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A Challenging Task

Preachers and church leaders had a challenging task this week, in the midst of division and disconnection in our country, to preach good news. Here is a short list of what has been said from Presbyterian pulpits and messages more broadly. In collecting these, we have attempted to give attention to a variety of contexts, but also recognize this list is in no way exhaustive. We hope you will add links to words you found inspiring in the comments. May we learn from one another and be encouraged by each other.

  1. John Wilkinson, Third Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY.
    Sermon: Future Tense
    “‘It will be all right,’ because God is God, but that word can ring hollow if it is not accompanied by other words and actions.”
  1. Lisle Gwynn Garrity & Sarah Are, A Sanctified Art.
    Post-Election Prayer
    “When it feels as if the darkness might overcome the light, and that we may never get it right, remind me that you have me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to love.”
  1. Anna Pinckney Straight, Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, WV.
    Liturgy and sermon using Isaiah 65: 17 – 25
    “Today is the day to take a step toward true unity, one that begins in faithful foundations and flows into everything that we do.”
  1. Mindy Douglas, First Presbyterian Church of Durham, NC.
    Letter to the Congregation
     “We stand together as God’s people, seeking to right wrongs, love with abandon, and bring hope to the hopeless. We will not stop working. We will not stop loving. We will not stop hoping. We will not stop working for peace.”
  1. Denise Anderson, PCUSA co-moderator from Temple Hills, MD.
    Blog post: The Message to the Margins
    “We can no longer trust in ‘love’ and ‘goodwill.’ Love and goodwill should have never made this a possibility. Love and goodwill should have demanded better of this child of God and strongly condemned the vitriol that came from his mouth. Instead, that vitriol was validated.”
  1. Andrew Foster Connors, Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD.
    Sermon: Where Do We Go From Here?
    “The church has to set the table for a different kind of politic than the one we’ve been repeating. One where we engage people who we find offensive, even scandalous in real relationships, standing with the most vulnerable among us – personally and politically.”
  1. David Renwick, National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.
    Sermon: In Power and Out of Power (sermon begins at 26:28)
    “Jesus said elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount: No matter what the political situation of the world we live in, easy or hard, like it or dislike it, we are always called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And being salt is most important when life to you seems to have lost its taste.”
  1. Christopher Edmonston, White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC.
    Sermon: The Beginning and the End
    “For today please don’t forget this: each of you as members of the church and the people of Christ have a calling to be peacemakers, justice-seekers, reconcilers, and what the Bible calls ‘repairers of the breach.'”
  1. Brian Paulson, First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, IL.
    Sermon: From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges: Greater Love (sermon begins at 43:32)
    “Let us not taunt each other. American is split right down the middle in American politics. Today, there are members of this congregation who are in a place of deep pain, and even fear…. If you don’t feel this way, please bear compassionately with your neighbors. There is a place for lament in the vocabulary of faith.”
  1. Pastors at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, IL.
    Letter to the Congregation
    “Together, we seek a better and fairer world not just for ourselves, but for any people who feel overlooked, dismissed, or worse, hated because of who they are.”
  1. Katie Baker, Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI.
    Sermon: The End is Near
    “There is no hiding under a rock, no matter how beautiful the stone, and pretending that all is well because everything, in fact, is not. This conversation amongst Jesus and his disciples is convicting because it calls us to trust God in untrustworthy times.”

For God So Loved the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

Early in its life, NEXT Church sensed a call to be a place within the Presbyterian Church (USA) where we could build bridges across the divisions in our lives and in our church. The divisions are many —

theological differences

urban or rural or suburban or small town distinctions

larger churches, small churches

generational divides

rich or poor or somewhere in between.

Our culture is one of increasing division. We see it writ large today as the final polls suggest a presidential election – and a country – fairly evenly (and often bitterly) divided across party lines.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

As many of us go to the polls to shoulder part of our responsibility as citizens in a democracy, the 1946 Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church in the United States offers this prayer:

Almighty God, who dost hold us to account for the use of all our powers and privileges: Guide, we pray Thee, the people of these United States in the election of their rulers and representatives; that by wise legislation and faithful administration the rights of all may be protected, and our nation be enabled to fulfill Thy purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Does our vote — the best of each person’s wisdom, experience, conscience, and faith teachings — count? Yes.

Does it matter who wins today? Yes.

Will the next president and city council member and senator and school board member enact laws and policies and nominations that will effect our daily lives and the lives of our fellow citizens? Yes.

Will winning or losing mean life as we know it is over? No.

The reality is that regardless of how the votes turn out, we still have to live together on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and through the next year and the year after that.

The division and anger we have seen around this presidential election is significant. We have been quick to demonize the other candidate, the other party, the other supporters, the other voters. And yet, truly, there is no them. There is only us.

