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We Are the Church, for God’s Sake

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ken Fuquay

“Talk less about Jesus?”

“SERIOUSLY?”

By three o’clock that Sunday afternoon, I had re-read the text message half a dozen times. Each time, discouragement shrouded me like a well-fitted pall expertly knitted together with strong cords of anger. I knew the words were well-intended, but having them appear on the screen of my phone that particular Sunday shook my faith. After all, just a couple hours earlier, I had delivered what I considered to be one of my finer sermons.

The exegesis of the passage was stellar, and the structure was well-crafted. The delivery, equal parts manuscript and extemporaneous, was empowered by the Holy Spirit. If ever there was a sermon meant for a specific group of people on a specific day and time, I felt that sermon, on that day, was it. Yet, the text message called all of that and more in question. I pulled out my phone and read it again, “Pastor Ken, I enjoy our little community. But if we want to attract more people, we need to be more relevant. And I’m certain, to be more relevant, we should talk less about Jesus.”

Talk less about Jesus?

Are you kidding me?

Talk less about Jesus.

The phrase played on repeat in the core of my being.

Talk less about Jesus?

I was taken aback by the suggestion.

Talk less about Jesus?

The words seared my soul.

Talk less about Jesus?

I wanted to text back in all caps; “BUT WE ARE A CHURCH, FOR GOD’S SAKE.

In my short tenure as an ordained Minister of Word & Sacrament in the PC(USA) and as a bi-vocational planting pastor of a new worshiping community that gathers in one of Charlotte’s most iconic bar and entertainment venues, I have become keenly aware that the church is engaged in a daily skirmish which pits role against relevancy.

The church I pastor knows the battle well.

When the brewery down the street promotes itself as being “mission-driven,” what is the church to do? When the coffee shop around the corner is crowned the neighborhood’s favorite “third space,” what is the church to do? When atheists’ gatherings and AA meetings tout life-transforming engagement, what is the church to do? And when 7 minute TED Talks garner millions of clicks, views, and shares, what is the church to do?

Here is what we did.

We attempted to become a relevant presence in the neighborhood.

Photo from M2M Charlotte Facebook page

Rather than “church,” we’ve opted for the more seeker-friendly less-offensive phrase “new worshiping community.” We selected an eye-popping logo which translates well on mobile devices. We chose a catchy name that tests well in focus groups and represents the entirety of who we feel called to be. We made sure our website contained all the correct buzzwords. We put up an online giving link and will soon have our very own app.

Contextually, we designate two Sundays each month as non-preaching, community-friendly, outreach experiences. First Sunday is “Fellowship Sunday.” (We sit at table, eat brunch, share stories, sing songs, and get to know one another.) Third Sunday is “Park Bench Sunday.” (We invite community voices to share their work and listen for ways God may be calling us to join.) We’ve had open-mic Sunday, comedy improv Sunday, and concert-for-the-community Sunday. We’ve gathered out of doors for worship.

We practice inclusion at every turn. We invite other faiths to share so that we might understand their religion and beliefs. We march in gay pride parades. We partner with other non-profits to increase our efforts exponentially. We serve dinner to the homeless. We canvas the neighborhood on street clean-up patrol. We gather for discipleship training at a local sandwich shop. We give food and water to immigrants passing through out city. We meld coffee time and worship. We eat together every Sunday. We’re pet-friendly. And…we worship in a bar, for God’s sake.

How much more relevant can we get?

Yet, I worry.

I worry that we’ll idolize the bar rather than worshiping the One who calls us to gather there. I worry that we’ll take pride in our renown as “the church that meets in a bar” rather than following the One whose namesake we are. I worry that we’ll boast about our good works more than boasting in the One who gives us breath. I worry that we’ll elevate our inclusion to the point of being exclusive. I worry that we’ll abdicate our role for the sake of being relevant.

Yes, it is necessary to explore every avenue available to determine where God is calling us to be and how God is calling us to live the gospel in context when we get there. So, we discern: Is it church in a bar? Is it church at a skate-park on Saturday morning? Is it church on a Tuesday night with a calypso band? Is it free coffee and doughnuts on the corner? Is it church in a space where gatherers can bring their dogs? Is it cowboy church, Harley church, or late church? All of these, and more, are worth exploring. But in our quest to become a more relevant presence in the world, we must not sacrifice the role of the church.

