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More than Mindfulness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rev. Michael McNamara

Since contemplation can be a bit of a slippery term, I would like to try and define Christian contemplative practice as accurately as one can. It refers to a long practiced, deeply rooted Christian tradition that goes at least as far back as the first time Jesus went off by himself to pray (although its not like he was the first person to do that, so it rooted in something even more ancient than the Christian church). At its most basic level, Christian contemplative practice could be understood as meditation or silent prayer — but it has a far more robust history and practice than that.

Contemplative practice has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. There are thousands of years of Christian writers exploring and putting language to their contemplative experiences of God, people like Augustine, Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, John the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Thomas Kelly, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Anthony de Mello, Tilden Edwards, Richard Rohr, and Cynthia Bourgeault. There are also various formal and teachable modes of practice including lectio divina, psalm chanting, labyrinth walking, icon meditation, and centering prayer that have been handed down and developed over generations. Christian contemplative practice reveals a non-duality to the world that uncovers a unity with God. Put plainly, Christian contemplative practice could be summarized as: intent to simply be present to God in stillness.

Over the past year, as I have been establishing foundations for a new worshipping community centered in contemplative practice, I have been meeting with folks across the religious/spiritual spectrum and a few things have emerged.

  1. There is clearly a longing for a deeper experience of life.
  2. There is a growing mistrust of the Church, particularly among millennials.
  3. There are burgeoning movements around mindfulness, yoga, and more general wellness, something for the sake of simplicity I will refer to (maybe unfairly) as secular spirituality since many (but certainly not all) practitioners in these emerging fields often go to great lengths to remain firmly secular.

It could be easy to worry about these developments, particularly when coupled with declining religious engagement, but I have seen reason for hope. If anything I believe there is an opportunity.

It starts with the fact that secular spirituality movements have offered a wonderful gift: through practices that grew out of ancient faith traditions more and more people are getting a glimpse of a “loving stirring” to the “naked being of God” (as put by the anonymous author of the 14th century spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing). Folks are experiencing something larger than themselves, a wordless formless expanse that resonates deeply.

Rarely, though, do the practitioners of secular spirituality have the language or infrastructure to help people more deeply engage in these experiences. Not all who experience these transcendent moments will seek to go deeper, but many will. The more rational approaches of secular spirituality — rooted in language that seeks scientific proof of its efficacy, language that speaks to the rational mind, words that tend to dwell in neuro-biological space — are not particularly useful in helping people encounter and embrace the paradoxes explored by the poetic and mythic language of faith and mysticism. As a result practicers are often left with beautiful experiences but lack ways to engage that experience beyond the rational mind.

This is where the Church can help. It can mentor and walk with those seeking a deeper spiritual journey. The Church can dig deep into its past and offer a robust framework for those looking to engage more deeply in these spiritual realms of the heart mind and soul. Church can offer language and a treasure trove of diverse experiences that can act as guides and way points for the journey deeper into God. The Church is also practiced in community building and can help form covenant communities of accountability around practice, a central element of Christian contemplative practice over the millennia.

The beauty of this is it is not just that the Church has something to offer in terms of experience and tradition and practice, but that it can also learn from those engaging in spirituality beyond the walls of a church. This month’s posts will explore both sides of this, from the secular side and the religious side, and will sometimes appear to be in paradoxical opposition to itself (just like good contemplative practice!). Hopefully these posts will get you to thinking, asking questions and seeking to dig a little bit deeper in this rich and abundant resource, a gift really, gift to the Church.

If we go back to our plain definition — intent to simply be present to God in stillness — in that simple presence exists amazing transformation. In that simple stillness we can trust that the “NEXT Church” will emerge out of the infinite love imbibed in creation by God.


Mike McNamara is a Presbyterian pastor serving Adelphi Presbyterian Church in Adelphi, MD, as well as forming a New Worshipping Community rooted in contemplative practice in Silver Spring, MD. Mike has a beautiful wife and two young boys ages 2 and 4. He has a particularly strong love of rock climbing and good coffee. Catch him at RevMcNamara.com and on instagram: @a_contemplative_life.

We Are the Church, for God’s Sake

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 Ken Fuquay

“Talk less about Jesus?”

“SERIOUSLY?”

By three o’clock that Sunday afternoon, I had re-read the text message half a dozen times. Each time, discouragement shrouded me like a well-fitted pall expertly knitted together with strong cords of anger. I knew the words were well-intended, but having them appear on the screen of my phone that particular Sunday shook my faith. After all, just a couple hours earlier, I had delivered what I considered to be one of my finer sermons.

