Virtual Worship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Jessica Tate

Our church has just started to livestream its Sunday worship services. A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take advantage of it and participate in the worship service from the comfort of our couch.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 11.04.27 AM

Some things were exactly the same:

  •  We were five minutes late. (Apparently we can’t really blame the metro.)
  • Though we were removed from them, we felt the energy of the children during the conversation with children.
  •  We enjoyed the anthems and hummed along with the hymns, singing when we knew the words.
  •  We prayed.
  •  We listened to the sermon – more up-close-and-personal than we are when we’re halfway back in the sanctuary.
  • Our offering had been given online already, just like usual.

Some things were different:

  • We didn’t get to chat with our pew-mates, meet someone new, or catch up with friends.
  • Seeing only the chancel area on our screen made worship seem more formal than it does when we’re in the room, surrounded by people who move about, sneeze, cough, shush children, and what have you.
  • Normally on the way home, my husband and I share tidbits about who we spoke with, what activities are coming up in the life of the church, what we’ll have for lunch. This time, we spent a good bit of time reflecting together on the sermon –what we’d each heard, what moved us, how it challenged us.

The only moment that was awkward was communion. We prayed the liturgy along with the congregation, and then watched as they streamed up to the table to eat and drink together. At one point my husband looked over and said, “should I go get some bread?” We didn’t, but I felt it, too. We were missing something.

This little reflection isn’t intended to offer a verdict one way or another on the validity of livestreaming one’s worship experience. Watching online can’t take the place of actually showing up in the same space together, but it did provide a point of connection in a week when we otherwise would have completely disconnected. For a city like ours where people are stationed around the world for various amounts of time, live-streaming worship could be a very meaningful tie to a church family they would otherwise completely miss. I wondered if those homebound members for whom we pray every week might watch – and if their spirits might be lifted, hearing their names prayed over week after week; they are not forgotten.

Clearly, a long and deep debate can be had about virtual worship and the incarnate worship and community experience to which we are called, but I am more and more convinced that in a busy, diverse and increasingly, online culture, a touch point is a touch point. To the extent we can continually connect – in whatever means – the more ability we have to live out our call as Christ’s community.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.


Not That Kind of Christian

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This November, we are examining what strong-benevolent Christian identity looks like in our pluralistic world. Many of this month’s contributors attended a conference with Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, on October 15th at George Mason University and will be reflecting on their experiences there. 
By Jessica Tate

two faces copyIn a workshop last month, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi‐Faith World, Brian McLaren talked about people leaving Christianity (and other religions) because they refuse to be hostile toward other people and faiths. He lifts up author Anne Rice as a prime example. In 2010, Rice “quit Christianity,” saying that she refuses to be “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist,” “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat.” “Today I quit being a Christian,” Rice wrote. “… It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

There are many examples of the Christians to whom Rice refers. The book banners. The funeral protestors. The Quran burners. Most Presbyterians I know will quickly say, “but I’m not that kind of Christian.” And we aren’t. But those of us that aren’t that kind of Christian aren’t terribly vocal about the kind of Christian we are.

A number of years ago I was part of The Scandal of Particularity — a group of Jews and Christians pulled together by the Institute for Reformed Theology and the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. The group gathered regularly over two years to build relationships and re-examine the central religious concepts of our respective traditions.  The organizers believed that neglect of these central concepts contributes to the loss of the center of religious life — either to religious extremism or benign faith.

The group of thirty that gathered for The Scandal of Particularity was divided equally between Jews and Christians and consisted of a mix of seminarians, scholars, lay people, clergy, educators, and community leaders. I learned — through our conversation, our debate, and our cultivated friendships — that my understanding of faith tradition and my practice of living faith is strengthened as I articulate where my Christian community finds meaning and authority and how we interact with the world as Christians. In other words, the dialogue forced me to name the core convictions of my faith in a diverse group of people, and to do so among people who, while different than me in faith background, are people for whom I care, respect, and admire.

One exciting aspect of this gathering of Jews and Christians (and one that distinguished this group from many other interfaith dialogue groups) is that our time together focused not on what our two traditions have in common, but rather on the particular and distinct claims that are made by Jews and Protestant Christians in six central concepts. Together we explored:

  • the ways divinity is revealed at Sinai and in Christ;
  • the authority of sacred texts;
  • the (competing?) claim to be “the people of God;”
  • the divine presence in Israel and in the person of Christ;
  • the importance of religious space as it is practiced in worship and prayer; and
  • the role of religious people and communities in the public sphere.

