served as pastor of Big Gay Church and Calvary Presbyterian, both of Wilmington, DE. She was also a funeral director and funeral chaplain at McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes (DE). Holly and her wife, The Reverend Kaci Clark-Porter, recently moved from Delaware to El Paso, Texas, where they serve as Co-Pastors of Grace Presbyterian. They love camping, travelling the world in search of food and wine, and spoiling their pitbull, Hazel.

Holly is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and her writing focuses on how death shows up in the life of faith. 

I’m Rooting For Everybody Black!…. I Think?

by Whitney Fauntleroy

I spend a significant amount of time on Youtube every few months watching writer/producer/actor/model/unrequited BFF, Issa Rae do press and various interviews. I was deep in one of these YouTube rabbit trails not too long ago and ran across her interview with a correspondent from Variety. The same correspondent to whom she told her now famous line on the Emmys red carpet in 2017, “I’m rooting for everybody black!”. What a line, what a statement, what a vibe (as the young folx say)?  The film and television industry has historically been a very white industry where privilege and nepotism reign supreme. I know another mammoth institution that can claim this history, do you?

Photo by Panos Sakalakis on Unsplash

I have always thought I was a prophetic pastor. But I also recently read Jeremiah and was thinking up “hard pass”. I also really liked to be liked. Maybe more than I like speaking truth to power but maybe I am just insecure. Insecure about what? Insecure about the pressure of tokenism. Yes, there is some pressure in being one (or one of few) to represent your race, ethnicity, gender expression, or sexual identity. I grew up being called an “Oreo” and told “I was acting White” from late elementary school until maybe yesterday? And you know what the crazy thing is? I started to believe it. So if I believed I was an Oreo how could I speak for a people for whom I wondered, all too often, if I was one of them? What a quandary of insecurity and internalized oppression? So as I sit here in my favorite Quarantine spot (my couch) trying to introduce myself to my soon to be tons of readers (so many I hope that I get the aforementioned Issa Rae’s attention), I wonder what frame of reference I will speak from.  I am black and southern and I have grown to love being both. I have been Presbyterian since 1996 when I was confirmed but am informed by a cloud of witnesses of Unitarian Universalists, Methodists, Baptist, and Catholic as well as Yo MTV Raps!, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the lyrics of the profound yet problematic John Mayer.  

Like the career of Issa Rae in the television and film industry, lately it has been a kinda decent time to be a person of color or historically muted voice in the mainline church. So thus this means it’s a great time for me, someone who on the low enjoys writing but never does it and has been for over 20 years in this place of tokenism and otherness in the PCUSA, to figure out what it means to tell this story of recovering Oreo and aspiring Kingdom Bringer with a penchant for 90’s R&B and hip hop, Moana, and a repeated Dave Matthews Band concert goer and to figure out what I can say. So now that, after so many years in a time where the house is divided( if it is standing it is surely on shaky ground).  In my mid-30s, I am ready to figure out what this means for me, perhaps not to speak on anyone else’s behalf but myself. 

So I am indeed rooting for everybody black unless they produce something that is utter trash. But then again those that have been systematically and strategically left out of this elusive Grand Narrative be it Hollywood or The Church should be allowed to make mistakes, right? Real privilege and real equality might just be the ability to mess up and try again.


Rev. Whitney Fauntleroy is a North Carolina native. Now in her sixth year of ordained ministry, Whitney is grateful to have experienced ministry in many contexts. Whitney has served as Director of Youth Ministry at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, a Designated Solo Pastor at Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, NC. In the Spring of 2017, she began serving as Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Whitney is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and her writing focuses on the intersection of pop culture, identity, and theology.

