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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.

Gen-Xers’ Cynicism Might Make Them the Church’s Last Great Hope

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 Amy Morgan

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

         – Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care

        – Kurt Cobain, Breed

The Ecclesiastes Generation

If Generation X had a Biblical mascot, it would be Ecclesiastes. That cynical, sullen, discontent, disenchanted preacher is our hero. Rich Cohen wrote in Vanity Fair that Gen-Xers understand “History is big and we are small; grand projects end in ruin; sometimes the best you can do is have a drink—that’s what we know. And that we’re all going to die anyway.” But those very qualities and attitudes might just make us the church’s last great hope. 

Core Theological Truth: People are Terrible, and There’s Nothing We Can Do About It

Call it Total Depravity if you want, but X-ers have a firm grasp of the power and sin and evil in the world and our helplessness in the face of it. We’ve watched corporate greed undo America with booms and busts and recessions all through our careers. We had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school, and our parents were both at work when we watched Operation Desert Storm get underway on TV after school. The divorce rate tripled in our childhood. We know, better than most, that the whole creation is in crap shape, “groaning for its redemption,” as Paul said. And we know that fixing it isn’t our bailiwick. If anybody is going to set things strait in this screwed-up situation, it’ll have to be God. 

We Get Sh*t Done and Then We Go Home

X-ers are an efficient generation. There’s a scene in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead when the kids are told by their evil babysitter to do the dishes. Teenage Kenny and his friends take the dishes up to the roof and skeet shoot them. Then Kenny declares proudly, “The dishes are done, man!”  

X-ers are not going to work the long hours of the Boomers or aim for the optimization of the Millennials. We are going to get the job done. And enjoy it. And then we’ll go home. 

And that’s good for the church. The church needs pastors who can prioritize what’s most important, who can creatively find ways to make our work less taxing, who can “take pleasure in their toil,” as Ecclesiastes says. There are enough pastors out there who are stressed out, maxed out, and resent their congregations. X-ers have the best potential for being able to say, “Good enough,” and go be whole people. 

We Aren’t Trying to Fix the Church, We’re Trying to Save It

We entered ministry with the same cynical pessimism we apply to everything else. We knew about the abuse and scandal and dysfunction that awaited us in ministry. And we went into ministry anyway. 

Because we get dysfunction. Most of us came from dysfunctional families. And we loved them anyway. The church is just one more dysfunctional family that we love like hell, and we’ll kick you in the teeth if you say anything bad about it. 

For us, the church is like the Goon Docks in that essentially Gen-X movie The Goonies. It’s a place that is past its prime. Newer, better things could take its place, and certainly will, unless something incredible happens. We don’t have the resources to change the course. 

But when an opportunity arises to save the Goon Docks, I mean, the church, we will stand up, like Mikey, and declare, “This is OUR TIME!”

Unlike the Millennials, we’re not innovating new forms of ministry, opening coffeehouses and bike shops and calling them churches. Nor are we getting the “big steeple” pulpits because the Boomers either won’t leave them or are driving them into the ground. We aren’t ambitious, and the church isn’t our pet project. 

What we are interested in is what God is doing in the big, fat, messy church to transform the big, fat, messy world around us. We are up for risking it all to follow God’s lead, like One-Eyed Willie’s treasure map, to save the dysfunctional, irrelevant church. Even though we may be pessimistic about the church’s future, we know it’s worth saving. Because it’s ours. And we love it. For no good reason. Just like God loves us.


Rev. Amy Morgan, MDiv., is the pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Loveland, CO. She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and also holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in Drama from New York University.  She co-authored “The Girlfriends’ Clergy Companion,” about young women learning to survive and thrive in ministry, and contributed to the second edition of  “Friendship and Faith,” a collection of women’s stories about crossing religious and cultural divides to form friendships. She currently serves as Vice-President of the board of Yucatan Peninsula Missions and on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry for the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks.  She is a past board member of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit) and has a strong commitment to interfaith dialogue. Amy and her husband, Jason, have a son, Dean. They love hiking in the mountains and biking around town.

