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Instilling a Love for the Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah Dianne Jones

My earliest memory is of being four years old in Sunday school. It was there that I not only learned about Noah and the ark, Moses and the burning bush, and the Easter story, but also the importance of sharing my animal crackers with my friends, the need to say please when asking for the out-of-reach toy, and how much fun it was to be at church. Growing up, the church supported and loved me in ways that I’m just now realizing instilled my love for the church.

It was at church that there was a community that cared – deeply cared – about the ways I was growing and learning. The congregation wanted to know about the latest book I was reading, read the “newspapers” that my friends and I made in Sunday School about the things that we were learning about, came to my school events, and taught me what it was to be fully surrounded and loved by a community in the name of Jesus Christ.

This community raised me up in the faith, and I went to college assured of my place in the church. I had given the church my whole self, and in exchange my whole self had been shaped by the church. College was my chance to figure out what kind of relationship church and I would have, and I jumped in feet first, full of excitement. In college, I engaged with multiple congregations, each of which offered different experiences that helped to expand and deepen my faith. It was in the moments of great joy that I could celebrate in community, and in the moments of pain I learned to lean on the faith of others to hold me up when my faith felt weak.

As college came to a close, I needed to find what was next. The natural next step was to participate in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, as it was a mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that would offer intentional growth opportunities that I had yet to experience. What better way to spend more time thinking about vocational discernment and figuring out what my next steps were? I was thrilled to be matched with the Washington, D.C. site, but almost immediately after accepting the placement, my brain filled with questions.

Was my faith strong enough to do this? What about my experience? Will 22 years of living in the suburbs have prepared me at all to live in a city? Have mission trips, Vacation Bible Schools, Montreat conferences, and countless Bible studies prepared me to live into this experience in the way it deserves?

I needn’t have worried. My experiences had not given me a history in working in situations like I do now in DC, but that did not mean that I wasn’t prepared. My faith had been formed and tested by the same community that still loved me. It’s not perfect, but it never will be. The important part is that I have seen the evidence for a strong community to surround you. My YAV year could not have been as meaningful, challenging, and fulfilling had I not been reminded over and over again throughout my faith journey of my place in the community of Jesus Christ.


Sarah-Dianne Jones is a Birmingham, Alabama native who graduated from Maryville College in 2016. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC, where she works with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

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The Blessing that Changed My Life and My Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Karen Ware Jackson

“God loves you, and so do I,” my son lisps as he kisses my forehead. I return the blessing, listening as the ritual of love echoes from sister to brother, from father to son. And I know it is true. Deep in my bones, in the darkest recesses of my soul, I know it is true: We are loved by God and by one another. Every night, my heart simply bursts with the love and grace and truth. But it wasn’t always this way.

As a family with two young children and two pastors serving two different churches, our home life is harried. You would think a family led by clergy would have faith formation covered, but the sad truth is church schedules and the challenges of professional faith leadership can wreak havoc on a home. We usually managed a bedtime prayer and a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” but it wasn’t enough. So, encouraged by the work of Rich Melheim and Faith Inkubators, we embraced the Faith 5:

  • SHARE your highs and lows
  • READ a Bible verse or story
  • TALK about how the Bible reading might relate to your highs and lows
  • PRAY for one another’s highs and lows
  • BLESS one another

In our house, we usually share our “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” at dinner and read a bedtime story from the Bible. Sometimes we talk about what we read and we almost always pray, but we never ever miss the blessing. It’s the sacred moment when our love for one another connects seamlessly with our love for God.

These simple, powerful steps transformed our family life, and we didn’t even need to buy a curriculum! Suddenly, all the things we were already doing – sharing, reading, talking, praying and even the “good night kiss” – became part of our family faith formation.

Soon I began to wonder: if this works so well in our home, what about in our church?

At Faith Presbyterian, we’ve been welcoming people of all ages into worship for a few years. We created a PrayGround at the front of our sanctuary to give families the space to move and engage in our traditional setting. We have a lot of fun during the service and love the joy and life the kids bring! But worshipping alongside children is not quite the same as worshipping with children.

We have the kids and the adults in the space, now how do we bring them together? How do we help them tell their stories and pray for one another? How do we foster relationships and build cross-generational community? How do we become the Body of Christ?

