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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.

A New Statement of Faith

On Tuesday, March 14, at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering, we released a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. It’s called the Sarasota Statement, and it was made possible by a partnership between NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation. We hope you’ll take the statement into your own life and context, using it as a tool to declare your own faith statement, proclaiming the light of Christ.

Glen Bell, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota and member of the NEXT Church strategy team, has written more about the genesis of the Sarasota Statement. Please continue reading to learn more.

by Glen Bell

Near the beginning of 2017, Brandon Frick, a former participant in the Pastoral Development Seminar at First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, contacted me. Brandon was convinced that in this moment of difficulty and division in the life of our nation and church, we needed to write and profess a new statement of faith in a non-partisan way, beyond any ideology.

Brandon asked me if NEXT Church, which is committed to a vibrant future for our Presbyterian tradition, would be interested in hosting and sponsoring the writing of such a faith statement. Jessica Tate, the director of NEXT Church, and I communicated with the strategy team (board) of NEXT Church. They enthusiastically agreed.

The Sarasota Statement team

Presbyterians have always been a people of confessional statements. We have adopted statements of our beliefs, Catholic, Protestant and Reformed, in our Book of Confessions, part of the constitution of our Presbyterian Church (USA). Some confessions represent the common convictions of the Christian faith (for example, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed). Others reflect the roots of the Reformation and our Presbyterian tradition (for example, the Scots Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith). Still others speak a powerful word in light of specific challenges in certain times and places (for example, the Barmen Declaration and the Belhar Confession).

A group of eight diverse participants in the Presbyterian Church (USA) gathered in Sarasota on January 23 and 24 of this year. Together, the group wrote a first draft of a statement of faith. Over subsequent weeks, the group refined their work. The Sarasota Statement is being released publicly at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Kansas City, March 13-15.

The primary writers were: Katie Baker, pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Chris Currie, pastor in Shreveport, Louisiana; Brandon Frick, pastor in Severna Park, Maryland; Bertram Johnson, pastor in New York, New York; Cynthia Rigby, professor at Austin Seminary; and  Layton Williams, audience engagement editor at Sojourners Magazine. Hosts, conveners and secondary writers were Jessica Tate and I.

In the past, almost every statement of faith created and publicly distributed across the church has the result of the selection of a diverse group of scholars and leaders, authorized by a General Assembly. The group works carefully and creatively over several years, and the result is then approved by a subsequent General Assembly and included in the Book of Confessions.

This model is quite different. We believe in times of need or crisis, we are called to turn to the biblical and theological roots of our Christian faith to remember our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ and say anew what we believe. The hope of NEXT Church and the writers of the Sarasota Statement is this: We encourage groups of Presbyterians, in a rich and colorful diversity of relationships, both within and beyond congregations, to conceive and declare their own faith statements, proclaiming the light of Christ. 

This statement speaks to the church. It represents only the eight writers individually (as well as NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation, which facilitated its creation). It does not speak on behalf of any of the churches or organizations the writers serve. We are eager to hear your thoughts and reflections about the Sarasota Statement. In April, this blog will feature pieces from those involved in the creation of the statement. Join us then to continue the conversation. In the meantime, comment here, or send us an email. We hope the Sarasota Statement might move you in your own context.

To God be the glory!

Glen Bell is head pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, Florida, and serves on the NEXT Church strategy team.

2016 Annual Report

We are pleased to present our 2016 annual report, which details the highlights of the year and gives thanks for the generous donors who continue to make our work across the denomination possible.

Moving Forward as NEXT Church


We are living through a time of significant change in Christianity in the United States. This is not a surprise to you. The systems and strategies we have inherited are no longer working; digital communications have connected us in unprecedented ways but also left us more isolated than ever. And our recent elections have clearly revealed the division and disconnection in our country. This is a time in which we need a strong relational fabric within our church so that our congregations are strong and healthy enough to be a sustained, effective, and moral voice that is engaged in the transformation of our communities.

