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Sustained Radical Racial Reconciliation

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!

Today, NEXT Church executive team co-chairs Shavon Starling-Louis and Lori Raible close the month’s reflections with a conversation.

SHAVON: Can NEXT Church be a place of sustained radical racial reconciliation?

Societally and denominationally there are many places in which the thought of racial reconciliation is celebrated. But it is often relegated to the incremental “not too much, not too fast” fashion. It often can feel that communities of leadership (read: committees) are created in the paint-by-numbers vein (i.e. “ we need to find __ black people… __ Latin American… __Native American… __ Asian Americans so we won’t be all white”).

Unfortunately, what is desired to be a place of diversity often quickly becomes a place of tokenism in which a people’s diverse phenotypical presence is valued but the gifts of their culture, individual life, and experiences are not.

My hope is that NEXT Church can be something different. NEXT Church has core values grounded in relationship and authenticity. So, yes we have a hope of 50% + of people of color in our leadership teams, but it only makes sense to me because I know it comes out of a hope for drastic systemic change in who is at the leadership tables.

And while this goal may seem to minimize the intersectionality of diversity, I think we wanted some goal to hold us racially accountable for the leadership relationships we cultivate.

At its core, NEXT Church believes that in real relationship, significant transformational changes in how we live life together are possible.

I have watched us be stretched, struggle, and be blessed by our way: being community which is grounded in real experiences of life together. In both joy and hurt, we are made more faithful and more just.

It’s not that we get it right but that we lean in when it’s hardest that excites me about NEXT Church. I have noticed that when I expose my heart to the other, I experience the grace and challenge of my identity in Christian community and I sense others do too.

I think that in our work together we see that being the kind of community that is open to hear the impact of racism on our life together and then prayerfully discern how to respond in our actions towards healing is a treasure and a sign of the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit. And I sense this is true because we are committed to being vulnerable with each other. We have a level of trust because of our desire for real relationship.

And what seems to be a Holy Spirit gift of unbelievable proportion is that this is a common thread of those engaging NEXT Church at every level. And while I know we are all in different places in how we articulate the role of racism in being a sinful barrier to faithful relationship with the other, when I connect with new friends through NEXT Church, I get this overwhelming sense that this person has the intent to build up – and not tear down – the body Christ and the global community at large.

I discern that in our racialized and polarizing times our type of commitment to relationship at NEXT Church is radical work. It is radical because by being in real relationship, we are naturally cultivating organized, faithful, theologically grounded work for the healing of the person-to-person and systemic impacts of racism.

So Lori, what do you think?

LORI: Your thoughts, Shavon, make me question what it really means to belong at NEXT Church.

NEXT Church believes God is always calling the Church into the future. Cultivating leaders and congregations by equipping and connecting them to one another will strengthen the relational fabric of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and promote God’s transformation of our communities for the common good.

Belonging is easy to talk about, but hard to do. So hard in fact, it’s biblical. Which of course as people “in the people business,” we all know but hate to admit.  The 2017 National Gathering hosted about 600 leaders. For 220 of them, it was their first time at a NEXT Church Gathering. Every year we host an orientation conversation about NEXT Church. This year I remember mentioning that NEXT Church hopes to express the Kingdom of God to the world in an honest way that reflects the creativity and diversity of that Kingdom. Easy to say. Hard to do. As Shavon mentions, it requires deep trust, a willingness to give one another the benefit of the doubt, and an openness to listening. The National Gathering sets the tone for this work, with an expectation that we must then act in the world in a way that is congruent with what we proclaim together about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

During orientation we also mentioned that our National Gathering is designed as a bountiful feast, not a prix fixe 5-course meal. Were there parts of the Gathering that did not resonate with me personally? YEP. Am I grateful for the good people that gave of their time and gifts in leadership? YEP. Was I challenged and inspired? Absolutely.

Some folks have a hard time believing it, but NEXT Church has a seat at the table for every leader in our denomination. We are not a club. We do not take sides. We try desperately not to be exclusionary. The tables throughout our gathering space in Kansas City reflected these claims. If you will sit at the table and engage, then you are encouraged to speak up and share your gifts for the greater good of our denomination. The workshops were meant to reflect this claim.

