Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarah Dianne Jones is curating a series written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Bob Henderson and Jessica Patchett

Four years ago, we invited our session to consider the possibility of launching a new, unique worship service. Five years earlier we had broadened our worship life by offering two distinct styles of worship, so the questions came rapid-fire: “Why? Aren’t the ones we have good enough? Won’t a new service simply steal people from one we already have?”

Our response was that even though our present services spanned the traditional/contemporary divide, they were still structured largely the same: a song or two of praise, a time of confession, community concerns and prayers, scripture, sermon and closing song.  

But what if we could have a service that intentionally fostered participation for the worshiper, regardless of their prior faith experience? What if we allowed prayers to be written, candles to be lighted, and feedback to the sermon to be spoken and discussed. What would happen if, each week, we offered a time for personal prayer with the minister? In other words, what if we designed a service that required no faith knowledge or training while inviting and expecting full participation?

The day we started our new service, our weekly worship attendance grew, but more importantly, the face of our congregation changed. We had long been an organ and choir robe church. Just a few years earlier we added a casual and contemporary dimension to the church. But now, we’re becoming a multi-racial, multi-faith, open-to-feeback-and-different-opinion church where seekers and searchers are taken on their own terms.

Why? Because God speaks to different people in different ways, and our families and neighborhoods are diverse – in age, political party, faith background, race, and sobriety. The people we love and care about span spectra that society says can’t be reconciled.

But we believed that if we loved all these different kinds of people, surely the Spirit of God could find a way to gather them into one congregation. That’s why we’re always inviting God to help us reform our worship. It’s why our new worship service is interactive and invitational, so that there would be space for people who aren’t just like ‘us’ to come in and shape it in a way that makes it theirs, too.

Two and a half years later, we’re so excited every time a young adult brings their parents to worship, proud to show them that they’ve found a church and a faith of their own. And, we’re equally delighted that older adults bless these same young adults with careful words of hard-won wisdom in the service’s sermon ‘talkback.’

As people live longer than ever before, we see this intergenerational cooperation and mutual blessing as a vital characteristic of the church in the 21st century and crucial for the success of any sustainable worship innovation.

We hope you’ll join us for our workshop. In the meantime, check out this invitation to our interactive service:

Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse” is being offered on Tuesday of the 2017 National Gathering during workshop block 3.

Bob Henderson, Senior Minister of Covenant Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC, has led vibrant, growing churches for more than 25 years. He enjoys curating worship that that both remains faithful to Reformed theology and speaks to contemporary people.

Jessica Patchett, Associate Minister at Covenant Presbyterian, has served in church leadership for nearly 10 years. She enjoys helping people explore the way of Jesus and articulate their own commitments of faith.

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.

2016 National Gathering Opening Worship

Mark Douglas preaches at the first worship service of the 2016 National Gathering.

Liturgist: Billy Honor

Sermon: “Who’s Got Next?”

Mark Douglas is Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, where he teaches a wide variety of classes and directs the Masters of Divinity degree program.  His most recent book is  “Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Sphere” (Cascade, 2010).  He is currently working on a series of books exploring the impact of climate change on war and the roles that Christian traditions of pacifism, just war, and just peacemaking may play in addressing climate-shaped conflict.

2016 National Gathering Keynote: BUILD

Clergy affiliated with Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD) share about their organization and its successes in Baltimore, MD.

Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and Maryland’s largest citizens power organization. For thirty-five years BUILD has helped identify and develop leaders to build citizen power for change in their own communities. BUILD is responsible for the successful passage of the first living wage ordinance in the world, the largest afterschool program in Baltimore (Child First), and the rebuilding of two blighted neighborhoods – Sandtown-Winchester and the Oliver community (in partnership with The Reinvestment Fund). Recently, BUILD led the effort to secure $1.1 billion dollars in public financing for the rebuilding and renovation of more than 1/3 of Baltimore’s public school facilities, the largest single increase to neighborhood investment in Baltimore’s history.

Andrew Foster Connors is the Senior Pastor of the Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD, a position he has held since 2004. A church “alive in the city and the world,” Brown Memorial Park Avenue continues to live into its mission to become a radically inclusive Christian community, sent into the world to work for God’s peace and justice. Andrew serves as clergy co-chair of BUILD and is an organizing member of NEXT Church. Andrew is a native of Raleigh, NC. He attended Duke University as a B.N. Duke Scholar where he received a B.A. in History with a focus on contemporary social movements. He holds a Master of Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. Andrew is married to the Rev. Kate Foster Connors, also ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). They live in Baltimore with their two children.