NEXT Church plays an important role in the PC(USA) as we move into the future while holding onto the best of our Reformed tradition. Over seven years we have grown from a conversation to a movement that is known in the denomination for creating a new kind of connection.

Here’s how.

Over the last seven years, NEXT Church has hosted six national gatherings, with almost 3,000 people in attendance and another 3,000 who have joined us online. These gatherings create space to build bridges, to learn from one another, and to discover God’s transformative power at work. We are looking forward to our 2017 National Gathering, March 13-15 in Kansas City, where we will explore Wells & Walls: Well-Being in a Thirsty World.

We are working hard to support the next generation of pastors by partnering with the Board of Pensions to develop a website and partnered widely to offer Trent@Montreat, a conference to work closely with new pastors on their practice of ministry.

In the winter of 2016, we held a denomination-wide listening campaign to talk about transformational mission, which modeled for the church a new way to come together. We have received grant funds to explore accountability in leadership and how we assess the faithfulness and success of ministry. We are excited to begin sharing the fruit of this learning at the 2017 National Gathering.

Going forward, we see our work coalescing in three main areas – leadership development, equipping and strengthening congregations, and engaging in systemic work to strengthen our denominational connections.

We are able to do this work because of the generosity of 30 congregations and 74 individuals who have supported our lean operating budget of $160,000. We need you to join in offering that financial support so that this important work of moving forward as a church, in hope, can continue. Please consider making a gift today.

You can do so online or by sending a check payable to “Village Church” with “NEXT Church” in the memo line to:
Village Church
6641 Mission Road
Prairie Village, KS, 66208

Together, we can move into God’s future in hope and with confidence.

Thank you for being part of what’s NEXT!








Jessica Tate
Director, NEXT Church

2016-2017 Young Adult Volunteer

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to our new Young Adult Volunteer: Sarah-Dianne Jones! Sarah-Dianne will be serving with us for one year and just joined our team last week. We’ll let her share some things about herself with you!

sdj-square-smMy name is Sarah-Dianne Jones and I’m thrilled to be a part of the NEXT Church team as the 2016-2017 Young Adult Volunteer! I am a Birmingham, Alabama native and graduated in May with a religion degree from Maryville College, a Presbyterian college outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. I am a cradle Presbyterian, a preacher’s kid, and a self-proclaimed “hardcore Presbyterian.” Following this YAV year, I plan on pursuing a Master of Divinity degree and ordination in the PCUSA. Some of my favorite things include running, The West Wing, Alabama football, and opportunities to live-stream Presbyterian events.

I have been lucky to have many experiences with the larger church, primarily through Montreat planning teams and conferences, as well as NEXT Church National Gatherings. My summers are marked by the themes of Montreat Youth Conferences and the Montreat Middle School Conference, as well as how many miles travelled with various youth groups to mission trips, conferences, and retreats. Feeling the love and excitement that those youth have for their churches and communities continues to inspire me to be a part of the church and to work for a church that is relevant and meaningful.

I am so excited to be working with NEXT Church this year, and especially to be learning about community organizing and what that looks like in the church and in local communities. I’ll also be working with New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these two placements with intersect. Please feel free to read my blog about my experiences this year!

Connections and Transitions

by Angela Williams

I write this blog about a week after I have officially stopped working with NEXT Church, a few days after I have left Washington, DC, and am well into a month of transition home with my family in Rock Hill, SC. Already in these few days home, I’ve met up with a friend whom I met at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, where we served as Young Adult Advisory Delegates together. She is interning this summer at a church in Charlotte, NC, before she heads off to Scotland to serve as a Young Adult Volunteer, where she will be working with Sarah Brown, a pastor who gave an Ignite presentation at the 2016 National Gathering. This is the most life-giving part of working with NEXT Church.

angela-servingYou see, I might not have known the church in Charlotte and my friend’s future supervisor had I not had the opportunity to immerse myself into the connectional network that is NEXT Church. At times, the PC(USA) can feel way too small. Perhaps a negative word traveled too fast and ended up hurting another member of the Body of Christ. Other times, this relational network feels like a fishnet where each of us is a knot, and we are connected to all the other knots through strings and knots. Alone, we may not be able to withstand much, but together we can hold a full haul of fish.