At Montreat Conference Center a few weeks ago, Melissa Harris Perry quoted Maya Angelou saying, “You can never say of other people that they are monsters. Anything that another human can do, you can do. We are all capable of greatness and of horror.”

That sounds familiar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

Against that backdrop of human goodness and sinfulness – our capacity for greatness and horror – Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. My friend and colleague Don Meeks says be very careful who you label an enemy, because the second you call someone an enemy, you are compelled to love that person.

I pray that on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and beyond, the church will help us find a way forward as a country and as communities. We are well poised to do this — not only because of our Lord’s command to love one another — but because of the kind of community we are called to be.

For the church gathers NOT around a particular issue that aligns with a particular political agenda, but around a foundational belief in the transformative power of God who has the power to transform us individually and collectively.

We gather NOT out of convenience or likeminded-ness, but because of a deep commitment that we belong to each other – that our salvation is bound up in the salvation of others.

We gather NOT around identity politics or ideology or age. Rather, we’re one of the last places in our society where people gather across generations and differences and seek to create together the beloved community.

We gather NOT as a social club or professional organization, but as a people who are seeking to know and follow Christ in our daily lives.

Go vote today. And in the days ahead let us commit ourselves to the long, slow work of loving our neighbors and loving our enemies and seeking together the common good for the sake of Christ who was sent because God so loved this world.


JessicaTate270Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC. 

A Repairer of the Breach

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by LeAnn Hodges

“We want to have our child baptized,” a visitor said to me after worship one Sunday. He held his son in his arms, and his wife stood back, looking a bit uncertain. “Well,” I responded, “how about we find a time to meet and see if this is the church you would like to join, and then we can go from there?” At that point, the wife chimed in that she would meet with me, but that she wasn’t sure she would join this church… or any church, for that matter.

leann-fontIn the coming days I met with the young couple and listened to their story. They were both from the same African country, but the wife was brought here at a young age through what her family thought was a chance for a western education. But it turned out to be a ticket into slavery in the metro-DC area. She was held captive until her late teens, when she was liberated by the help of a lesbian couple.

Given what she had experienced, it was no wonder that she hesitated when she stepped over the threshold into the church. The miracle is that she was able to set foot in a church at all!

In her upbringing the church was expected to be a safe space, and yet the church had provided a source of legitimacy for those who had forced her into slavery. In her upbringing, same-gender love was considered an unspeakable evil, and yet a same-gender couple became the agent of her liberation.

Over time, she watched as the congregation embraced her son with love and affection. She began to share her story with other members from the same region of Africa who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that originated in their home region. And she shared her story with those who grew up in the metro-DC area who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that enslaved people from all over the world here, in our own back yard.

In many ways, this incredible child of God has become a “repairer of the breach” in our congregation. She has opened our eyes to our own complicity in an unjust system that capitalizes on the abuse of human lives. This is no longer someone else’s problem. And through her powerful and gracious way of being, she has invited us into deeper conversation about what it means to be a congregation of uncommon diversity where African and gay sit at Christ’s table together.

We are a congregation that is all over the place in how we view the world, and how we understand the meaning of discipleship. Our individual moral absolutes are often at odds with the person in the next row on a Sunday morning. And yet, through the witness of this unlikely saint, some of those invisible walls that divide us have begun to crumble. The creation of safe space where we are able to testify to God’s work in our lives has confronted our easy assumptions of “the other” and required us to do the much more difficult and life-giving work of holy community.


leann-hodgesLeAnn Hodges is the pastor of Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD. As a pastor, her favorite part of her job is hanging out with people, learning their stories, and if possible getting in a good belly laugh at least once a day. And from those stories, she learns more and more about the depth of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. In her free time… oh, wait… LeAnn has three sons, ages 12, 6, and 4… but when she used to have free time, she enjoyed gardening, knitting, reading mysteries, and watching sci-fi shows with her husband of 22 years (who happens to be a high school physics teacher). 

Can the Center Hold?

by Don Meeks

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(The Second Coming – W.B Yeats)

These immortal lines, penned nearly a century ago in the tragic aftermath of the first world war, seem eerily prescient of our current moment in American culture. Things are falling apart in front of our very eyes. Or so it seems.

Racial injustice. Income inequality. Theological division. Political acrimony. The list could go on.

Can the center hold? Can we bend just a little further without breaking? Can we find our way through this wilderness? Can we bridge what divides us?

Or even more modestly, can we even talk about all this?

ncp-open-spaceA few of us in National Capital Presbytery have begun a project that is far easier said than done. Aware of the many divides that impact our churches, we have asked ourselves one simple question: Can we talk? That is to say, can we reach across one of the aisles that divides us – the theological aisle – and actually have a meaningful conversation as evangelicals and progressives?

Can we honor each other, in the name of Jesus Christ, as sisters and brothers? Can we listen deeply and attentively to one another? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own?

