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Children’s Ministry, Failure, and Why Sometimes It’s Okay to Bail

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jess Cook and Jan Edmiston are curating a series that will explore the hidden gifts of failure. How does failure help us grow? How does it help us be more authentic with one another? How does it help us to be creative and brave in our ministries and our lives? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Rev. Ashley Detar Birt

Now, remember, Steven, if you run into any trouble out there, you can always bail. There’s never any shame in bailing.”-Greg Universe

The quote above comes from Steven Universe, a children’s cartoon that often promotes messages about healthy emotions and decision making to children and adults alike. It comes from Greg Universe, father of the title character, right before his son attempts something that is both very exciting and unlikely to work. Although his words are few, his message is profound: sometimes, even when we don’t feel like we should, it’s okay to stop. It can be better to abandon the plan than to try and force yourself into something that you know just isn’t going to be worth it.

I cannot think of a better lesson to apply to children’s ministry.

In my time doing children’s ministry, I have learned to come up with back up plans. Always have modifications to your activities. Always check supplies. Always test crafts and projects before doing them with kids.

None of those things helped when it came to Vacation Bible School this year.

Imagine: a week full of songs and games and Bible stories, all accompanied by little crafts and experiments to help illustrate the lessons in tangible ways. There were supposed to be robots! We were supposed to make slime! There were supposed to be happy, laughing children! It would be glorious!

It started with balloons. The experiment was simple enough: you blew up a balloon, you taped a straw to it, you put a string through the straw, and you let the air out of the balloon. In theory, it was supposed to race down the string. In reality, it was me, surrounded with colored latex scraps, covered in scotch tape, handing supplies to teachers with a “it might work?” I told myself that it was an experiment, and sometimes experiments fail. It would be a good lesson for the kids.

Next came the robots. This would be easier: tape some markers, a battery, and a motor to a cup, connect the battery to the motor, watch it wiggle all over some paper. Although it took thirty minutes to set up the motor, I knew it’d be worth it to watch the robot doodle. Except, when I got it running, it…didn’t doodle. It didn’t move at all. It just vibrated in place, and that wasn’t even strong enough to make it move. Rather than an abstract masterpiece, I ended up with hours wasted and marker bleeding through the paper onto my desk. When they arrived, I gave the project to one of the teachers to let her figure it out. We ended up having the kids color.

On the last day we were supposed to have our masterpiece: slime in a bottle. I practiced making this at my desk, and it worked beautifully! I had finally gotten something right! Then, it came time to prepare it for the kids. I have no idea how I messed up, but I knew my food coloring stained fingers and bottles full of pale green syrup were all I need to call it. It was time to bail.

Disappointed in my week and in myself, I told the teachers they could try if they wanted, but they didn’t have to do that activity. Some chose to, some didn’t. I felt like I had let everybody down by not trying harder to get things to work. As I checked in on classes, frustrated and exhausted, I noticed something. None of the kids were frustrated. None of them even noticed anything was missing. They were all having a great time learning about God! The only person who was miserable was me, who had tried so hard to stick to the plan all week instead of just bailing and moving on.

Life’s not always going to work out the way you want it to. It’s always good to try, but sometimes, trying your best isn’t going to make a situation better. You can prepare all you want, but sometimes, it’s okay to bail on your plan. Sometimes, doing that is the only way to let the joy in and let the Spirit do its work.


Rev.Ashley DeTar Birt is a recent graduate of Union Theological Seminary where she obtained her M.Div. She also holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Ashley currently works as the Pastoral Fellow for Youth and Families at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York, NY with some of the most fun kids she’s ever met. Her interests include the intersections of racial justice, children and youth, interfaith communication, LGBTQ+ issues (particularly the B), and Christianity.

When she isn’t at church or doing social justice work, she enjoys writing, sound editing and theatre tech.

Two Time Reigning Failure Champion

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jess Cook and Jan Edmiston are curating a series that will explore the hidden gifts of failure. How does failure help us grow? How does it help us be more authentic with one another? How does it help us to be creative and brave in our ministries and our lives? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Rev. Jess Cook

I do failure really well.