Inspired by my experience of Faith 5 at home, I decided to experiment with it in worship. After all, share, read, talk, pray, and bless are authentic and traditional service movements. If these practices could bring us together in the home, why not in the sanctuary?

In order to reduce anxiety and keep everyone open to new experiences, we kept the basic flow of the service, but before we began the prayer of confession, I encouraged folks to form small groups around the sanctuary or use Faith 5 as a personal spiritual practice in the tradition of the examen. I closed the PrayGround and guided anxious but willing kids and elders to share and interpret the Word together. It was beautiful! We practiced Faith 5 Worship every Sunday in October and we will return to it at least once a quarter, but one movement remains every week:

We form a circle around the sanctuary, literally knit together in a single body. As we gaze upon the faces of the family of God – young and old, black and white, refugee and native-born, long-time members and first-time visitors – we hear the charge, “… that the love of Christ that dwells within you can reach out and touch others through you.” Then we turn to one another, crouch down or reach up, grasp hands, touch foreheads, kiss cheeks, and know the truth: “God loves you, and so do I.”


Karen Ware Jackson leads cross-generational worship at Faith Presbyterian Church, a small but mighty congregation in Greensboro, NC. As the mother of two young children who worship front and center, she knows firsthand the joys and challenges of parenting a child while leading a congregation. She blogs about engaging all ages in worship at  www.karenwarejackson.com and tweets at  @karenwarejack.

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From SERVING to Serving

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Boni Kim

Growing up in America, the only place I saw people that looked like me was at church. My parents were Christian and so I just followed them to church every Sunday. We started off at a smaller Korean church and later moved to one of the larger Korean churches in the area.

It wasn’t until eighth grade I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That was when I really started to explore what the church was. I had always liked helping out and volunteering for church and I discovered that I had been serving and being spiritually formed by my experiences even before I accepted Jesus into my heart.

During my college years, I went to an American church when I was at school and when I was home during the summers, I attended my home church. There was such a huge difference between the two churches that essentially did the same thing: worship God. When I attended church at school, I felt like I was learning so much and that I was getting something from the sermons every week. At home, I didn’t get the same kind of learning that I was getting at school. Nevertheless, after I graduated from college, I moved back home and started serving my home church.

Serving was my M.O. for most of my twenties. I believed that the only way I could grow spiritually was if I served. So, I served my heart out. I served as director for my church youth group for seven years along with serving and leading two summer camps for over ten years. During these years, I felt very tired and alone. There was only one person that was going through what I was going through, my best friend, and she was really the only person that I was able to talk to about my problems. Since she and I were pretty much in the same place in our respective churches, we just listened to each other and tried to encourage one another. In the end, I made myself believe that serving was the only way that I would learn more about myself, grow spiritually, and get closer to God.

Then, I burned out. I felt myself getting angry at the thought of stepping into church. Fuming when I had to sit through another meeting. I didn’t enjoy going to church. So, I stepped down from everything. I knew I needed rest.

During this time of rest, I learned that it was okay not to be in a leadership position in everything I was involved in. I learned to step back and be a participant and not volunteer. I learned to be more of a Mary rather than a Martha. (In my mind, I wanted to be perfect blend between Mary and Martha.) It was different because people around me have always seen me in a leadership position and have always asked me for help or asked me questions about certain events or camps. It was liberating to say, “I don’t know, I didn’t plan anything for this event.”

I also learned that it wasn’t JUST about serving. I didn’t just learn about God and my relationship with God only when I served. This time of rest was also apart of forming my spirituality. I learned that I could just sit and be a Mary and that was okay. It was definitely different and even uncomfortable at first. The more I was sitting back and not leading, the more I started noticing the small things with God. I never experienced just sitting back and enjoying God. This was a part of my spiritual journey that made me just sit and absorb God. Through just listening, God told me that I had done well in His eyes. All the serving that I did, was for Him and that He was delighted in me. When I realized that, I knew that servanthood was something that I couldn’t stop. It was just a matter of how much and what I wanted to be involved with.

Even though I told people I was taking a rest from serving, the servant heart inside me didn’t really let me stop for long. I was still involved with things here and there, so it’s not that I stopped serving altogether. I just learned how to say “no.” It took me a very long time to say no and to turn things down. It had to get to a burn out to say no. I learned how to balance and to know what my limit is.