After all, it is our role that makes us relevant. (That sentence is worth reading again.)

What is the role of the church?

The role of the church is the same as it was when the gestation period ended and the church was pushed from the womb into the streets of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

“And you shall be my witnesses…”

The Greek word is μάρτυρ, which means “one who testifies.” Ah shucks. There’s that word we Presbyterians dislike and try to rationalize away. But the word is unavoidable. We are people of the book; a book filled with stories. And the stories are begging to be told over and over again! So, somebody, testify!

The role of the church is to speak a Word that cannot be heard anywhere else in culture.

The role of the church is to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ;

The role of the church is to announce the nearness of God’s kingdom, good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and declare the Lord’s favor upon all creation.

The role of the church is to participate in the mission of God on earth.

Please understand, I am all about being the church in the context in which we are planted. I’m all about casting a vision that unites and makes us relevant. But if, in our attempts to be the church, we abdicate the role of the church for the sake of being relevant, then we are simply engaged in a kitschy fad, one that will surely fade, and we become nothing more than the next non-profit organization down the street engaged in fundraising alongside our attempt to offer some modicum of good works.

Take heart! Shepherding a congregation through the process of discerning the balance between role and relevance is a necessary skirmish — one that leaves us bruised but beautified; sometimes disappointed but always hopeful; challenged every day but continually invigorated.

And finally, I’ve realized that throughout our discerning and being and doing, we can never speak too much about Jesus. Never! It is our role, and it is that role that makes us relevant.

After all, WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST, FOR GOD’S SAKE!


Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is planting pastor at M2M Charlotte, a 1001 New Worshiping Community. Ken is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary and is the CEO of LIFESPAN, a non-profit that serves more than 1,300 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities across 23 North Carolina counties. He and his husband, Terry, live in the Charlotte area with their mini-doodle named Abby-dail.

Sitting Side-by-Side

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Jessica Patchett

Nicole’s eyes got big.

“It’s not you, it’s us,” Lisa said.

There had been an audible gasp in the room when I had said that we should ‘segregate’ our two financial asks for the upcoming luncheon.

It was the week after the Charlottesville riots, and we all had trauma hangovers.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

“Don’t worry about us,” Glencie said. “Just be aware when you’re out and about that people might take that the wrong way”.

“Good advice” I said. “So, let’s remove the ‘ask’ for lunch donations from the room and do that online in the Eventbrite RSVP process, so that people don’t have to know who can pay for lunch and who can’t. Then our general ask for financial support can be the only one we make live in the room.”

“How sensitive of you to think of that,” Lisa said. “I like it. I’ll make it happen.”

Nicole, Glencie, and Lisa are black. I’m white. We’re four of six core team members of a network we launched called Clergy Women of Charlotte.

It was Nicole’s brainchild. She is an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition. She’s passionate about encouraging women in ministry to live into their fullest potential. When Nicole pitched me the idea of a local clergywomen’s network, my initial internal reaction wasn’t favorable. Many of the clergywomen groups I’ve been part of haven’t lasted long (or I haven’t lasted long in them).

But quickly, I realized that this one had the potential to be different than anything I’d tried. It would be local and diverse – racially, theologically, politically, generationally, spiritually, and vocationally – in a moment when our community desperately needed leaders to break down the walls between social segments.

At our first Core Team huddle, we had to have a hard conversation about how we would name and define ourselves. There were decisions to be made: would we be explicitly Christian (yes); would one have to be ordained in a tradition in order to find a home in it (we’d hope not); would we stand for something bigger than ourselves (we’d want to be open to the Spirit’s leading).

Out of that discernment process, we articulated our intentions: Our mission is to gather women in the greater Charlotte area to support one another in cultivating health and vitality for sustaining one’s calling in Christian ministry.

At our first public event, about 40 women gathered for breakfast, encouragement, and prayer. We were largely black and white. We were pastors, professors, chaplains, first ladies, bi-vocational laborers, storefront preachers, evangelists, and authors. We were Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and non-denominational. Our speakers that morning included a Baptist overseer with more than 40 years in local church ministry and the director of the American outpost of an international para-church spirituality and justice movement.