Through discussions and wrestling with central concepts of faith together we broke down prejudices, we clarified misunderstandings, and we learned together the particular points of difference around which we could not compromise.  These points, we discovered, are the core convictions of our faith traditions—and joyfully, they often led to respect rather than hostility.

From the earliest gospel writers, Christianity has a troubling history of defining itself against Judaism. Often in our scriptures Jewish leaders like the Pharisees are used as dramatic foils for Jesus. It is not uncommon to hear contemporary Christians say things like, “the Pharisees promoted a system of purity; Jesus promoted a system of compassion.” That is a false dichotomy. Or, as my Jewish friends might say, “If a religious leader is favoring purity over compassion, she’s a bad Jew.”

These conversations and relationships helped me see the importance of Christians defining ourselves around the life-giving grace of God that we experience in Jesus Christ, not by the ways we are distinct from Judaism (or any other group). It also helped me realize the importance of articulating our faith in ways that make sense beyond our “tribe.”

The incredible benefit and gift I’ve taken from the work of this group of Jews and Christians is a clearer understanding of who I am as a Christian. I left this group with a set of core convictions about my own faith tradition that are based on who I am rather than who I’m not:

  • I am a believer who trusts the promises God has made to God’s people throughout history, to Israel and to the church.
  • I believe the scriptures are the authoritative narrative by which we come to know these promises.
  • I trust God’s grace is made known through God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ.
  • I believe I am called to gather in community with others to offer thanks and praise to God for creating, redeeming and sustaining this world.
  • I trust the Holy Spirit continues to guide me to work with others for justice and compassion in this world.

As a result of these clarified beliefs, my posture toward those who are different from me has shifted. I need not be intimidated by others’ beliefs. I need not assert my own as better than theirs. I need not worry that diversity is code for “anything goes.” I need not be fearful that respecting different beliefs somehow compromises my own — in fact, I’ve discovered that respecting beliefs of others inspires me to be more committed to my own.

I want to be the kind of Christian whose faith is deep, sure, humble, joyful, and propels me to work in the world for justice, peace, and abundant life.

After quitting Christianity, Anne Rice went on to say, “My faith in Christ is central to my life…. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.”

To that I say, “amen!,” and I hope to be the kind of follower whose faith —in the ways I articulate it and act on it in the world — doesn’t make people want to quit, but invites others to come and see that this good news I know and try to live is indeed good.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.

If You Build It They Will (Not) Come

NEXT Church regularly pulls on wisdom from community organizing as we think about being the church in the 21st century. For our purposes this month, we focus on the way in which congregation-based community organizing places emphasis on developing new leaders. Read Jeff Krehbiel’s post for another example.


By Jessica Tate

“If you build it, they will come.”

We held that maxim for several years in children’s ministry at the congregation I first served.

It is not true.

“We need better curriculum,” I thought. One that more fully embraces the Presbyterian theology we preach, is attentive to multiple intelligences, one that takes children and their spiritual questions seriously, and is easy for our teachers to use. That is what good curriculum should do, according to my Masters’ degree in Christian Education. So we researched and acquired a new curriculum.

The children did not come.

“Our teachers need better training so they will be more invested, more prepared, and developing spiritually themselves.” We did more training. Our teachers were ready!

The children did not come.

We need better snacks, more play time, less choir, more choir, more bible drills, parent education, family events… the list went on and on and we tried it all.

They did not come.

Anita Patterson Peppers/shutterstock

Anita Patterson Peppers/shutterstock

The children’s ministry team had been eager for their shiny new pastor to arrive with a pristine education degree and solutions. Starting this new call, I thought the stagnation of the children’s ministry was simply a matter of technical fixes and re-energizing volunteers. Two years in we realized we were wrong and we were frustrated. All of us believed in the value of forming our children in faith, but we couldn’t get more than a dozen families engaged. We didn’t know what else to try.

During those same years we were trouble-shooting the children’s ministry problem, the mission portion of my job had me deeply engaged in community organizing through VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement), where I was learning about the power of relationships to make change in our community around issues we cared about. In Northern Virginia, these were issues of:

  • affordable housing (as we watched developers tear down apartment complexes to build luxury condominiums – “staring in the $700s!” – and knew firefighters and nurses who commuted an hour or more to work.)
  • the foreclosure crisis (that blighted neighborhoods in Prince William county and trapped homeowners in endless bureaucratic cycles of refinancing and foreclosure because banks weren’t devoting enough human resources to deal with the huge increase in the number of families needing these services in the burst of the housing bubble.)
  • affordable dental care for the uninsured (I had never before thought about the social and financial impact of dental care until I talked to some of my neighbors and realized the poor condition of your teeth makes you wary of opening your mouth to speak.)
  • increased identification requirements for drivers’ licenses that unfairly targeted immigrants and prevented them from getting legal identification.

