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Growing Power by Sharing Power

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Linda Kurtz are curating a series written by participants in the first-ever Certificate in Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership offered by NEXT Church, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on the theology of power and how organizing has impacted the way they do ministry. How might you incorporate these principles of organizing into your own work? What is your reaction to their reflections? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Jan Edmiston

As a person with power in Chicago Presbytery, I sometimes saw my role as one in which I tried to share power with young pastors who didn’t think they had much – either because of their age or levels of experience. My hope was to get out of the way when it was clear that the Spirit was working and to shift the culture from a “gotcha” mentality (i.e. those pesky oral exams on the floor of presbytery just before ordination) to a culture of curiosity (i.e. what can we learn from this person?).

This brings me to the unnamed woman in Matthew 26 who poured expensive oil over Jesus head as he reclined with his disciples. The woman never said a word but the men immediately expressed their indignance. Everybody was talking about her. Nobody talked to her. But then Jesus said something that has been dissected and studied for generations:

“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Jesus shared power with her despite her gender and their historical context. He lauded her theological chops, finishing with this:

“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

The community organizing training I have received through NEXT Church has shaped the way I’ll be stepping into a new role in Charlotte Presbytery in the coming weeks. I’ve learned that building coalitions – both in and outside the institutional Church – is essential if we hope to transform the world for good in the name of Jesus. When we share power, we find that our impact for good grows expansively.

Developing coalitions involves organizing the power of obvious leaders and the power of not-yet-obvious leaders together. As I look towards starting my new call on May 1st, I have collected a list of people recommended by my General Presbyter Nominating Committee with whom I plan to have one-on-one meetings with in my first six months. It’s interesting what names they have suggested. Some are well-known leaders (e.g. the mayor, a retired college president) and some are lesser-known leaders (e.g. a long time elder from a rural part of the area, a person from a small congregation with strong ties with the school board). Instead of decrying that the world is increasingly chaotic, we can take this opportunity to face the chaos, united in authentic relationships with many different kinds of neighbors. Serving together, we can do more.

I hope to continue to grow power by sharing power. And I hope that power results in deeper relationships and broader justice for the people of God. This feels especially right as I consider how Jesus lived.


Jan Edmiston is co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA. She is a Teaching Elder member of Chicago Presbytery, soon transition into a new role as general presbyter of Charlotte Presbytery.

Created in the Image of God

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 Jan Edmiston

My General Assembly travels took me to a consultation in Magnano, Italy in early October to meet with leaders from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations. The discussion focused on the ordination of women – specifically as deacons – which is under consideration now in both Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. To be clear, the conversation is about studying the ordination of women deacons and not necessarily about ordaining women deacons.

We were diverse in everything from gender to skin color to nationality – as well as theology. I looked around the room and saw some of my clergywomen sheroes and people who would become sheroes.

Photo from Jan’s blog, “A Church for Starving Artists”

I presented a brief talk on the challenges of Reformed denominations in the United States (PCUSA, UCC, RCA) and shared the issue of diversity. As a member of the predominantly white PCUSA and a Mid-Council leader, our challenges – I said –  include the need for more opportunities for women of color.

After I spoke, one of the Orthodox leaders quietly informed me that women are not created in the image of God. (I asked him to repeat himself because I was pretty sure he said that women were not created in the image of God.) He clarified that “men are created in the image of God and women are created in the image of men.”

It was going to be an interesting week.

Theological diversity is tricky. I find myself giving up almost immediately when a Christian sibling informs me that women cannot speak in church or – God forbid – LGBTQ people cannot even be in church. I am tired of having this talk with my more conservative friends. There is too much work to do for us to keep having that conversation. And yet, we need to keep having that conversation in some circles.

In Magnano, we were the most diverse community I’ve worked with in a long time. But in spite of the array of languages, skin colors, and dress, some of us were miles apart theologically. We all love Jesus, but our understanding about whom God calls varies widely.

As a person who had never seen a clergywoman until my first day of seminary, I understand the process of expanding our realization about who could possibly be called to serve in offices of ordained ministry. And it is a process. I’ve come to see that some of us are called to keep moving forward and let those who are still grappling with issues about “ordination standards” continue to grapple in their own timeline. And then there are others of us who are called to sit with those who are not yet with us and patiently, prayerfully continue to have that conversation, modeling the love of Jesus. The hard part is authentically seeing each other with the eyes of Christ.

As for me, I am still able to have those conversations with those who do not yet embrace what I know to be true: that God calls women and our LGBTQ siblings into ordained leadership. But it’s not easy.


Jan Edmiston is Co-Moderator of the 222and General Assembly of the PCUSA. She is a Teaching Elder member of Chicago Presbytery.