While I’m often reticent to share news of my accomplishments, I have very little issue with standing in front of a room full of strangers and talk at length about the myriad of missteps, wrong turns, and awkward gaffes I’ve experienced in my life. In fact, my affinity for sharing my failures is why I’m writing these very words. For the last couple of years at the NEXT Church National Conference, there’s been a Fail Story Slam, where folks are invited to share stories and laughter and to lean into the awkwardness of being human, albeit in front of a group of strangers. And it so happens that I am the TWO TIME REIGNING STORY SLAM CHAMPION.

It’s not that I’m a big fan of failure, it’s just that I’ve had enough gaffes to know that if they haven’t killed me yet, they likely won’t. And as someone who values authenticity and vulnerability, sharing our failures is often a way to cut through the b.s. that’s so much a part of the world. Or, maybe it’s a way of owning and telling my own story. I identify as non-binary; and, like many people with marginalized identities, I’ve had to learn how to navigate people’s projections or assumptions about my identity, and sharing stories of my failures can often be a way of getting ahead of whatever narrative folks may have about non-binary people. As Andrea Gibson, the spoken-word poet, says in their piece Your Life:

They’re gonna keep telling your heartbeat is a pre-existing condition.
They’re gonna keep telling you are a crime of nature
and you’re gonna look at all your options, and choose conviction,
choose to carve your own heart out of a side of a cliff,
choose to spend your whole life telling secrets you owe no one till everyone, till there isn’t anyone who can insult you by calling you what you are.

Like many non-binary people, I grew up without having a word for my gender. I never identified as male, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I had language to express why calling myself female never really felt right, either. It’s no surprise to me that many of my failures are in some way around gender, where I was participating in an event specific to women or girls. Looking back, my myriad of missteps in the moments I was trying hardest to be a girl: the stumble at just the wrong time in a dance routine, slipping on my petticoat (yes, for real) in the midst of a debutante bow, or the Freudian slips at the most awkward moment, seem almost like a message from my subconscious: a reflex response to the girlhood put upon me which I tried so hard, yet failed to wear. In many ways, learning to be gentle with myself around my failed attempts at being female has taught me how to be gentle with my other mess ups.

Earlier this week, a tweet by Alexander Leon, a writer at the LGBTQ group Kaleidescope Trust, went viral. Leon’s tweet about growing up queer resonated with so many folks that The Advocate wrote a piece about it. In further tweets, Leon said that the struggle of owning his queer identity early in life is a “gift in disguise. We [queer folks] come out the other end wiser & truer to ourselves.” It’s hard not to sound trite here, but my failures have been the biggest asset to learning and loving who I am; and, in turn, to loving others.

Throughout the month of January, we’ll have folks sharing stories of trial and error in their contexts. The hope is that our stories of slip ups and failures will show more of who we all are, to encourage us all to be a bit gentler with ourselves and one another; and, even more, to see the beloved Spirit weaving us together through it all.


Rev. Jess Cook is the Program & Communications Manager for More Light Presbyterians. Jess holds a Master of Divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary and also attended the University of North Texas and Baylor University. Jess was the first openly non-binary person to be ordained as a Minister of The Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Prior to joining MLP, Jess was the Youth Programs Director at Side by Side, an organization in Richmond, VA serving LGBTQIA+ youth. Jess gets excited about most things, particularly the sacraments and conversations about how we can create spaces where everyone is seen in the fullness of who they are. They live in Richmond, VA.

Against The Rules: An Advent Reflection on Love

“When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.”

  – Madeleine L’Engle

The season of Advent rounds out with a focus on love. The story of Jesus is the story of God who loves us so incredibly uncontainably much that God explodes the boundary between divinity and humanity and comes gasping into this world to love us in person. With skin on. And so he does.

God’s love is endlessly surprising, uncontainable, unexpected, unconventional, boundary-breaking, against the rules. And that – a love that refuses to be ordinary, expected, or contained – a love that breaks the rules – is really what the birth of Jesus, and frankly his whole life, and death, and resurrection are all about.