I have by no means got my spiritual life figured out. I believe that’s something that is going to be an ongoing thing. I know that I just need to be connected to God first and foremost. After that, it’s really what God calls me to do to further the Kingdom. God is still working on me and I’m still discovering more about my relationship with our Father as well. In order for a relationship to grow, the relationship will always be going through some kind of transformation. That’s how I know that my relationship with God is still ongoing.

Currently, I am a deacon at my church and a Sunday school teacher. For now, that’s enough.


Boni Kim is an elementary school teacher at American Montessori Academy in Redford, Michigan. She has been a member of and served at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Metro Detroit (KPCMD) since childhood and is now a deacon at New Hope Church of Michigan, the English Ministry sister church of KPCMD. 

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Love Letters: The Intentional Practice of Remembering Baptisms

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Vickie Caro Dieth

In a family where juggling meetings and appointments and practices and laundry and meals is no small feat, it’s easy to forget things… especially when they happen only once a year. Luckily, my children were born on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, so their birthdays are easy to remember. The anniversaries of their baptisms? Not so much. The time of year is helpful, as one was baptized on Mother’s Day and the other, the first Sunday in Advent. But remembering the actual dates of their baptisms has been difficult for me and I’m most grateful for the reminders my phone gives me each year as the days near.

When my first child was born, my husband orchestrated what has become one of the most significant faith-sharing events for our family. Unbeknownst to me, he asked friends and family to write letters to our child about her baptism. As he collected the letters, he put each one into its own manila envelope, sealed it, and slipped it into a notebook where they would all be kept together.

In his planning, my husband requested enough letters to allow for one letter to be opened every year on the anniversary of our daughter’s baptism until she reached the age of confirmation. In the spring of this year, she completed our church’s confirmation process, and we read the last letter.

Some years we’ve done better at honoring the day than others. Some years there were cupcakes and some years the letters were read a few months late. But every year we’ve read a new letter.

It’s always a fun surprise to open one of the letters. I was never told who was asked to write to my daughter, and several years and two moves later, my husband doesn’t remember who responded, but they were all significant members of our own faith family. There were notes from the pastor who led the service and the elder who poured water into the baptismal font. My father’s letter shared his appreciation for the congregation that promised to nurture his granddaughter in her faith in God. There were letters from members of the youth group and their families. Some people chose to include pictures of themselves so she would know who they were. Each message spoke of the gift of belonging to the family of God.

Pastors and church educators are often telling us, “Remember your baptism,” but in a denomination that baptizes infants, this can be difficult to do. We encourage parents to share with their children the stories of the big day, but sometimes the family luncheon afterward or the heirloom gown worn by the baby claims the bulk of the memories, rather than the theological significance of the event. I am grateful for this collection of letters that reminds us of the promises made the day our faith community recognized Christ’s claim on our daughter. It is my prayer that it will help her make connections between her baptism and the day she claims the Church’s faith as her own.

I don’t really know what this notebook means to my daughter. She only knows or remembers some of the people we talk to her about. But to me, it is one of the most special gifts she will ever receive. Each year when we gather around the book of letters, we laugh and we remember. Each year we get to learn a bit of someone else’s faith story. Those who contributed took the time to reflect a little about their own faith and what it means to welcome a child into the church family. In their letters, people shared with our daughter their adult faith. The fact that she doesn’t know some of these folks reminds us of the universal nature of the baptismal vows we make. And every time she opens the book, my daughter is reminded that there has never been a time when she hasn’t been part of a faith community, that there are people other than her parents who love her, and that she is a child of God.


Vickie Caro Dieth is a Director of Christian Education and ruling elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in sunny Tallahassee, FL. Her doctoral work at Columbia Theological Seminary addressed teaching emotional intelligence as a tool for faithful discipleship. She is married to Rev. Danny Dieth and they have two daughters, Hannah and Abby.  

The Call to Create

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Kate Foster Connors

I have no idea why I signed up for the workshop, but when I read “Thirsting to Create,” my mouse clicked on that option without a thought. By the time I arrived at the NEXT Church National Gathering in March, I had completely forgotten what workshops I had signed up for, so I was surprised to see an art workshop listed on the back of my nametag. (I actually read it and wondered if it was a mistake.)

In another life, before I had children, and before I went to seminary, I took art classes, learning how to throw pottery on the wheel, and exploring watercolor painting. I also wrote poetry, and took long walks in the woods. Years later (after seminary, and a few years into ministry), I was fortunate to be able to stay home with my children when they were young, and those years were rich with making homemade Christmas cards, mixing homemade playdough, learning how to knit, and creating art with my children nearly every day.

