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The SHIFT: How It Begins

by Freda Marie Brown

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”9 He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matt. 9: 22-33)

I cannot recall just when I read this passage for the umpteenth time and had the revelation that was so shocking it has become the driver for my life to this day. I was introduced to a painting of this scene from Matthew called, Jesus Walks on the Water, in the chapel of an independent living facility I served many years ago in Dallas, TX. Perhaps you have seen it too. Captured from behind, Jesus walks with an expanse of sea before him. I remember being drawn to follow him out onto the sea. The painting mesmerized me, and I studied it intently whenever I visited the facility for weekly bible study.

On the particular day that I was reading the text though, it dawned on me that Jesus was living in an entirely different reality from us but, that Peter had been invited into and actually lived that reality, too. Tell me more, I prayed.

Now my Mom used to say, “curiosity killed the cat, but at least the cat died knowing,” and I wanted to know more of this new way of seeing the world and life in it. I asked to receive and to know this reality for myself—to experience the reality that is beyond our 5 senses and the common perception of physical and material reality. That was 3 years ago. Life has been a whirlwind of wonder, awe, and mystery ever since. I have not learned to walk on water like Jesus and Peter—yet—but I have come to believe such behavior is not beyond the capacity of any human being. The origin of that belief has arisen with my independent study of energy medicine which has led me even deeper into a study of many topics like quantum physics, epigenetics and energetics.

Through my independent study of energy medicine, I have become much more in awe, appreciative and grateful for the mystery of my physical body and its energetic counterpart; and of the material reality and its energetic (or spiritual) component as well. I have become excited about the possibilities for humanity and of being human on planet earth.
If there is one word I would use to describe the Christian journey it would be, transformation. That transformation is into wholeness or full union with GOD through Christ. Where many Christians have been taught that “Jesus died for our sins,” not many have been taught to think reflectively about those words and their meaning for their own lives or for life in community.

Transformation goes beyond adhering to the Ten Commandments and doing things right. As a matter of fact, we can all do things right and miss doing the right thing entirely. Transformation speaks to being and is the process of death and resurrection; of letting go of an old map of reality that is comprised of separation, competition, meritocracy, and me-and-my-tribe for an existence of union-in-diversity, collaboration, grace, love, and compassion (suffering-with an-other). Frankly, given the current state of our world and our own nation, the old map is no longer beneficial or desirable except, perhaps, for a few select people who hold the majority of the material wealth in the world or in the country.

My continued study of energy medicine and energetics has led me to a reality that is wondrously expansive and full of possibility and it is based on a different map of reality—that of quantum physics. What began as a way to heal myself and my own body has turned into brave new world holding the key to a healing of all of humanity on planet earth as well as the earth itself. But it does not come without cost. The cost is an entire paradigm shift of what we currently call “Christianity.”

Instead of finding God absent from this new map, however, I have discovered GOD in Christ more present in the new map than in my previous one. The beauty of this map-making process is that I am constantly amazed, delighted, and at peace with all that is. I have discovered that I really don’t have to worry about tomorrow. It has increased my faith through understanding just who I am in the midst of LIFE. And it all began, for me, with a desire to know more of this Reality that peeks out of every page of the Scriptures. Indeed, healing and the various modalities of energy healing are available to everyone without substantial price. Our bodies are made to heal themselves. Healing and wholeness are not just events from ancient times or current sporadic possibilities, but an inherent gift of every human being on the planet. I believe it is time to un-learn in order to re-learn, for that which we have learned to date, has not transformed us nor our society into a more compassionate and gracious one. Today, from the looks of things amid a global pandemic, I do not think it ever will. It is well time to make a change.

Just BREATHE!


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.

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.

Refugees and Resistance: Enacting God’s Mission in Liminal Spaces

by Rafael Vallejo, Ph.D.

We commit to welcome and protect refugees and immigrants. – Part 3, Sarasota Statement 2017

This seven blog series will explore three questions: What lessons can World Christianity learn from refugees’ resistance to border regimes? How might refugees be enacting the Mission of God while living in liminal spaces like camps, detention centers and border crossings? How might migrants and refugees be shaping religion and the next christianities in post-secular societies? 