And yet serious questions about belonging were raised during the National Gathering: Can I trust NEXT Church will welcome my unique perspective for what it is? Can I trust that NEXT Church will not be yet another organization unwilling to recognize the marginalization of women, LGBTQ leaders, and leaders who do not identify as white? How is NEXT Church reconciling institutional habits of exclusion and racism and avoiding the appropriation of cultural expressions of faith? How can I trust NEXT Church honestly values my conservative understanding of theology? Do they really care about what I have to say as a part time or non-traditional pastor? A traditional large steeple pastor? A seminarian? A leader in the last years of ministry? An educator? A ruling elder?

It makes sense that some are skeptical of the claim that there is a seat for everyone at NEXT Church, especially when personal experiences may inform a necessary level of self protection. But there is a seat. To be clear, we do not always agree, we do not always get it right, and we do not claim to be experts at the work of radical belonging. But together, we are trying. The National Gathering in Kansas City was a celebration of unity, not sameness. We commit to having the hard conversations, taking risks, and holding ourselves accountable. We also practice the art of giving one another the benefit of the doubt with grace and trust.

Most days I am simply trying to remain faithful to the people I serve. Between sermons, teaching, hospital visits, budgets, meetings, and parenting, I get tired. Bone tired. In the midst of a tenuous American culture, sometimes I doubt my ability to proclaim the Gospel with integrity and boldness. It gets isolating. So yeah, I need community. I need colleagues and friends to keep me honest and focused, but NEXT Church is about more than friendships.  If we are interested in collecting our voices and harnessing the power of Christ’s Church for God’s Kingdom, then our gathering space cannot be an echo chamber. What would it look like for the PCUSA to express the Kingdom of Heaven to the world in an authentic way that embraces and celebrates our diversity?

Seriously. Think about that for a minute.

We cannot afford to waste time bickering or managing our losses when there is a surplus of committed, diverse, and creative leaders, each worthy of investment. Also, we must not wait for support structures and institutions to catch up. Christ is alive in the world, NOW. While in humility, we claim the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ when we missed the mark. With all hope, you were inspired, challenged, engaged, and nourished by those you found in your midst. Having learned and grown together, we will step boldly into the future again next year with commitment, passion, and a renewed sense of faith.


Shavon Starling-Louis is pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Providence, RI. Lori Raible is co-pastor of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Both are co-chairs of the NEXT Church executive team.

Race, Relationship, Repentance

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 Andrew Foster Connors

Like most worthwhile things, the NEXT Church strategy team’s initial commitment to become 50%+ non-white in our leadership was born more out of Gospel idealism than out of competency. We believe that the “next Church” will reflect the culture in which the PC(USA) is situated, a culture that will be 50%+ non-white by 2042. God will make that a reality and the PC(USA) has an opportunity to be a part of it if we choose. I believe Paul’s words to the Galatians subordinating the divisions that we take for granted to a unity in Christ that is as clear as the color of the water in our baptisms. But as a Calvinist, I also know that racism coats everything in America. It warps the way we see each other. It’s warped the Church, too. There is no way to dismantle a sinful system that’s had generations to percolate, without a “gird up your loins” gritty commitment to abide with each other through the crap that we all swim in.

As you would expect, living into that commitment hasn’t been easy. One example of the way this came to the fore at the 2017 National Gathering was the Tuesday morning “crowd-sourced band.”  Steve Lindsley, a talented musician (and pastor, too!), had about as “nexty” an idea as you could come up with: to create a music team entirely off social media. The band would play well known “secular” music that would carry the worship service. It was risky, participatory, and agile – all values that NEXT Church has trumpeted as essential qualities for church to get beyond institutional rigidity. Steve was sensitive to a playlist that reflected diverse genres within the organizing idea. Then a member of our group raised the important question: was this going to be a bunch of white people leading “we shall overcome?” What about Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (both on the playlist)? And could two white guys really rap “Where Is the Love?” with any kind of worship integrity? Of course, having never met each other before we had to first find out, “Are we all white?”

