Church Matters — When It Mobilizes

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is curating a series featuring an eclectic group of voices responding to the question, “Does church matter? And if it matters, how, and if it does not, why?” Some of the voices speak from the center of the PC(USA); others stand on the periphery. One or two of the voices come from other denominations while some speak to us from the wilderness and barren places. “To every age, Christ dies anew and is resurrected within the imagination of humans.” These voices are stirring up that imagination in their own way. May your imagination be stirred as you consider their insight. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rev. Stephen Roach Knight

Does church even matter anymore? That was one of the questions posed to me when I was invited to write for this blog, and the one that most resonated with me. Of course, my answer to that question is “Yes,” but perhaps not for the reason you might expect (or, if you know me, then, well, you probably would).

I believe church matters, perhaps more than ever, as a center for organizing in local communities. A few years ago, we invited Liz Butler from the Movement Strategy Center and Friends of the Earth to come and speak at the Transform Network national conference in Washington, D.C., and as an activist, she said it better than I had heard anyone say it before (which is why we posted it on the Transform Network website for posterity): “Community is the first step of collective action. Faith communities play a vital role.”

There is an incredible amount of movement work that needs to be done in order to effect positive change in our communities, in our country, and in our world — and it won’t be accomplished without the vital participation of churches as centers for personal and societal transformation.

In the Moral Movement work that I’m a part of through Repairers of the Breach and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, the participation of clergy and moral leaders at the center has been intentional and necessary. Many faith leaders are awakening to the responsibility to no longer be chaplains to empire but to be “prophets of the resistance” (as Michael-Ray Matthews says) or “moral prophets to the nation” (as Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II puts it).

Yes, the local church is to be a house of prayer and worship, but it must also be a place of action and mobilization. The era of the country club church, the membership club for insiders, is over (if it was ever sanctified at all to begin with).

Churches with buildings in neighborhoods and city centers can and must open their doors not just so that people can come in on Sunday mornings but so that people can go out the six other days of the week to be salt and light and wounded healers. And clergy are being called to not just preach truth, love, and justice from the pulpit on Sunday mornings but to proclaim truth, love, and justice in the public square — at press conferences and vigils and rallies to address and confront injustice.

Church work and social justice work are both extremely difficult and life-long commitments. Both require strength that comes from a deep inner well of faith and spirituality. That is why, at Transform Network, we have chosen to put such a strong emphasis on what my wife Holly Roach Knight calls “contemplative resistance.” The idea being that we must develop practices of contemplative spirituality that will feed us and guide us daily as we seek to be about God’s work of love and justice in the world. Without those practices, we will flame out and burn those around us with our toxic Christianity or, in my case, masculinity. Centering prayer and other practices are daily opportunities to pull out the poison of white supremacy and patriarchy.

There’s really no excuse today. The question you might’ve asked in years past, “But how do we do it? How do we get engaged?” is no longer a difficult question to answer. There are so many tools and resources available today that speak to faith and social justice, and campaigns (like the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival) to get involved with in order to engage. But if you are still uncertain and need help discerning where you and your church might best be engaged in the good fight of God’s justice in your community, I hope you’ll reach out to us at Transform Network. We’re available to spend 30 minutes on the phone with you for a free justice church coaching call to get to know you and offer whatever support we can to help you take the next steps to faithful presence and authentic engagement where you are, with the people you are walking with. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

You’re not in this alone. In order to change everything, it will take everyone — and every church. Because church still matters!

Rev. Steve Roach Knight currently serves as Director of Communications for Repairers of the Breach, the nonprofit social justice organization founded and led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. Steve has previously served as National Faith Organizer, mobilizing people of faith to the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, among other projects he has worked on for Bishop Barber. Steve is a commissioned minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and has formerly served as full-time consultant to the denomination’s church planting and church revitalization arm, Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. Steve is a co-founder and current board member of Transform Network.

The Mountains Are Calling

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rachel Pence

Legs burning. Sweat in your eyes. Your lungs feeling as though they might burst with your next breath, and yet you keep moving forward. And then you step through the clearing, and see the expanse below you, it’s almost as if the whole world is happening under your feet and all you can hear is the wind subtly blowing the dirt, watching the clouds move across the landscape. It is a moment that can only be described as holy.