There is a backstory to this blog. In early March 2020, as a result of heightened tension in Idlib  on the Syrian-Turkish border where 34 Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed in an air strike, Turkey opened its  borders to refugees making their way to Europe through Greece and Bulgaria. I was in Istanbul at that time, researching Ibadi Islam while tracking this significant geopolitical development as it was happening.

Within days after the announcement, it felt like 2015 all over again when a million refugees entered Europe through Lesbos and other Aegean islands. Turkey justified its action by saying that the EU had reneged on a 2016  deal, where in exchange for containing the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe, it would extend  6 billion euros in financial aid to Turkey. EU nations in turn accused Turkey of using refugees as leverage to extract more funding from the EU.

At about this time, the pandemic started to spread calling for the cancellation of flights and lockdowns in certain cities and countries. Plans changed very quickly and the priority of the moment was finding the first flight home from Turkey to Toronto. Finally,  KLM-Air France flew us to Paris and from there to Toronto. That was March 20, 2020. On March 21, Turkey suspended all flights to 46 countries including Canada! 

It used to be that “refugee” simply referred to people who left their country to seek refuge or protection elsewhere. Some historians suggest that the word “refugee” was originally applied to French Huguenots, members of the Protestant Reformed Church  who fled  to England in 1685 to escape persecution from Catholics after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In the history of the Church, there are other refugees with similar narratives: e.g. Nestorians, Puritans, Lutherans, Mennonites.  

The history of the Christian movement from its earliest beginnings until now is full of stories of refugees. We read of churches providing safe houses for slaves from the American South through the Underground Railroad in the mid 1800’s. The Protestant Pastor, Andre Trocme and his wife Magda in a little known French community of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon who offered sanctuary and shelter to over 3,000 Jews during World War II. In the United States, there were “Cities of Refuge” providing sanctuary for refugees escaping violent conflicts in Central America in the 1980’s. 

Today the word “refugee” has a deeper nuance, associated with legal status and migration regimes of nation-states, with millions of people living in encampments, detention centers, and internally displaced peoples in their home countries (e.g. the Rohingyas of Burma/Myanmar). 

Global inequality, national borders and international conventions by and large create today’s refugees. Hannah Arendt in “We Refugees” published in January 1943 speaks to the experience of refugees and stateless persons in Europe during  the Second World War. In her work on The Origins of Totalitarianism she describes the experience of refugees as “homelessness on an unprecedented scale, rootlessness to an unprecedented depth” (Arendt, 1973)

Seeking refuge or asylum is a basic human right guaranteed by International Law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the UN Refugee Convention (1951). There is a growing consensus that the definition of refugee in these documents no longer reflects the realities of contemporary forced migration and displacement. Refugees are not just people who face persecution, but also victims of armed conflict, climate change, economic necessity and unjust border regimes. 

Nation-states today have an arsenal of strategies and tactics to deny entry to refugees. Surveillance technologies allow them to prevent refugees from reaching their borders. In May 2009, Somali and Eritrean nationals from Libya were intercepted and prevented by Italian authorities to reach Italy. They were then turned back to Tripoli. Pushing back refugees has become a feature of many EU external borders located on major migration routes (Amnesty International, 2015, para. 16)

As of April 2020,  when this blog was written, Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Algerians continued to move towards Turkey’s borders with Europe.  Greece had suspended new asylum applications for a month as a deterrent even as the  UNHCR argued  that  Greece had no legal basis for doing so. Meanwhile health experts warned  that as the pandemic spreads, refugees are particularly vulnerable. The words of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda speaks to the situation of refugees: Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrá detener la primavera. They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop Spring.


Postscript: The Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University invite everyone to an online conversation on Ethics, Religion and Refugees on May 19, 2020 from 12:00-1:30 pm and book launch of Humanity in Crisis: Ethical and Religious Response to Refugees by Rev. David Hollenbach S.J.

https://keough.nd.edu/event/humanity-in crisis/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Keough%20School%20of%20Global%20Affairs%2C%20Washington%20Office&utm_campaign=Washington


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 is also part of the NEXT Church blogging cohort and his pieces focus on the experience of refugees and mission. 

