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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.

Emmett Till: Then and Now

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jan Edmiston

Emmett Till was murdered more than 60 years ago and since that terrible day, more than 10 books have been written to tell the story. But Timothy B. Tyson’s book, The Blood of Emmett Till, is especially timely for a 21st century audience, telling the story once again within the context of the increasingly reported deaths of so many unarmed black men as well as the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

There was a time when the murders of unarmed black men and boys went largely unreported. And while hundreds more have been killed since Emmett Till, some of their names are part of our national liturgy of lament: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Clementa Pinckney, Freddy Gray. “America is still killing Emmett Till,” writes Tyson, but we are increasingly speaking the names of men and women of color who have died in the throes of racial bias and white supremacy. We are called to be like Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, and not allow victims of racially motivated deaths to be forgotten.

There was a time when the NAACP was considered a radical organization – much like the Black Lives Matter movement has been decried by some today. Timothy Tyson points out the NAACP was once considered to be “a left-wing power-mad organ of destruction” which had been “infiltrated by communist sympathizers.” Similarly incendiary descriptions of Black Lives Matter can be heard today even though that organization’s stated mission is to affirm “black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” We are reminded in The Blood of Emmett Till that what was once considered radical can become mainstream – and treasured – when we consider the true life experiences of people we have ignored.

Tyson’s book reminds us about the essential nature of testimony. It was his interview of Carolyn Bryant for this book which led to her to admit that Emmett Till never assaulted her in that tiny Mississippi grocery store in 1955. We are reminded what happens when we live by fear even in the face of cultural pressures. False narrative kills.

And we are also reminded that brave truths spoken even at the risk of death is what God has called us to speak today. Tyson powerfully describes what it meant for witnesses like Frank Young and Moses Wright to be brave in the face of darkness. Even though – as expected – the murderers of Emmett Till were found not guilty, the testimony spoken by brave witnesses in the 1950s bolsters our own courage for these days.

If you are just now “waking up white” after reading Debby Irving’s book, reading Tyson’s book about distant days – which are not so distant after all – will further stir a desire to dismantle racism. You may be completely familiar with the story of Emmett Till, but is an important read for our time.


Jan Edmiston serves as Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Jan was born, raised, and educated in Chapel Hill, NC, where she grew up in the University Presbyterian Church. She attended Andover-Newton Theological School and was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. She later earned a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Spirituality from Columbia Theological Seminary.She currently serves as Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry at the Presbytery of Chicago.Edmiston blogs at A Church for Starving Artists. Throughout her parish ministry years, Edmiston served as moderator of the social justice committee and personnel committee, and took leadership roles in the areas of church revitalization, new church development, and presbytery council.

Are the Spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Christ the Same Thing?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This December, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a month of reflections on pastoral care in the 21st century. Join the conversation here or on Facebook. Today’s post, by Jan Edmiston, was originally posted on Jan’s blog A Church for Starving Artists.

By Jan Edmiston

Image is a screen shot of Alicia Keys’ We Gotta Pray

Image is a screen shot of Alicia Keys’ We Gotta Pray

Along with many others, I shared this story on FB about a woman whose identity is not known “yet” (because we love both intentional and unintentional celebrities) who paid off approximately $20,000 in over 150 layaway accounts near Bellingham, Massachusetts.

If you don’t know what a layaway account is, it’s what you do when you don’t have enough money to buy something out right. You “lay it away” in a back room of the store and pay it off as you are able.

When one Toys R Us beneficiary received notice that her layaway account had been paid in full, she said, “I feel like I was part of something special – touched by an angel.”  This is truly the Spirit of Christmas.

Is it also the Spirit of Christ?

The apostle Paul wrote that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”  Ouch.

I want to belong to Christ but I definitely live in the flesh.  And I’m venturing a guess here and will suggest that you too – faithful reader – most likely live in the flesh as well.

I just bought myself my own Christmas gift last night.  It’s a purse I’ve wanted for a long time and it was half off and it’s no longer being made and I have all kinds of reasons why I really really need this particular bag.  Even though this morning’s class was about Spending Less as part of The Advent Conspiracy  (and I think they meant spend less on other people) I went and spent more on myself.  Clearly the only Advent Conspiracy I’m a part of is a selfish one.

As I write this today, families bear the second anniversary of Sandy Hook and thousands continue to ache over racial injustice.  And if we didn’t realize this before, we now know for certain that the United States of America – our beloved nation – tortures people.  What can I do besides wear black and share articles on FB and feel self-righteous when the Sunday benediction includes the words “Return no one evil for evil”?   Friends, our nation returned evil for evil in our names.

I’m wondering what it means to share the Spirit of Christ and not merely the Spirit of Christmas.

I wonder if the Spirit of Christmas – which by the way is an excellent way to live – is about noticing the material needs of those who have less than we have and the Spirit of Christ is about noticing the spiritual needs of those who are desperate, lost, broken, and furious.  Our response to the first is to bring relief via toys, blankets, mittens, and socks.  Our response to the second is to bring relief via relationship, freedom, and forgiveness.

It’s harder to offer the Spirit of Christ, if you ask me.  And please know that sharing the Spirit of Christ has absolutely nothing to do with bull horns or shaming or violence.  It has to do with praying that we would exude the Spirit of Christ in our own lives in terms of the way we treat other people who are not like ourselves.

As HH said in this morning’s sermon, Jesus showed up in places nobody would expect the Messiah to show up:  in a manger, on a cross.  Where are we showing up in the name of Jesus to share the Spirit of Christ?

Jan Edmiston is a PCUSA pastor and currently serving on the staff of the Chicago Presbytery. She blogs regularly at A Church for Starving Artists. Check it out.