Rachel2I have been hiking for as long as I can remember. Exploring trails with my family, friends or on my own.  There is something about carrying everything you need on your back, for a day, or multiple days, on trails carved by the feet of strangers. There is something about this that connects me to the divine. There is the obvious creator-creation connection, but that is just where it begins.

Maybe it’s because I have never been very good at sitting still or calming my thoughts on my own, whatever it is, when I walk through the mountains, on the cliffs above a beach, or a rocky outcropping, I find myself engaged in a type of worship I can’t find anywhere else.

The movement of putting one foot in front of another is primal, it requires me to pay attention to the way my body moves, responds, and adapts. I am able to quiet my mind, open my heart, and let the meditations of my body connect to God in a way that I forget in my daily life working at a desk, or living in a city.

For me, hiking and my faith go hand in hand. I have experienced communion with granola bars and Gatorade, passed the peace with those on the path, and found unexpected moments of pastoral care.  Hiking connects my body to the body of the world, and in turn, the body of Christ.  These spaces in nature are sacred and protected for a reason. There is much to learn about God in the woods, there is much to learn about ourselves there too, and how the image of God lives and moves and has its being.  

Rachel1Rachel Pence is a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is currently living in North Carolina adventuring any chance she gets.

Energizers: Movement with a Purpose

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Omayra González- Méndez

Can you imagine fifty people doing silly movement to a song? What about 2,000 of them all together before worship? Well if you get the idea, you kind of know what “doing an energizer” is! Yep, it’s a silly thing that we do primarily at youth conferences, but I’ve been seeing it more often in other church gatherings.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 2.03.02 PMWhat is the spirituality of having a group of people just dancing together on a song with movement that does not make any logical sense, not even professional movement? Or doing friendship bracelets or play outside with a ball? Well, that is all part of what we call recreation.

Recreation is more than “time to play.” It is about creating community. For years, I have been a rec leader in many events and people think “Oh, that’s so fun, you are just playing around.” Don’t get me wrong, we play and have fun, but we do with a meaning and purpose. The psalms often talk about dancing and praise – “Praise him with the timbrel and dance; praise him with stringed instruments and organs” (Psalm 150:4).  Ecclesiastes 3:4 also tells us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

The truth is that some people don’t feel good about their body or they see other people moving and feel ashamed and don’t know how to express their joy. That’s why we dance. When you dance with a lot of other people, you don’t feel shame. It is part of feeling good about who you are and being with others who feel the same. The energy goes around, the spirit moves.

I learned this when I was a youth myself. At that age you don’t always understand your body – everything is changing and you are much more self-conscious about what you’re doing and how you look. But when you create space for people to feel safe, when you create the expectation that we don’t want you to be perfect, that we accept you as God accept you for who you are, you start moving, you start dancing and you feel free.

And what about games and crafts? Well, that is another way to express yourself. Doing crafts allows you time to sit down and focus on something specific. Many crafts have connections with a sermon or a specific Bible verse. The idea is to keep you thinking on the word of the Lord. A teacher just told me that you remember only 10% of what you hear but 70% of what you do, so I think that crafts and games have their importance.   

I try to lead games that invite people work together, help people understand the need to be part of the greater body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. Sometimes people don’t stop to think of the theological part of what they are doing – and that’s okay – but I know that God works in every single moment of the day.

Energizers may not be the traditional way of doing worship or teaching the Bible, but is a way and sometimes that’s all that we need – a way to start doing things. God will take care of the rest!

OmayraOmayra L. González- Méndez is news editor, movie lover and super passionate about the church. From media reports, pictures and videos, she takes every free minute to work in different organizations of the Presbyterian Church, both locally and internationally. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Hato Rey, she works with youth society and finance ministries. Omayra understands that all parts of the church are equally important. She will take a summer to sit and follow the committees of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and fly the next day to lead recreation in a youth event. All matters of the church, processes and creation, fascinate her.