When we discovered that we were, in fact, all white, some uncomfortable questions arose. Should we remove “Redemption Song” and “We Shall Overcome” to avoid cultural appropriation? Should we actively seek out persons of color to make the group less white? Should we try to contextualize each piece? Should we call the whole thing off? Immediately we were face to face with the ongoing, glaring sin that we all live with in the Presbyterian Church: we are whiter than God would have us be. We solicited some second opinions and came up with a plan. We would drop the white guys rapping “Where Is the Love” in favor of a video montage. We would add some context to the “We Shall Overcome” piece. Originally we were also going to add context to “Redemption Song” and to the other pieces, but in rehearsal it started to feel stilted, even defensive. We scrapped that plan, and added a few sentences of context at the beginning.

Evaluating the worship experience later, our diverse strategy team commended the group for some of our choices, but also critiqued the decision not to add context for the Bob Marley piece. One member of the team raised a question that was completely outside of my field of vision – whether the word “band” subtly signals “white music.” Could adjusting that one word result in a musical group with more diversity? Maybe. Maybe not. As we discussed other experiences of worship beyond Tuesday morning, an African-American member of the team was almost apologetic in her response: “It pains me to share my reaction with you. I don’t often share this kind of feeling in this kind of a setting.” But this strategy team member did share that feeling. And I am grateful for it.

Two things I’ve learned over the years as a person crossing racial boundaries (and other types of boundaries, too): healing is only possible when relationships are strong enough to handle the pain that comes to the surface; AND forgiveness and repentance (not perfection) are the only foundations on which to build real relationships. We’ll never grow as a church if we’re afraid of doing things that reveal our racism. We have to build relationships that are able to handle difference and division when they arise, calling out the racism that warps us, and moving forward together with courage and deeper trust. These are some of the conversations we’re having in NEXT Church leadership. With God’s grace, we’ll keep having them, building a broader community, and the church will move a little closer toward God’s dreams for us.


Andrew Foster Connors is senior pastor of the Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD. Andrew serves as clergy co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD – www.buildiaf.org), a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and Maryland’s largest citizens power organization. He serves on the executive team of NEXT Church. Andrew holds degrees from Duke University and Columbia Theological Seminary, was the 2001 recipient of the David H.C. Read Preaching Award, and was named 2016 “Marylander of the Year – Runner Up” along with two other BUILD colleagues for their work negotiating the largest Community Benefits Agreement in Baltimore history. Andrew is married to the Rev. Kate Foster Connors. They live in Baltimore with their two children.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Racial Awareness & Mindfulness Festival

Therese Taylor-Stinson and Glenn Zuber of National Capital Presbytery give an Ignite presentation on the first-ever DC Racial Awareness & Mindfulness Festival at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Called To The Uncomfortable Place

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Layton Williams

I sometimes struggle to figure out where I belong in the church. I am an openly bisexual woman and a strong advocate justice for those the church has historically neglected. At times, I dream of being one of those unapologetically radical liberal Christians, who pull the church forward by refusing to compromise their ideals. But over and over, I find myself at the table instead, trying to remain true to my convictions and bring people along at the same time. It’s a role I can’t seem to get away from, though I am not always comfortable with it.

So, when Jessica Tate reached out to me last November and asked if I’d be interested in joining a task force to work on a new statement of faith in response to our current reality, I told her I needed to think about it. And then, I immediately sent a message to my friend Brandon, who Jessica had told me was the person who had sparked the idea. I asked Brandon, “Can you promise me this isn’t just a statement to force unity or appease people? Can you promise we’re really going to dig into the hard stuff and wrestle to figure out what our faith is saying?”

Brandon said yes, he could promise me those things. So I said yes to Jessica too.

The reason for my hesitation is pretty simple, and when — on our first group call — we explained to each other why we had signed on to work on this statement, my reason for hesitating was also my explanation for why I said yes. I told the others on the team that I had seen the church fail to show up when it really counted on more than one occasion and this time, I wanted to be a part of the church doing better and really showing up.