The exegesis of the passage was stellar, and the structure was well-crafted. The delivery, equal parts manuscript and extemporaneous, was empowered by the Holy Spirit. If ever there was a sermon meant for a specific group of people on a specific day and time, I felt that sermon, on that day, was it. Yet, the text message called all of that and more in question. I pulled out my phone and read it again, “Pastor Ken, I enjoy our little community. But if we want to attract more people, we need to be more relevant. And I’m certain, to be more relevant, we should talk less about Jesus.”

Talk less about Jesus?

Are you kidding me?

Talk less about Jesus.

The phrase played on repeat in the core of my being.

Talk less about Jesus?

I was taken aback by the suggestion.

Talk less about Jesus?

The words seared my soul.

Talk less about Jesus?

I wanted to text back in all caps; “BUT WE ARE A CHURCH, FOR GOD’S SAKE.

In my short tenure as an ordained Minister of Word & Sacrament in the PC(USA) and as a bi-vocational planting pastor of a new worshiping community that gathers in one of Charlotte’s most iconic bar and entertainment venues, I have become keenly aware that the church is engaged in a daily skirmish which pits role against relevancy.

The church I pastor knows the battle well.

When the brewery down the street promotes itself as being “mission-driven,” what is the church to do? When the coffee shop around the corner is crowned the neighborhood’s favorite “third space,” what is the church to do? When atheists’ gatherings and AA meetings tout life-transforming engagement, what is the church to do? And when 7 minute TED Talks garner millions of clicks, views, and shares, what is the church to do?

Here is what we did.

We attempted to become a relevant presence in the neighborhood.

Photo from M2M Charlotte Facebook page

Rather than “church,” we’ve opted for the more seeker-friendly less-offensive phrase “new worshiping community.” We selected an eye-popping logo which translates well on mobile devices. We chose a catchy name that tests well in focus groups and represents the entirety of who we feel called to be. We made sure our website contained all the correct buzzwords. We put up an online giving link and will soon have our very own app.

Contextually, we designate two Sundays each month as non-preaching, community-friendly, outreach experiences. First Sunday is “Fellowship Sunday.” (We sit at table, eat brunch, share stories, sing songs, and get to know one another.) Third Sunday is “Park Bench Sunday.” (We invite community voices to share their work and listen for ways God may be calling us to join.) We’ve had open-mic Sunday, comedy improv Sunday, and concert-for-the-community Sunday. We’ve gathered out of doors for worship.

We practice inclusion at every turn. We invite other faiths to share so that we might understand their religion and beliefs. We march in gay pride parades. We partner with other non-profits to increase our efforts exponentially. We serve dinner to the homeless. We canvas the neighborhood on street clean-up patrol. We gather for discipleship training at a local sandwich shop. We give food and water to immigrants passing through out city. We meld coffee time and worship. We eat together every Sunday. We’re pet-friendly. And…we worship in a bar, for God’s sake.

How much more relevant can we get?

Yet, I worry.

I worry that we’ll idolize the bar rather than worshiping the One who calls us to gather there. I worry that we’ll take pride in our renown as “the church that meets in a bar” rather than following the One whose namesake we are. I worry that we’ll boast about our good works more than boasting in the One who gives us breath. I worry that we’ll elevate our inclusion to the point of being exclusive. I worry that we’ll abdicate our role for the sake of being relevant.

Yes, it is necessary to explore every avenue available to determine where God is calling us to be and how God is calling us to live the gospel in context when we get there. So, we discern: Is it church in a bar? Is it church at a skate-park on Saturday morning? Is it church on a Tuesday night with a calypso band? Is it free coffee and doughnuts on the corner? Is it church in a space where gatherers can bring their dogs? Is it cowboy church, Harley church, or late church? All of these, and more, are worth exploring. But in our quest to become a more relevant presence in the world, we must not sacrifice the role of the church.

After all, it is our role that makes us relevant. (That sentence is worth reading again.)

What is the role of the church?

The role of the church is the same as it was when the gestation period ended and the church was pushed from the womb into the streets of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

“And you shall be my witnesses…”

The Greek word is μάρτυρ, which means “one who testifies.” Ah shucks. There’s that word we Presbyterians dislike and try to rationalize away. But the word is unavoidable. We are people of the book; a book filled with stories. And the stories are begging to be told over and over again! So, somebody, testify!

The role of the church is to speak a Word that cannot be heard anywhere else in culture.

The role of the church is to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ;

The role of the church is to announce the nearness of God’s kingdom, good news to all who are impoverished, sight to all who are blind, freedom to all who are oppressed, and declare the Lord’s favor upon all creation.

The role of the church is to participate in the mission of God on earth.