A Physical Faith

by Steve Lindsley

My church was built in the 1950’s as an offshoot of Myers Park Presbyterian a few miles up the road. They built a gorgeous sanctuary that seats 700. They built not one but two classroom buildings that, to this day, contain the standard wooden tables and chairs we all know and love. We’re doing new things with our space these days because that’s what churches today are having to do. Our session recently voted to remove a few pews to the side of the pulpit in order to create a wonderful open area dedicated to music, and those classroom buildings are home to both a preschool and Philips Academy, a school for middle and high-school students with learning disabilities.

trinity pres energizersBut in a lot of ways our church is still like many: founded and built on the premise that encountering and engaging faith involves a lot of sitting and being still. Passive. Doing faith in our heads. One-way communication from pulpit or teacher. Faith received.

Now I’ll be the first to admit it: I could stand to slow down a bit. I’m in constant movement with my work in ministry, with my family, with all the obligations and responsibilities my life contains. There is an inherent, rich value in tranquility, especially as it pertains to growing in faith and connecting with the God who created us and loves us still.

Even so, it’s pretty obvious that there is a constant and consistent presence of movement in our faith tradition. The Israelites wandered for forty years. Jesus healed with his hands. Paul traveled all over. Ezekiel saw a vision of God on wheels. We are more than just the frozen chosen – we are on the move!

This June, the NEXT Church blog series will focus on ways people encounter spiritual growth through movement – everything from running to body prayer to energizers. We hope these blogs will elicit questions like: how does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality?

It should be a fun month. Now it’s time to get up from my computer and take a walk. Gorgeous North Carolina day outside, and it’s calling my name.

Steve Spring 2015When he’s not being the senior minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, or songwriting/gigging, or keynoting/leading music for various retreats and conferences, or blogging at, or playing pick-up basketball with his two sons, or cheering on his beloved Panthers and Hornets, or watching music reality TV shows with his lovely wife, Steve Lindsley is probably sleeping.

The Presbyterian Cage Match

by Nate Phillips (featuring a video by Joni James)

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During May, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Nate Phillips is curating a month of blog posts exploring models of shared ministry, inspired by his pitch for an IGNITE presentation at the 2015 National Gathering. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

There is a great conflict taking place in the church.

It is not a fight between the session or deacons, it is not between old folks and young upstarts, it is not between organists and drummers, it is not between local mission people and international advocates, and it is not between those that would put a screen in the sanctuary and those that view that as anathema.

Today’s real conflict is far bigger and important than any of that and most church drama serves as a distraction from the cage match about to take place.

Standing in the blue corner, hailing from the middle of the 16th century, is the champion of the Presbyterian church, “Structure”.  In the red corner, the challenger for the countless time since the creation of the world, “Movement”.

At first, everyone loves “Movement” and the crowd goes wild when her name is announced.

But, with the end of every round, the crowd shifts a bit closer to the other corner.

“Structure” makes us feel safe.

“Movement” is impatient.

“Structure” keeps the right people in control.

“Movement” asks us to risk something.

“Structure” helps us to be taken seriously.

“Movement” might get us laughed at.

Presbytery leaders cannot help but be enthused by movement, at least at first.  But, predictably, they are some of the first to shift allegiance, leaving the “Movement” crowd wondering if they were ever with them in the first place.

But what if Presbytery leaders shared ministry more loyally than they served process?

You might find more programs like F.I.R.S.T. (Freeing the Imagination of the Recently Seminary Trained) emerge.  F.I.R.S.T. is a Presbytery mechanism for movement that joins recently trained pastors with a wide-open charge to enter the mission field as evangelists in New Castle Presbytery.  It began as a ministry initiative shared by the Chairperson of COM, Presbytery Treasurer, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Campus Chaplain with the hearty endorsement of the Presbytery Executive.

Through F.I.R.S.T., the Presbytery is standing, not necessarily with “Structure” or “Movement”, but with people – people left out of the embrace of most of our current churches, people that most of our local churches dare not stand with at all.

Rev. Holly Clark-Porter initiated a ministry she calls, “Big Gay Church” and describes it as “a queer community working on learning who the community is–that means, we are theologically helping one another and the Church look at gender, sexuality, transgender, cisgender and non-gender specific issues.”  Holly leads a monthly worship service and is starting a youth group in the fall.

Rev. Edwin Estevez just kicked off his ministry with F.I.R.S.T. last fall, a video on his dream after his first few months is below:


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” and a devout Red Sox fan.