Introducing the New NEXT Church Blogging Cohort!

by Layton E. Williams

For the past several years, the NEXT Church blog has operated on a system of recruiting monthly volunteers to curate a series of blog posts from writers they have in turn recruited focused around a central monthly theme. This model has served us well and given us countless fascinating and powerful pieces from a lot of different faith leaders. But over the past several months we have been discerning a call to try out a new model. In considering what new model we should try, I was reminded of a blogging project that I participated in several years ago for Presbyterians Today. A group of us were organized into cohort and charged with each developing an ongoing theme or framework through which lens we would write a piece once a month. Each of us had our own focus, but we were encouraged to read, support, and engage each other’s work. It was a powerful experience for me and I’m excited to try out a similar project structure through NEXT Church.

After receiving an overwhelming number of very compelling applications, we have selected twelve faith leaders from all over the country and beyond who each have a unique voice and perspective to offer on the church of today and the church yet to come. This is a bit of an experiment for us, but we hope this group will be the first in an ongoing rotation of cohorts. For the next six months, we’ll be hearing from each of these writers as they offer their own stories and wisdom through their individual contexts and lenses. In the meantime, I ‘m excited to introduce them to all of you. Where I could, I’ve also included their brief summary of their particular focus. Our initial round of blogs, which will begin being published next week, will also allow them to offer an introduction to their ongoing theme. Without further ago, meet the inaugural NEXT Church blogging cohort!


Heidi Vardeman:

Over the course of her 40+ years in ministry, Heidi has served Latino, African-American, and white congregations in the Northeast, South, and Midwest, ranging widely in size and economic standing. She has also done faith-based justice work both in D.C. where she was a national executive for United Methodists lobbying for peace during the Reagan administration and in Tampa, where she helped found the Tampa AIDS Network during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Additionally, she has done doctoral work both in speech communications and theology. She currently serves a tiny church in the suburbs of Minneapolis that nearly closed due to conflict prior to her arrival. The grandmother of three and the mother of two grown daughters, Heidi lives with her husband Frank and his service dog Zest in a diverse urban neighborhood of Minneapolis in a very old house that is always falling apart. Her hair is often highlighted with grout, plumbers putty or paint.

Heidi’s focus: I write about how our religious tradition (Reformed Christianity) is relevant in a postmodern/post-Constantinian world. It takes guts to embrace a faith built on ancient documents that are often sexist, violent and even genocidal. (“Unaccommodating and odd,” as Brueggemann puts it.) It is a challenge to serve a church that too often kowtows to the rich and powerful and too often tells us to sit down, be quiet and behave. In the same way that Jesus could not be confined to the tomb, the Good News cannot be confined by bad theology or weak church leaders.
To quote the old hymn, “Although the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”


Holly Clark-Porter:

The Reverend Holly Clark-Porter is an irreverent revered who adores people, even the annoying ones. In her work, she hopes to bring people back to Church by uplifting the importance of a joyful community, the strength of working together for justice, and by giving voice to the relevancy of faithful love over hate and destruction. She has a passion for preaching, writing, and nerdy church things. Holly received her B.A. in English at Schreiner University and her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where she was a recipient of the Charles L. King Preaching Award and a member of the Scotch Council. She has served as pastor of Big Gay Church and Calvary Presbyterian, both of Wilmington, DE. She was also a funeral director and funeral chaplain at McCrery & Harra Funeral Homes (DE). Holly and her wife, The Reverend Kaci Clark-Porter, recently moved from Delaware to El Paso, Texas, where they serve as Co-Pastors of Grace Presbyterian. They love camping, travelling the world in search of food and wine, and spoiling their pitbull, Hazel.

Holly’s focus: Because of my past and accidental expertise, I’d like to write about death and grief and the many ways we experience it. Through death, I learned and experienced ways the Church has hurt people and how we, the Church, can counter that simply through enacting good theology. If I do this blogging correctly, I will hopefully be writing an epitaph, so to speak, to the ways we’ve dealt with death and grief and then balancing it with ways we can lift up hope.