My girls are now teenagers, and while they continue to love and make art, I cannot remember the last time I took some time to make something. Actually, I can remember – it was at the National Gathering, in the “Thirsting to Create” workshop.

Despite my initial shock at being registered for an art workshop (!), I went anyway.

The room was set up with all kinds of materials:  papers of all colors and textures, magazines, glue, markers, paint, and yarn, and………I looked around, found a seat, and felt myself exhale, and then inhale, filled with an unexpected but familiar sense of delight and peace.

In the middle of the tables were books, piles of rough-edged papers sewn together with plain, gray cardboard covers. Our assignment was to choose one, and make it our own. I took the book closest to me, opening it to examine the papers inside. The pages of the book were from an old hymnal, and the first page of mine, cut off so only about the last 1/3 of the page was visible, read “LOVE.”

Already ambushed by the overpowering joy and calm that filled me at being surrounded by art materials (!), and given a block of time completely dedicated to making art (!), it became abundantly clear to me that I was standing on holy ground. Like a burning bush announcing to Moses that God had some plans for him, the book-from-an-old-hymnal that began with “LOVE” shouted a reminder that God has given me an assignment in my current call: to facilitate ways for all of God’s children to enact God’s radical and abundant love.

I covered my book in beautiful paper with a blue and green and gold design that reminded me of middle eastern art. Too pretty. I found some old magazines, and cut out words that spoke to me:  Spirit, collaboration, unpredictable, a whole new way, you find there’s nothing these 3 can’t handle. Too predictable.

While I worked on my book, I talked with the people around me, learning about one woman’s ministry of sewing stuffed animals to give to children, and of another woman’s project of bringing “Messy Church” to her congregation (I LOVE that idea!).

I grabbed a roll of silver duct tape. Shiny, but practical, and tear-able. Perfect. I tore 2 strips, sticking them to the front of my too-pretty, too-predictable book, making a rough-edged, imperfect, shiny cross on the front. Perfect.

We ran out of time, but I walked out of the workshop with that book in my hand, confident now that I had been exactly where I needed to be.

I now have my book-from-an-old-hymnal on my desk, staring at me to help me remember that creating is not a luxury – it is a central part of who I am, of how I remember who I am, and who God is calling me to be in the world. Using my hands to make something gets me out of my head, clearing a path for the Spirit to speak without the clutter that often stands in its way.


Kate Foster Connors is director of The Center: Where Compassion Meets Justice, a mission initiative of the Baltimore Presbytery. She is a 2001 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, where she spent a lot of time on the streets of Atlanta, learning what it meant to encounter the Word in the city. She lives in Baltimore, MD and is married to Andrew Foster Connors, also a pastor. Together, they have 2 teenage daughters.

Adult Education – Small Groups

Our May 2017 Church Leaders Roundtable focused on adult faith formation. Some of the conversation centered around small groups as a model for adult Christian education. While small groups are popular, they can burn out pretty quickly. Participants in the roundtable discussed models of small groups they found to be most successful.

One model of small group is a supper club where members of the group share meals at each others’ home. This model offers great fellowship, but can be lacking in the Christian education/faith formation area. Another model that offers good fellowship with a bit more faith formation offers small groups that stem from a particular area of interest: running, knitting, grandparenting, etc. Church staff and the Christian education ministry team offer a devotion that is used by each of the small groups, and the groups commit to use the devotion in each meeting and pray for one another.

There are two common models that are based primarily on deepening faith and education. One is an intense, weekly model that requires daily work. This could be a group using the Companions in Christ or Disciple curriculum, or other long term studies. The second model that is popular is a short-term (6-8 week) study around a particular topic or book that the whole church is focused on, often that is supported by a sermon series. There would be multiple small groups that congregation members could be a part of, all of which would meet at different times so that there are options for a wide variety of schedules.

What models of small groups have been successful in your own adult faith formation efforts? Let us know by commenting below!

Adult Education Topics/Curriculum

Our May 2017 Church Leaders Roundtable focused on adult faith formation. Some of the conversation centered around education topics and curriculum. Here are the resources roundtable participants shared.

