The Energy to Keep Going

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, David Norse Thomas is curating a series featuring reflections on the 2019 National Gathering, which we held March 11-13 in Seattle. We’ll share the stories and insights of people who attended the Gathering in person and virtually (via our live stream), and experienced new life and a deeper sense of hope for the people of God we call the Church. What piece of the National Gathering has stuck with you? Where are you finding hope? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by David Norse Thomas

“This all sounds great, but I have to ask: how much were you working each week to make this happen?” This honest question, asked in the workshop I was co-leading on intergenerational ministry, was one that I wasn’t quite ready for.

As a church revitalizer of a small, older congregation in suburban Baltimore, I’ll be honest: I work long weeks. There are months where I’m focused on how to keep a sixty-year-old church building going, looking at how to save money so we can reduce our deficit, and rearranging our pews so our handful of children have enough space to play, while also being accessible to our deaf folks and our ASL interpreter, and folks adjusting to reduced mobility and walkers. It’s the important work of hospitality and leading a small congregation, and while it can be life-giving, there are moments that make my soul sing: visiting with folks in their nineties as they ponder what they want their legacy to be to the next generation of progressive Christians; meeting with someone who hasn’t been in church in decades, but who encountered Jesus anew in worship and wants to get involved; training leaders in community organizing so that we can partner with the Holy Spirit as they move the world from how it is to a little closer to how it should be. The two kinds of long days are interconnected, interwoven; the one not possible without the other.

When I arrived at Maryland Presbyterian Church, I knew that I was going to need practices that empower and energize me. Each week, I set time aside to meet with folks, both within and outside of our congregation, for relational meetings; 30-45 minutes where I ask about what keeps folks up at night, and what gets them out of bed the next morning to do something about it. I also share what kindles the embers within me, to keep going. This has set all of what I do, even the seemingly mundane, aflame with the holy fire that set the galaxy’s spinning.

I worked a lot the first year in my call, knowing that I had to lay the groundwork. Now though, I’m at a place where I take Tuesdays and Saturdays off to hike and practice Sabbath. But I also make time to do the work that gives me the energy to keep going.

The NEXT Church National Gathering is part of what keeps me going. I work a lot, but I also try to work on what gives me, and my congregation, life. I never thought that life was a fourty-hour-a-week gig. Instead of thinking of work-life balance, I think about being centered on being a disciple. That weaves me into a story, and an energy, that gets me through plumbing problems and deficits. I hope that this month’s blog ignites similar fires within you as well.

Rev. David Norse Thomas (he/him/his) is the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD. Known as “the little Church in the woods,” and “the Church full of badass, progressive Grandmas, and everyone’s favorite Aunt and Uncle,” MPC is a dream congregation for Rev. Norse Thomas to explore what radical hospitality and community organizing can unleash in the hands of loving followers of Jesus.

Art Giving Voice to #MeToo

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sara Dingman is curating a series on the #metoo movement and the church. The series will feature recollections, sermons, and art. We honor the women who have shared their stories, and hope their courage might inspire others to seek the support they need to speak their truth too in ways that are best for them. The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline is always available to support survivors of sexual assault. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Ruth Everhart and Cheryl Prose

Ruth: An artist in Tennessee named Cheryl Prose makes art pieces corresponding to #MeToo stories that move her. She began with stories of friends, and came across my story in Sojourners. Since then she read my memoir, and this piece is based on the memoir.

~ The first image shows the piece in production. For “wallpaper” she tore pages from the book of Job from a large number of Bibles. The ink splotches represent gunpowder.

~ The second image shows the completed work, which includes folios of quotations, pieces from a “rape kit,” a gun, speaker wire (used to tie us up), and a plaque of a quote that especially moved her.

~ The third image is a closeup of that plaque, with the speaker wire.

~ The fourth image shows the inside of a folio.

I am moved that another artist found inspiration in my story. We in the church are often word-oriented and I appreciate these visuals.