Relevance of The Early Christian Movement’s Diverse Trajectories in the Time of COVID-19

by Jojo Gabuya

Christians living today in America, especially during this time of the pandemic, might find relevant the diverse trajectories of the early Christian movement,” which Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist describe in their book, History of the World Christian Movement. Christianity entered at a time when various other religions were already in the world. So, significant social and cultural diversity influenced the early Christians’ households of faith. Some of these diverse trajectories that seemed to have drawn people of different cultural and social backgrounds to early Christianity were the stories of miracles that the followers of Jesus performed in his name, the social inversion (equality between the rich and the poor exists, and social justice reigns) the Jesus movement proclaimed, and the gospel message’s appeal to those desiring for women’s more significant inclusion in the community.

Spiritual but not religious Christians, who are more interested in Christ-like praxis than with Christian theology might appreciate the miracle stories in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Those who are desperate and physically weak, during this COVID-19 pandemic, might revive their hope in Jesus’ “earth-bound theology and not a heaven-bound theology,” as C.S. Song emphasizes in his book, Jesus, the Crucified People. In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calms the storm, instead of preaching about how to calm the storm. Also, in Mark 6:30-44, Jesus feeds five thousand people rather than teaching how to feed them. In short, Jesus walks his talk. His theology is a theology of God’s word that becomes heard in the pain and suffering of both humans and non-humans today.

Jesus’ earth-bound theology apparently encouraged the early Christian movement to proclaim social inversion. In The Forging of Christian Identity, Judith M. Lieu posits, “the subjects of ‘theology’ become the structural components of a social world; the reversal of values epitomized by Jesus’ humiliation in incarnation and death becomes the norm for Christian social experience and its value system.” Today’s Christians might appreciate reading the Synoptic Gospels, which contained stories of Jesus, who disrupted the political rhetoric in the Roman empire, to promote social change. Matthew 22: 15-21, The Question About Paying Taxes, fearlessly emphasized Jesus’ values of equality, honesty, justice, love, and truth, to those who questioned his humanity and divinity.

The social inversion that the movement proclaimed attracted women to Christianity. So, women have been included and played significant leadership roles among Jesus’ disciples, since the beginning of Christianity. Among them are women leaders of house churches – Junia, Phoebe, and Prisca; the martyrs – Martha, Perpetua, and Felicity; Paul’s devotee Thecla; the gender-bender Joan of Arc; and the ascetics – Macrina and Susan. However, some of these women’s outstanding contributions to the movement have been suppressed. Interestingly, fragments of the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” have survived along with the “Gospel of Peter,” but her Gospel is nowhere in the Bible, as Irvin and Sunquist wrote. Nevertheless, some feminists and LGBTQIA theologians and writers have been untiringly unearthing the exemplary work of the early Christian women, reclaiming their rightful places in society, and restoring their voices in Christian Churches. Having said this, may we practice the early Christian movement’s diverse trajectories, which are still relevant during these trying times.


Jojo is soon to receive 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 is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and their writing focuses on how Jesus would respond to the racism, xenophobia, microaggressions, and gender. 

Ad Astra Per Aspera – To the Stars Through Difficulties (the Kansas state motto): a portrait of rural ministry

by Catherine Neelly Burton

I am not a native Kansan, but after nearly 10 years here I claim it as home. Coming from the Southeast it took a few years for me to appreciate the beauty of open space. Now I treasure drives through the Flint Hills where the tallgrass goes forever. When my family drives west for Colorado vacations, I far prefer the southern route through small towns and farmland to the quicker (but boring) drive on I-70 across northern Kansas.

While it took time for the geography to grow on me, I was drawn to the people immediately. Kansans are good people. Sure, that’s a generalization, but it proves true time and again.

I serve as the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Wichita. Wichita is a city of about half a million people and Grace a church of about three hundred and fifty. Most of Kansas is rural, and many in the congregation I serve have roots in farms throughout the Midwest. If they did not grow up on farms, there’s a good chance that their parents did. No matter how many advanced degrees they have, or office jobs, or fancy titles, the Midwest farm spirit is part of them. In church life, this plays out as a lack of pretension and a willingness to do most anything to help.