Glenna Huber has been a priest in The Diocese of Maryland since 2009. She has served as Vicar in three settings during that time with a consistent ministry at The Church of the Holy Nativity in Park Heights. Prior to joining the Diocese of Maryland Rev. Huber served for eight years in the Diocese of Atlanta her sponsoring Diocese. The Episcopal Urban Caucus, The Maryland Truth and Reconciliation education sub-committee, and Baltimoreons United in Leadership Development, a IAF affiliate, are among some of the boards and commissions on which The Rev. Huber serves. Rev. Huber earned her M. Div. at The General Theological Seminary in New York and her undergraduate at Spelman College in Atlanta. She and her husband are currently raising a 2-year-old son and a baby girl born April 2015.

Bishop Douglas Miles is a native of Baltimore. He has over 44 years of ministry experience in Baltimore, California, and Tennessee. In 1992, he organized Koinonia Baptist Church in Baltimore, which has expanded to two campuses and houses many different community outreach ministries, where he was consecrated Bishop of Koinonia. He is serving for the second time as a Clergy Co-Chair of BUILD. He has served in leadership positions with Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Greater Homewood Interfaith Alliance, Maryland Health Care Initiative, Baltimore Interfaith Coalition, Maryland Food Committee, and Mission Baltimore. Bishop Miles is a national award-winning columnist with the Afro-American newspaper. He has preached and lectured throughout the world lastly serving as Jellicoe Preacher at Oxford University in England and is published in a book of sermons entitled Living in Hell. He is married to the former Rosanna White, the proud father of two sons – Harvey and Dante and grandfather of five.

2016 National Gathering Closing Worship: Denise Anderson

Denise Anderson preaches during Wednesday closing worship at the 2016 National Gathering.

Liturgists: Mehib Holmes and Janice James
Sermon: “Appointed and Unashamed”

Denise Anderson is the pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland. A nationally-recognized writer and blogger, Denise’s work has appeared in The Christian Century, The Huffington Post, These Days, and on her own blog, SOULa Scriptura: To Be Young, Gifted, and Reformed. Denise writes, preaches, and engages on issues of social justice, diversity, and reconciliation.

2016 National Gathering Ignite: Danita Nelson

Danita Nelson of New Covenant Fellowship of Austin shares about their intentional, multi-national, multi-racial, intergenerational community.

Am I In the Right Room?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Cheryl Finney

Am I in the right room?

Most of my life I have used this simple question to gain direction. Is the space I have placed myself, whether it be graduate school, neighborhood, or church, putting me in contact with people that reflect collectively who I want to become?

tsr_4472_webInstitutions I join that are experimental, and open to new ways of being are “rooms” I will stay in. So it was inspiring to hear the way Presbyterians are redefining our “rooms” of worship at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta. Innovations like Farm Church, a new agriculturally-based Christian community in Durham focused on growing food and faith for the hungry intrigued me. Then there was Serious Ju Ju, a faith-based ministry in Montana centered on at risk teenage boys revolving around their love of skateboarding – really, how can one not love that? Both ministries have recently sprung forth and reflect new spaces of worship which excites me. So I found myself saying, “Yes!” If this is where my church is leading, I will stay.

But what has had me on edge and closer to the exit was publicly named at the conference and that is our primarily white demographic as Presbyterians. Questions were raised on how our church will respond to a world with a national legacy of structural racism born from white dominance. I was grateful to be reminded again by NEXT speakers of the vigilance needed on issues of race that I as a white American, Presbyterian, living in Baltimore, need to continue to name, own, and challenge.

While I am in the midst of this work through community organizing in Baltimore, where building relationships across racial lines is at its core, it is important to me to have the larger church own this collectively. Sharing ways we are engaging the problem of white fragility in our churches, I was reminded again of the importance of sharing public narratives of our experience with race within our congregations often.

Just as I am thrilled to hear of innovations in worship I want the church to be pioneering in the way we are being church in the racial arena. Housing voices experimenting and moving past the fear of a misstep in a conversation on race can be a space that uncovers unconscious biases that brought to light can move a people of faith into action.