Through these organizing efforts I was learning the marks of relational (v. bureaucratic) culture, how power works in a community to get things done (or prevent things from happening), the ways in which people’s own interests and passions get acted on (or not), and that all organizing is dis-organizing and re-organizing.

I was learning skills like relational meetings, power analysis, listening campaigns, and evaluation. I was participating in local trainings and actions in our area and being constantly support and challenged to grow by the organizers and other leaders with whom I was working. Three years into my first call I went to the Industrial Areas Foundation national training, which completely reframed the ways in which I understood how to do my job as a pastor, namely, by working primarily relationally within and outside of my congregation (as opposed to programmatically) and to strategically align my energy and time with the passions and interests of others with whom I was in relationship to develop ourselves into disciples and be the church for the world.

I was participating in a Community Organizing Cluster in my presbytery that encouraged pastors to use the principles of organizing inside their congregations when it became clear that the wisdom and skills I was learning in organizing to make change in our community might be relevant to the stagnation we were experiencing in children’s ministry.

What if the children’s ministry committee gave up our frantic “build it and they will come” mentality and returned to our values as a relational culture?

One of the organizers for VOICE helped me design a listening campaign for the summer. A team of five leaders who were invested in children’s ministry came together to get trained in relational meetings. We let all the families in the church know that we were embarking on a children’s ministry listening campaign and encouraged them to respond if called upon by one of these leaders. The leaders met individually with twenty families in the congregation and then came back together to share what they heard and notice themes. We held “listening sessions” with members of the congregation who have a stake in children’s ministry to talk what matters to them about the faith formation of our children. For what do they most hope? What obstacles prevent their participation? To what are they willing to commit?

We discovered the most valued component of children’s ministry was caring adults who know the children and act as guides in Christian life. (Not biblical knowledge, entertainment value, or snack, despite that these are the areas I heard most about in the usual grumblings.) Meaningful relationships.

We learned the schedule everyone took for granted was a hindrance to participation and we worked together to find a schedule that suited most.

We also watched as those present at the listening sessions took responsibility for their own opinions and took power back from the squeakiest wheels. When one person said, “A lot of people think X…” the others present respectfully disagreed and shared what they did think, which prevented us from following a programmatic rabbit trail based on one person’s experience.

After listening well to each other and responding as a community (not just a committee), we made significant changes to the emphases in children’s ministry and the schedule of Sunday activities. Children’s ministry doubled the next year. And increased again the next.

Then it was time to listen again because, as we learned,

  • relationships are essential to the community’s life together,
  • people will act on their interest when they are able to name what that interest is, and,
  • because our lives are constantly changing, our programs needed to be continually dis-organized and re-organized.


Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She previously served as Associate Pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church.

Does the Church Have a Future?

Read more

From the Files – Community Organizing, TBT Edition

filesHere are a few posts from the past NEXT blogs that are worth a re-read:

Andrew Foster Connors suggests that good stewardship requires more than better preaching and shares how their congregation has used discipline of organizing to create a relational stewardship campaign.

Jessica Tate explores how the organizing universal of Organize, Dis-organize, Re-organize, Repeat helped to give new life to the deacons’ ministry.

Patrick Daymond shares the power of relational ministry in this video from the 2013 NEXT National Gathering.

And if you haven’t yet looked at the community organizing bibliography Jeff Krehbiel compiled last year, here it is.

photo credit: nhighberg via photopin cc

100 Youth

Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, John Vest is curating a conversation around youth ministry. Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

By Jessica Tate

class-of-2013I read a New York Times article over the summer that stuck with me. It was based on the findings of ChildTrends, a research group that seeks to improve the lives of children by providing high-quality research and knowledge to  practitioners and policymakers. The article described a hypothetical class of 100 high schoolers and then, based on the research, breaks down the realities of life for these 100 youth:

71 have experienced physical assault.

64 have had sex.

39 were bullied in the last year.

34 are overweight.

22 live in poverty (with 10 living in deep poverty).

As we reflect on a conversation about about what’s next in youth ministry this month, these statistics haunt me.

The young people that churches so desperately want to be part of their communities, this is their reality. Of course, these statistics don’t paint the whole picture. There are stats that are more in line with how we view teenagers. Of those same 100 students,

89 have health insurance.