Wichita is in the Presbytery of Southern Kansas, which stretches for four hundred miles, east to west. There are no installed Teaching Elders/Pastors in the western 175 miles of our presbytery. This does not mean there is no leadership, but it looks different than it does in the church I serve.

One of those churches in Western Kansas will likely call a pastor in the next year. There are a few Commissioned Ruling Elders (CRE’s), and a few ordained Teaching Elders who serve in different capacities. Then there are the church members, whose leadership makes all the difference.

I moved to Kansas from Atlanta where, when a PCUSA church closed, while sad, it often meant financial gain and opportunity for the presbytery. If the building was somewhat maintained it could be sold and the money could start new ministries. That doesn’t happen in places where the towns are dying too. The reality in many of these small towns in Kansas isn’t just dying churches, it’s communities with maybe one physician, and a thirty to forty-minute drive for groceries.

I sometimes tell colleagues that I live in the future of the PCUSA, which is to say that the greater church needs to pay attention now to what’s happening in rural America. Conversations at the national church level about bi-vocational ministry, adjusted Board of Pensions rates with Pathways to Renewal, and even encouragement for clergy to go rural are important, but they don’t fit out here. Out here those conversations needed to happen twenty to thirty years ago.

A church with 30 members in a town of 400 people will never install a full-time pastor again, and I can’t imagine anyone moving to rural Kansas for a quarter time call. Still, that church created a food pantry to feed their neighbors, and they send children in their town to camp each summer. Churches like this need a different conversation, and they can be leaders in it.

Churches in southern Kansas have recreated themselves to be the church in their communities, and I want to tell you their stories. Each month I’ll visit (Covid-19 allowing) a different church and highlight the ways they are very much alive and active. I look forward to you joining me.


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. 

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.


Victoria Barner:

Victoria is a Commissioned Lay Pastor. She graduated with her M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2014, but because she still works full time, she has not been able to complete the Clinical Pastoral Education requirement for ordination in the PC(USA). She says that that’s okay because it keeps her humble. Currently, she works as an Executive Assistant to the Director of Information Technology Department of the City of Costa Mesa, California.

Victoria’s focus: I think I will start with just writing on how God is a personal God. When I was a little girl, I had this hunger of finding Him. I even wanted to go on a real-life journey just to look for Him and ask Him to take me to His home. My blogs would be testimonials on how awesome and close to us our God is. Maybe how He has been taking care of me will bless somebody. Oh, it will not be like He loves me because I’m holy and I’m a good person. Not at all! You’ll see! 😊


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.

 


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. 

Fighting Racism and Xenophobia in a Time of COVID19: We Overcome Together, Not Apart

by Shani McIlwain

My friend Candy is 20 something year old nail technician from Korea.  When we first met about a year ago, she thought I was a hair stylist because I would come in the middle of the day and she would ask “Are you off today?” I would reply, “No, I work for myself?”  She would respond, “Do you do hair?” To which I would reply, “No, ma’am, I did not get that gift. I write books and pray for people.” This exact conversation would repeat itself at least 3 or 4 times over the next few visits. And, then one day, unexpectedly Candy asked me what were my books about, and I shared my story, my faith journey, I won’t bore you with the details here, because this blog really isn’t about me, but it’s about relationships and community. But what happened that day as I shared the Good News was scripture coming alive.  First chapter of John in The Message translation says, “and the word moved throughout the neighborhood”. That is exactly what happened at Sky Nails and Spa that brisk fall afternoon. And that is the day Candy became part of my community.  

If we take a quick stroll down history, the Spanish Flu is said to have originated in Kansas not Spain, Ebola doesn’t even come from the Ebola River. Yet, in 2020 we are still having debates of how to classify and name global diseases.  Calling COVID-19 the “Chinese flu” is hateful and wrong for so many reasons. Many health organizations have openly admitted that naming a disease or virus after a country or region in the past was not good. Diseases are now supposed to be named after their symptoms, characteristics, and the cause of the disease if known. COVID-19 (coronavirus discovered in 2019).  I refuse to argue with people who want to debate in ignorance with, “Well, it did come from China!”

Edward Cho, newly named president of Bread for the World, condemned the President’s remarks, Mr. President: This is not acceptable,” he wrote in his tweet. “Calling it the “Chinese virus” only instigates blame, racism, and hatred against Asians — here and abroad. We need leadership that speaks clearly against racism; Leadership that brings the nation and world together. Not further divides.”