Jesus’ whole ministry was about loving against the rules. A love that chooses mercy instead of violence. A love that chooses the outcasts first, that makes family out of social pariahs, and tax collectors, and sex workers, and widows and children, and the sick and disabled, and the overlooked and forgotten and the hated. Society says keep to your own, stay away from those people, they’re problematic. Associating with them makes you problematic. You’re not allowed to love those people. It’s wrong. It’s unclean. You can’t. And Jesus says: watch me.

And Jesus also says that about loving us – about the most hidden, unbearable, broken parts of us. The love of God, in Jesus, spills right over the barriers we hide ourselves behind. His love seeps like water between the cracks in the walls we put up to protect ourselves.

And it all starts in a manger, in a tucked away, forgotten corner of the world with a young couple who all the rules say shouldn’t be together, but they are anyway. May love surprise us all this Christmas, may it flow through every crack and well up in surprising, beautiful ways.

 

Image from the cover art designed by Lisle Garrity for the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering, with the theme “Build wells, not walls.”

Not So Expendable After All: An Advent Reflection on Joy

“Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience – ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.”
– Brene Brown
 
It may be easy to think that, of the four themes we focus on in Advent, “joy” is the most expendable. It’s the one we’re most likely to dismiss or forgo because we’re busy and the world is a hard place, and it just doesn’t seem as important or helpful as hope or peace or love. And yet here it is, right in the middle of our Advent season, demanding our attention.
Perhaps joy has an important role to play after all. We are surrounded by mess and chaos and a world that sometimes seems like it’s on the brink of being lost entirely. It’s a slog. It’s exhausting. But joy is what reminds us why love, and hope, and faith are worth fighting for. It’s what reminds us that the hard things, no matter how much it may feel like they’re winning, they don’t get the final word. God does. And that is good news.
The holidays can be a hard season for some, a time when joy is hard to come by. And that’s okay. But just as we hold faith for one another, we can hold joy for one another too.
 
Joy gives us the strength we need to keep going. And it gives us the space to breathe a little too. And dream. In the midst of a narrative of despair, joy interjects like a voice of protest and resistance. And that’s what Jesus does too, in coming into the world, right in the midst of the chaos and the mess and the muck. It’s what Christmas does, year after year when it explodes into the middle of our lives and reminds us that God is with us, always, and that is reason to celebrate and rejoice.

Art produced by Lisle Garrity for the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Letting Go to Take Hold: An Advent Reflection on Hope

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”

– Emily Dickinson

Advent is a season when we lean into hope. We look to the coming of Christ as a promise that a better world waits for us even as we wait for it. In Jesus, we find hope that love will have the final word. We dream of a world where swords are transformed into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. A world without conflict and division, where no one learns war anymore.

But Advent is also tricky because we anticipate and find hope in the birth of a savior who was already born millennia ago, already died and rose again and ascended. And yet here are, in a world still broken, still wrecked and wrecking, waiting to see our hope realized in some unimaginable future.

Our faith dares us, in this season and always, to believe that a better world, a better way, is possible. And we are called to recognize that taking hold of hope, moving toward that better world, requires that we relinquish our white knuckle grasp on the broken ways of this world. After all, we cannot take hold of plowshares and pruning hooks if our hands are still full of swords and spears.

If hope is the thing with feathers that perches in our souls, perhaps it also lifts us up, above the hopeless messiness of this world, so can we catch a glimpse of the world made new, and then get to work.

Art installation for our NEXT Church National Gathering at Fourth Church, in Chicago in 2015. This bird is composed of the prayers of confession offered at the precise time when the PCUSA officially and fully embraced a more inclusive definition of marriage. Credit to Shawna Bowman for this piece and to Fourth Church in Chicago for the photo.

Waters of Justice for a Flood of Peace: an Advent reflection

“We say ‘peace’ like it’s a balm
like an earnest effort
to calm the storm
of anger and pain
but listen
if the world is on fire
then maybe
salvation
is rain

and lightning
and thunder
so I wonder
if maybe redemption
requires drowning a little
in the tension
of our fear
of disrupting the status quo
and our hope for better
than what we know.