68 will go on to further schooling.

56 participated in school sports.

39 participated in the performing arts.

28 attend religious services at least once a week, with 26 saying religion is very important in their lives.

This hypothetical class of 100 reminds me that the lives of youth are complex. We do youth a disservice when we reduce them to kids who just want to be entertained. We do them a disservice when we look at them as the saviors of the church or the built-in volunteer labor.

In her book, Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean says the question around youth ministry for most of the 20th century was, “How can we keep young people in church?” (I still hear that question asked pretty often in churches.) Today’s question, Dean argues, is, “Does the church matter?”

Dean answers her own question with a double-edged sword.

First, she says, “the account of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection – the story that gives Christianity its life-and-death urgency and that insists on the Holy Spirit’s living presence in the world today – goes to the heart of profoundly human questions about belonging, purpose, and meaning.” That story still matters, surely, in the lives of teens who are wrestling with power-plays of bullying, negotiating the complexity of sexual intimacy, and the harsh realities of poverty. But that story, Dean argues (and here’s the other edge of that sword), has been watered down in many of our congregations, replaced by a church and theological complacency that at the end of the day doesn’t address the issues of being human and therefore renders God unimportant.

As we reflect on youth ministry this month, let’s be attentive not only to what’s next for youth, but what youth might teach us about what’s next for the church more broadly. The question we’re really tackling isn’t what’s next in youth ministry? The real question is does the church matter?

JET for bio pageJessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.

Let Freedom Ring

By Jessica Tate

Artist: Nevit Dilmen

Artist: Nevit Dilmen

In almost every worship service we hear words of assurance: by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are freed from sin.

We also hear the theme that harkens back to John Calvin–that freedom in Christ means that we are free from sin and free for new life. Freedom from sin isn’t the end of itself; new life in Christ is the end. Life in Christ has a particular content and pattern: it seeks to love God and love neighbor in all things.

For many in the United States, summer is a time when freedom is cherished. Not only are children “free” from school, the summer is bracketed by Memorial Day and Labor Day and punctuated with the celebration of our nation’s freedom on the Fourth of July. Last week, our nation’s Supreme Court described the expanses and limits of our freedom. Later this week we will cheer, sing, salute, and wipe at our moist eyes as the last bars of the national anthem.

It is not only an idyllic portrait of freedom, however. There are cries of activist judges and government spying. Alarms of gerrymandering and legislative overreach. Political pundits on either extreme yell loudly and generally behave badly. And the endless, endless fundraising.

Community organizer and writer Michael Gecan pulls on ideas from the late philosopher Isaiah Berlin, and suggested in a recent essay that the major divide in our country is not around “hot button” issues like immigration or healthcare, but about our basic understanding of freedom.

  • The most basic understanding of freedom is freedom from. Freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement. Freedom from “big government,” from taxes, from regulation of the market, from national control over local control.
  • A second element of freedom is freedom for. Freedom for all people, slave and free alike, was the controversy of Lincoln’s age. Freedom for men AND women the contest of the early 20th century. Freedom for whites and blacks the defining struggle of the 60’s. In our time it might be freedom for people of all nationalities, freedom for all citizens to receive healthcare, freedom for women to control their bodies, freedom for gays and lesbians to be granted equal rights under the law.

Gecan argues that freedom from is in our national DNA, dating back to our emergence as a nation state. Freedom for is a more recent trend that requires an increase in governmental power to achieve more limited ends. (For example, when Lincoln made the case for using government’s power to end slavery.) Fault lines are created in our culture at the places where freedom from and freedom for scrape up against one another (Gecan, p. 21).

And yet, are not both elements of freedom essential? We need to be free from undue enslavement. We need to be free from all that binds our hands, hearts and souls. Such freedom is the promise of salvation. And yet we also need to be free for a particular pattern to life–one in which all are free to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We need to be free from sin, but also free for love of our neighbors.

Perhaps the way we can all honor freedom (spiritual and political) this summer, is to spend some time talking with someone who is different from us. Learn from them how they came to believe what they do about politics. Learn from them what their deepest hopes are for themselves and their families. Learn from them where their greatest fears lie. Learn, I pray, that in Christ there is no longer slave nor free, male nor female, Democrat nor Republican, but all are one.

This article was deeply informed by Michael Gecan’s essay, “Freedom From and Freedom For,” published by ACTA in 2011.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.