My Generation…in ministry

by Bethany Benz-Whittington

People try to put us down
Just because we get around
Things they do look awful cold
I hope I die before I get old
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

– The Who

When I was in college I took a medical ethics class with about two hundred other people. On the first day, our professor walked in and asked how many of us were afraid we would live too long. I was one of about four people with a hand up.

As Millennials begin turning 40, Gen X is getting into their 50s, and Boomers are 70 and retiring. And while, hopefully, we don’t currently consider that anyone is living for too long, we do still tend to look at one another with skepticism and some anger, and lament how generations before or after us are making things harder for us.

This isn’t new, though, or even that interesting. Generations above and below have always blamed each other for the ills of the world. And if you have spent any time in generational theory, you can certainly understand this.

In seminary, Rodger Nishioka taught my Christian Ed class, and taught us that generations go in cycles of four. There are the Builders, the Maintainers, the Complainers, and the Destroyers. I taught this in a Sunday school class a while back and one of my Gen X’ers complained about being a Complainer. At length. And blamed me for this widespread, fairly well-known generational theory. As a Millennial, I was hell-bent on destroying his worldview, along with Applebee’s, plastic straws, and top sheets.

While we certainly can poke fun at each of these characteristics in a given generation if you really want to, I wonder if it might be more productive, and fun, to hear from Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial ministers about how their birth year affects their ministry in positive and exciting ways.

For instance, I am a Millennial. I’m not a a digital native, but I might as well be. Boy bands and Britney Spears give me life, and a dance party is never far off when Bye Bye Bye plays. I love a gourmet cup of coffee as much as I love my avocado toast, and don’t intend to buy a house anytime soon. What does all this mean for my ministry? Well, I’m incredibly mobile. I have friends all over the country whom I’ve never actually met. And I have a lot of energy for the actual next iteration of Church, which I doubt will pay very well, but will likely have good coffee and lots of dance parties.

In the meantime, my bread and butter is tearing down the systems that keep us from living into that bright, shiny new Church. After all, I’m a destroyer, and have no inherent drive to keep what isn’t working anymore. I don’t necessarily have a plan for rebuilding, but whatever, that’s on the next generation to do that work.

This month, we’ll hear from Boomers, X’ers, and Millennials in ministry, and find out why their particular generation is a boon to their work. They’ll share with us some of the stereotypes they fit into, some they don’t, and how all of that is at play in the good work they do for God’s kin-dom. It’ll be fun!


Bethany is a traveling preacher living in Northern Colorado with her husband, Matthew, and tiny baby, Leo. She enjoys consignment shopping, lots of snuggles, and every episode of The Good Place.

Navigating Belonging as an Asian American Presbyterian

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Mark Davis is curating a series that will explore the idea of membership and the challenges and promises that come with it. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by SueJeanne Koh

Over the years, as I’ve joined new church homes in different locales, I have told this part of my story several times – I grew up in a Korean immigrant Presbyterian church, “re”-found my faith in an Asian American second-generation Presbyterian church as a young adult, and then served in another predominantly Korean American Presbyterian church for several years. But it is also true, as I reflected when writing this piece, that I have not been part of a predominantly Asian American church for the past ten years. The only thing that has remained constant, it seems, is that I am firmly Presbyterian, for better or worse. And yet, as a scholar who focuses on Asian American religion as a central part of her work, and who does in fact believe in the futures of Asian American Christianities, why am I not at an Asian American church?

The reasons are complex, personal, and probably more than I can really articulate. Part of it is because I am in a racially and religiously mixed household and that cultural and religious difference seemed easier to navigate in my last and current church homes. But there have also been three unspoken guideposts that have led my way to my three past church homes. One, Reformed theology and worship broadly construed did matter; it had become a kind of acquired mother tongue over the years. Two, my church had to be local – I wanted to be attentive to the issues and concerns of my neighborhood and how my church engaged with these. Three – I wanted to be in a congregation that affirmed sexual difference, because – see point one.