Cheryl: I was a college student when a senior adult member of my church was kidnapped and gang raped by strangers. While a seminary student I learned that several of my classmates had experienced sexual harassment and assault at the hands of lay leaders as well as clergy—in churches where they grew up and in churches where they served on staff. As a college instructor, I listened as students told of being subjected to unwanted sexual advances—often at the hands of their Christian boyfriends. Where was the justice about which the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah spoke?

Fast forward to fall 2017. A number of my friends began to publicly tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault. The details of what they endured at the hands of others were sometimes unknown to me but there was no shock that these attacks happened given the pervasiveness of sexual violence and given what I already knew from my days as a student and as a teacher. I acknowledged their pain and yet there was a gut-level need to do more. How could I stand by these friends? How could I help give voice to their stories? How could I practice justice? In response to those questions, the MeToo Art Project began.

It is my hope that this project will (1) give survivors of sexual violence an additional vehicle by which to speak their truth about their experience, (2) be a means by which to hold perpetrators accountable, (3) raise awareness of the epidemic of sexual harassment and assault, and (4) be a means by which solidarity is shown- without regard to gender- with and to those who have experienced this type of life-altering attack.

Among the completed pieces is the story of Rev. Ruth Everhart who pastors a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Maryland and who has written a memoir, Ruined, which outlines the sexual assault she suffered. In terms of design, I knew I wanted to incorporate text from the biblical book of Job. Job’s friends offered religious platitudes in light of the horrors he faced. Ruth experienced similar inadequacies and insult from the church in the aftermath of her horrifying ordeal. The ink that is splashed over the text is a reminder of the fingerprint powder that covered the crime scene. The multi-level case is reminiscent of the multiple-story house in which the attack took place. Because Rev. Everhart’s Me Too story is a hard one to hear, I wanted the viewer to have to work to access the story and so the individual books that carry details of the crime are intentionally stiff and difficult to open.

Sexual harassment and assault appear in many forms from street harassment to workplace harassment to date rape to assault by strangers. If you are willing to have your Me Too story expressed in a visual format, contact me at (Participants may choose whether or not to be identified.) Together we are breaking the silence and inviting justice to roll down like water.

Ruth Everhart is an author, speaker, and Presbyterian pastor. Her next book about #MeToo and the church is forthcoming from InterVarsity Press in fall 2019. She is the solo pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, MD). Connect on Instagram: ruth.everhart, FB: RuthEverhartAuthor, Twitter: @rutheverhart.

Cheryl Prose spent nearly two decades as an adjunct professor of Religion in a private liberal arts college. She now spends much of her time sharing stories of those who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted—many of those episodes having ties to the church and other religious entities. You can follow the MeToo_Art_Project on Instagram.

Guided by Faith

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jeff Bryan is curating a series reflecting on the 2018 National Gathering in late February. You’ll hear from clergy, lay people, community leaders, and others reflect on their experiences of the National Gathering and what’s stuck with them since. How does the “Desert in Bloom” look on the resurrection side of Easter? What are your own thoughts of your National Gathering experience, or on what these reflections spark for you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Hope Schaefer

When our associate pastor approached me about attending the NEXT Church National Gathering, I was honestly hesitant. What was I going to gain from attending this conference? It wasn’t until I started to read the workshop descriptions that I realized how perfectly NEXT Church aligned with my career and my own personal passions. As a lay leader in my church, I registered for three workshops, from which I knew I could bring back information to apply for our congregation and my job as program manager at a non-profit food pantry.

Leading up to the conference, I had several conversations with my husband about strengthening my faith and helping it guide me in my career, but it was something I was struggling with. Once we arrived, I relinquished my hesitation and allowed myself to be open to all the National Gathering had to offer. The first service of the conference invigorated me. Internally though, I was still struggling to answer my question of career and faith: just how could I intertwine the two? I feel that faith is something I should hold close. We are not a faith based food pantry, but it’s something that I recognize daily in my work. It gives me hope and strength for social justice and the immense problems that our pantry clients face.