The catalyst for this conversation came from an event hosted by one of our sister churches in the presbytery during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. The event featured a panel discussion on Christian civility between Richard Mouw, then president of Fuller Seminary, and Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times.

Mouw noted in passing the common practice in political conversation for one camp to put their very best up against the worst of their opponent. Naturally. This is how the game works. In short, demonize your opponent and you never need engage in substantive debate on the issues.

Driving away from that event, I wondered aloud to myself, “What would happen if we turned this thing on its head? What if I chose to openly acknowledge the worst of the evangelical tradition and practice, and chose to affirm the best of what I see in the progressive tradition? And…can I find a progressive to join me and do the same?”

I call this a “thought exercise,” for it requires a fair amount of thinking. Some hard thinking. Some counter-intuitive and counter-cultural thinking. (Trust me – it gets easier).

In time, I posed the thought exercise to one of my presbytery colleagues, Jeff Krehbiel, and thus began what we now call a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience.

Jeff and I have co-moderated an on-going Open Space dialogue prior to presbytery meetings for the past two years. We modeled this conversation at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta last February. And most recently, we led a panel-discussion and officiated communion in presbytery plenary meeting.

Can the center hold? Can we find others to join us in this modest and gracious conversation?

Jeff and I have been asked to curate this month’s NEXT Church blog in hopes that we might widen the conversation and bend it toward reconciliation and bridge-building across the theological and other divides. We invite you to join us as conversation partners and ambassadors of reconciliation in Jesus’ name.


don-meeks-headshot-2Don Meeks is the senior pastor of Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia. He is active in the Fellowship Community within National Capital Presbytery.  His vision for ministry is to invite people to experience and express Christ-likeness in all of life. He is an avid golfer, psalmic intercessor and songwriter.

Brokenness, Healing and Our Future

By Dr. Ed Brenegar

I am convinced that if we were to calculate the actual brokenness of the people in our churches, including ourselves, that the weight would drive us deep into the ground. If you take time to listen, people tell us two things about themselves. One is what they value and find essential for living. The other is where they struggle and experience pain. The more sophisticated of us cover it up by creating distracting narratives or complex metaphorical abstractions. Yet, we are still broken people.

I’m in the fourth month of an interim pastor assignment. I walked into this church knowing very little about them. What I found was a congregation desiring two things. One was healing from the painful departure of a pastor and a music director. The other is relationships of trust and authenticity.

In this church, there is a small group of people who meet weekly to pray for the healing of people and their church. There is a service that is virtually silent, except for some soft music.  Gentle hands laid on one’s shoulders from behind signals that this person is now praying silently for you. Nothing is hurried as healing and peace are beckoned, and received.

This space for healing is formed through openness, respect, kindness and time.

In an interview that Marilynn Robinson gave to The Paris Review, she makes this comment.

Calvin says that God takes an aesthetic pleasure in people. There’s no reason to imagine that God would choose to surround himself into infinite time with people whose only distinction is that they fail to transgress. … To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga. Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.

Our brokenness is synonymous with our humanity. It defines us as much as our createdness in Christ does.  As one member of my church texted me, “I’m just a mess.” Yes, we all are. Some of us are just better at acting as if we are not.

This is why the work of Brene’ Brown on shame and vulnerability is worth our hearing in the PCUSA.  Brown has found a way to talk about brokenness as normal and essential to a healthy life. She describes people who have embraced their vulnerabilities as “wholehearted.” Here’s a description from her book Daring Greatly.

The main concern of Wholehearted men and women is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and connection. The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything— from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments— to their ability to be vulnerable.

I’ve always called this vulnerability the willingness to risk.

The risk to being vulnerable within the institutional arrangements of a church is the perceived risk of losing our authority and power. However, if Brown is correct, and I believe she is, our real power is one of authenticity, not authority. It is this authenticity that I find in the healers at my church. Through their humility and trust in God’s Spirit, I see lives change; my own as well.

There is a brokenness within our Presbyterian community. Many of us understand that to bring healing and reconciliation to our church means that it starts with our own brokenness. As I have relearned again, it comes through the kindness and ministry of those who seek to be bringers of healing and peace.

As we approach the Celebration Day of Nativity of the Christ-child, we may discover afresh the courage to be wholehearted. May we seek with openness and trust the peace that comes from God’s healing in the midst of our shared life as the church.


Ed-LIL2-2010-6Ed Brenegar is a life-long Presbyterian, a Tar Heel born and bred, teaching elder for three decades, a validated minister serving as a leadership consultant, a life / work transition coach, creator of The Stewardship of Gratitude strategy and The Circle of Impact Conversation Guides, occasional interim minister, honored blogger, speaker, and restless inquisitor of the impact of God’s grace in our time.

Find Ed online at the Leading Questions blog and At The Table of Thanks: Presbyterian Life & Mission.