NEXT Church Evangelism

by Jessica Tate

We are in an evangelism crisis.cross cut out

You know the statistics. The PCUSA 2012 statistical report came out last month. The news isn’t surprising or good. The decline marches on.

Last Fall a Pew Forum study documented the continued decline in religious affiliation in the United States. “Nones” are now 1/5 of the US population and a full 1/3 of adults under 30 years old. For the first time, Protestants are less than 50% of the population.

According to Pew’s findings, we can’t blame liberal arts colleges and universities for undermining Truth or being hostile to faith, because religious affiliation declines among non-college educated people in the same rates as college educated people. Furthermore, it’s not true that if a church simply offered/hired/advertised [insert your community’s silver-bullet-idea here] the church would be overrun. 88% of “unaffiliateds” aren’t looking for a spiritual home.

Over dinner recently, a friend of mine asked me why I go to church. It was a serious question. He’s wrestling with who God is and what the church is good for.

My first instinct was to say that I’m Presbyterian; we don’t talk about those things. That would be evangelism.

But the truth is, I did have an answer. I had been wrestling with the question as I find myself more and more often in places where church attendance isn’t the norm, where belief in God is intriguing at best. Or I find myself in conversations with people who are so accustomed to the trappings of church that we can’t articulate the “whys” of church.

I answered my friend saying that I believe the central story of our faith is the movement from fear and death to hope and new life. I see that most clearly in the cross and resurrection and believe that movement is what God is about. In a world that feels like it is always tipping between fear and hope, I trust in God’s movement and I need to regularly gather with other people who are trying to embody that trust and movement in their lives.

Regardless of what you think of my answer, this is when the conversation got interesting. My friend said he’s been asked a dozen or so friends and colleagues why they go to church. I was the first person to answer the question theologically. Mostly he’d heard from our Christian brothers and sisters two answers:

1) community.

2) to do good work in the world.

Those are fine answers. But I’m not convinced Christian community is superior to other authentic communities. Likewise, churches do great service projects, but there are a zillion organizations doing good work (arguably in ways that are much more effective than the ways of the church.)

My point is this: we need to articulate the faith we trust. And it can’t just be the pastors doing the articulation, but all of us.

A year or so ago, the Christian Century ran a story that challenged people to state the Gospel in seven words or less. Based on Will Campbell’s Brother to a Dragonfly and the challenge he was issued by a friend: State the Christian message in 10 words or less. Campbell obliged saying, “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.” You can read more answers in the Christian Century blog series.

My challenge to you, gentle readers: What are your seven words?

Articulating our faith isn’t going to be enough to end the march of numerical decline in our churches, but it will remind us of the Good News that has saved our lives. And that is a crucial first step.

Jessica Tate1Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church.

Dis-Organize and Re-Organize, Repeat

by Jessica Tate

One of the “universals” of community organizing is this: All organizing is dis-organizing and re-organizing.

That makes me tired just hearing it. I’m a “J” on the Myers-Briggs. I like closure, decisions, orderliness. I want systems in place that function smoothly. I prefer stability and predictability.

That is fine and good, except when the stable stable system isn’t working well. Faced with that reality, I’m learning to embrace the constant flux of disorganizing and reorganizing.

Here’s an example of how dis-organizing and re-organizing put new life into the deacons’ ministry at the church I served.

Years ago the deacons had divided the congregation up into nine geographic “parishes.” Two deacons were assigned to each parish and asked to be the primary caregiver for their parish. The theory of the system was that people who live near to one another have more opportunity to be involved in each other’s lives on a day to day basis….to literally be neighbors to each other. 

Over time, the congregation began to draw members from further away and the parish map started to annex territory into its parishes. It looked like a gerrymandered congressional map. Since deacons weren’t nominated to fill geographical positions, it usually didn’t work out that the two deacons assigned to the parish actually lived in that geographic area and even if they did, it was unlikely they necessarily knew the people in their zip code. It was usually the case that each pair of deacons ended up with a parish of 40-50 individuals or families, three-fourths of whom they did not know. 

The deacons tried valiantly to make the parishes work. They hosted potlucks and five people would come. They tried making cold calls to everyone in their parish to introduce themselves. They sent letters every year with their pictures and asked people to say hello on Sunday morning and to call if they needed care. 

It didn’t work. People in the congregation “fell through the cracks.” The deacons felt disconnected from the people for whom they were asked to give care. They often felt like “the last to know” when a baby was born or a surgery was scheduled. Though they were trying hard and wanted to succeed and felt called to this caregiving work, they continually felt like they could not do their job well. But we kept at it. The system was predictable and stable. It was easy to manage. It just didn’t work.

