“What It’s Truly About”: Why I Am Attending NEXT

For the past two years I have gone to the NEXT Church conference because I need it.  In fact, I thirst for it.  As a new pastor, I prioritize going to this particular conference not because it trains me in new skills.  Though it does.  And I don’t go because it is a great networking opportunity.  Though it is.  I go because I always leave excited about serving the church.  I go because it affords me sacred moments to remember what my call is truly about.  I go because it is precious water for a thirsty soul.  If this conference is a reflection of what’s next for the church, I’d say we are in pretty good shape.

Charlene Han Powell
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church

Are YOU attending NEXT? Don’t delay; register here.

Why I’m Coming to NEXT–Betsy Ray

Betsy Ray wears multiple hats: she’s a ruling elder at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Western North Carolina, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte and a teacher at Asheville Middle School. Here’s why she’s coming to the NEXT National Gathering:

I am attending NEXT 2013 because I am interested in hearing about what a variety of people are thinking about as they walk their journeys as Christians in the 21st century.  I have chosen this conference because I have many questions on my mind and in my heart as I develop and live out my own faith both as a church leader and as a public servant (middle school teacher).  I am looking forward to renewing connections, building relationships and being open to new ways in which to answer the call to be community.

Register today!

5 Questions with Andrew Foster Connors

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado …

Andrew Foster Connors

Workshop Leader

Andrew Foster ConnorsAndrew Foster Connors has served as the senior pastor of the Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD since 2004. He currently serves as the clergy co-chair of BUILD, Baltimore’s largest citizen power organization, affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation. BUILD is responsible for the first living wage ordinance in the country, the College Bound Scholarship Program, the rehabilitation of the Sandtown and Oliver communities, as well as the largest after school program in Baltimore. He serves on the strategy team for NEXT. He is married to the Rev. Kate Foster Connors. Together they have two children, two cats, one rabbit, and two fish.

1. Tell us about your ministry context.

I serve a congregation of approximately 300, with a fairly even split among all age groups. The church sanctuary, built in 1870 is situated in old Baltimore neighborhood, just a few blocks from an arts college, in a zip code that includes some of the highest poverty rates in the state of Maryland. Though many of the congregants have some experience in Christian community, for many, our congregation is their first Presbyterian experience. Racial and sexual identity diversity is strong and growing.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

The congregation I serve almost closed its doors in the late 1970s due to a declining city population and associated economic challenges. During that time, the congregation was forced to reinvent itself. What I see emerging from those challenges is a willingness to try and fail, a joy in creativity, and a strong connection to the parts of the past that give life, with more and more experience in the work of grieving which is necessary in order to let go of ministry that may have been meaningful in the past, but no longer relevant today. It’s these experiences that help the church continue to connect with new generations without completely disconnecting from the theological and social witness of our tradition.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion is broad based community organizing that views God’s locus of power for life and transformation in relationships. The tools for organizing shape my view of leadership in the pastorate, which is about organizing people to act on the parts of their faith which are most meaningful and life-giving to them and to the community we serve as disciples of Jesus Christ. For me, these tools have helped me continue to view leadership development as one of the most important roles I play, rather than the maintenance of a building, of programs, or of the status quo. These are the same tools that have also helped me act with a coalition of other faith groups, schools, and neighborhoods for justice in Baltimore.

What keeps me up at night is managing my calendar, and sometimes one of our cats.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

Seeing old friends, colleagues, and debating partners, along with meeting all kinds of creative, energetic people who are excited about ministry, rather than simply depressed by the state of the church. Sharing what we’re excited about. Helping those who are struggling with specific concerns imagine new ways forward. Singing with people who like to sing. Identifying new leaders and finding ways to support them.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

The flint igniting the fuel already there.