That is the only way that NEXT Church can do its work. We could not have completed a denomination-wide listening campaign with 447 Presbyterians if we had not already had relationships with the leaders who had relationships with the participants. National and regional gatherings are impossible without a whole village of people coming on board, taking on leadership, and doing the work to make it happen. We could not continue to grow this movement with good folks like you hearing the message and sharing it with others.

To the NEXT Church community, I thank each and every one of you for making this a wonderful site placement for me this year. I am grateful for each and every one of you and what you bring to the table. It has been an honor and a privilege to connect with you over email, on conference calls, and in person. While I may be leaving the NEXT Church staff and Washington, DC, I take these experiences with you in my heart as I move to Austin, TX, to begin seminary. We may have said goodbye, but the PC(USA) is too connected for it to mean anything more than see you later.

AngelaWilliams270Angela Williams just wrapped up her year with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, D.C., after serving a first YAV year in the Philippines. She looks forward to taking these experiences with her as she journeys on to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary to pursue an M.Div. and Masters in Social Work. She finds life in experiencing music, community organizing, cooking any recipe she can find, making friends on the street, and theological discussions that go off the beaten path.

NEXT Church Denominational Listening Campaign Report

In fall 2015 – winter 2016, NEXT Church embarked on a denominational listening campaign. A listening campaign is a tool we’ve learned from community organizing (specifically the Industrial Areas Foundation). We invited and trained people who have been leaders within NEXT Church to host a listening session with church leaders around questions of “transformational mission.” The sharing of stories and experiences gives space to hear together where God’s Spirit is moving.

We convened 47 groups that involved 447 people. These are our findings.


Denominational Listening Campaign around Transformational Mission

What is a Listening Campaign?

In fall 2015 – winter 2016, NEXT Church embarked on a denominational listening campaign. A listening campaign is a tool we’ve learned from community organizing (specifically the Industrial Areas Foundation). We invited and trained people who have been leaders within NEXT Church to host a listening session with church leaders around questions of “transformational mission.” The sharing of stories and experiences gives space to hear together where God’s Spirit is moving.

We convened 47 groups that involved 447 people.

Purpose of the Listening Campaign

  1. To learn about how people are experiencing mission in local church settings.
  2. To offer the church a relational tool that can be used for discernment.
  3. To hear themes that can inform future directions for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and our national church structures.
  4. To connect local church leaders more deeply across differences in theology or vision for polity.

Through this campaign, we focused on people’s lived experiences. We believe taking time to build and deepen relationships is a critical practice in the church today. The relational fabric (our connectedness) is what will help us wade through the waters of cultural and denominational change.  

What We Heard

  • People shared exciting stories about transformational mission they/their congregations are engaged in. That is to be celebrated!
    • There seems to be an organic connection between missional engagement and congregational vitality.
    • Most of the mission described is happening at the congregational level, often with ecumenical or secular partnerships.
    • Mission is a place where people are eager to engage in church life.
    • Thought about mission is fluid and changing. Participants noted a shift toward “being missional,” a desire to seek full dignity of all parties in mission relationships, and that the most transformational mission experiences blur the us/them mentality.
  • People enjoy connecting with one another to share experiences or the practice of ministry. Sharing stories was a source of inspiration as people were encouraged by what their sister congregations are doing, made new points of connection around shared concerns, and got new ideas for mission connections in their own settings.
  • There is open wondering about the purpose of denominational structures (presbytery, synod, General Assembly) in the church today.
    • With a few notable exceptions, there was little despair or frustration voiced about denominational structures, but denominational structures or programs were not viewed as “go-to” resources.
    • There is hunger for denominational discernment. Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting?  
    • There is a desire to “flip the script.” We heard multiple sentiments like, “We need the denomination to stop inviting us in and start supporting us as we go out.”
    • People are very appreciative when denominational structures play one of the following roles
      • supporting — usually financially
      • training — educational resources or opportunities to increase capacity (community organizing, New Beginnings, and anti-racism training came up), or
      • connecting — linking people with similar interests/passions/mission engagement to share ideas or join together.
  • There is desire for a different denominational communication strategy around mission.
    • There is a sense that opportunities for connection in mission exist in the broader church but it is not clear how to find out about them or connect with them.
    • Others feel overwhelmed by the volume of mail/email from denominational sources and ignore it all.