My first workshop, Coaching for Transformation, led me to my answer, an answer that really had been staring me in the face the whole time. With a partner in our workshop, we shared a “problem” we were facing and our partner had to respond with thought provoking questions. I explained the internal battle I had of better integrating faith into my career. Right away my partner responded with, “Why don’t you change your perspective?” Why shouldn’t faith always be a part of my career? Why would I need to separate the two? She responded, “What’s stopping you from your faith always being present in your day, especially as a woman with strong faith?” That was it. I needed to change my perspective, flip my thinking, and choose to see what was already there!

The NEXT Church National Gathering was an amazing opportunity to change perspectives and inspire us to focus on what COULD be. These perspectives can allow us to praise even while something may be dying or failing that death and failure can still bring about new life and opportunity. So, thank you, NEXT Church, for breathing new life into my passion for fighting hunger, sharing my faith and letting it guide me, and speaking up for all that I care about.

Hope Schaefer is a lay leader at First Presbyterian Church in Neenah, WI. Hope is a full-time program manager at the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. This large non-profit food pantry provides food monthly to 2,000 households and distributes over 1.3 million pounds of food a year. Hope is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Master of Science program in Recreation Management and in her spare time she runs half marathons with her husband (and soon the Chicago Marathon!) and plays cello.

Vocational Discernment Paradigm, Part 3

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Peter Hazelrigg

In the first section of this blog post, we looked at the question “who are you called to BE?,” as the first step to yield sustainable success and personal satisfaction in a career. Then, we explored the second component: knowing the networks we exist within. Today we open up the final building block – Doing.

Hazelrigg pictureDO: Once there is some clarity about who we are and how we like to be and interact, once we have cultivated our network and explored what we know and what we want to learn, it is time to do a more formal job search process.

I often find that professionals have an easier time finding work they can do, but it is harder to find work they want to do. Finding work is more than just matching skill with a position. When job hunting, there is a lot we can’t know from a job description. What is my boss like? What is the culture of the organization? How does this company invest in the development of it’s people? Are there opportunities to advance? With whom will I be working?

All good questions. And those questions should come from understanding what will be important for us based on our experiences, values, stylistic preferences, and other factors uncovered at the Being level. When we get to the point that we are ready to do a search for a particular position, many of the established search skills come into play – writing cover letters and resumes, interview skills, researching target companies, etc. These skills are well documented and often the place where people begin the process of a job search. However, asking the question “what am I going to do?” might look a lot different if we first do the hard work of answering the question, “who am I called to be?” There is no shortcut to creating sustainable success and personal satisfaction. That is the hard work of vocational discernment today.

Hazelrigg headshotRev. Peter Hazelrigg is senior partner at the Pilgrimage Professional Development Group,

Vocational Discernment Paradigm, Part 2

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Peter Hazelrigg

Yesterday, we looked at the question, “Who are you called to BE?as the first step to yield sustainable success and personal satisfaction in a career. Today, we explore the second component: knowing.

KNOW: Once there is some clarity around the difficult question of Being, there is an opportunity to do some mapping toward a better path of satisfaction and sustainability. That mapping has two primary components – the who and the what.

Hazelrigg picturePart of finding opportunities that align with your values and preferences is your network – who you know. Depending on the kind of opportunity you are considering, your current network can be very helpful. As an example, if you are considering a move to a different position within the same company, your network is likely already in place. If you are considering an opportunity in a different industry all together, then you likely need to do some work developing your network to be able to connect with people where you are interested in exploring. The best time to build a network, by the way, is before you need it. Building a network to find a job when you are unemployed can be much more challenging. New connections in a network are easier to develop when you don’t “need” anything. Need-based networking is necessary at times, but networking for mutual benefit is often more sustainable and impactful.

Our networks can be thought of in at least three parts: natural, intentional, and strategic.

Our natural network is the constellation of people we come into contact with because of the circles we connect with day to day. A vendor you work with is in your network, because you have a natural reason to interact because of the work you do. A friend from your running club is in your network, because you have regular shared experience together. People in your natural network take very little effort to connect with, because we naturally come in contact with them. Cultivating this part of your network then is really a matter of thinking about our conversations and interactions with increased intentionality and curiosity.