5 Questions with Amos Disasa

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado …

Amos Disasa

Preacher at National Gathering

Amos DisasaAmos was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1983. Downtown Columbia was the first neighborhood that they called home. Twenty-nine years later, Amos and his wife Sarah are Downtown again to help organize a new Presbyterian (U.S.A.) church in the city center of Columbia. Amos and Sarah went to Presbyterian College. She graduated on time (a detail she can’t seem to forget) and Amos finished up a few months later in 2001. After college, Amos went to Brazil to work with street children, made a small fortune working on a government contract, managed to spend it all while killing time in Clinton SC, and eventually completed his graduate studies, on time, at The Divinity School of Wake Forest University in 2006.

1. Tell us about your ministry context.

I’m the organizing pastor of a new Presbyterian church in downtown Columbia. While we meet downtown, our congregation comes from all over the city. Our ministry doesn’t have a geographic focus. Instead it’s oriented towards people who work, eat, learn, and play downtown.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

New church development is the most obvious and literal example of the church that is becoming. Given the opportunity (and freedom) to reconsider what is barely necessary to be a church, has been liberating for us. Now there is room to “become” something. In the past we might have worried about what must be sacrificed first

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

– coaching leaders and servants
– preaching
– finding ways to grow and stay small at the same time

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

– Since I’ve never been before, I don’t know what to anticipate. This is kind of like the future for the church.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Present and future church converge in Charlotte.

5 Questions with Bill Golderer

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Bill Golderer and his partner in crime, Julie.

1. Tell us about your ministry context. 

In 2005, I responded to a call from a group of (mostly) suburban mainline protestant clergy from the Philadelphia region to breathe new life into a dormant landmark church in Center City that in the last century was an important part of a vibrant urban landscape. That response led to my founding of the Broad Street Ministry (BSM) in Philadelphia in what was once the historic Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church along Center City’s Avenue of the Arts. BSM is an innovative Christian faith community that emphasizes the Gospel imperatives of extending generous hospitality, demonstrating justice and compassion, and providing a ground for artistic expression. Beginning with less than $8,000 in seed capital and no existing congregation, BSM has grown into one of Center City Philadelphia’s most dynamic and largest worshipping congregations. It is diverse in every way, and has worked aggressively in its common life to be hands-on in addressing issues that detract from people’s ability to experience the abundant life that God intends.

In 2008, I extended my pastoral ministry in Philadelphia when he became the Pastor of Arch Street Presbyterian Church (ASPC).  Since 1851, Arch Street Presbyterian has been a worshipping congregation in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. When I arrived, this congregation was on life-support.  But after assembling a dynamic team of lay and professional leadership, ASPC has undergone a rapid and dramatic revitalization. Collectively, this community has taken up its mat and is walking boldly into the future that God has prepared for it.  The congregation is now a dynamic Sunday morning worshipping community, a church that welcomes children and families of every configuration, and a church that struggles alongside the people who work in the skyscrapers around it (and those who wish they were employed there) who aim to integrate their faith and work.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

It is a core conviction of mine that God is already dynamically at work in the world and the priorities of the Kingdom are on view everywhere.  I like to think that when we are at our best, Presbyterian leaders are like archeologists who are uncovering in the most unlikely places where God is up to something exciting and challenging.  Specifically I have seen this wherever the church is taking risks that are real and scary.  When we are not at our best, we tend to be the kind of people who want to know our ministry experiments will work without the risk of failure.  Two women who are forging ahead with an attempt to be the church in a new way–who are sort of “alumnae” of BSM’s pastoral leadership program–are doing something that is really exciting (and fraught with risks).  Rev. Karen Rohrer and Becca Blake are a couple of committed and talented seminary grads who have tried to be the church in a neighborhood that is rife with tension between those who have lived in the neighborhood for decades and a recent influx of hipsters and other young people whose presence is gentrifying the neighborhood.  Through creative worship and a commitment to be the church that brings these divergent populations together, they are up to something really powerful but also very fragile.  God is unmistakably present when those two elements are in place.  Check them out!  http://www.facebook.com/thewordatbeacon