On the far end of this experience, with the Sarasota Statement making its way into churches and conversations, I am proud of our efforts to show up in the way I had hoped we would. It was not easy process, and the statement is an imperfect document, but I know that it was the result of hard faithful wrestling between people of different perspectives.

At one point, I told one of my colleagues on the team that I had never been so aware of both my privilege and lack thereof as I was during this process. My race, gender, and sexual identity combined with my traditional Presbyterian education and my untraditional non-parish job placed me uniquely and intensely in the midst of the various identities represented in the group.

I was acutely aware of the need for those who were people of color in our group to be heard, respected, and trusted. I knew, too, that it is unbelievably rare for a bisexual voice to represented in a conversation about the church, faithful living, and justice. I found myself constantly pushing for us to be more outspoken that we were entirely comfortable with; I kept saying I wanted the document to be “an equal opportunity squirmer.” Meanwhile, I spent much of my energy in the group helping folks keep dialoguing, reframing, hoping, and trusting that we would find our way forward together — into a document of which we could all be proud.

It was an incredible experience to be a part of this writing team — humbling and encouraging at the same time. It was also as uncomfortable a place as it has always been for me — fighting for us to be bolder and more just while trying to do so in a way that many different people could hear and be convicted by. I suppose it will always be an uncomfortable place — to be at the table — but I’m so glad it’s where I’m called to be.


Layton E. Williams is an ordained PCUSA teaching elder currently serving as the Audience Engagement Associate for Sojourners in Washington D.C.. Her work combines data analysis, creative communications, new media strategy, and relationship building to grow the Sojourners community in both breadth and depth. She is also a writer, focusing on intersections of faith, justice, politics, and culture with an emphasis on sexuality and gender. She previously served as Pastoral Resident at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and received her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

2017 National Gathering Testimony: Glenn McCray & Charlie Scoma

Glenn McCray and Charlie Scoma provided the first testimony of the 2017 National Gathering on Monday afternoon.

 

Glenn McCray is a multi-ethnic, first generation American and “Seattle-ite” whose mother is from the Philippines and father from Louisiana. Glenn is happily married to Rev. Natasha Iwalani Hicks McCray, who serves as the pastor of Mt. View Presbyterian Church (Seattle), where he also attends and serves. Glenn and Tasha coach girls varsity basketball for their local high school and share a heart for reconciliation to God, self, and others. Vocationally, Glenn serves as the Director of Church-based Community Development with a Christian community development organization called Urban Impact. Glenn has spent more than a decade developing youth and education programs, serving as a chaplain for youth in juvenile detention, and working closely with other local organizations, schools, and local churches.

Charlie Scoma brings many years of experience in chaplaincy, ministry and education to the Seattle Police Department. He is an experienced counselor and trained in Critical Incident Stress Management. He has served in the fire service for over 13 years, he’s passionate about caring for others, and he is an instructor for an accredited chaplain academy, training other chaplains in the Northwest. He is an ordained pastor in the PCUSA and has an MSW from Rutgers University. Charlie coaches baseball and enjoys fly-fishing.

Prophetic Theology From a Non-Theologian

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Teri McDowell Ott

James Baldwin was not a theologian. He, in fact, left the church after a friend helped him realize he was only going because he was too afraid to leave. The church shaped him, though. His father was a preacher whose unsuccessful ministry took his family from church to church where he would show off young James’ singing voice. For me, Baldwin’s essays, particularly those in Notes of a Native Son, reside in the realm of prophetic theology because of the extraordinary way they describe and illuminate the African-American experience and call to account those of us who live in privileged ignorance.

In the “Autobiographical Notes” at the beginning of Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin shares what could be read as his personal mission statement: “I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

Baldwin himself, who began writing essays and novels in the 1950’s, perhaps never imagined the lasting mark he would leave. But today he is constantly quoted when race relations boil over and a relevant voice is needed. One reason why Baldwin’s words have been so influential is because of his honesty and his “enormous humanity.” He is fair and just, giving advice to other writers that “you do not have to fully humanize your black characters by dehumanizing the white ones.”