Our intentional networks are the varieties of people that used to be in our natural network. There was a time when someone you went to school with was in your natural network, you saw them regularly and had shared experience. After you graduated and moved to different locations, if that person is going to remain connected to you, you must be intentionality to your interactions with them because they no longer just happen. There are people that we do this with, and there are many more that we have “lost touch with” over the years. This is one of the best uses of social media like Facebook and LinkedIn. It can help use find and reconnect with people who were part of our network previously. Most of the time, since these people are known to you, it doesn’t take much to reconnect and open up a connection. A little research and thought will help you develop an intentional, and mutually beneficial, network.

The last aspect of a network is the strategic network. The strategic network is the identification of the people, kinds of positions, and fields that you would like to have connections in, but don’t currently. For example, you may be considering moving from a job in accounting to a career in healthcare. After looking at your natural and intentional network for people in these areas, you identify that expanding connections to the healthcare field will be important. The strategic network becomes possible in a couple of ways. First, is to leverage your natural and intentional network to see who can help connect you to people in healthcare. The second, is to identify ways to create contact with people in the healthcare space. That might mean requesting a meeting with an HR officer in a healthcare organization to learn more about opportunities (this is different than applying for a position). These kinds of informational meetings can often result in other people to contact, thus building your network through a more organic connection of being referred by someone internal to the organization.

One way of assessing your network is by doing a methodical network analysis. As you look at your web of connections, think about the strength of those connections (and your connections’ connections). This can help you be more intentional about the relationships you develop and the conversations you have and might seek out.

The other part of knowing is what you know and what you might need to know moving forward. The most obvious part of this is to consider your education, formal training, and previous experiences. How do those things you already know influence what you might like to do. Are there things that you wish you knew, but haven’t learned yet? What education, training, or experience would you like to have? How can you get exposed to those things to see if it would be a benefit for your future work opportunities. Many times when people are changing industries, there is some formal education or training that is needed. Sometimes people discount the life experience they have had and how to leverage that in exploring new career options.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the final building block — doing.

Hazelrigg headshotRev. Peter Hazelrigg is senior partner at the Pilgrimage Professional Development Group,

Vocational Discernment Paradigm, Part 1

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Peter Hazelrigg

As a professional coach and a former university chaplain, I am often invited into conversations with people who are looking for jobs, or thinking about changing jobs. Over the years I have realized that the questions people ask can impact career discernment.

“What are you going to do?” is often a question that is asked when someone is looking for a new job. The question is asking what is the “task” you will be engaged in. But simply asking, “what you are going to do?” does not make for quality discernment. There are many factors that need to be considered before looking at a job description (a list of tasks) and deciding if it will be a good fit that will provide an opportunity for sustainable success and personal satisfaction.

Sustainable success and personal satisfaction are criteria that many people use to evaluate their career. In order to make quality career decisions that will lead to these outcomes, it is important to begin with the question, “Who are you called to BE?”  This might sound like a simple turn of phrase, but it is a question that has very different answers than “What am I going to DO?” It is important to address the “being” question first.

Hazelrigg pictureHazelrigg pictureThere are many ways to explore vocational discernment. What will follow over the next few days on this blog is a model of career/vocational discernment. It is simple in structure and difficult in practice. It starts with Being, takes into account Knowing, and finally ends with Doing. BE, KNOW, DO. Start at the bottom of the paradigm and build your way to the top.

BE:  Many people that experience dissatisfaction in their professional work (52.3% according to a Conference Board report) describe it as being uninspired, restless, bored, and even frustrated. These feelings can come from experiences where we are not acting in alignment with their values. This can be a moment when we are asked to act in a way that goes against our values and we experience a momentary crisis. Or it can be more subtle, just a slow realization that we are uninspired and longing for something we vaguely describe as “more.” Below the surface is a value and a need that is not being met.  The question people often ask at this point is “what else can I do?” I would suggest they first need to ask “who they are called to be?” This is no small task.  It is a complicated question. It may well be that a coach, pastor, counselor, or other professional can be helpful in uncovering this answer.