My naming of these guideposts doesn’t mean to imply that there are not Asian American churches or Christians who don’t engage those different criteria. It’s more to articulate, retroactively, my unspoken rationale in what really felt like an act of surrender when becoming a member of a non-Asian American church. I wanted to be in congregations where other voices were centered and affirmed, because in a way, this also emanates from my sense of what Asian American positionality is partly about. Asian American positionality is not just about tracing your ethnic background to Asia, but also a politically possibility that is constantly about the decentering and centering of new voices and old. That is, after many years I am embracing my “foreignness” differently, which has been as much gift as wound, to see that “foreignness” as a place where hospitality can grow in different ways.

This is also to say that when my heart deeply desires to be understood without explanation, or when I think we need engagement around our assumptions about race, my church community may not be able to provide that and that I do sometimes long for the unspoken bonds of support of the ethnic immigrant church. So sometimes I need to be creative in finding ways to think through the relationship between faith and belonging. It’s not always easy, and I don’t have a clear road map either for myself or my family. Just guideposts, and I have to, simply put, rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit to lead me to places of centering.

It means that Asian American Christian community may look far-flung, held together by bits and bytes of technology for most of the time. It means that my experiences and identity as an Asian American woman may find commonality with others who aren’t Christian or religious, but who understand the experiences and histories of racialization. It may mean that I will stumble my way through and be part of larger movements for racial and economic justice in ways that highlight my Asian American identity in a supportive role, but one who needs to learn from and center other minoritized voices in their journeys. But it is in these spaces where I want to press and form my faith and experience “holy discomfort” for the possibility of surprising connections and unexpected communion.


SueJeanne Koh is a scholar and teacher who works on the intersections of theology, religious studies with particular interests in race and gender. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Asian American studies and religious studies at the University of California, Irvine, and a member of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.

Leaving… and Returning to Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Mark Davis is curating a series that will explore the idea of membership and the challenges and promises that come with it. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Barbara Baylee Shefelton

After 15 years in my first call as an Associate Pastor I left the church. The reasons were many – I was burned out. I was a mother to two young girls and wasn’t home at night to read them a story and put them to bed. And, after years of being a Pollyanna about the church I had seen its darker side. I loved my church, I loved my position. I felt called. But then a few voices became louder than God’s. It rattled my soul and my sense of call. So, I left.

For a while I wanted nothing more than time at home with my girls or a job where no one called me once I had clocked out.

After a couple of years, I read the book “Leaving Church” by Barbara Brown Taylor which resonated deeply with me. She had to walk away from “the church” for a while after spending her life in church. But then she remembered her seminal church encounter. Her first “cathedral” was in the “fields behind my parents’ house in Kansas.” Ultimately, she didn’t leave the church but she did have to realign what God was calling her to. How she might do ministry that both fed others and also fed her calling to be a priest.

Photo by Alexander Nachev on Unsplash

It took a me a while of nursing my wounds – I needed to go back to my “cathedral” (which for me is the mountains) and remember what my calling was all about. I needed to remember who I was – even if I wasn’t serving as a pastor in a church.

Today my girls are teens and for 13 years I have worked as a Chaplain, Ethicist and Dementia Specialist at a Catholic Hospital. It is where I am meant to be. I am comfortable in my roles. I find joy and energy in something that really fills me and my sense of calling.

I have served other churches as an interim, a supply pastor, and substitute for other pastors during sabbaticals. I enjoyed that upfront leadership. But I also discovered the simple joys and relaxation of staying home on a Sunday morning and sleeping in and reading the Sunday paper. But after a while I felt that ache, that hole in my soul. I needed a church that was mine, not mine to lead, but a place where I was known, and loved, and accepted for my gifts.

So, after many years away I am back in my first church. The newest pastor has welcomed me with open arms. He has welcomed me as I was saying – “I just want to sing in the choir. I don’t want to be up front.” The congregation has welcomed my daughters and my husband back into full membership and leadership in the church. And I realize – I’m back home. And it is good. And I am filled with gratitude. God’s grace abounds.


 Barbara Baylee Shefelton is an ordained minister in the PC(USA), a certified chaplain and ethicist, and a nationally certified ethics consultant. She lives in Newport News, Virginia.