And we were all neighbors.

It was a gathering unlike any I had attended in my decade of ministry in Charlotte.

Some people in the room were deeply rooted in traditions that don’t elect or appoint women to the highest leadership positions in their churches. Some hoped this network would help them on their journeys to live fully into the roles available to them in their traditions. Others hoped this gathering would stand behind them in their pursuits to shatter stained glass ceilings. Still others came as members of the LGBTQ+ community, wondering if this network would be broad enough to support them in their vocational endeavors.

When the Core Team met to debrief our first public event, we quickly realized that it would be a real miracle if all these different kinds of women kept coming together around breakfast and lunch tables year after year.

And, in the next moment, we opened our eyes to see that this would be the point of it all: to witness what beauty the Spirit of God would call forth out of our humble efforts to sit side by side, pray for each other, and affirm the dignity of each person’s unique life in Christian service.

Over the past year, we’ve continued to grow and connect with a broader circle of people. We have a web site; we’re filing for non-profit status; we’ve gained the support of seminaries, small businesses, churches, and individual donors. These are enormous blessings that will help us continue and expand our work.

But the most beautiful fruits of this effort are the deep, spiritual gifts of unencumbered friendship. Members of the network host each other for breakfast, work out together, celebrate each other’s personal and vocational milestones, and recommend each other for opportunities to work and serve in ministry.

The Wednesday after the events in Charlottesville, I met Nicole for yoga. Almost at once, we both said, “I didn’t realize how much I needed to see you!” After class, we walked to the store to rehydrate and had a good, honest talk about the week and how we were dealing with it.

And that’s what we hope will happen for many other women as they begin to live together in the diverse community of the Clergy Women of Charlotte: that we and they will continue to push past polite, become intimately acquainted with the deep longings of each others’ souls, and support one another in the ways that God calls us to serve in the world-redeeming ministry of Jesus.


Jessica Patchett serves as Associate Minister for Christian Education at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte and as a member of the Core Team of the Clergy Women of Charlotte. She loves a good book, a challenging workout, the great outdoors, and cooking for her friends. You can learn more about the Clergy Women of Charlotte at www.clergywomenofcharlotte.com.

Taking the Step – A sermon

This month, we’re sharing reflections from a group of pastors from the US and the Church of Scotland who recently met to talk about being the faithful church in a culture that is becoming more diverse and more secularized. We invite you to offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here. If you like what you read, subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right sidebar) and receive an email when there is a new blog post. 

 

By Pen Peery, preached at First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, NC on September 14, 2014

 

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon about Moses hearing God’s call from the burning bush. God told Moses to return to the land of Egypt, where Moses’ people were serving as slaves to Pharaoh, and to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free.

Our scripture for today picks up after Moses has followed God’s directions. As you may know, it took a little convincing for Pharaoh to comply with Moses’ demand. There were plagues – 10 in all. Flies, gnats, frogs, boils, locusts, and finally the Passover – where God struck down the first-born of every house and field in Egypt, save for the Israelite children. After that, Pharaoh decided he had had enough – and he let Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt so that they could enter into the land that God had promised them.

I am reading from the 14th chapter of Exodus, beginning at verse 5. Listen for the word of God.

+++

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed towards the people, and they said, ‘What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?’ So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.’

+++

Let’s be clear about what is going on in this passage.

Moses answers God’s impossible sounding call from a burning bush with a “yes.”

He finds the courage to stand up to Pharaoh and make his demands.

He stays the course through 10 plagues.

He rallies the Israelite people to follow him out of Egypt.

And then, with the taste of victory still sweet on his tongue, Pharaoh has a change of heart and decides to send – not just a militia – but the entire Egyptian army…every chariot, every horse, every officer…after this rag-tag group of Israelites who are trudging toward the Promised Land.

As he tries to flee the Egyptian army, Moses marches his people straight onto a peninsula. The word Pi-hahiroth literally means “mouth of the waters.” On three sides of the Israelites is the Red Sea. On their fourth side is the Egyptian army with Pharaoh perched on his chariot.

Faced with this scenario Moses’ people do what people always do – they complain.

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?