Maybe storms too can be Godly.
Maybe a flood can be a promise.”

– from Holy Water, by Layton E. Williams

One of the themes we focus on every year as we light our Advent wreaths is peace. Peace is an important element of Christian faith. We see it symbolized in the dove and the olive branch. One of the many titles we ascribe to Jesus is “Prince of Peace.” We proclaim that the world to come, the world made new, will be marked by a full and lasting peace that cannot be destroyed, when lion and lamb will lie down together, and weapons will be transformed into farming tools.

It’s a beautiful vision, but it’s also one that can feel pretty far removed from the world as it is today. Right now, there are conflicts happening across the planet, between nations, and peoples, and families, and even between humans and the earth. In the face of such upheaval, peace seems sort of like a dream, a fairy tale. And too often, when we rush to try and create peace, we do so at the expense of justice. The truth is that believing the promise of peace means recognizing that we have work to do. In faith, we must do whatever we can to help create a world that is both loving and just, and only then can true peace be fully realized.

What are some actions you can take in your own life to help waters of justice and goodness roll so that the promised peace can finally flood into the world?

An art installation as a part of worship at the NEXT Church 2019 National Gathering.

“OK, Boomer.”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Bethany Benz-Whittington is curating a series that will explore the idea of different generations in ministry, and what gifts each generation particularly have to offer the church. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Dr. Cynthia M. Benz

Many of the church members I am privileged to serve are Boomers, like me, if not one generation ahead. To a large extent they are (or were before they retired) buttoned-up professionals who worked 9-5, Monday-Friday, in suits and ties, the women in pantyhose and heels, many of whom were lifers with their employers; it was all about being loyal to the company and the pride of working for the same organization their entire adult life. I was actually one of those until I received a call to ministry mid-stream, so I totally get it. A great deal of the qualities that are important to them are important to me: looking and dressing professionally all week, preaching from a manuscript so it will be a 3-point sermon with no rabbit trails, and a preference for traditional worship. No pink hair. No black fingernails. No avocado toast.

One of the reasons I have remained something of a conformist is because I desperately want the message of Jesus Christ to be heard. In my life experience, it seems that now, more than ever, those of us with the heavy responsibility of preaching must boldly and unwaveringly, oftentimes impatiently, call out scandalous injustice, outrageous and heartbreaking inequities in society, and the life-threatening disregard for the earth and its resources, messes clearly of our own making. The radical Word of the Gospel will not be heard by the pew-sitters in front of me if I have comported myself in such a way that creates a stumbling block and makes them uncomfortable. Please do not get me wrong, though. I absolutely aim to “afflict the comfortable,” but I hope to do so with the words and expectations of Jesus.

In 2017, the Barna Group published a study that determined the “percentage of church leaders 65 and older has nearly tripled [since 1992], meaning there are now more pastors in the oldest age bracket than there are leaders younger than 40.” What this tells me is we Boomers must acknowledge we are the generation that is, by and large, on its way out the door in terms of pastoral leadership. I have dearly loved serving the Church of Jesus Christ as a Minister of Word and Sacrament and am grateful for the privilege to have done so, but I do not believe my Boomer colleagues and I will be the ones with the solution for the future. Throughout our denomination, the numbers are declining, the beautiful sanctuaries we idolize are crumbling, and we are unable to financially support the ministries we assume are important. Am I worried? In years past, more so than now; now, only minimally, because I see who the leaders are coming up behind us.

Some of my favorite ministers in the world are Millennials and I am over-the-moon in love with the way they think and preach and lead and it gives me unbounded hope for the future of the Church I love. Did it make me clutch my pearls and squeal when my daughter, a Millennial Presbyterian pastor, was ordained in her Chacos? Or when she served Communion barefooted (granted, it was at a retreat)? Initially, yes, but once I considered how impressive it was for her to so completely be her authentic self, I was both proud and a little bit envious that I was not so bold.