Multiple Memberships on a Journey of Faith and Perseverance

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Mark Davis is curating a series that will explore the idea of membership and the challenges and promises that come with it. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Sid Chapman

As a part-time pastor in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, an educator, former president of a local education association, a president of the Georgia affiliate of the National Education Association, former candidate for the Georgia State School Superintendent, and the current Chair of the Spalding County Democratic Committee, I have a broad area of participation in church , education, politics, and social organizations. One may ask how can one person be so involved in so many directions? Honestly, I don’t even know how I do all that I do without at least a cape! I can only say that I have a passion for faith, education, politics, and social issues in general.

(Photo by Eugene Zaycev on Unsplash)

I was born and reared in a small town in Georgia by a divorced Mother of six. We lived on a tight budget and with a faith that sustained my mother and kept us going. It certainly wasn’t a cake walk for any of us. My mother came from a Methodist family and spent a lot of time in a Presbyterian Church on altering Sundays. It was the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. My mom went through the catechism of the ARPC but remained a Methodist until she married into a Pentecostal Holiness family. My paternal grandfather was a Pentecostal Holiness pastor (converting from Methodism during the Great Depression at a “Tent Meeting”). I suppose you could say that I have strong Wesleyan roots with a splash of Calvinism—sounds like Tanqueray and Tonic!

I spent most of my early years in the Pentecostal Holiness tradition. I confirmed my faith and was baptized in the now International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC), received an undergraduate degree at the denomination’s Emmanuel College. I was licensed to preach and ordained in the Georgia Conference of the IPHC and was pastor of one small church after college. While I was in college, I began to question my faith and particularly my affiliation with the IPHC for several reasons. I suppose this conservative was realizing he wasn’t as conservative as he pretended to be and certainly not the fundamentalist scripturally as he wanted to be perceived. My life was full of contradictions and deep groanings to be free from the microscope of a religion that I didn’t feel comfortable in though I experienced glossolalia and prayed earnestly to be sanctified!

To make a long story short, 1987, I started visiting the United Methodist Church. I was totally disillusioned with religion, but I was still seeking a faith, a home, a compass for my life. I was encouraged to transfer into a program that would have led to my becoming an Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church by my new pastor. I spoke to him about my feelings of possibly entering teaching. My pastor said something profound, “the call of God is fluid and can take many shapes and forms!” I became certified and taught high school social studies, adult education classes, college level economics courses, and finally union leadership. During this time, I started serving as a part-time pastor of small churches in the UMC. I must say my journey has been busy by all these positions and adding Master of Education, Doctor of Education degrees, and a Course of Study in United Methodist Ministry at Candler Theological Seminary at Emory University.

It would take a lot of time to share my whole story and all my struggles in my lifetime. My struggles have been very personal that have affected me physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, with numerous nuances. I have persevered to reach this juncture of my life. I now find myself in a situation in my adopted denomination of facing the very real possibility of schism. Our denomination is torn over LGBTQIA+ and other issues. Whether members of this community should be in ministry and whether UMC members can perform gay weddings and/or can they be performed in our churches. The Church in the USA has a majority for inclusion; however, the UMC is an international connectional church governed by a General Conference and Book of Discipline compiled by the General Conference delegates from around the world. I find myself once again not knowing where my ministry will continue or if at all.

One of these days, I’m going to write a book revealing all my struggles and my triumphs. My story is a story of faith and perseverance. A high school dropout that took the GED and now holds a doctorate degree. A guy who has so many interests and came through many dangers, toils and snares. I suppose if I were a good Presbyterian, I’d say it was all Providence! A good Methodist would say the same or Prevenient Grace. The church in general must decide its role in an ever-changing society. Before I am gone from this earth, I pray most of these questions will have been settled, but no victory lap so far!


Sidney “Sid” Lanier Chapman, Ed.D. is an educator and education leader in Georgia. Immediate past President of Georgia Association of Educators. Currently Assistant Coordinator of Textbook Division of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Clayton County Public School in Metro Atlanta. Sid is also pastor of Faith United Methodist Church, Riverdale, GA. Chapman is also the Spalding County Democratic Committee Chair, Griffin, GA.