To date, there have been over 1,000 xenophobia related hate crimes against our Asian sisters and brothers.  I watched a video of a woman on the bus being told violently to go back to China. I thought, that is someone’s mother, grandmother, friend, spouse. We must do better. We must hold our friends facing these acts of inhumanity in light. We must be better allies. There are times when we have shown up mightily and united in the face of adversity. We can do that again.  We are in uncertain times and the aftermath will last for years to come.   

I texted Candy the day I watched the video. I wanted to know how she was doing. She said they closed her job indefinitely in light of the slow business. This was before it was mandated to close.  I offered her prayer and told her I will be to see her as soon as the stay at home order was lifted. We will get through this pandemic – together, not apart. We will overcome together, not apart.  As we head into Holy Week navigating through a new normal for our churches, I think about how Jesus entered into a city that would crucify him days later. I think about His ultimate sacrifice, and how He came to set captives free, and to love unconditionally. He came to teach us how to live.  And, how through the saving grace of Jesus we can extend that same grace to each other. Together, we will be better.


Shani McIlwain serves as a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Taem. She is also a 5x bestselling author, radio show host, speaker, executive coach, She is a ruling elder at Faith Presbyterian Church where she has served for over 10 years leading various ministries and committees. She serves NCP as well as a Young Adult Volunteer board member, Spiritual Formation team, and CPM.

The Christian response to Coronavirus isn’t “Keep Calm and Jesus On.” It should be “Let’s Love Our Neighbors, Together (Even If From a Distance!)”

by Rev. Christopher De La Cruz

There’s an impulse among Christian circles to respond to the Coronavirus with platitudes like, “We’ll get through it, God is in control.” “Don’t fear or panic, trust in God.” “Have faith and hope that God will provide.” “We just have to pray.”

I do not necessarily disagree. In fact, I resonated with a timely and poingaint tweet from @Becky_Zartman, who writes:

“I keep thinking about how Julian of Norwich was a child of the Black Death, being 8 when it swept through Norwich. She also survived the Peasants Revolt and the Lollard persecutions. 

And yet. 

‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’”

But this tweet is grounded in real experience from a Christian saint that takes into account the gravity of the situation and a deep Blessed Assurance rooted in real suffering.

In contrast, in the face of a global pandemic that could infect thousands of vulnerable populations and overwhelm our nation’s hospitals to deadly proportions and has already caused mass uncertainty and upheaval to our lives, “Keep Calm and Jesus On” Christianity bears no witness to Christ. It rings as hollow as someone in a burning building screaming for help being met with a passersby retorting, “Well, don’t you believe in God? Shouldn’t you be more at peace?”

“It is Well with My Soul” – a hymn written amid unspeakable tragedy, turns into “Everything Will Turn Out Fine, Since It’s Been Fine So Far – For Me Anyway.”

In some senses, I don’t think this “Christian attitude” has much to do with Christian theology at all. A week before the mass sports and entertainment cancellations that have rattled Americans, a grocery store clerk looking at the massive lines of overstocked carts (and, admittedly, my own heap of canned beans and frozen goods) sneered at people he claimed were being driven “hysterical” and said he wasn’t going to “overreact” because even if it got to mass infection and massive lockdowns, things would work out fine and “they would never let it get that bad.” “They” being a vague conglomerate of government institutions or relief workers or somebody that was going to take care of things so it turned out ok.

He gave no indication of Christian belief or even any vague spirituality guiding him. But his sentiment was rooted in the same faith that things will just be okay because they just will, so help me God, or so help me “They.”

“Keep Calm and Jesus On” isn’t a “peace that passes all understanding.” It is a false faith born out of our idolatry of American exceptionalism that posits that nothing that bad, especially not massive death and hospitals running out of life-saving supplies, can happen in America. It is a false faith rooted in reckless positive thinking that, while at its best has some psychological coping merit, at its worst prevents people from actually being in touch with their emotions – including, yes, fear! – and accepting and therefore responding to the actual situation at hand.