One night at the monthly meeting, when frustration at the parish system was being voiced yet again, one deacon said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” 

The room froze. A rebellion. 

“I’m tired of trying to find ways to get strangers to let me be their deacon,” she continued. “I’m just going to be the best deacon I can to everyone in my Sunday school class and everyone who sits near me in worship.”

A few seconds ticked by and then another voice said, “Well I’m in the choir, I can be their deacon.” And another, “I’ll take my circle and the quilting group.” Suddenly, everyone was volunteering to be the deacon for the people in the congregation to whom he or she was already connected.

“Wait, wait,” someone said. “We can’t just choose these various groups that we like. We’ll leave out some people that aren’t in any of these groups.” “Yeah,” another person said, “choosing our own parishes feel too much like a popularity contest. That’s not fair to everyone.”

The debate went back and forth for a while when at the end, they decided that it made a lot more sense to anchor caregiving ministry with organic relationships and small groups that exist in the church. Those relationships and groups already provide care and often have more insight into what’s going on in someone’s life. To make sure no one was missed or left out of the new “relational parishes,” they spent their next meeting going through the membership rolls of all 700 members and making sure every person had a deacon. 

Dividing the congregation up by relationships worked and it didn’t even take that long to go through the roles. Between the two parish deacons, the ratio of relationships flipped. The deacons now knew three-fourths of the people in their parish and had much less anxiety about trying to meet and get to know the few families or individuals they had not yet met. They still send out letters to let the congregation members know who their deacons are. And those cold calls? Most of them aren’t “cold” anymore. It’s a friend calling a friend to check-in, pray, and offer companionship for the journey.

There are some downsides. There are fewer instances of the completely random friendships developing in the congregation because of a random geographic sort. The deacons have to re-divide the list every year when new deacons come on and bring with them whole new sets of relationships. They can’t just play favorites — they have to hold themselves accountable to get to know the handful of people in their parish to whom they aren’t already connected. It’s more work administratively to figure out which parish someone is in…you can’t just tell by the zip code anymore. But in exchange for real care actually happening? In exchange for caregiving done with a joyful heart? I’ll take the chaos of dis-organizing and re-organizing over predictability and stability any day.

 Jessica is the Director of NEXT Church. Prior to this call she served as Associate Pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church and Co-Chair of the VOICE (a northern Virginia community organizing effort)

5 Questions with Jessica Tate

We are launching a new series this month that 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. So without further ado … 
Jessica Tate11. Tell us about your ministry context.

After five great years as an associate pastor in Northern Virginia, I’m excited to be the Director of NEXT Church, building relationships with Presbyterians across the country who are doing exciting, creative, Christ-led ministry. I’m fortunate to live in Washington, DC and be part of National Capital Presbytery, which is doing some good strategic thinking about the church that is becoming.

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

In more places than I expected! Discovering these places has been one of the gifts of NEXT Church. All the leadership for the NEXT Gathering in Charlotte are glimpses of the church that is becoming…like the generative ministry at Broad Street Ministries and Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia…improvisational worship at Church of the Pilgrims in DC…Community organizing ventures across the country (Patrick Daymond, Andrew Foster Connors and Andy Imparato will highlight their experiences in testimony and a workshop)…highly contextual ministry like that of Caldwell Presbyterian in Charlotte…1001 New Worshipping Communities and New Beginnings ministries within the PCUSA…the Ecclesia Project in Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. I’m excited to catch other glimpses of good news at the gathering in March.

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

Our culture is changing rapidly. Perhaps this has always been so, but it is nonetheless changing and with it, the place of the church changes too. But the call of the church remains what it has been through the ages: How do we experience the redemptive presence of God in our lives? And how do we communicate that presence to others so that we embody God’s love, grace, and justice in the world?  How do we do that today?

Like the women who show up at the tomb, stubbornly insisting on hope when death and despair rule the day, I am passionate about ministry that helps us tap into the resurrection hope that is God’s redemptive presence in our lives. When we tap into that hope–individually and collectively–we are free to be born again ourselves, to be born again as institutions and communities, and, I believe, to bear hope and light in a world where people desperately need community, desperately need hope, desperately need God-in-Christ.

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

It’s hard to name just one thing! Of all the great things, I am most looking forward to the connections I make at NEXT gatherings (through what happens “up-front” and informally) that spark my imagination and help me grow as a leader in our church.

5. Describe NEXT in seven words or less.

Relational. Hopeful. Creative. Resurrection.