But you can understand the complaint, right?

When the future that lies ahead seems unclear, at best, it is natural for people to long for what is familiar…even if what is familiar isn’t all that great.

“What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”?

Poor Moses.

At least he can count on God to be helpful and supportive.

Except when God is the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart (you noticed that, I hope…the scripture says that Pharaoh didn’t really change his own mind and start chasing the Israelites. The scripture says that God changed Pharaoh’s mind so that he would start chasing after the Israelites).

At least Moses can count on God to be helpful and supportive.

Except when Moses is standing with his back to the strongest army on the face of the earth and his front to the shores of the Red Sea when God says to him, “why are you calling out to me? Just tell the people to walk forward.”

And if I’m Moses, I’m thinking: Really? Thanks.

Of course, we have the benefit of knowing what happens next.

We know that the Israelites do walk forward.

We know that the Red Sea parts so that the Israelites can cross safely to the other side.

We know that God’s plan all along – the reason for God’s curious behavior in hardening Pharaoh’s heart – was to get Pharaoh and his army in a place where there would be no denying the fact that the Lord – and not the Pharaoh – was a sovereign power not to be trifled with.

step forwardBut what I want you to imagine this morning is what it would have been like to be standing on that peninsula if you did not know the future.

“Just tell the people to go forward.”

+          +          +

I think Ruby Bridges and her parents know what that must have felt like.

Ruby Bridges turned 60 years old this week. Most of you know her story – but if you don’t…

In 1960, when Ruby was a six year old with pigtails, she became the first person of color to integrate the New Orleans public schools.

She was the only black student assigned to William Frantz Elementary School. On Ruby’s first day, the school erupted in protest. There were threats. White parents pulled their children out of school. Ruby spent that first day in the principal’s office because the administration thought it was the safest place for her to be.

The second of day school was different. Ruby actually went to class. The only teacher who would teach Ruby was a woman named Barbara Henry. So for more than a year, that is what Mrs. Henry did. She taught a classroom that was empty except for one desk – where Ruby Bridges sat.

Because of the threats against her life and the protests that raged across the city, Ruby spent her first few months being escorted by Federal Marshalls from her mother’s car to the front door of the school. Every day, she would walk past throngs of people who would scream and taunt and gesture.

One morning in class, Mrs. Henry told Ruby that she had noticed that Ruby’s lips were moving while she made that terrifying walk. “What were you saying to those people?” Mrs. Henry asked. “I wasn’t talking to them,” Ruby answered, “I was praying for them.”

Usually, Ruby said, she prayed on her car ride to school but that morning she had forgotten, so she prayed on her walk. “Please be with me, God,” she would pray, “and be with these people, too. Forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”[1]

The Lord said: “Just tell the people to go forward…”

It’s a hard thing when you can’t see the future.

But that is what the people of God have been doing since the beginning.

Moving forward into a future that they cannot see – only one that they can trust.

+          +          +

Some of you know that Lindsey and I had the opportunity to go to Scotland last month. We were there for a conference – it was a conversation, really, in which 12 Presbyterian pastors with Charlotte connections met up with 12 Church of Scotland pastors in a town a little north of Edinburgh.

The conference was the second iteration of an event that First Presbyterian helped to host in 2006. That year, 144 Scottish Presbyterians came to Charlotte for a week of worship, workshops, relationship building, and – yes – a little golf. Many of you may have hosted a Scot or two in your homes.

The focus of our time together this year was less about our common heritage and more about a shared challenge – namely, how is the church called to respond in grace and truth to a culture that says that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

If you have been to Scotland, and you have been to church, you know that our sisters and brothers there face a stark reality. By numerous estimates, only about 3-4% of Scots attend a worship service…of any kind…during the week.

I had a chance to preach while we were there – at St. Columba’s Church in Glenrothes…again, a town a little north of Edinburgh. St. Columba’s is a delightful parish with an energetic pastor named Alan Kimmett. The church is faithfully teaching and preaching the word, they are reaching out to the community, they are nurturing one another – and the church is struggling.

My sense, when I looked out at the faithful remnant of St. Columba’s Church that Sunday morning is that they are a people who don’t quite know what happened – or what changed.