Questions Going Forward

  • What does denominational participation mean today?
  • Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting? (Questions such as, what is mission? What is the role of the presbytery?)  
  • Is mission the threshold/entry space that worship was in previous era? If so, what resources exist (or need to be created) to help integrate education and spiritual development through mission, if that’s where people are engaging first?

For more information, contact NEXT Church Director, Jessica Tate,

We Are Still Gathered

by Lori Raible

There was a time when almost 600 educators, elders, and clergy folk filled a church in the middle of Atlanta. We worshipped. We danced. We painted. We preached (man did we preach). From the belly of our souls, we sung. Remember our song?

We asked ourselves some challenging questions.

What is the unintentional impact of our mission work?

If God is so kind, why are we so intent on making enemies?

How do we hear and hold one another’s pain and anger with respect, and courage?

Memories. Wounds. Justice. Healing. Joy. We claimed hope.

_MG_9339 (1)But Allan Boesak asked us point blank: “Do we proclaim the Hope of the Gospel with anger and courage?”

To be specific,

“With courage, with compassion; do we [proclaim the Gospel] with faithfulness to those who suffer? The wrongs we see are not just randomly happening, they are made to happen, and they are happening to the vast majority of God’s children who are walking this earth. They are not happening randomly, they are deeply systemic, deliberately built into systems of oppression, domination, and dehumanization. And we must not be afraid to say it…

We speak a language couched in such caution, such ambiguity, such fear, that it becomes almost meaningless. The truth is carefully camouflaged in our diplomacy… Because the perpetrators of these wrongs are powerful and rich and privileged we are tempted to speak in a language guaranteed not to give offence…”

We stood on our feet and applauded. Then he cut to the chase.

“As…Dietrich Bonheoffer, has taught us: ‘The time for pious words is over… when the deck is loaded, when cowardice heaps praises upon that which was before recognized as despicable, then it is the task of the church to realize that the signs of the church have always been the dove, the lamb, the lion and the fish, but never the chameleon.’”

We want things to change. Don’t we?

Hands in the air, like palms waving all around, we stood on our feet and shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ We threw it down like purple robes on yesterday’s dirt road.  Beating feet and drums.

Yes, we did that. It felt good to be together. Even though we knew the cross was coming, we shouted anyway. We gathered at the table. We prayed. We listened. We were challenged. We tried to understand. Lent is like that.

alison-harrington-audienceNEXT Church is founded on the conviction that God is active in the world, and together we are invited into that activity. For this reason, the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta was organized with our deepening relationships in mind. Seminarians gathered to consider the church they will inherit sooner than later. Nine Scottish pastors joined our conference to share stories of tenacity and creativity through a changing culture and church. Almost 50 workshops engaged us in honest conversations that impact our communities. The Church is God’s people in relationship with a purpose, a vocation, a particular call; a call to move from applause and inspiration to courage and risk.

We can’t simply talk about change; we must do what we say we believe.

Last year, NEXT Church leaned in to this truth. We walked beside leaders in a variety of contexts for the purpose of change. NEXT Church seeks to equip and connect the newly ordained to community, resources, and mentors. Last week, 80 pastors and educators gathered with 15 coaches and mentors for the Trent@Montreat conference for the newly ordained. Along with Montreat Conference Center, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, and Second Presbyterian Roanoke, VA, NEXT Church sponsored a week of practical equipping and connecting with peers and coaches.