Christopher De La Cruz:

Rev. Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, a diverse, immigrant Queens, NYC congregation with over 30+ nations represented. His role includes building a co-working space for young adult entrepreneurs, coordinating kids and family ministries, and helping in community organizing efforts. He has written for Next Church, Presbyterian Outlook, and other outlets. Prior to being an ordained pastor, he was a journalist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

Chris’s focus: Chris will be writing about the intersection of faith, cultural trends, and American life in a blog called “Seven Minutes in Heaven and Hell”/”This Christian American Life” (precise title to be determined…)


Rafael Vallejo:

Rafael Vallejo started his theological career at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and San Francisco Theological Seminary and from there continued on with a Master in Theological Studies from the University of Waterloo and a Master of Divinity at the University of Toronto. From 2011-2016, he travelled extensively and studied with indigenous communities in Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina as part of his PhD dissertation (2018) on “Faith Perspectives of Mexican Migrant Farm Workers in Canada”. He serves as affiliate faculty at the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion at the University of Notre Dame.

Rafael’s focus: Refugees and Resistance: Enacting God’s Mission in Liminal Spaces. This blog explores the role of refugees in enacting God’s mission in the world. The dominant neo-liberal narrative portrays refugees as illegals that, if allowed entry can potentially bring in with them disease, criminality and threats to national security and the dominant culture. Refugees resist these practices that are based on oppressive ideas around sovereignty and power of nation-states. The author argues that this resistance is theologically significant. It resonates with resistance literature in the Hebrew Bible and in the stories of Christian origins. The category “resistance” will be discussed using both social scientific studies and biblical narratives. This will be done alongside stories of how refugees perform their faith on the ground through acts of everyday resistance. The author concludes with the proposal that the refugee crisis of 2015-2016 will mark the trajectories of major world religions like Islam and the next christianities in traditional and post-secular societies in years to come.


JoJo Gabuya:

JoJo is a soon to recieve their M.Div from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Before coming to California in 2016, they worked with the United Nations Development Programmes, as Regional Coordinator for its Bottom-up Budgeting Project in Mindanao, Philippines. Prior to this, they worked as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) Volunteer, as Results-based Management Advisor for the Ministry of Gender in Zambia, Southern Africa.

JoJo’s focus: During my almost four-year stint in this country, I have experienced multiple layers of oppression, such as color on color violence, discrimination based on gender, microaggression, racism, and xenophobia, which has intensified during this pandemic. So, I have been wondering what Jesus – the Crucified People and the boundary crosser, would do and say about these oppressive acts if he were alive today. Thus, I’ll be blogging along this theme, if given the opportunity to do so.


Robert Hammock:

Robert Hammock is Ruling Elder at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Although seminary-trained, the last 20 years of his career have primarily have been focused on affordable housing and community development efforts, primarily in urban contexts. He recently rolled off of his Session after a 3 year term, but during his time on the Session, he chaired the Christian Formation Committee and Co-Chaired our Discovery and Engagement Committee. The former was focused primarily on child and youth faith development whereas the latter was focused on congregational innovation to better engage people at the church. He remains currently active in a leadership role through his church’s development of affordable housing through the re-purposing of part of their campus.

Robert’s focus: I haven’t figured out what I’m writing about yet, but it will certainly include the intersection of the church as it seeks to do justice around community development and affordable housing issues.


Whitney Fauntleroy:

Whitney is a North Carolina native. Now in her sixth year of ordained ministry, Whitney is grateful to have experienced ministry in many contexts. Whitney has served as Director of Youth Ministry at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, a Designated Solo Pastor at Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, NC. In the Spring of 2017, she began serving as Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Whitney’s focus: Whitney hopes to write at the intersection of popular culture, identity, and theology.


Freda Marie S. Brown:

The Rev. Freda Marie Brown is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland currently serving as Associate Rector at The Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore. She formerly served as the Executive Director of St. Vincent’s House in Galveston, a 501(c)3 non-profit and Jubilee Ministry of the Diocese of Texas. Prior to coming to the Diocese of Texas, she was the Associate Rector at the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in the Diocese of Dallas. She received her undergraduate degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and was employed as a clinical laboratory director for 21 years at St. Paul Medical Center in Dallas before saying “yes” to God’s call to be ordained priest in His Church. She earned a Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas and a Master of Arts in Religion (with a concentration in Anglican Studies) from the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. For 7 years she served as a Palliative Care chaplain in hospice and hospital settings and has spent many hours serving the dying and those who love them.

