Over the next few weeks, we’ll be harvesting insights and inspiration from the 2013 NEXT National Gathering in Charlotte.
Here is a reflection written by a director of children’s ministry for her church newsletter, reprinted with her permission:
As part of our staff continuing education, Tom and I attended the annual NEXT Church Conference in Charlotte earlier this week. A relatively new movement, NEXT’s goal is to spark imaginations, connect congregations, and offer a distinctively Presbyterian witness to Jesus Christ. The conference theme was “Be Born Again” and they used John 3:4 as a springboard for our time together. In this scripture Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can anyone be born again after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
The spiritual rebirth that Jesus wanted for Nicodemus and offers to us all, allows you and me to grow into someone new. I can’t say that the question “What’s next for the Presbyterian church?” was fully answered in Charlotte this time. But I can say there is something special about gathering with other believers, giving birth to new ideas, listening to big dreams/plans, and refreshing your spirit. For example, it was a blessing for me to meet up with two of my youth leaders from my high school days.
At the conference’s close, I hopped in the car for my drive home to Durham. As the miles ticked by, I thought about how important these connections are, and how I can’t imagine doing ministry without help from others. I reflected that I would love to see our church family strengthen our relationships with each other and with other churches in the area. I know God has great plans for us; it will be exciting to see what’s next at SAPC!
Hallie Spence is currently Director of Elementary Ministries at Saint Andrews Presbyterian in Raleigh, NC where she is responsible for curriculum and programming for children in Kindergarten-fifth grade. Hallie was born in Houston, TX to a family with strong Presbyterian roots. She studied music and child development at the University of North Texas in Denton and has worked as a children’s choir director. Hallie is working toward her educator certification in the PC(USA), and hopes to attend seminary one day.
Deuteronomy 31:6: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
One by one the pastors that preached and taught at the conference shined the light on great awakenings that lead to our NEXT church. The Bride was unveiled and she is everything Christ hoped for. These gifted pastors illustrated the true nature of Christ and how people were glued to his sermons that filled them with spirit, evoking laughter, joy, parables, and love. They were contextual, healing, and liberating. We’re back! Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us. His timing is simply impeccable.
God has always shown me that the Presbyterian Church is the church to watch, even through this digital dividing refining technological revolution. We continue to move in God’s direction, learning to bestow freedom and equality to all and overcoming fear, in Faith in Christ Jesus; setting a bar on LOVE.
My experiences at the NEXT Conference reminded me that I belong to a church that seeks gender equality, multiculturalism (locally and at the General Assembly level), and global digital communications to welcome and supply brothers and sisters from every continent at a moment’s notice. Our church protects God’s Earth and God’s children by using planet saving paperless tools and technology. Throughout our history, we have fought politically, socially, and spiritually for peace, love, and liberty.
This is what the NEXT Conference inspired me to see and feel in just two days. Part of my call to the pastorate led me to observe hundreds of churches through England, Holland, Germany, France, the Islands, Mexico, and the United States, and I witnessed and felt the differences in how love and peace were expressed by the different denominations. I can attest to God’s eyes being on this body of Christ called The Presbyterians in the United States in America. What we do as a body of Christ is important. NEXT Church is important, beckoning us to stay thoughtful, kingdom focused, and keep aspiring to be the “true” likeness of Christ.
I’ll see you at NEXT Church in 2014!
Constance Johnson has a Master of Arts in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Livingstone College, in Salisbury, NC. She is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Salisbury, NC, and is presently completing Masters of Divinity from the Union Presbyterian Seminary at Charlotte. She is a Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church USA, and former Clerk of Session, General Assembly Commissioner, Church Moderator of the Presbyterian Women, and Bible study teacher. She is presently the Youth Counselor of Trinity Presbyterian Church after school program.