Please understand, I am all about being the church in the context in which we are planted. I’m all about casting a vision that unites and makes us relevant. But if, in our attempts to be the church, we abdicate the role of the church for the sake of being relevant, then we are simply engaged in a kitschy fad, one that will surely fade, and we become nothing more than the next non-profit organization down the street engaged in fundraising alongside our attempt to offer some modicum of good works.

Take heart! Shepherding a congregation through the process of discerning the balance between role and relevance is a necessary skirmish — one that leaves us bruised but beautified; sometimes disappointed but always hopeful; challenged every day but continually invigorated.

And finally, I’ve realized that throughout our discerning and being and doing, we can never speak too much about Jesus. Never! It is our role, and it is that role that makes us relevant.

After all, WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST, FOR GOD’S SAKE!


Rev. Ken D. Fuquay is planting pastor at M2M Charlotte, a 1001 New Worshiping Community. Ken is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary and is the CEO of LIFESPAN, a non-profit that serves more than 1,300 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities across 23 North Carolina counties. He and his husband, Terry, live in the Charlotte area with their mini-doodle named Abby-dail.

Preaching Justice Without the Gospel is Nothing More than Moralism

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 Colin Kerr

Children’s Sunday school classes are notorious for bad biblical interpretation. We’ve all bemoaned the well-intentioned volunteer who teaches Bible lessons with an agenda for simply making well-behaved children. Every Bible story has moral lesson to them, usually something to the effect that God wants us to not hit our siblings, be nice to our peers, and share our toys. Nice lessons, but not exactly anything our non-Christian neighbors aren’t teaching their children either. Suffice it to say, Sunday school classes like this really aren’t teaching the Christian faith so much as they’re teaching Christian moralism.

Yet, many of us are only preaching to the adults a more sophisticated moralism. Sermons that preach justice are the adult version of bad children’s Sunday school classes. The scriptures we interpret have a moral lesson to them, usually something to the effect that God wants us to practice non-violent resistance (aka don’t hit our siblings), be radically inclusive (aka be nice to our peers), and work towards economic equality (aka share our toys). Nice lessons, but not exactly anything left-wing activists aren’t blogging about either. This kind of preaching isn’t teaching the Christian faith. No matter how just the cause we think we think the scripture is telling us we must do, this is still an exhortation to moralism.

Ironically, this is really the other side of the conservative moralistic coin that so many of us have outright rejected. We have rightly discerned that a steady diet of sermons extolling virtuous habits and condemning personal vices has not helped those in the pews. Droning on about sexual purity, modesty, temperance, and obeying authorities induces a culture of shame. Telling people to pray harder, read their bible more, and start sinning less becomes tiring. However, progressive moralism simply substitutes a different set of virtues and vices while telling congregants to check their privilege harder, listen to NPR more, and start consuming less. In the end both sides of the moralistic coin – conservative and progressive – are exhausting. Even as we may congratulate ourselves for speaking “prophetically,” our congregations slowly suffer under the weight of the obligations we have placed upon them.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was meant to destroy the moralism so endemic to our attempts of pursuing the divine. In the Bible, we see this in the running rhetorical battles between Jesus and the religious elites, but it is also a point Saint Paul has to make repeatedly in his letters to his burgeoning churches.

The antidote to moralism then is the gospel. The gospel consequently stands in opposition to moralism, even moralism drawn from the Bible and in service to justice.

The gospel does this by showing how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is substitutionary for us. This is often portrayed narrowly by our evangelical friends as a substitution for punishment or debt, where Jesus atones for the sin of humanity. Yet this misses the wider and more historical nature of substitution, and that is a substitution for our own efforts. We are never virtuous enough, whether those are the morals most prized by conservatives or progressives. We are always complicit in some sort of sin, whether those are vices are deeply personal of part of wider systemic injustices. Christ, however, is the new Adam, succeeding in every place where we could possibly fail. The futility of human moralism is substituted for the grace of God.

The gospel then, by way of the cross, heralds God’s victory over what would otherwise be a hopeless situation. This is a victory over my personal sin and our systemic injustices.

The only way our preaching of justice can move beyond sophisticated moralism is by always proclaiming the gospel alongside it, and articulating the substitutionary work of Christ on behalf of individuals, communities, and structures. Rather than being a counterfeit gospel that awkwardly parrots left-wing politics, our calls to the justice must flow from the countercultural implications of the gospel. Internalizing this foundational facet of the gospel allows me then to work for justice not out of a need to feel personally justified or become the agent of political salvation, but rather because I am gratefully responding to the reality I have already been justified before God and saved for the work of reconciliation.