And most tragically, it is a false faith that places the emphasis on self-survival and self-comfort and away from the mandate every Christian says they believe in, which is to “love your neighbor.”

What if “trusting in God” truly meant: let’s assess realistically what is happening around us and call it for what it is – probably really, really, really bad – and then say, okay, but what can we do to still love others? This seems much more in line with the Biblical prophetic naysayers like Jeremiah and Isaiah, anyway, doesn’t it?

What if Christians saw actions like social distancing and canceled large gatherings not as inconveniences for our individual personal survival but as collective loving of our neighbors together – even while apart? Part of the problem of modern American Christianity is that we have so bought into the myth of hyperindividualism that we don’t understand working as a collective or serving in solidarity as part of faith, ironic considering the literal collective-solidarity images like the body of Christ with many members or many branches rooted in the one vine of Christ.  Rev. Esau McCaulley’s plea for Christians to “Stay home” (www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html) makes sense when faith isn’t just about our individual relationships with God but our believing that God truly is working through all things, including you, Christians, acting out of love for all other human beings made in the image of God.

What if it was okay to acknowledge our own fear – and then work off that acceptance to call and comfort those I know who must be feeling fear and lonely themselves?

In other words, Christians need to really, well, believe, but understand what faith really looks like. Yes I do have faith! That’s why I believe that if this virus could affect people quickly, and I have any power to make sure that our doctors and nurses don’t get overloaded and then have to make awful life or death decisions about which patients get to have the limited ventilator (like has already occurred in places like Italy), then my faith is that God can use me and can use others for this, if we work together.

Forget the false hope of our hallow certainty. There is true peace life a river – all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well! – when we decide that despite the despair around us, Jesus followers choose to live out our call to love, even in ways that look differently than we’ve ever done them, and let God’s call to love be our guide in responding to the time we find ourselves in.


Rev. Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica in New York City. He also serves on the NEXT Church Strategy Team.

Resources for Doing Church Digitally: A NEXT Church Response to COVID19

We at NEXT Church are committed to equipping faith leaders and congregations and much of our work is done through a virtual medium. Given this, we’ve prepared several resources that we hope pastors and churches find helpful as they seek to live out community and faith in this time of uncertainty. Find below a sermon and related resources for reflection and worship that you are welcome to share with your own congregation if you are refraining from holding in-person services this Sunday and in the weeks to come. Below that, we’ve also included some general tips for digital community development and worship. In whatever ways your communities gather in the weeks to come, we encourage you to do whatever you can to honor our call to justice and offer support and care for those who are facing anti-Asian racism, as well as immigrant churches and communities who are particularly vulnerable.


Sermon – Kathryn Johnston:

In the closing worship service of the 2018 National Gathering in Baltimore, Rev. Kathryn Johnston invited us to consider the “holy way” of community. This sermon seems appropriate for this moment as we think about community in a time of “social distancing.” Rev. Johnston’s reflections on stereotypes remind us even in a time of pandemic and political divide, not to let stereotypes compromise our engaging another’s humanity. She also reminds us of the ways we can show up to support one another in times of need.


Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever been side-swiped on the holy way?
  • Have you ever almost missed someone on the holy way because you were on the holier-than-thou way?
  • How have our churches missed people on the holy way because they are on the holier-than-thou way?
  • Kathryn says, “Any time a line is drawn, Jesus is on the other side. Friends, we can’t stay where we are. God calls us to the holy way. It’s a risk. We prefer our comfort zones. We like what we know. The more we dig in the more comfortable our rut becomes. Soon its almost impossible to move us as we have dug ourselves so far in that we are surrounded by protective barriers. A foxhole of the familiar. And we are moving nowhere.”
    What is your foxhole of the familiar? Where are you most comfortable?
  • Kathryn invites us to get out of our ruts and move to unfamiliar places – to go willingly into the wilderness so God can do a new thing because that is the holy way.
    Where might God be calling you? Where might God be calling your gathered community?

Worship Liturgy:

Call to Worship

One: Spirit that lives among us:
All: We see life here in our testimonies, in our tensions, and in this community.
One: Spirit that walks us through death:
All: We are aware of the deaths we experience, the grief we carry, and the pain we bear.
One: Spirit that burns as we rise:
All: We desire to resurrect, to restore, to reconcile; to rise into your call.
One: Spirit that teaches us as we live again:
All: As we worship together, let us live into the new creation that God calls us to be.