The foundation of discernment is built on self-awareness. At its simplest level, this is about preferences and values. The most frequently used tools for understanding our preferences are the varieties of personality assessments on the market (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, Firo-B, WorkPlace Big 5, DiSC, SDI, and others). Understanding our preferences and tendencies can help individuals determine what kinds of tasks and interactions give them energy or take extra energy (a key to sustainability), what experiences and interactions help us to feel a sense of self worth (a key component of satisfaction).

Another aspect of understanding who you want to be is gaining clarity about your values. Some values are easy to identify (I value being employed), some are values are clarified over time through experience (I value working with a consistent team of people). Some of the values we hold can be in conflict with one another and need to be prioritized (I value more time with my family and advancement at work which will require more out-of-town travel). Exploring previous work experiences and reflecting on what was valued, and not valued, about that experience can be helpful.

Values are more than just things we like, they can also be ways we want to experience others. For some people there is a spiritual dimension that provides value and direction. In the church, we understand this as “a calling,” a way of being for which God has made us. There are many facets that can make up the broader concept of “values.”  The challenge is doing the hard work of reflection and self-exploration to be able to identify and become aware of how these values impact your experience of satisfaction.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the next building block — knowing.

Hazelrigg headshotRev. Peter Hazelrigg is Senior Partner at the Pilgrimage Professional Development Group,

Plowing the Ministry Road

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we’ve asked some of our 2016 National Gathering workshop presenters to share their thoughts on their importance of their workshops in today’s context. Nate Phillips is one of our presenters. Learn more about his workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Nate Phillips

Unlike the rest of us, Bill was thrilled to hear about the incoming Snowzilla blizzard that buried the Mid-Atlantic.

This was because Bill doesn’t manage snow with a plastic shovel or a finicky snowblower – his weapon of choice is a silver 3/4-ton truck and a snowplow, which, as you might imagine, makes Bill a very popular guy after a snowstorm.

snowy roadHe gets calls from neighbors and messages from Facebook friends begging him to sweep through with his plow.  When they can’t get through to him, they harass his wife and pile on the guilt.

During one of the heavier waves of the storm, Bill was out clearing a residential development when a man walked right out in front of him, risking his life to try to get Bill to stop 3/4’s of a ton of metal on wet snow.  Bill squinted his eyes, pumped the brakes, and rolled down his window.

The man was gruff with him, “I need you to plow my road!” he demanded, “I’ll pay you cash.”

When Bill told me that story, I laughed and said, “That’s not how it goes in my line of work.”

I remember when I started seminary thirteen years ago (time flies) and hearing about a “pastor shortage” in the PC(USA).  I felt confident about being able to find good work in a church, something that could last a lifetime.  That is still the case, for sure.  There are many places where a call is extended and accepted in a very traditional fashion.

However, it is not a stretch to say that there are fewer and fewer churches running out at pastors, stopping them in their tracks, desperate for pastoral services and ready to pay.

During our “Do Something Else” workshop at the NEXT National Gathering, we will discuss the current “job market” and set it alongside a consideration of call.  We will talk about actual needs in churches and actual dreams of pastors and discover that there is more possibility than might first meet the eye.

I will be joined by my colleagues John Molina-Moore and Edwin Estevez as facilitators in this workshop.  John and Edwin have joined me in the last few years in the work of cobbling and creating to work around the “one-church/one-pastor” paradigm and find ways for churches and pastors to be re-energized in plowing the ministry road together.

We look forward to sharing our stories and we hope you bring your story, your church’s staffing needs, and your sense of call for mutual reflection in our brief time together.

Nate PhillipsNate is co-pastor at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.  He is the author of the upcoming book for churches and leaders, “Do Something Else: The Road Ahead for the Mainline Church,” and a devout Red Sox fan. You can pre-order his book on Amazon.

Nate’s workshop, “Do Something Else,” is offered during workshop block 3 (on-site) on Tuesday.