Preaching the gospel at all times becomes both the cure for progressive moralism and the booster shot for our congregations in understanding unique nature of justice in Christian theology.

Once we do this, then can turn to the more difficult task of fixing children’s Sunday School classes.


Colin Kerr is the founding pastor of Parkside Church, a Presbyterian new church development. He previously spent eight years assisting historic congregations with church renewal strategies and planting a new multi-campus college ministry, which grew to become one of the largest Presbyterian college ministries in the nation. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife and daughter. His new book, Faith Hope Love: The Essentials of Christianity for the Curious, Confused and Skeptical, will be released this fall.

2018 National Gathering Ignite: Not So Churchy

Paul Vasile and Mieke Vandersall give an Ignite presentation about Not-So-Churchy, located in New York City.

Not So Churchy embarked on a project in which the congregants themselves would interpret and present the scripture readings through song, movement, or other creative means. This project, which has become an integrated part of their liturgical year, has been a rich learning experience for the congregation, and provided an opportunity for the congregants to exercise their creative authority and leadership capacities. Mieke and Paul talk about what they learned and how this has transformed their community’s relationship with Scripture.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Open Table

Nick Pickrell and Wendie Brockhaus, curators of the Open Table, share about their new worshiping community in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about Open Table, visit their website.

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.

MINISTERIO AGAPE

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During April, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Joe Clifford is curating a month of blog posts exploring multiculturalism in the NEXT Church. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, orTwitter!

*If you do not read Spanish, please scroll down for an English translation in blue

By Antonio Pichardo

Hola Pastor,

Mi llamado al pastorado fue en Canadá, desde que me convertí al Cristianismo mi deseo fue siempre de ser un pastor, trabaje en canada plantando una iglesia luego de cincos años salimos para la ciudad de Modesto en California donde también plantamos otra y después vinimos a Mount Pleasant para ayudar un amigo pastor al cual le avía dado un ataque al corazón y a mí y a mi esposa nos gustó esta parte del noroeste del estado por lo cual después de haber ido a trabajar en dos obras en Belmond y Hampton Iowa decidimos venir a esta ciudad nuevamente.

Vinimos con muchos entusiasmos y nuestra primera actitud era de venir a trabajar con la iglesia Presbiteriana gracias a Dios si tocamos la puerta y esta ce abrió en una forma maravillosa aquí estamos desde el 12 de Enero 2014 como ministerio ágape y la iglesia Monte Horeb se abrió unos tres meses más tarde estamos confiando en Dios que más puertas se van abrir para seguir la visión.

La visión mía es que iglesias planten iglesias, tenemos muchas familias hispanas en este estado y necesitamos la presencia de doctrina reformada en todas estas comunidades, necesitamos iglesia en Austin, en Dallas, Longview, Taylor y muchas otras ciudades que podamos ir.

En esta comunidad en la que vivimos el 57% de los niños en las escuela son de origen hispano tenemos la primera generación aquí que no habla inglés, pero segunda y tercera generación todos ellos hablan inglés, necesitamos todas estas gentes, ya que muchas de estas personas nos la están ganando otras religiones.

Seguimos trabajando con un grupo más o menos de cuarenta personas pero con una visión de crecer, hemos pensado para este verano tener un concierto y otras actividades para hacer venir las gentes a la iglesia, seguimos necesitando ayuda en oración para que Dios haga lo que él se ha propuesto hacer en estas comunidades donde estamos.

Le pedimos a Dios un ministerio en la ciudad de Dallas, esperamos que esas puertas sean abiertas a su tiempo.

Aquí le mando una foto de nuestro primer servicio en Mount Pleasant el día 12-2014.

Estamos muy contentos de poder ser parte de la iglesia presbiteriana muchas gracia por dejarnos servirles Dios y a ustedes.

Muchas bendiciones

Pastor, Antonio Pichardo

ministerio agape

From the moment I converted to Christianity my desire was always to be a pastor. I was called to the pastorate when I was in Canada. While I was in Canada, I worked planting a church. Five years later, my wife and I left Canada for Modesto, California. We also planted a church in that city. During that time, we came to Mount Pleasant for a few months to help a pastor friend who had a heart attack. My wife and I enjoyed this Northeast part of the state. After that short time in Texas, we went on to work with two congregations in Iowa (Belmond and Hampton). We decided to return to Mount Pleasant again when the ministry was finished in Iowa.

We came to Mount Pleasant with much enthusiasm. Our first act was to make contact with the Presbyterian Church (because they are so close to the Reformed Church). Thanks be to God we knocked on the door and it was opened wide for us in a wonderful and welcoming way. Ministerio Agape has been going since the 12th of January 2014. Then three months later Monte Horeb was started in the neighboring Pittsburg, Texas (we are hoping it will soon be a new worshiping community). We are confident that God will open more doors in accordance with our vision.