In this fair, honest approach, Baldwin is able to articulate and describe the human experience in a way that you, as a reader, know to be true, but could never articulate for yourself. In his introduction to Notes, Edward P. Jones describes reading Baldwin as wonderful: “We read [him] and come across passages that are so arresting we become breathless and have to raise our eyes from the page to keep from being spirited away.” This was my experience of reading Baldwin and why I recommend him so highly. He will take you places. He will take you to places of honest self and social examination, to places of epiphany and insight and crucial connection. Reading Baldwin is simply divine—and necessary for those seeking to be faithful.


Teri McDowell Ott is a Presbyterian pastor who currently serves Monmouth College (IL) as chaplain. After serving in parish ministry for 13 years, Teri now feels called to the liminal space between the sacred and the secular, the church and the ‘nones,’ the traditional and the contemporary. Teri feels called to build bridges between these spaces, especially through her writing and blogging. She has written essays for Hippocampus, Mamalode and The Christian Century and she blogs at www.terimcdowellott.com. Teri, her husband, Dan, their two tow-headed children and their skittish German Shepherd live in the middle of a corn field in Western Illinois.

Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman “Sheds a Little Light”

by Lee Hinson-Hasty

Eighty years ago (1937) this month, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. published a poem by the Rev. Howard Thurman, an African American Baptist minister, professor of theology, and dean of the chapel at Howard University. The title of the poem was “O God, I Need Thee.” Thurman poetically describes our need of God’s sense for time, order, and future.

This month, the NEXT Church blog will help us all investigate God’s timing, order, and future by recommending and reviewing books that shed a little light on what is happening all around and within us in these seemingly chaotic days of 2017. The inspiration for this phrase, “shed a little light,” comes from James Taylor’s song, “Shed a Little Light.” You can watch a video of it being performed by the Lowcountry SC Voices in Columbia here.

Lent, if nothing else, is a time for reflection on what has been and living toward what is possible with God’s help. We die to our old selves as we pray to rise to newness of life in fullest form.

Thurman published Meditations of the Heart in 1953, the second in a volume of meditations that were originally written for personal and congregational use at Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco where he served as co-pastor with Alfred G. Fisk, a Presbyterian minister, and professor of philosophy from 1944-1953. Both were deeply concerned about building bridges of understanding among varied races, cultures, and faiths.

The purpose of these meditations is, as Thurman puts it, “to focus the mind and the heart upon God as the Eternal Source and Goal of life.” The meditations in this 210-page book are chock full of insight, centering prayer, and nourishment for the journey. For me, all three are needed in these days as they were for his congregation in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Meditations are the type of sustenance that fed civil rights leaders including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. who was, in many ways, mentored by Thurman.

Mentoring voices from around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond will follow this post throughout the coming weeks, each from various walks of life and ministry contexts including those leading theological schools, congregations, presbyteries, the General Assembly, and non-profit organizations. Each will identify their context for ministry and call, a book they recommend, what the book is about, and why they believe it is critical reading today. My prayer is that these will become timely and descriptive “meditations of the heart,” so to speak, for a holy pilgrimage into God’s imagined future: the NEXT Church.

My sincere hope is that these posts will also provide a foundational backdrop for the conversations many of us will be having at the 2017 National Gathering on Well-Being in a Thirsty World.


I am Lee Hinson-Hasty and my call to ministry centers on vocation of leaders in the church and the world. I am always curious about how we find what Thomas Merton described as “our true selves.” Discerning vocation is, I believe, a personal, spiritual, religious, and theological journey, and, for Reformed Christians, it is a communal process. Vocation discerned becomes educational and, ultimately, economic in a particular social context. As a resource and advocate for theological education in the PC(USA) for more than a decade, I find my current call as Senior Director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation provides me the best opportunity I know to invite and embolden others to used their gifts to glorify God in ways that will empower leaders of Christ’s Church by supporting future ministers. I pray regularly with James Taylor and others that we will all “Recognize there are ties between us… ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood. …. We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead. We are bound and we are bound.”