While there are many excellent resources available for children’s curriculum, it can be difficult to find resources for adult education. Here are some options of curriculum or class ideas vouched for by Presbyterian congregations:

Curricula

  • Disciple Bible Curriculum – an intensive study requiring daily work by class members.
  • Feasting on the Word – follows the Revised Common Lectionary.
  • The Wired Word – Simple article about a current event that can be sent out by email. It includes scripture as a lens from which to read the article and questions for conversation.

Topics/Ideas

  • Try flipping the script: rather having topics on theology or scripture, frame classes around questions people are wrestling with in life and bringing wisdom from tradition and scripture to that topic.
    • One way this has been done is having big boxes in the narthex where congregation members can put in their questions that pastors will tackle over the length of the class. Examples of questions could be:
      • Inclusive language: why call God father not mother
      • We believe Jesus is way, truth, life. What does that mean for other religions?
      • Why different bible translations? Why are the words different?
      • Preparing people to talk about death and dying.
  • Spirituality of Conflict from the Corrymeela community in Ireland can be used for a Sunday School class. It is lectionary based, but you must be willing to read the lectionary through the lens of conflict. It’s also free!
  • Faith & Film series – select films that could be explored through a theological lens. Invite people to watch the film during the week and then have a class discussion on Sunday.

Blest Be the Tie that Binds

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rachel Helgeson

The request came from the most unlikely of places. Judy was always quiet and loving but rarely spoke out against others or things in fear of making waves. It wasn’t that Judy didn’t have an opinion about things – it was that she valued the relationships that drew her into the fellowship of our congregation more than the conflict. Judy lived and still breathes the words drafted by the hymnist John Fawcett, “blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love and fellowship with kindred minds is like to that above.”

Even so, it was a surprise when she softly raised her voice in the middle of a Presbyterian meeting and said… “Would it be ok if I hung a tie out in our back shelter with socks, scarves, and hats? Because I know…” (she hesitated to say) “we know that there are folks who are living in the 3 acres of woods behind our church in tents or less than that.”

The room stood still, for it was a rare occasion that Judy made a request that had the potential of being controversial – or get push back for not being the way that we do things here – but it was her voice that helped get others to say yes, yes of course, we should do that.

So where do we go from here? In our small corner of the world in pseudo rural Southern Illinois, the problem of homelessness is growing. The state of Illinois has cut resources for folks suffering from mental illness and addiction. A large state prison is located only 20-30 minutes away from our “big town” amongst the smaller farming villages and communities. And while our little corner of the world has a homeless shelter that was endorsed at its inception by the community with the strong influence of my congregation, it came with a price. That price has been lower residency of guests because it is a family shelter functioning in the midst of ordinances that prevent people without homes from residing there if they test positive for drugs or alcohol or, in certain cases, have a felony.

And while I felt a strong pull to learn and grow around this sort of mission work, the work of the people, I felt unprepared to understand how to address the tie that binds us to those who have faced conviction, were recently released, and now have no place to go except the back “forty” of First Presbyterian Church of Mt Vernon.

It was that simple request from Judy that started with a rope tied from one pole to another with socks, hats, gloves, and scarves that helped me rethink: what are we doing here? This is the tie that binds the people living in the woods to the people worshipping in the sanctuary immediately in front of them. It was at the NEXT Church National Gathering, with the help of the creative spirit of the ad hoc, crowd-sourced worship band and the workshop led by Hans Hallundbaek about the rehabilitation through arts program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, that I learned the Holy Spirit breathes life in the ties that bind us in new and interesting ways as the Body of Christ.

I learned that for many it is uncomfortable to deal with the overpopulation of the prison system. Many are afraid of those who are released back into society. And even more disturbing is that it is very common for former inmates to return to prison because they have not learned any soft skills to transfer to the outside world, leaving them in the cold returning to old habits.

The tie that holds our socks, gloves, and scarves is a visual reminder to my congregation of all of these folks and has had us start to ask the question: what can we do better? How can we equip people to live fully into the lives that God has called them to live without pressuring them to be something different and helping them learn basic soft skills to be able to function in the outside world? What began with a tie that binds in our shelter has now grown into a conversation with our local homeless shelter, community leaders, and the community at large asking how we can serve those experiencing homelessness better. Does it mean housing them in our current, more established family homeless shelter, or does it mean thinking outside of the box and doing something different?