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion in ministry is connecting the core commitments of the congregations I serve with the concerns and dreams of people whose work and lives are in deep alignment with the Kingdom of God but who have–for whatever reason–been disaffected or disappointed by the church.  I love to mix it up with “lowbrow” artists and the societal shot-callers who are often surprised by the passion and conviction of the people who call BSM or ASPC their church home.  I love challenging the assumptions held by some that the church is limp, inert and overly concerned with comfort, safety and institutional survival.  I like to get into the deep end with people who are trying to make a splash in society that could result in a more just Philadelphia.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I relish conversation with people who are looking for the courage and the company to be the church in a more generous and bold fashion.  I met quite a few folks like that at NEXT last year.  I tend to shy away from conferences but this feels fresh to me.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

I have high hopes for NEXT but I am not sure we know yet what it will be.  If I were to sum up my hopes for what NEXT will be is:Community for those who believe restlessness, courage, and relentlessness are spiritual qualities worth cultivating. (That’s more than 7 but that’s what I’ve got.)

5 Questions with Jessica Tate

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado … 
Jessica Tate11. Tell us about your ministry context.

After five great years as an associate pastor in Northern Virginia, I’m excited to be the Director of NEXT Church, building relationships with Presbyterians across the country who are doing exciting, creative, Christ-led ministry. I’m fortunate to live in Washington, DC and be part of National Capital Presbytery, which is doing some good strategic thinking about the church that is becoming.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

In more places than I expected! Discovering these places has been one of the gifts of NEXT Church. All the leadership for the NEXT Gathering in Charlotte are glimpses of the church that is becoming…like the generative ministry at Broad Street Ministries and Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia…improvisational worship at Church of the Pilgrims in DC…Community organizing ventures across the country (Patrick Daymond, Andrew Foster Connors and Andy Imparato will highlight their experiences in testimony and a workshop)…highly contextual ministry like that of Caldwell Presbyterian in Charlotte…1001 New Worshipping Communities and New Beginnings ministries within the PCUSA…the Ecclesia Project in Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. I’m excited to catch other glimpses of good news at the gathering in March.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

Our culture is changing rapidly. Perhaps this has always been so, but it is nonetheless changing and with it, the place of the church changes too. But the call of the church remains what it has been through the ages: How do we experience the redemptive presence of God in our lives? And how do we communicate that presence to others so that we embody God’s love, grace, and justice in the world?  How do we do that today?

Like the women who show up at the tomb, stubbornly insisting on hope when death and despair rule the day, I am passionate about ministry that helps us tap into the resurrection hope that is God’s redemptive presence in our lives. When we tap into that hope–individually and collectively–we are free to be born again ourselves, to be born again as institutions and communities, and, I believe, to bear hope and light in a world where people desperately need community, desperately need hope, desperately need God-in-Christ.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

It’s hard to name just one thing! Of all the great things, I am most looking forward to the connections I make at NEXT gatherings (through what happens “up-front” and informally) that spark my imagination and help me grow as a leader in our church.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Relational. Hopeful. Creative. Resurrection.

5 Questions with Ashley Goff

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado … 

Ashley Goff is Minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) and ordained in the United Church of Christ. Ashley graduated from Union Theological Seminary in NYC where she fell in love with the art of liturgy.  She lives with deep gratitude for several communities which have formed her along the way: Denison University, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the Open Door Community, and Rikers Island NYC Jail. Ashley also finds life in Springsteen music, beekeeping, urban farming, vinyasa yoga, and her three kids and loveable spouse.

1.Tell us about your ministry context

I am Minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims, a More Light, urban, progressive, “we-drink-beer-during-Bible-study-at-the-bar-across-the-street” PCUSA congregation in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. I have been at Pilgrims 14 years and ordained in the United Church of Christ. When I arrived at Pilgrims in 1999, right out of Union Seminary in NYC, the congregation was at rock bottom in every way possible. Now, we have transformed ourselves into a lively, mutli-age/gender/race/denominational-history congregation. We thrive on innovative worship, community organizing, urban gardening, Biblical stories, and sharing food with hungry people.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

At Pilgrims, I experience a community that is and becoming an innovative, creative, collective body when we worship together, particularly when we take ancient practices and make them new to us. We are becoming when we roast marshmallows before a winter solstice service, walk in meditation before communion, learn new songs together, anoint each other after sharing the bread, and baptize with a thunderous voice that peace and justice are the Ways of God. We are becoming when I experience liturgy at Pilgrims and realize someone could see what we did in two ways: “what you did was profoundly Christian or barely Christian.” When we risk and take ourselves to an edge for the sake of Jesus we are becoming.