Community Chaplaincy for Nones and Dones

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Layton Williams is curating a series we’re calling “Ministry Out of the Box,” which features stories of ministers serving God in unexpected, diverse ways. What can ordained ministry look like outside of the parish? How might we understand God calling us outside of the traditional ministry ‘box?’ We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Renee Roederer

It’s always risky to begin a conversation with a controversial statement, but I’ve decided to take the plunge here. From time to time, I motivate myself with a particular observation:

In the Gospels, there are no stories — not even one — of Jesus working really hard inside a synagogue on behalf of a synagogue.

I say that less as an effort to critique and more as an opportunity contemplate what is possible. Let me first assuage what is potentially controversial here: I value the ministry that takes place inside our church buildings. Ministry tasks of administration, programming, and planning create possibilities for faith to form and relationships to grow. They matter, as do the people who make them happen.

But I also know this: pastors frequently face expectations which limit their work to what happens inside the church — that is, inside the circle of congregational membership and inside the church building itself. In a time of congregational decline, members of churches are also anxious to increase activities inside their own circles and buildings.

If we aren’t careful, we can become isolated from the larger community and our local neighborhoods. We can get stuck in a Gospel narrative that doesn’t exist — working solely inside a church for the sole benefit of a church.

Last September, the Presbytery of Detroit decided to take a plunge with me. Together, we created a new role for ordained ministry. I had the opportunity to draft this role in concert with the Committee on Ministry. They took a creative risk and stretched their categories of validated ministry to make it happen. I am the first community chaplain in the Presbytery of Detroit. More specifically, I am a Community Chaplain for Nones and Dones. That’s my actual, quirky title. Strange as it may sound, it’s a perfect expression of what I’m commissioned to do.

Community – My work takes place primarily in the community. I attend community events, build friendships, and foster connections between people. I am often able to educate congregations about events, movements, and local needs in our neighborhoods.

Chaplain – Regionally within Southeast Michigan and on the University of Michigan campus, I meet regularly with people from a variety of religious backgrounds (and none, see below). Over coffee or lunch, we discuss large questions of faith and spirituality, discern purpose and calling, and talk about the gifts and stressors of everyday life.

Nones and Dones – This is the most unique part of my role. I am commissioned specifically to community members and students who feel disenfranchised from the church and organized religion. Long before there was an official ministry role with a title, there was a community. For the last year and a half, I’ve been organizing a new community called Michigan Nones and Dones. This community includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (Dones), and people who practice particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression. We meet in coffee shops and restaurants to discuss spirituality, and we make meaning together as we form friendships.

I feel absolutely alive in this calling, and it’s an understatement to say I’m grateful to serve in this capacity. I believe that the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to open new possibilities for ministry service. We have creative seminarians who are nearing graduation, and many long to initiate innovative expressions of church and community life. They are completing their studies at the precise moment when fewer traditional ministry roles are available. In conversation with them, why not open the doors for new expressions of spiritual leadership?

My deepest hope is to see new expressions of community chaplaincy replicated and funded throughout the Presbyterian Church (USA). If we build this vision, we will inspire our congregations to venture more deeply into their local neighborhoods as well.


If you’d like to talk more with Renee about Community Chaplaincy, feel free to email her at revannarbor@gmail.com. Or better yet, come to the NEXT Church National Gathering and have a conversation with her over coffee (her favorite)! See also the rich history and vision of Community Chaplaincy at Focused Community Strategies in Atlanta.

The Fruit of the Spirit in a Polarized World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarah Dianne Jones is curating a series written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Alice Tewell and Roger Gench

In this post-election season, we are all grappling with the question “What is next?” And in our polarized context, “What is our calling as Christians to witness to our faith?” How do we embody the virtues of the gospel message as we live out our faith in a public way in the world?

In this workshop at the 2017 National Gathering, we will explore such questions. We contend that there is no more important task for Christians at the present time than to embody the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — as political virtues.