My birth year is almost dead center of the Boomer generation, and I came of age near the end of the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and protest music. Those events were formative and fear-inducing for us. It caused us to go about life as a very serious people. It caused us to be grave and buttoned-up and not to take life for granted. It caused us to seek higher education so we could be prepared for whatever disaster may come our way. As teenagers, we wanted to make sure our family and friends were “saved.” As adults, certainly as Presbyterians, we seem to be more concerned with sharing God’s grace and we depend on the generations behind us to shore up issues of justice. The fact is every generation offers something of inestimable value.

I hope I am not unusual in this, but the X-ers, Millenniels, and Y-ers inspire me more than they will ever know. They give me hope. And, when I hear, “OK, Boomer,” rather than taking offense, or going to the opposite extreme and laughing it off, I stop and check myself to see what I have missed, what can I learn. To my younger colleagues I say, “Thanks, y’all.” And just for the record, in the not-too-distant-future when I retire, I’ll be shaving my head like Emma Gonzalez.


Dr. Cynthia M. Benz is an intentional interim minister whose home is in Florida, but is currently serving in North Carolina. Cindy and her husband, Steve, a retired Presbytery Executive, enjoy both the mountains (him) and the beach (her), visiting grandchildren, and binge-watching anything by Aaron Sorkin … not in that order.

Diversity, Inclusivity, Authenticity, and Transparency: Fruits of the Millennial Spirit

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Bethany Benz-Whittington is curating a series that will explore the idea of different generations in ministry, and what gifts each generation particularly have to offer the church. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Chad Wright-Pittman

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

– Isaiah 58:9b-10

I’ll never miss a beat, I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see (that’s what they don’t see)
I’m dancing on my own, I’ll make the moves up as I go
And that’s what they don’t know… mmhmm

-Taylor Swift, ‘Shake it Off’

So, I’m fairly new to parish ministry… My initial call was to serve as the director of a service oriented, faith based non-profit. It was an incredible ministry and a huge learning opportunity for me. It wasn’t until I got into the pulpit that I began to hear folks note with surprising regularity that I’m “just a kid” and that it “must be nice to be so young” and that soon I would “learn how we do things around here.”

What’s perhaps the most interesting thing is that behind each of these statements is a truth. I am young… It is nice… and I am continuing to learn my context here in a mid-sized church in a small southern city. I do have much left to discern about how ‘we do things around here’. Yet, it’s also interesting how those small truths are then used to quickly dismiss concerns I may have, or my hopes for our communal life together as ‘too idealistic.’

First though, a couple of misunderstandings I’ve noticed in the zeitgeist:

All young people are not millennials. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. The eldest millennials are turning 38 this year. Yet, many folks who say things like, ‘millennials are so…’ are really describing trends they see in the generation coming up behind us (Gen Z, or Post Millennials).

Also, Millennials are not a monolith. Not all millennials carry with them the same concerns, experiences, or privileges that I’ve been afforded, but I do find myself to connect with the generation’s noted aspirations toward diversity, inclusivity, authenticity, and transparency.

While being a millennial in ministry has already revealed some challenges, I truly believe that my experiences growing up between the economic highs of the mid to late 1990s, the dot-com bubble bursting in 2002, and the eventual market crash of 2008, has given me a real sense of how truly malleable much of our society is and how much sway folks with power and resources have over the lives of everyday folks. Couple that with a healthy dose of ‘too idealistic’ and you have someone who really believes they can make a difference in the world around them.

That very optimism about the malleability of the world around us – and our desire to see it left better than we found it – will be a gift to the church, I believe, as the Church hopefully continues to make space for young ministers to step into leadership. It remains to be seen how that will change as our generation runs up against the inevitable pitfalls, setbacks, and general backlash that always happens when folks start tinkering with longstanding institutional structures. I hope we can retain the energy and creativity that has brought us into the public sphere thus far.