She loves her work among God’s people and is constantly amazed by the many disguises of Jesus Christ —especially among the marginalized. She enjoys yoga, gardening, cooking, hiking, reading, writing, and listening to jazz. She loves good food, good wine, and good conversation. She is Crystal’s Mom.

Freda’s focus: At this time, I believe we are called to shift into a new paradigm for LIFE and the Church already has the foundation for that paradigm as do many others who are seekers of Truth. I plan to pursue the intersectionality of Christian spirituality with what may commonly be called energetics or specifically energy medicine.


Catherine Neelly Burton:

Catherine serves as the pastor of what is most easily categorized as a ‘traditional’ PCUSA congregation, even though that era is gone. She serves at Grace Presbyterian in Wichita, KS. Grace has about 350 members and is an amazing congregation with wonderful people. She is married to John, and they have a four year old daughter and a nine year old dog.

Catherine’s focus: I’m writing about churches in the Presbytery of Southern Kansas. Wichita is a city with about 1/2 a million people. Most of the presbytery is rural. Most of our congregations don’t have paid pastors. There is only one installed associate pastor in the presbytery. It’s not just churches that are dying, it’s towns. Still, the work of the church goes on, and some of the churches are quite resilient and do amazing ministry in their communities. I want to tell some of their stories. I’ll write about a different community in Kansas each month and share their church story.


Holly Haile Thompson:

The Rev Holly Haile Thompson, DD is a blood member of the Shinnecock Nation, Long Island, NY, studied at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, IA, was graduated in 1985, ordained by the Presbytery of Western Colorado in 1986 becoming the first Native American Woman to become Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Holly served congregations in Colorado and in New York state, is a member of several churchwide committees including the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee (REAC), the Native American Consulting Committee (NACC), and serves on the Doctrine of Discovery Speakers Bureau, all of the PCUSA denomination. Currently, Holly volunteers with the United Methodist Church’s northeast Native American Ministries Committee – supporting the UMC ongoing ‘Act of Repentance’. Holly most recently concluded her service with 1st Presbyterian Church Potsdam, NY as Transitional/Supply Pastor to explore what an “Anti-Racist Church” might look like. She works with the Poor Peoples’ Campaigns of Northern New York and of Long Island. Holly is married to Kahetakeron Harry Thompson of Akwesasne, and together they share 7 children, 16 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. “May our paths lead us to a time when we shall live together in Peace on Good Mother Earth.”

Holly’s focus: I shall follow the gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary Year A. Sometimes I land on theological points that preachers might wish to consider from a Native perspective – and so when I use the framework of the lectionary – it can be all the more relevant. My last congregation and I enjoyed a focused year of specifically anti-racist sermons as each gospel lesson has – historically – not been something that is Good News for People of Color in this (and in other) nations. Being able to center one’s weekly sermon prep can help provide a more familiar framework to share what is mostly lacking in our PCUSA churches’ spiritual life.


Gary Swaim:

Gary D. Swaim holds a Ph.D.in Comparative Literature and Philosophy and a post-doctoral M.S. in Counseling Education/Therapy, but he prefers to be called Gary. He is a Ruling Elder and has served two churches as Pulpit Minister, sales representative for I.B.M. and over 55 years as a professor and two-time Dean, including his last 10 years at S.M.U. He is a widely published writer and painter with 5 solo exhibits.

Gary’s focus: The Arts as Glorification to God and Edification for Humanity: Analysis and exploration of a widely accepted premise with consideration of what this means as to possible applications in the church of changing times.