These virtues are central not only to our personal lives of faith, but also to how we live out faith in the public sphere. We will share spiritual practices we use at The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., that help us cultivate these virtues in our own lives of faith. When these spiritual practices take root in us, they nurture an engaged spirituality that guides us in our justice work as we seek to address the profound polarizations in our country and world. We believe that by embodying these spiritual practices, we are empowered to seek a radical reconciliation that pursues justice for the oppressed, standing up for and with the most vulnerable in our midst. They cultivate non-violent resistance to the “power over” politics of our world in order to bring about healing, justice and love.  

New scholarship on the apostle Paul has provided new angles of vision for reflection on Galatians and the fruit of the Spirit as political virtues. We will explore biblical scholar Brigitte Kahl’s brilliant reimagining of Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia (Galatians Reimagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished, Fortress Press, 2010), which offers a dramatic vision for Christian imagination for us today. Kahl shows that if we put the politics of the Roman Empire in the foreground of Paul’s letter, what emerges is a dominating social and political milieu for integrating subjugated people into the Roman colonial mentality that Paul calls the “other gospel” (Gal. 1:6): the gospel of Caesar. In such a world, Paul’s stunning baptismal declaration in Gal 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”) was a revolutionary statement that turned the world upside down. Kahl contends that for Paul, the entire imperial model of “divide and rule” was drowned and washed away in the waters of baptism.

Using Kahl’s reimagining of Galatians and its implications for our cultivation of fruit of the Spirit, we will share with you how The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is engaging these virtues today to empower children, youth, and adults toward reconciling, healing and justice-seeking Christian living.  

We will have time for conversation as well, in which we hope to engage these questions:

  • Where do you encounter the polarizing, demonizing politics of our day?
  • What does it mean to be in, with, and for others — losing oneself in order to gain a self (a fuller self) in others?  
  • How does one “wash away” polarizing “us vs. them” mentalities so prevalent in our world?  
  • Is there another alternative to winners and losers?  Or should we develop another vocabulary? (Even “win-win” is the language of competition.)

Join us.

The Fruit of the Spirit in a Polarized World” is being offered during workshop block 3 on Tuesday of the 2017 National Gathering.


Roger Gench is senior pastor of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. He has conducted spiritual retreats for lay people and clergy on spiritual disciplines (especially St. Ignatius), spiritual uses of the Bible, interfaith dialogue, politics & religion, and faith & ethics. He serves as clergy leadership of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN).

Alice Rose Tewell is associate pastor of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC. Alice is an accomplished educator and facilitator of young adult ministry.

Building Community Across Divides: A Book List

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. In November, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel curated “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

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We asked our contributing authors this month to tell us what they are reading or have read that has helped them in the work of building community across divides. Here’s what they said:

Jodi Craiglow

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch
“I recommend this book probably five times as often as I recommend all other books — combined. Crouch’s main argument is simple but profound: We can’t change culture by critiquing it. We can only change culture by creating
more of it.”

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
“Easily (and simultaneously) the most beautiful and the most challenging book I’ve ever read. Volf argues that we can only truly experience reconciliation when we embrace “the other,” bringing them into our lives in the same way that we’ve been embraced by God.”

Roy Howard

Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry Hurtado
“This is a clearly written book of Christian history that has implications for the church of our time under a different empire and seeking a distinctive identity as Christians that will resist the idolatries of the culture and more than resistance, offer a compelling alternative. Our ancestors in the faith have frequently had to face similar challenges as we do.”

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
“This book explores theology through the experiences of the body: the dying body, the aging body, the sexual body, the body in play and the body at work. It’s a compelling argument by a New Testament scholar that scripture itself is a response to the experience of God in the body, and hence we should pay attention to the body for signs of God’s presence among us.”

Joe Duffus

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson with Peter Wehner
“This looks like a fitting start for traditional or evangelical Christians to consider in light of changes in our culture and the sharp decline of civility in discussion.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
“This book tells the stories of various people whose lives were ruined by Internet ‘mobs’ that reacted to things those people said on social media. He wrote a long article based on the book for the New York Times a while back that I keep coming back to, because of what it says about how people’s online behavior has become so much more impulsive, vicious and bombastic than anything they might do face-to-face.”