Perhaps the primary gift that Millennial church leaders bring is our desire to have our cake and eat it too. It seems that our generation is creative enough and idealistic enough to believe that we can do it all. We also believe that the church can have a budget that reflects its values. We can create balance in our work and play. We can have work that pays the bills and is meaningful to us and connects us to our gifts and passions. The haters gonna hate, and the fakers gonna fake… but millennials seem to have a nose for sniffing out inauthenticity and stubborn defeatism and demanding that false dichotomies be turned into fruitful paradoxes. There is a win-win situation yet to be discovered. There’s a way for us to have it all; for the needs of the afflicted to be satisfied, for all to be fed, for the pointing of the finger at each other to become the pointing towards unforeseen grace and generosity.

If the church wants to reconnect to its prophetic imagination and remain a relevant institution, we may need to lean into the unique outlook many millennial pastors bring. The many gifts millennials bring to the table – high expectations, idealism, transparency, and authenticity – may be the gifts the church needs to grow and adapt in this present reformation.

For me, as I grow and adapt in my new ministry context, I pray I’m able to hang on to the optimism that has brought me this far. I hope I’m able to continue to question a lack of diversity and inclusion in the pews and in leadership. I hope I’m able to continue to seek transparency and authenticity in the places where rituals and traditions have become rote. And as the pitfalls, setbacks, and backlash begin to challenge that optimism, I pray I’ll have the clarity of mind to shake it off, shake it off.


Chad is pastor, thinker, and enthusiast; a lover of: people, scripture, coffee, action, and reflection. An M. Div graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, he served as the director of DOOR Atlanta for three years inviting young folks to “See the Face of God in the City” and to reflect on God’s call to love and serve each other.  He and his wife Lauren now live in Anderson, SC where he serves as Associate Pastor for Care and Outreach at the First Presbyterian Church.

We’re the Boomers and We’re Okay

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Bethany Benz-Whittington is curating a series that will explore the idea of different generations in ministry, and what gifts each generation particularly have to offer the church. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Melissa Tidwell

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth saving
Then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
—Bob Dylan

I was born in the tail end of the Baby Boom, the year Bill Hailey’s “Rock Around the Clock” hit the charts. The music of my generation was our clarion, our common language. But even before we knew what the music was calling us to do, the sound of the guitar and drum were the sounds that called us to look at our world with a sense of critical idealism, the feeling that we needed to challenge the systems around us to be as democratic or spiritual as they claimed.

We would tend to identify with the words of Amos 5: “I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. . . But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Christian Vietnam War protesters in July 1972

Over the span of my years I have watched as my generation’s existence was described as the incarnation of post-war optimism, an odd sociological blip, an over-hyped narcissistic market segment, and the epitome of aged fecklessness. Okay!

We didn’t bring shalom to dwell on earth, but we made some contributions, large and small, to the pursuit of shalom. And we can continue to let our idealism be a gift, as unwelcome or ridiculed as it often has been, to point toward the places where the work of justice continues.

We arrived at a time that made us witnesses to history. The space race, the civil rights movement, wars and peace, feminism, so many political and social revolutions have played out in front of us as we tried to find the deeper meanings we could learn from the upheavals of our time.

One thing I have been thinking about lately in the church and the wider world is how change seems so slow at first, a tiny trickle, a thin and fragile idea, followed by a groaning push. And then, there are those invisible tipping points, followed by an explosion. During the war on Vietnam, I noticed how the protests against the war were met with scolding and disgust at the idea of not supporting our president’s foreign policy, followed by a slow erosion of support for the war among intellectuals and liberal politicians, followed by statements from people in what was then called the Silent Majority.

I was pretty sure the antiwar faction was going to succeed when I watched late-night television with my Dad, and noticed guests on the Tonight Show denouncing the war. These were not political leaders, they were the comedians and lounge singers Johnny Carson favored and for some reason they needed to use their five minutes in the interview chair to talk about peace. What was happening was a signal to the country that the tide had turned. The end of the war would come when ordinary Americans, people who watched the Tonight Show, began to say they no longer supported a war no one understood.

In those days I would sometimes be drawn into political conversations with older people who counseled me to be patient and wait for their generation to die out along with the racist, sexist ideas they could not imagining changing. Now I sometimes wonder if my younger dialogue partners are also wondering how much better things will be when my generation’s worst attitudes no longer roam the earth.