I can’t say that we have answers at this point. But I would say that the time I spent at the NEXT Church National Gathering opened a door for me to remain non-anxious in the midst of the questions. Others have been there before, improving their way to an answer through the melody line of a production held on the inside of a maximum security correctional facility. To hear with an open ear each person’s concern while still acknowledging that there is a problem. To be available to speak between various organizations and help them listen to one another while still attempting to come up with a new solution to strengthen the tie that binds us together.

It started with an unlikely voice acknowledging the thing we, my community of faith, all knew but many tried to ignore and disregard. It helped us see the people in the margins who were and still are quite literally living in our backyard. And we hope to continue to seek out how the tie that binds us in Christian love builds up the holy fellowship of kindred minds beyond the walls of the National Gathering and into our little corner of the world in Southern Illinois.


Rachel Helgeson is the solo pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Mount Vernon, IL, and is still learning and growing into God’s unimaginable call. She never imagined that her gifts in music and passion for mission would be synthesized right in her congregation’s backyard but is grateful for the formative places that led her to this place (including her studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas’ Lilly Residency Program, and her prior musical training & work in Pennsylvania and New York.)

A Place of Response and Action

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Frances Rosenau

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

Paulo Freire

The NEXT Church National Gathering really stuck with me this year. I’ve been to a previous National Gathering and came home inspired and renewed. The same thing happened in 2017 as well.

What was different this year was the sense of urgency and action. Gone is the “woe is me” trope that the denomination of our past is shrinking. Instead of reacting to the situation in the church at large, the National Gathering is now a grassroots gathering for something: for including all voices at the table, for amplifying the contributions of young leaders, and for standing up against injustice.

The Sarasota Statement has had a lot of buzz since it debuted at the National Gathering. I particularly appreciate how the statement directly addresses groups of people and actions that will be taken to bring reconciliation. Not simply a statement of faith, this statement addresses its intended audience and brings the conversation to a place of response and action.

Through the month of May, the congregation I pastor, Culver City Presbyterian Church, is taking four Sundays to walk through the Sarasota Statement in worship. Below are the sermon titles, scripture passages, and themes of each service, each of which corresponds with one part of the Sarasota Statement.

Preamble 

“Kingdom Come” Matthew 6:7-15

The Preamble of the Sarasota Statement is rich with theology and imagery, the most grounding image being that of the coming kingdom. Jesus is Lord over a kingdom that exists already, as the statement reads. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prays for the kingdom to be present on Earth as it already exists in heaven. That means God’s kingdom is possible; a reign free of violence, starvation, and injustice can be achieved on this earth, not just in heaven. Jesus prayed for it and Jesus calls us to join in that kingdom work here and now.

Part 1 – To the people we ignore, reject, or demonize for living outside the tribes we claim

“Peace in All Its Forms” Luke 8:1-3

We claim so many tribes. Like the star-bellied sneetches in the Dr. Seuss story, we create differences between people even if they don’t already exist. And when they do exist, we oftentimes become so entrenched in our own tribes that we “ignore, reject or demonize” others.

First, we recognize what tribes we claim, whether we have done it intentionally or not. Then we work to build a community across those tribes just as Jesus calls us to. Jesus called women to leadership, even though they were outside of the “tribe” of maleness he was a part of. Systems of power and privilege keep divisions in place, and we commit to intentionally work against them.

Part 2 – To the people we dehumanize and dismiss on the basis of political and ideological differences, and those who suffer at the hands of our idolatry

“Watered Down Idolatry” Jeremiah 29:4-7

The people in exile had lived through so much suffering, they held the Babylonians in contempt. They had been wronged and abused and could not see the humanity in the people keeping them there. And yet God through Jeremiah calls them to build houses and marry into Babylonian families. The people hearing these words likely did not welcome the call. They wanted to protect their identity and not open themselves up to the Babylonians.

Our context is quite different, and yet we often “conflate Jesus’ message with political platforms and look to partisan ideologies to affirm [our] ethics and action.” We commit to prayer for our political system and our leaders as well as speaking on behalf of those silenced or who may differ from us.

Part 3 – To the people for whom we have failed to seek justice, offer hospitality, or fully embrace as part of God’s beloved family

“On the Other Foot”  Leviticus 19:33-34

Whenever I travel in other countries and am confused or lost, I have overwhelming gratitude for locals who come to my aid. As a teenager, the light bulb went off – Oh, this is how all the foreign exchange students in my school must have felt. 