 


NOTE: This cohort previously included Commission Lay Pastor Victoria Barner, but she had to step down due to time constraints. We appreciate her contributions!


Rev. Layton E. Williams is the NEXT Church Communications Specialist. She will serve as editor, coordinator, facilitator, and liaison for the NEXT Church Blogging Cohort. 

The Grace of Achieving Nothing

by Adam Ogg

In the past month, I’ve been a part of multiple discussions that have asked the question “what do you want to get out of this? What’s your plan? How are you going to capitalize on this time?” I confess when I hear that question, I feel a sudden exhaustion, accompanied with guilt and embarrassment for not having those questions figured out. Maybe you have as well.

Pandemic or not, the work of the Church is to proclaim the Grace of God most fully known and seen in Jesus. As we’re all collectively operating more online in the time of quarantine, the Church is called to proclaim a word of Grace to fit the times. And a word of Grace the Church can proclaim for this time comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount:

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

I’m especially grateful for this word because right now the world wants to proclaim an extremely subtle word contrary to this Grace. This word is so enticing because it can appeal to us on a deep existential level, it can stave off boredom and make promises to help us be some place other than where we find ourselves in this time. And that word is “opportunity”.

Thought leaders, motivational speakers, leadership gurus, and yes, even church leaders and pastors talk a big game about this time during a Pandemic, when the world is flipped upside-down, as an “opportunity”.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

This so-called “opportunity” may be the chance to learn a new skill, or start a side-hustle, or do whatever it is you haven’t had the time to do, because if you’re of a particular privileged class, you’ve got tons of time on your hands. Never mind that this is a collective trauma we’ve gone through together and it’s harder to focus and function. Never mind that this only applies to people who work at home or don’t have young children to constantly take care of, feed, and educate. Never mind that people are trapped with whatever domestic abuse, or mental health struggles, or crippling isolation by themselves. This is an opportunity to maximize and increase and grow in ways corporate and individual, economically and spiritually.

There are churches in this time- on the Holy Saturday when I write this- who are responding to this pastorally by connecting and worshipping and caring for one another. Others rightfully see this as the time to speak out prophetically against the injustices in our healthcare, economy, and privilege to self-quarantine and social distance. And these are injustices that were always there, but being highlighted and revealed even more.

And yet, church leaders may very well be tempted to see this as a chance to start something new, and do something big, or use that strange word “opportunity”. It’s an opportunity to reach new people, it’s an opportunity to launch new ministries, it’s an opportunity to really grow the church. Those are all great things, but if we’re honest with ourselves, how many of us actually have the capacity to do something new right now?

In the best case scenario, many are pivoting: moving to Zoom, getting familiar with technology, trying to get our kids educated, learning how to teach and conduct business online. Yet for the millions who have filed for unemployment in the last month, or are struggling to live day to day, we’re not pivoting, the goal is survival.

I don’t think the word of Grace here is “opportunity”. I think the troubles of today aren’t “opportunities”, they’re apocalypses. “Apocalypse” as in: an uncovering, an unveiling, a revelation. The faults in our society and our systems, our need to consume, how we do or don’t spend our money and what we all rely on as so fragile- all of that is being revealed.

But the apocalypse isn’t just about revealing what’s wrong, but a revelation of God to us as well. On Good Friday, Jesus proclaimed from the Cross in John “it is finished”. I can’t help but hear the flipside of that in Genesis 2, when God finishes creating and “finished the work”. Proclaiming Grace is about pointing to God’s revelation to us about what God has done, and what God is doing.

In light of God’s Grace, perhaps the question isn’t “what do you want to get out of this” or “how do you want to maximize on this opportunity”, as if a pandemic is something that we extract value and meaning out of. The Grace of God asks us instead “what is being revealed?” What do you see? What do you hear? What have you experienced? What are you going through?

There’s a very important distinction there, because there’s no wrong answer. The focus moves away from planning one’s way through a pandemic, and more on what God is doing right now, and bearing witness to it in the past tense- today has enough troubles, so how did you see God today?