Don Meeks

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls
From Amazon: “Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides.”

Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew by Charles D. Drew
From Amazon: “Can Christians be political activists without hating those who disagree? As the next presidential election comes into view, Americans are deciding where to stand on the key issues. The church has often been as politically divided as the culture, leading many Christians to withdraw from politics or to declare alliances prematurely. But Charles Drew offers an alternative for people who care deeply about their faith and about the church’s corporate calling in the world. In this updated and revised version of A Public Faith (NavPress 2000), Drew helps Christians to develop practical biblical convictions about critical social and political issues. Carefully distinguishing between moral principle and political strategy, Body Broken equips believers to build their political activism upon a thoughtful and biblical foundation. This balanced approach will provide readers Democrats, Republicans, or Independents with a solid biblical foundation for decision making. Drew even helps Christians of all political persuasions to understand how they can practice servanthood, cooperation and integrity in today’s public square. With questions at the end of each chapter to help readers explore and apply principles, Body Broken will train believers to actively engage with political issues while standing united as a church.”

The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
From Amazon: “Drawing on more than four decades of polling data, The End of White Christian America explains and analyzes the waning vitality of white Christian America. Jones argues that the visceral nature of today’s most heated issues—the vociferous arguments around same-sex marriage and religious liberty, the rise of the Tea Party following the election of our first black president, and stark disagreements between black and white Americans over the fairness of the criminal justice system—can only be understood against the backdrop of white Christians’ anxieties as America’s racial and religious topography shifts around them.”

Jessica Tate

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland
“This is a book that takes our all-too-common labels of one another as ‘right Christians’ and ‘wrong Christians,’ explores the sociology behind our division, and reminds us that Jesus commands us to love our neighbors (all of them), just as he did — relentlessly.”

The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words by Deborah Tannen
“Written in 1998, this one is starting to show some age, but continues to be a helpful book as it traces today’s public discourse (or lack thereof). While it is a linguistic perspective, not a theological one, Tannen opens by saying, ‘This is not another book about civility…. Our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention — an argument culture.'”

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin
“This book paints the picture of Nelson Mandela’s consistent and persistent work to humanize white Afrikaners and black South Africans to one another through the winning of their hearts in a united force behind the rugby team – the Springboks. It’s a compelling story of playing the long game, refusing to demonize, and seeking to find the image of God in every person. I read it as a parable.”

Quinn Fox

The Road to Character by David Brooks
“One of the leading public intellectuals of our day, Brooks challenges readers to focus on the deeper values that should inform our lives—by striving to shift the focus of our living away from the ‘résumé virtues’—achieving wealth, fame and status—toward the ‘eulogy virtues’—those character traits that are worthy of being at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.”

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter
“To change hearts and minds has been the goal of modern Christians seeking to correct a culture deemed fallen and morally lax. Hunter (author of Culture Wars) finds this approach pervasive among Christians of all stripes and in every case deeply flawed, to the point of undermining the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance. After charting the history of Christian assumptions and efforts to change culture, Hunter investigates the nature of power and politics in Christian life and thought, and then proposes an alternative: what he calls the practice of faithful presence, rooted not in a desire to change the world… but rather in a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth.”

Living with Difference: How to Build Community in a Divided World by Adam B. Seligman, Rahel R. Wasserfall, and David W. Montgomery
“Written by a team of scholars who specialize in helping communities engage with difference, this book explores the challenges and necessities of accommodating difference, however difficult and uncomfortable such accommodation may be. The authors are part of an organization that has worked internationally with community leaders, activists, and other partners to take the insights of anthropology out of the classroom and into the world. Rather than addressing conflict by emphasizing what is shared, Living with Difference argues for the centrality of difference in creating community, seeking ways not to overcome or deny differences but to live with and within them in a self-reflective space and practice.”