And, to be honest, that experience of preaching at a church in Scotland gave me a sense of urgency. Not panic – but urgency. I couldn’t wait to come home to you – my congregation – and tell you that what we have in front of us…as a healthy, growing, vibrant, congregation, in the center of a growing and thriving city…is such an opportunity to share the truth about Jesus Christ and the joy of authentic Christian community and the power and possibility of a group of believers committed to Christ’s mission and justice with a people who are hungry for it!

But how we do that is going to require for us to walk forward – to trust our steps into a future that we cannot yet see – because the people who are going to be a part of our church, those whom God will gather into this community – are going to be different.

They are going to look differently.

They are going to dress differently.

They may not come with much language of faith.

Their questions may not be our questions.

Their understandings of what it means to be church or belong to the church or participate in the church are going to be different.

But they are curious.

And they do want to be in a relationship with God.

And – as our preacher Rodger Nishioka said last week – they want to give their lives over for a purpose…to something that matters. And that makes being a church in the middle of a city a pretty exciting place to be.

During the conference our conversation was led by two scholars – an American named Diana Butler Bass and a Scot named Doug Gay. Diana is a Sociologist of Religion and Doug is a theology professor at the University of Glasgow. I learned a lot from Diana and Doug – more than I can summarize in a sermon – but there are two points that they made that are worth sharing this morning.

Diana – who is a student of history – believes that what is happening to the religious landscape in our country has all the signs of what we have – in the past – called “A Great Awakening.” It’s an audacious claim, but she makes a good case for it. When you look at previous Great Awakenings you notice that there always comes a point when the people of God have to make a choice – to walk into the new thing that God is doing, or to escape to their familiar ways of being.

It’s a choice – not one that takes place in an instant – but over a generation or two of decisions. Diana thinks the church in America is in this moment.

The other point I want to share with you about my time in Scotland — where I got to think and pray about the church — was made by Doug Gay. In the midst of our group of pastors wringing our hands over all the talk about trends and “adaptive challenges” that demand new dimensions for our leadership, Doug huddled us together, looked us straight in the eye and challenged our group to consider what it was that we say we believe about God’s promises.

And what we say is that God is faithful.

And that God has established the Church of Jesus Christ to be his instrument in the world until the kingdom comes.

This is our challenge – when it feels like the people of God who are the Church are standing on the shoreline and facing a sea of change – perhaps we should do what we have always done: step forward, trusting that we are not alone.

+++

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

[1] As found on Ruby Bridges’ website: http://www.rubybridges.com/story.htm

 

Pen_websitePen Peery is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.

Videos from the 2013 National Gathering

On March 4-5, 2013, 600+ gathered at First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte to worship God with joy, deepen relationships with one another, imagine what the church born again might look like.

You can watch the videos from our gathering here.

NEXT Church has been asking the question: What’s next? We have been asking God, ourselves, and each other many more questions like: “What’s next for our denomination?” “What’s next for my congregation?” “Is what’s next better than what’s now or what was?” “Does what happens next include me?”

In John 3:4, Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

As we strive to answer the question of “what’s next?,” we claim and proclaim what we do know:

1) The good news of Jesus Christ,

2) Our call to spread that good news.

As Jesus said, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

At the 2013 National Gathering, we will focus on what is born from the Spirit.  We will lift up the magnitude of the message over the chaotic culture moment and the disappointments of our institutions. We will reclaim our calls to ministry even as those calls evolve. We will celebrate what the Spirit has done and is doing so that we can be open to what the Spirit will do.

We have to be born again. 

Image: 2jenn/shutterstock.com

Why I’m Coming to NEXT–Betsy Ray

Betsy Ray wears multiple hats: she’s a ruling elder at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Western North Carolina, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte and a teacher at Asheville Middle School. Here’s why she’s coming to the NEXT National Gathering:

I am attending NEXT 2013 because I am interested in hearing about what a variety of people are thinking about as they walk their journeys as Christians in the 21st century.  I have chosen this conference because I have many questions on my mind and in my heart as I develop and live out my own faith both as a church leader and as a public servant (middle school teacher).  I am looking forward to renewing connections, building relationships and being open to new ways in which to answer the call to be community.

Register today!