But the message I would hope to share from my experience is not, be patient, change is slow, and we’ll die out eventually. Rather, I mean to say, add your holy impatience to the rising tide of change. Look for the moments when people are ready to step out of the their outward forms and examine what lies beneath and around us all: the irresistible flow of the waters of life, pulsing with hope.


Melissa Tidwell has written about metaphor, music, maps, and zombies. The former editor of Alive Now magazine, and the author of Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on Incarnation, she contributed to the Companions in Christ small group formation series and to the Upper Room Disciplines. For the last three year, Melissa has been the pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio, a church joining with their sister congregation, Memorial United Presbyterian, at the beginning of the new year, and she is seeking a new call in transitional ministry.

Listening and Looking

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Bethany Benz-Whittington is curating a series that will explore the idea of different generations in ministry, and what gifts each generation particularly have to offer the church. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by abby mohaupt

More than twelve years ago, I was being examined by my home presbytery to move from inquirer to candidate for ordination. I talked about how I found God most clearly in the natural world and that I felt called to care for the earth as an extension of care for God’s people.

A man stood up and asked how my call to environmental ministry had anything to do with Jesus and the church.

I was flummoxed. Partly because I could not separate my call to ministry from my call to love God’s beloved earth.

Partly too because I felt powerless. I was twenty-three and staring into the faces of members of my presbytery… people who were supposed to mentor and guide and hear me.
They did not hear me then.

Now I’ve been ordained for 6 years. Most of that time has been spent in calls to organize people of faith to respond to climate change and food injustice. Everything about my call is about God’s beloved earth and God’s beloved people. All of God’s good creation is groaning.

As creation groans, our church makes money off of the fossil fuel industry, the industry most responsible for climate change. For the last 6 years, I’ve worked alongside of hundreds of Presbyterians calling on our denomination to divest from that industry. A critique I often hear is that we cannot “just” divest. We have to do more.

It’s true. We as a denomination have to do more to respond justly and faithfully to the devastating reality of climate change.

And whenever that critique emerges, I look at my church, wondering how many people know that we as a denomination have been faithfully responding to climate change with our heads and hearts and souls and strength for decades.

I wonder to whom and to what we have paid attention.

As a millennial serving a church that often does not listen to or empower my generation of pastors, I’m committed to listening to voices that are often left unheard.

And so, in our divestment movement, we have tried to do our work in ways that are feminist, antiracist, inclusive, and nonviolent. Indeed, our work for all of God’s beloved creation must also work toward the dismantling of white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, and violence, or it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ that means the liberation for all. We have sometimes failed, and we have been rightly called out when we have failed to live into that intersectional identity. We try to do better.

In less than twelve years from now, we will have lost our window of opportunity to respond to and mitigate climate change. I’m still looking at my church as we listen to children and young adults who call all of us to understand that we face an urgent climate emergency.

I’m looking at my church as I listen to this next generation—most of whom are younger than I was when I told the church about my call to love the earth. This younger generation is saying: we cannot do business as usual. We cannot sit at the table with people who have funded the escalation of climate change and still expect to be welcomed to the table with people who are suffering already.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is a love that demands we hear our collective call to love creation with all that we are as part of our ministry of the Church. May we be brave enough to do it.


abby mohaupt is a Teaching Elder in San Francisco Presbytery, PhD student at Drew University in New Jersey, and a farmer in rural North Texas. She is also the senior advisor for education and training for GreenFaith.

abby’s heart work is devoted to living with integrity at the intersections of eco-feminisms, social justice, and spirituality. abby is a long distance runner, yoga teacher, mixed media artist, and climate justice activist. She brings each of these pieces of herself into everything she creates, with a commitment to disrupting systems of oppression through the radical reclamation of our bodies. she regularly guest lectures on religion and ecology, with emphasis on the intersections of race and gender.

She semi-regularly blogs at www.featheology.org, and her writing on earth care has appeared in Sojourners, the Presbyterian Church USA’s Unbound, and Ecclesio. She can usually be found with at least one crayon in hand.