Even if you’re like Job and the place of God in a tragedy is absolutely confounding, the Grace of God takes the emphasis off of what you have to do to “succeed” through a pandemic. Again, it’s an apocalypse, not a writer’s retreat, a hackathon, or Shark Tank.

A week and a half ago we experienced a…strange Easter about the other thing God has done, by resurrecting the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples couldn’t plan their way from Friday to Sunday, they simply did the best they could, and God revealed Jesus in completely unexpected ways. And the next Sunday, many churches heard the story of the disciples hiding with their fear and trauma, and that is exactly where God reveals Jesus as alive.

I’ve seen friends vulnerably and beautifully documenting their lives in real time, reflecting on what they’ve learned and the struggles they’ve overcome in this time, and I think that’s a good option. But the Grace of God says that even if that seems too much, if you don’t have the time and emotional resources to do that in public, that’s okay. We can reflect and grow, we can do interesting and cool stuff, but if just getting a load of dishes done after feeding the kids, or making human contact was enough for the day, God will still meet us.

The apocalypse of God shows us that God is at work, and the Church can point to the present instead, and echo with Jesus “Today has enough troubles of its own”.


 Adam Ogg currently serves as the Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Burke Presbyterian Church in Burke, VA.

Ten Facilitation Tips for Meeting Online

NEXT Church has been operating virtually for the past 7+ years, so we are super familiar with meeting online! Mostly, we have used Zoom, so we refer to that platform here, but we hope these tips will translate across different platforms. 

  1. Create a clear agenda. As you are creating the agenda, be very clear about what type of activity or response you need from the group (e.g., vote, discussion, FYI). People need more clarity when online than they do in the room. 
  2. Intentionally assign roles. It is harder to multi-task on a screen than in person. For instance, have someone host. Have someone run tech. Have someone take notes. Have someone record attendance or vote-counts. If you do introductions at the top of a meeting, it works best if the host invites people to share. That way everyone doesn’t jump on top of each other. 
  3. Welcome people! Greet people as they come on, just like you would in a room. If you are getting together with people you’ve not met, introduce yourself. Chat until the meeting gets started or let people know if you need to run and refill your coffee while things get moving. If people come in late, welcome them, but don’t rehash everything you’ve already done. And don’t forget to do a bit of extra narration for those on the phone only, who can’t see what’s happening on video.
  4. Some silence is ok. As the facilitator, you’ll be tempted to fill all the space. Don’t. Give a longer beat of silence when you ask a question or start a discussion than you would in the room. It’s also ok to check in about silence. “Does the lack of response mean you all agree? Or you are unsure? Or you didn’t hear me?”
  5. Discussions feel different over video than they do in a room. If the group is small and comfortable with each other, it will probably go fine. If it is a larger group or folks don’t know each other, often, only a few voices will get heard. So, see #5.
  6. Use breakout rooms! It’s like a turn to your neighbor feature. It’s great for relational things, prayer partners, small group discussion, or even committee meetings during a larger meeting. 
  7. It’s harder to read body language online than in the room. If the first few voices agree with an idea, it’s a good idea to ask something like, “does anyone have a different opinion?” It’s also helpful to remind participants that they will need to be responsive. If someone asks a question like, “Are we ready to move on?,” it’s helpful to give a thumbs up or actually say “yes.”
  8. Practice all the good facilitation skills you use in person. Ask the most frequent voices to give some space. Invite less frequent voices to share their thoughts. Intentionally check with the people on the phone who don’t have the advantage of the video to know when and how to break into the conversation.  
  9. Time management is key. 60-90 minutes is MAX over video and shorter is better. Consider adding time frames to your agenda.
  10. People logging in from their own space is a gift. Enjoy it when children pop onto the screen to say hello. Chuckle at the dog who jumps up on a lap. Ask about an interesting book on a shelf or poster on the wall or the orchid growing in the background. It’s a chance to get to know people in a different way.