My vision is to plant churches. There are many Hispanic families in this state and we need the presence of Reformed doctrine in all these communities. We need more Latino churches in Austin, Dallas, Longview, Tyler and many other cities that we can expand to.

In our small community of Mount Pleasant, 57% of the children in the schools are of Latino origin. The first generation here does not speak English, but the second and third generations all speak English well. We need all these people both those who only speak Spanish and those who are bilingual. Already we are bringing many people in who have backgrounds in other denominations.

At this time we are working with a group of about 40 people, but we have a vision to continue to grow. This summer we are thinking about having a concert and other activities in order to attract people to the church. We continue to need support through prayer so that God will do what God has purposed for these communities where we are working.

We ask God for a new ministry in the city Dallas. We hope that once again doors will be open on God’s time.

The attached photos are from our first service in Mount Pleasant on January 12, 2014.

We are extremely happy to be part of the Presbyterian Church! Thank you for helping us serve God and all of you in any way we can.

Many blessings,

Antonio Pichardo


Antonio PichardoAntonio Pichardo serves Ministerios Agape, a new worshipping community in partnership with First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, TX. 

Wayward White Boy and his Latino/a Friends: A Pastor Blessed by a Blossoming Spanish-speaking Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During April, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Joe Clifford is curating a month of blog posts exploring multiculturalism in the NEXT Church. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, orTwitter!

By Shane Webb

Ministerio Agape came onto the scene when a curious Latino leader knocked on the door of the First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, Texas. Antonio Pichardo is a man full of energy and a contagious laugh, who also happens to have a strong passion for Reformed Theology. As a bilingual pastor who gets excited about cross cultural ministry, I invited Antonio to explore with FPC the possibilities of joint ministry. I had wanted to get a Spanish-speaking service started for our congregation on my own, but had no luck finding interest in the community, though I met a bunch of fun Spanish-speakers playing soccer. By the time I providentially met Antonio, all my contacts and leads had dried up and I had all but given up on the project. When he came to meet with me, I immediately thought that 1001 New Worshiping Communities (NWC) would be the best way to get this ministry started. Once the idea was pitched to the session of FPC they quickly gave support, though they stipulated a one year agreement that would need to be renewed to make sure that the ministry would be respectful of our facilities (they had a problem with another housed congregation in the past). A small group of about 15 native Spanish-speakers met to discuss what the ministry might look like and vote on both the name and service times. After getting started, a group in neighboring Pittsburg, TX wanted to get a Spanish-speaking congregation going. It has been a little over a year, and they have doubled their regular attendance. Bible study and worship are their main focus but they also have prayer groups and outreach.

As the pastor of FPC and the point person for the NWC, Ministerio Agape, I have various roles. First and foremost, I am a cheerleader. I pray for them and support them as best as I can, encouraging them in their ministry. This includes communicating with the presbytery to keep them aware of what is happening and bugging them for resources and help. I also act as an assisting pastor, trying to maintain that Antonio is the leader and I am just a support. At first, I was extremely involved administering sacraments for their worship and occasionally preaching. Now they have elders and permission for Antonio to administer the sacraments as a ruling elder with seminary training and previous experience as a commissioned pastor in the Reformed Church of America. Another role I have taken on is grant writing. There are many applications and essays to be written in order to participate in the 1001 NWC. I did not learn that in seminary, but I had a little bit of practice while I was at Austin College. Finally, one of my most important roles is as bridge-builder. Antonio has a support committee, which he can call on at any time from the FPC. In the FPC-Ministerio Agape mission partnership, we covenant with each other to have worship together at least biannually and share events with one another. Part of this role is also connecting Antonio and other Ministerio Agape leaders with people throughout Grace Presbytery. Functionally at this time, the people of Ministerio Agape become members of FPC so they can have full rights and privileges until they decide to become their own church. For me, it has been a fun, exciting and Spirit-filled adventure. I am proud of their involvement in the community and their vigor for making disciples of Christ. Not to mention I enjoy crashing their fellowship events for their great Salvadoran, Dominican and Mexican cuisine. To God be the Glory!

Yours in Christ,

Shane


Shane WebbShane started his ordained ministry in Lima, Peru where he and his wife, Sarah, served as Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs). He moved to Mount Pleasant in 2012 to serve as pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Shane is a graduate of Austin College and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  He serves as pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, TX where he hopes to help the members of FPC reach out to their community and share their faith in Jesus Christ.