5 Questions with Bill Golderer

This series highlights participants at the national gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 4 – 5th, 2013. Presenters, preachers, teachers, and leaders were asked the same five questions and their thoughtful responses may be found here every week. The goal is to introduce you to people you’ll hear from in Charlotte and prime the pump for our time together. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea, thought, or question for you. We encourage you to reach out and initiate conversations that you can later continue in person. 

Bill Golderer and his partner in crime, Julie.

1. Tell us about your ministry context. 

In 2005, I responded to a call from a group of (mostly) suburban mainline protestant clergy from the Philadelphia region to breathe new life into a dormant landmark church in Center City that in the last century was an important part of a vibrant urban landscape. That response led to my founding of the Broad Street Ministry (BSM) in Philadelphia in what was once the historic Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church along Center City’s Avenue of the Arts. BSM is an innovative Christian faith community that emphasizes the Gospel imperatives of extending generous hospitality, demonstrating justice and compassion, and providing a ground for artistic expression. Beginning with less than $8,000 in seed capital and no existing congregation, BSM has grown into one of Center City Philadelphia’s most dynamic and largest worshipping congregations. It is diverse in every way, and has worked aggressively in its common life to be hands-on in addressing issues that detract from people’s ability to experience the abundant life that God intends.

In 2008, I extended my pastoral ministry in Philadelphia when he became the Pastor of Arch Street Presbyterian Church (ASPC).  Since 1851, Arch Street Presbyterian has been a worshipping congregation in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. When I arrived, this congregation was on life-support.  But after assembling a dynamic team of lay and professional leadership, ASPC has undergone a rapid and dramatic revitalization. Collectively, this community has taken up its mat and is walking boldly into the future that God has prepared for it.  The congregation is now a dynamic Sunday morning worshipping community, a church that welcomes children and families of every configuration, and a church that struggles alongside the people who work in the skyscrapers around it (and those who wish they were employed there) who aim to integrate their faith and work.

2. Where have you seen glimpses of “the church that is becoming”?

It is a core conviction of mine that God is already dynamically at work in the world and the priorities of the Kingdom are on view everywhere.  I like to think that when we are at our best, Presbyterian leaders are like archeologists who are uncovering in the most unlikely places where God is up to something exciting and challenging.  Specifically I have seen this wherever the church is taking risks that are real and scary.  When we are not at our best, we tend to be the kind of people who want to know our ministry experiments will work without the risk of failure.  Two women who are forging ahead with an attempt to be the church in a new way–who are sort of “alumnae” of BSM’s pastoral leadership program–are doing something that is really exciting (and fraught with risks).  Rev. Karen Rohrer and Becca Blake are a couple of committed and talented seminary grads who have tried to be the church in a neighborhood that is rife with tension between those who have lived in the neighborhood for decades and a recent influx of hipsters and other young people whose presence is gentrifying the neighborhood.  Through creative worship and a commitment to be the church that brings these divergent populations together, they are up to something really powerful but also very fragile.  God is unmistakably present when those two elements are in place.  Check them out!  http://www.facebook.com/thewordatbeacon

3. What are your passions in ministry? (And/or what keeps you up at night?)

My passion in ministry is connecting the core commitments of the congregations I serve with the concerns and dreams of people whose work and lives are in deep alignment with the Kingdom of God but who have–for whatever reason–been disaffected or disappointed by the church.  I love to mix it up with “lowbrow” artists and the societal shot-callers who are often surprised by the passion and conviction of the people who call BSM or ASPC their church home.  I love challenging the assumptions held by some that the church is limp, inert and overly concerned with comfort, safety and institutional survival.  I like to get into the deep end with people who are trying to make a splash in society that could result in a more just Philadelphia.

4. What is one thing you are looking forward to at the NEXT Gathering?

I relish conversation with people who are looking for the courage and the company to be the church in a more generous and bold fashion.  I met quite a few folks like that at NEXT last year.  I tend to shy away from conferences but this feels fresh to me.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

I have high hopes for NEXT but I am not sure we know yet what it will be.  If I were to sum up my hopes for what NEXT will be is:Community for those who believe restlessness, courage, and relentlessness are spiritual qualities worth cultivating. (That’s more than 7 but that’s what I’ve got.)