“For you were aliens in the land of Egypt…” is God’s not-so-subtle reminder of when the shoe was on the other foot. Welcoming and protecting immigrants and refugees is as ancient a practice as our faith. God’s people are on the move throughout scripture, often moving either toward conquest or fleeing from it. This is still our story. As people whose story transcends the narrative of any one ethnic group or lineage, we are called to listen to the stories of those who are moving now and stand with them.

The Church is called to live differently than the powers and principalities of this world. We are called to stem the cultural tide of racism and inequality in the way we do church, to intentionally work against our biases and form a community of equality. Since we swim in the waters of injustice from Monday to Saturday, we have to work very hard at doing things differently in the Church.

The NEXT Church National Gathering this year and the Sarasota Statement in particular has given me sustaining water for the long journey, overflowing to my congregation and beyond.


Frances Wattman Rosenau is the Pastor of Culver City Presbyterian Church in the Los Angeles area. Her DMin studies focused on multicultural and multiethnic worship. She has a passion for the global church and has lived in India, Scotland, Arizona, Upstate New York, Paris, Chicago, and Tulsa. When Frances is not at church you will find her training for a race, reading about bulldozers with her boys, or searching for her husband in a used bookstore.

Creating a Permeable Community

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah-Dianne Jones

As the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) with NEXT Church, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on community. One of the core tenets of the YAV program is intentional Christian community. We are placed with 4-8 other young adults and asked to make a covenant with one another, share a budget, and truly become a community. A huge part of my reflection has revolved around this intentional community I live with, but I’ve also been thinking about community within local congregations, NEXT Church, and the National Gathering.

Community is hard. It takes a lot of work to build a strong and supportive one no matter the setting. I have learned that the struggle with building community comes in large part because there’s no one way to make it work. The effort has to come from both sides.

At the National Gathering, people come together to worship, learn, and enjoy one another’s company in a community made up of people from all over the United States. For many, it’s a time to come together with friends that they don’t get to see very often, swap stories about life in ministry, and catch up. It’s a space in the year to take a breath and release some of the stress of everyday routine.

I attended the National Gathering for two years before I came to be NEXT Church’s YAV. It has become one of the highlights of my year, but I remember walking into registration at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago in 2015 and feeling completely overwhelmed. There I was with a group of Presbyterians that I didn’t know very well and I didn’t really know what to do. As the National Gathering went by, I began to meet different people through friends and my comfort level increased. Last year, in Atlanta, I knew people. My community was there. I always had people to sit with at lunch and knew people to ask about going to dinner. For me, going back into a community I was now familiar with, it wasn’t an experience of feeling isolated.

In Kansas City, I approached the National Gathering from a different side. My role was to coordinate volunteers and be present at the information desk, so I did not spend much time in the ballroom. I did, however, hear comments from some folks about feeling isolated.

I don’t think that there’s any worse feeling than being surrounded by a community and feeling isolated from it. It’s an experience that I have had before and would love to never repeat. I have found myself thinking about the work that the community must put in. How can a community make itself more easily permeable? How can we be an open and welcoming space to those who are entering our communities for the first time? What do we need to change about the way that we encounter others so that they feel that they are seen?

These are questions that don’t apply solely to the National Gathering. I think that congregations, youth groups, presbyteries, and neighborhoods should be asking them every week! We are called to be in true community with one another, not to be isolated. What does that look like? I think that sometimes the answers are simpler than we might think. It might be that a door opens when you sit at a different table or in a different pew every week. It might be that you take on the practice of noticing those who seem to be spending a lot of time alone and making a point of speaking to them. In my community with the other YAVs, we make a point of truly showing up for one another, even when we’d rather stay to ourselves. A question was now ask each other during our community meetings is, “What did you risk for the community this week?” It might be that we risked vulnerability when it would be easier to keep our feelings or experiences to ourselves, or it could be that we risked a new experience that is out of our comfort zone. Our new practice reminds each of us that the work that we each do individually to build our community is critical to its strength. These are small steps, but they’re a start.

We are better and stronger when we are in community with one another. Community isn’t an easy thing, but it’s worth the work.


Sarah-Dianne Jones is a Birmingham, Alabama native who graduated from Maryville College in 2016. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC, where she works with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.