Song: Our Life is in You


Confession

Left: We stand in the desert and are consumed with the death that surrounds us
All: Creator let the new life begin
Right: We trust our own abilities and language to breathe newness into desolation
All: Creator let the new life begin
Center: We are parched and thirsty when speaking your truth
All: Creator let the new life begin

Left: We notice people linking arms in the streets
All: Creator let the new life break forth
Right: We feel communal laments of injustice
All: Creator let the new life break forth
Center: We experience the tension of a kindom that is not yours
All: Creator let the new life break forth

Left: We long for unity over oppressive systems
All: Creator let the new life blossom
Right: We yearn for connections that come with vulnerability
All: Creator let the new life blossom
Center: We crave courage to break through our deserts of fear
All: Creator let the new life blossom

Song: Draw Me Closer


Assurance/Peace

The desert is not dead:
Even the sand and dust of our lives
Give testimony to God’s abounding grace and healing,
Revealed in our living, dying, rising, and new life.

God takes all we have
In the desert times of our lives
And leads us into new vistas,
With vision, songs of joy, wellsprings of water.

And now, we invite you desert-wanderers
To live into this proclamation of grace,
By sharing the peace that Christ shares with us,
Stepping out of your contexts and comfort zones.

As you are able, please move to a new place in this room,
Staying there for the rest of the service,
And sharing the peace of Christ along the way.

Sharing the Peace

The Peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.

Scripture

Voice 1:The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
Voice 2:The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
V1:Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
V2: “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. God will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. God will come and save you.”
V1:Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
V2:For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
V1: A highway shall be there,
V2:and it shall be called the Holy Way;
V1:the unclean shall not travel on it,
V2:but it shall be for God’s people;
V1:no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
V2:No lion shall be there,
V1:nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
V2: they shall not be found there,
V1:but the redeemed shall walk there.
ALL: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
V1:and come to Zion with singing;
All: everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
V2: they shall obtain joy and gladness,
All:and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Sermon


Song: Everlasting Life


Communion

Invitation to the Table

Come to this table,
You who have walked through the wilderness and dwelt in the deserted places-
Have you been fed?

Come to this table,
You who have seen the first signs of spring and have been longing for the blossom to break forth-
Have you been fed?

Come to Christ’s table.
Rise and bloom in the wilderness.

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

May the Creator of the Holy Way be with you.
And also with you.
Do not be afraid, people of God, but lift your hearts to the holy One.
Our hearts will be filled with God’s hope and grace.
Children of God, offer songs of goodness to the One who keeps faith forever.
We offer glad praises to the One who comes with justice.

You carved a holy way
through chaos, Creating God,
rejoicing with Word and Spirit as
The waters of creation
Burst forth to form rivers where there had been only dry land.
Those same waters continue to give us life in all its beauty and biodiversity.
Despite these gracious gifts we continually turned away from you.
Patiently, you sent prophets to us,
who urged us over and again to return.

Holiness is the path you walk, Gracious God,
and, in your mercy, you sent your Child, Jesus,
To bring justice for all people,
To lead us along the path of redemption.
He gives us vision where we cannot see,
Ears to hear what we do not want to hear.
When we are worry, world, and work weary,
he comes to strengthen our feeble knees,
And put to work our weak hands.

Truth be told, there are lots of deserts in our lives,
Places that are dying or already dead.
We know the pain—and so do those around us—
of keeping up the facade;
Spring up in us like blossoms in the desert,
Put us to leaping, give to our voice songs we have not sung in a long time.
Put us back on the holy way that leads to everlasting joy.

Come to us in our silent contemplation
As we prepare our hearts to receive this spiritual food

Silence

Gather your people now,
and lead us along the holy way to the Table
where the Spirit anoints the bread and the cup
and blesses all who have come for this feast.