I am trusting that relationships built along the way as we challenge structured systems that are racist in outcome will be fertile ground that just might change what we look like and move us to who we are called to be.

That’s the next room I want to be in!

cheryl finneyCheryl Finney is a ruling elder at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. A frequently challenged mother of four, she is currently working for BUILD, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, as a project organizer. Her current passion is working with “returning citizens” through a jobs movement of BUILD called Turnaround Tuesdays. She says, “developing leaders from the reentry community as they join the workforce and rediscover a civic life is the richest work I have ever had the privilege to do!” 


2016 National Gathering Ignite: Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown of the Church of Scotland shares about her churches’ merger and their participation in a pilot program to help them navigate the future.

2016 National Gathering Ignite: Trinity Presbyterian & Herndon Elementary

Stephen Smith-Cobbs and Rebecca Messman of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Virginia, share with us their partnership with nearby Herndon Elementary.

Moments When the Spirit Moves

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah Are

Sometimes new life lands in your lap like a summer thunderstorm- strong, sudden, and powerful.

Other times, new life shows up like a melody, or a sleepy cat- waking up, stretching its bones, and assuming its position back in the sun, back in your memory.

For me, the NEXT Church National Gathering this past February felt like that. All of that.

tsr_4819_webNEXT was an IV drip of coffee, energizing me in ways that I forgot I knew. However, it also was a reminder that the Holy Spirit moves, adding strength and memories to weary muscles.

I think we all have those moments- moments when the Spirit moves, and all of the sudden you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Those moments slide past us like water, taking with them the frustrations of previous aches and pains.

For me, some of those ministry moments have involved warm cups of coffee on church steps with the homeless folks that slept there the night prior. Some of those moments have involved youth group, where the “cool” kid stood up for the kid with autism, and it was holy ground. Others have involved 1,000 youth at Montreat, or three other young adults at bible study.

I crave the certainty of those moments.

I know that currently, seminary is where I am called to be, and I feel invigorated by that. However, my view of ministry has changed since being in seminary. I have struggled to discern where I would fit into a church that is both saturated in tradition, yet simultaneously growing and evolving, and at times have missed the calm certainty that comes only with sensing the Spirit.

In the seminary world, there is an acute sense of change in the air. The church is stretching. We cannot all find jobs, and when we do, they often look different than what we had imagined. We are being forced to tap into our creative side and our risk-tasking side, as we dream up bi-vocational ministries, new church developments, and fundraising tricks to cover the cost of a full time salary.  Pension plans are not a sure thing, and residencies provide sweet relief as Christian education and associate positions dwindle.

Taking risks and leaning into creativity is an exciting prospect, but it is also vulnerable, a little scary, and very exhausting.

This year’s NEXT conference was the first time that I have truly felt that this risk-taking creative solution making reality might actually be a blessing, and not strictly a challenge. For over the course of three days, I watched story after story of real ministry, that is faithful to the gospel and loving to the core, unfold before my eyes. I watched countless doors open, with new ministry models, and imaginative ways for old churches to continue faithful work.

For a long time, I have felt as if engaging in creative ministry models would be my uphill battle, but at NEXT, I was overwhelmed with how much is already being done, with how smooth those roads were being made.

As I walked through the big wooden doors at the end of the three days, I told myself- “this has to be the most exciting time to be in ministry, because there are no closed doors.”

I don’t know if it’s factually true – that this could be deemed the most exciting season.  

However, what I do know, is that it was one of those moments I crave. It was one of those moments where the Spirit moved, and all of the sudden, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be- dreaming, hopefully, about the future of the church.

Those three days gave me new life, and it sounded like a melody, and felt like a sweet summer rainstorm. I walked away humming to myself, “What have I to dread? What have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms?” For I am convinced, this has to be one of the most exciting times to be in ministry.  After three days at NEXT, how could I dream otherwise?

sarah are

Sarah Are is a second year student at Columbia Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. She is a book-worm, a food blogger, and a busy-body. Sarah was raised on sweet tea and in church pews, and re-microwaves her coffee every morning because she knows the world is cold. Kansas City and Richmond, Virginia are the two places she calls home; however discovering somewhere new makes for a wonderful day in her book.