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion is this creative edge for liturgy that creates space for us to experience the transformative nature of the Spirit. I have been most influenced by the ancient liturgical expressions of the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia, James Chapel at Union Seminary in NYC, and St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. These communities transformed me through their improvisational, liturgical ways, opening us space for God to be known to me. I’m passionate about carrying the methods of these communities into my work. I’m passionate how the revolutionary methods of the arts hold the most power for me in planning liturgy. I’m passionate about the intersection of urban gardening, liturgy, sharing food and how an Earth-Honoring faith pushes Pilgrims to tether itself to God whose unrelenting imperative is justice.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I’m looking forward to sharing Pilgrims story of liturgy and being with people, especially Laura Cunningham, who is a dear friend and whom I don’t get to see very often.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Collective. Imagination. Newness. Imperative. Must. Yes. Innovation.

Questions … and answers!

We are launching a new series this month that highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. So without further ado …  

Steve easonSteven Phillip Eason

Preacher

Dr. Eason has been the Pastor/Head of Staff of the Myers Park Presbyterian Church since August 2002. Prior to serving in this position he served the following churches; Moyock United Methodist, Moyock, North Carolina (‘79-81); First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia (‘81-88); First Presbyterian Church, Morganton, North Carolina (’88-97); and Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina (’97-01).

Steve is the author of Making Disciples, Making Leaders (Geneva Press) and has also written for other publications. He served as a trustee of Union Presbyterian Seminary from 2003-2011.

After 32 years of ordained ministry, Steve’s major focus in ministry is discipleship. He comments, “If the word disciple means student, then we are called to be students of Christ. If we are students of Christ then where is our classroom and what are we learning from him?” 

1.  Tell us about your ministry context.

I’m in my 11th year as serving as senior pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church. We are a 4,500 member congregation that has been here for since 1926. The congregation is diverse and yet very similar. Our congregation has had a deep commitment to local and global outreach. In the last $30 million capital campaign, they committed $11 million to outreach. Not only do they provide funds but it is also relational ministry.

2.  Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”? 

I don’t know that I have seen it. I know that’s an odd response but I’m not sure any of us us have seen it. We have made stylistic changes in worship but I’m not sure that’s it. We’ve tried satellite churches, but I don’t know that that’s it. We seem to be in a time of experimentation, as if we’re waiting for something to happen that is outside and beyond all of us. That would be in keeping with the biblical record. Part of what I see is a pruning of the Church. Pruning can be painful and it often looks like death. We may have to wait awhile before we see the sprouts!

3.  What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

Nothing keeps really keeps me up at night! I fully trust in the sovereignty of God. I don’t mean to be glib with that response, but anxiety is diminished when you consider who you’re dealing with here. The Church belongs to God. We all belong to God. As hard as we’ve tried to kill the Church, we just can’t seem to do it!

My passion lies with wanting people to “get it.” Jesus Christ changes people’s lives. Following him means you have to move. I get excited about the transitions, the possibilities, the biblical stories that are being written today. They are far and few between. It’s easy to run out of gas before you get to the next one. But this passion keeps me coming to work.

4.  What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering? 

I went to the Dallas conference and I really enjoyed the fellowship. I also enjoyed being a part of a group that wasn’t discussing homosexuality. It’s an important topic but it has dominated our time together. I particularly appreciated hearing younger pastors who are trying new things and being honest about what’s working and what’s not. That gives me some hope.

5.  Describe NEXT in seven words or less. 

Something God is going to do.