Words of Institution


Sharing of the Bread and Cup


Prayer


Closing Song: Summons


Some Things to Think about if You are Sharing Stuff Virtually:

  • Share what you can and curate from others! We don’t all need to reinvent the wheel. If your church is livestreaming worship, share it with others. If you already do a bible study online, invite others beyond your congregation to join. If your church is doing something creative with children’s ministry as kids are home from school, share it! 
  • Be thoughtful about sharing to a wider group than you normally do. If you are livestreaming or recording a sermon, recognize that people outside your normal congregation might see it. Welcome them! Encourage them to continue engaging in their local congregation, particularly around offering monies because the economic impact of this is likely going to be severe and most challenging for those already living with less.
  • Trust the leaders in particular communities. People are going to make different choices right now based on individual circumstances. Let’s support each other in those decisions and not shame each other. (Except about washing hands. Everybody wash hands!)
  • Work together in your community. Perhaps the community will be well served by congregations working in tandem so that similar patterns are happening with building closures, worship services, etc across a given community. 
  • Be thoughtful about caring for the most vulnerable in our communities. Taking worship online is a possibility. Serving a meal virtually is not. How can we safely offer resources to the most vulnerable?
  • Consider: What opportunities for creative collaboration might be possible? 
  • Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation uses social media. If you’re livestreaming services, consider whether/how people who don’t have Facebook can see the video.
  • Teach your congregation how to use the technology necessary to participate in virtual community
  • Lead with grace and honesty. Don’t stress over leading a perfect worship service over Zoom. Write a prayer and email it if that’s the capacity you have. Grace abounds!
  • Be mindful of the prevalence of anti-Asian racism as well as the impact of this crisis on immigrant churches and communities who are especially vulnerable. Consider ways you and your congregation can work for justice and support and care for the folks being impacted in these particular ways.

Please also check out the guidelines for livestreaming services included in this piece from the PC(USA).


We’d love feedback about whether the above information is helpful to you and your context and what other ways we can support you in this time. Please let us know!

Jessica Tate and the Power of Openness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we are curating a series that showcases the brilliant leaders speaking and preaching at our 2020 National Gathering in March. Each of these people have been carefully chosen by a dedicated team of people who have championed these leaders and the gifts they bring to NEXT Church. So learn why we’re so excited, and then let your own excitement compel you to register and join us! If you’re already planning to go, we invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and tell us what you’re most excited about for this year’s gathering.

by Eliana Maxim

No sooner does a faith or community leader begin to get a handle on their context, than the landscape begins to shift and change. The reality of our work as church leaders is that everything is in constant motion, and most of our “it used to work this way” fallbacks no longer fit the bill.

The truth is that we need to be light on our feet and open-minded to creativity and innovation; to new ways of considering how to connect with people and adapt to culture; to interpret theology and biblical understandings with the myriad of lenses available to us.

Next Church executive director and this year’s Next Church National gathering preacher Rev. Jessica Tate is a voice urging this movement.

Jessica weaves her theological insights with hands on experience in organizational leadership and community organizing. Jessica has helped shape an openness to what church can be without losing the rich tapestry of where we have been. She is able to own her place and identity as a leader, yet call and affirm the presence of others, particularly those usually not seen or recognized.

The ties that bind us can become frayed or loosened through the years: theological differences, financial insecurity, missional confusion, varying contextual realities, and more. NEXT Church, with Jessica at the helm, has provided for the past 10 years space for the voices of many, many church leaders to share, learn, experiment, and commiserate in an environment that is creative and non-judgmental. The National Gathering is an event where I witness the greatest diversity – race, ethnic, gender, orientation, location, economic – within the PC(USA) and beyond. Courageous conversations happen here. Insight and understanding are nurtured and mutual. The spirit of God is on the move and perceptively so.

Jessica embodies the type of leadership that enables this sort of culture. She deftly leads within a structure yet allows corporate discernment to happen organically. Every person, every idea is welcome and considered an opportunity to stretch and discover.

Inviting Jessica to the pulpit, on the 10th anniversary of NEXT Church is a prophetic move to see where we may be going next.


Rev. Eliana Maxim is the Co-Executive Presbyter of Seattle Presbytery and a member of the NEXT Church Strategy Team. Eliana and her husband of 35 years, Alex, have two adult daughters Sacha and Gabi, both Seattle residents, plus a spoiled rescue Boxer dog named Lola.