For the purpose of connecting and equipping our leaders with the tools they need to thrive, The PC(USA) Board of Pensions and NEXT Church has created an online resource center for those in their early years of ministry,

Several regional conferences were hosted with the intent of creating highly relational experiences, particular to the needs of the communities who organized and participated in them.

Looking ahead, NEXT Church held a vast and swift listening campaign with the intent of hearing and unifying our voices for change within our denomination. We heard from nearly 500 Presbyterians across the country in 50 gatherings. Our question: What is the Church’s mission in the world?

It is Easter… we are active in the world aren’t we?

White sheets still dance in the wind holding onto the neck of our firmly planted, wooden crosses as traffic races by. Budgets, members, hospitals, sermons, pre-schools, committees, elections, violence, borders, jails, schools, them and us. Life is so busy, reconciliation is so costly, and here we are right back where we started. Which way do we go?

Remember Easter?  Hosanna turned Alleluia, an empty cross, and Christ loose in the world.

Our vision. Our goal. Our standard. Our hope: NEXT Church will reflect the beauty and creativity of God’s Kingdom in a way that celebrates the best parts of our diverse Church. Courage. Anger. Risk. Reconciliation. Are we really in relationship?

Currently racial diversity amidst our strategy and advisory teams is 20%. A goal of 50%  leadership by people of color by 2017 hinges on our ability to build organic relationships of depth and purpose. Is claiming a measurable goal some sort of manufactured solution? No. Does it express a commitment to examine and change unintentional patterns of privilege and discrimination? Yes. The leadership team will intentionally seek relationships with colleagues in ministry who are different than they assume themselves to be, and we invite you to join us in this endeavor.

As Rev. Jeff Krehbiel, a board member of the More Light Presbyterians Group, and Rev. Don Meeks, an active participant of The Fellowship Community, shared in Atlanta, knowing and loving one another in the name of Christ can transcends any barrier we humans have created.

We are a network of thousands of hopeful and faithful PCUSA leaders, and as long as our denomination is in transition, there is work for NEXT Church to do.

How can we nourish our roots in the best parts of our history and reformed faith, while the withering branches of power and hierarchy are pruned for change?

How do you motivate change within your community? We can’t stand by our crosses idly and watch the traffic. It can’t be them and us.

What could our churches be doing if we weren’t so busy hanging on?

What needs to change? What is possible if it does?

In exchange for sparing you the Gandhi quote that just popped into your head, consider this: last year, we raised $118,000. This small budget supports our dedicated and gifted director, Rev. Jessica Tate, and Linda Kurtz, NEXT Church’s part-time communication specialist as she continues to improve the way we connect with one another through our updated website. We also supported a Young Adult Volunteer, and a few initiatives such Trent@Montreat. That money came from only 30 congregations and 50 individuals.

Pennies, dollars, and very large checks… we need you to invest. We need you to explain NEXT Church to your sessions and colleagues. Simply ask them to support NEXT Church as we seek to build the body of Christ through connecting and equipping leaders across our denomination.

We are still gathered. You won’t find us paralyzed by the empty cross or huddled in dark and isolated rooms. Let’s remember we are Christ’s body at work in the world together.

Perhaps we too are zipping right past the cross. I suspect God is okay with that as long as we have an idea of where we are going. Jesus isn’t on the cross, and Pentecost is around the corner anyway.

I lean on you, each of you, as if my vocation depends on it.  There are times when I am leaning on your hope, leaning your faith, leaning on your voice… to sing the song, from the depths of your soul, when mine feels empty, and the words won’t come. I am leaning….

Remember our song. I’m humming it now, and there is plenty of room in the car….  

In addition to supporting NEXT Church with a donation made online, you can also send your gift via check to Village Presbyterian Church, earmarked NEXT Church:

Village Presbyterian Church
6641 Mission Road
Prairie Village, KS 66208

Lori RaibleLori Raible is a pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a co-chair of the NEXT Church strategy team.