Collaborative Creation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Kate Morrison is curating a series featuring reflections on Advent and Christmas from our 2018 National Gathering workshop and post-Gathering seminar leaders. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear what this season means to them through stories, memories, and favorite traditions – and how they see the themes of Advent connecting with the work of NEXT Church. We invite you to share your own memories and stories on Facebook and Twitter!

Editor’s note: Paul is co-leading a post-Gathering seminar (a 24-hour opportunity to dig deeper into a topic, new this year!) called “Manna for the People: Cultivating Creative Resources for Worship in the Wilderness.” It will take place from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning following the 2018 National Gathering. Learn more and register

by Paul Vasile

It’s a gift to catch glimpses of God-with-us in workshops and planning gatherings I facilitate for pastors, musicians, and worship leaders. As we read, sing, and improvise with scripture and liturgy, the Word takes on flesh in unexpected and beautiful ways, often with refreshing directness and authenticity as individuals bring their voice and story into dialogue with sacred text.

This fall, leaders of a newly bi-lingual congregation gathered for a day of worship, reflection, and worship planning. We used the morning to strengthen community through practices of listening and discernment then divided into small groups, each assigned an Advent lectionary Psalm and a part of the liturgy to create (call to worship, community liturgy, prayer petitions, etc). There were a few anxious asides as we began but energy and ideas quickly flowed in Spanish and English. Twenty minutes later, we reconvened to share the thoughtful, hand-crafted pieces of liturgy they created together. A feeling of mutual support and care was tangible, as was the joy of making something specifically for their community.

Wholeness and beauty are found in creative spaces like these, where individuals and groups create space for new ideas and visions to bubble up and out of our imaginations. There is also something profoundly risky and anxious about it. Creating is vulnerable work and can be chaotic and unresolved. Sometimes we take what we’ve created, set it aside, and need start over. It’s humbling.

But there are profound gifts to be found in creating collaboratively, especially for leaders of faith communities. How might our ministry shift as we practice being in the present moment, as we deepen our listening skills and trust our God-given instincts, and as we shift from an often-obsessive focus on product and outcome to appreciation for (and even delight in) the process? How might we learn to dialogue with voices of judgement or critique that often lead us to shut doors that need to be left open or even walked through?

This is what we’ll explore at our National Gathering post-Gathering seminar “Manna for the People.” We’ll burrow into Eastertide scripture passages through improvisation, singing, and play, with lots of space for individual and group reflection. We’ll create a gracious, generous space where our creative instincts are welcomed and affirmed, where we stretch and grow into new ways of leading and living. And we’ll find joy and pleasure in making something together, as we offer our voices and ideas to shape worship for our faith communities.

Like Mary, who welcomed unknown possibilities with a bold “Yes,” we’ll use the phrase “Yes, and…” in our improvisation work and see what unfolds. Like the shepherds watching their flocks, we’ll hear the proclamation “Do not fear!” and reflect deeply on ways the love of God liberates us from judgement and anxiety that prevent us from taking creative risks. Like the Wise Ones, we’ll listen to our intuition, trusting the wisdom of God and the community to take us where we need to go.

As the mystic Meister Eckhardt wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is ever waiting to be born.” We hope you’ll join us at the NEXT Church National Gathering in February as we make space for the Holy One to be known in our work and play. Join us for an extra day of exploration, growth, and collaboration, and discover new skills and practices to enrich your ministry. It will be a renewing, life-giving experience!

Paul Vasile is a freelance church musician, consultant, and composer based in New York City. A multitalented musician and dynamic worship leader, he is committed to building, renewing, and re-shaping faith communities through music and liturgy. Paul brings over twenty years of ministry experience to his work as a consultant, workshop facilitator, and teacher. He is excited to help congregations broaden their repertoire of sung prayer and praise, and to demonstrate how participatory music and liturgy can energize and unify worshippers from varied backgrounds, cultures, and traditions.

Without Training Wheels

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Tanner Pickett and Elizabeth Link are curating a series that will reflect experiences of those in the beginnings of their ministry, particularly through the lens of Trent@Montreat. Over the course of the month, we’ll hear reflections from past and future participants, track leaders, and members of the leadership team of Trent@Montreat. We hope these stories will encourage you along your journey – and maybe encourage you to join us next April! We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessie Light

Editors’ note: Trent@Montreat is created for people in their first ten years of ministry. Why is that relevant? As they saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and seminary can only teach you so much. Most people get into their chosen profession only to realize that there are things that they are not prepared to deal with. The next two posts are from two people on the cusp of this transition, reflecting on their time in seminary and sharing their hopes for their future ministry.

The slightly cooler September air whips through my ponytail as I gain speed, pedaling confidently down the quiet street. A bit awkward on the bike, I make a clunky gear change that slows me down a bit and causes the tires to wobble. Looking down, I suddenly realize that my training wheels – those helpful crutches I had depended on for months, even years – have been removed! Even more surprising, I glance behind my shoulder and realize that I am completely alone on the road, miles away from home. I slow to a stop to breathe for a few minutes and get my bearings.

This is the embodiment of my first three weeks of ministry. And this reflection is the slowing, the stopping to breathe, the trying-to-get-my-bearings.

In many ways, seminary was the best experience of my life thus far. I spent the last three years profoundly reflecting on what Christianity means in the world today, creating some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve ever had, and intentionally cultivating my gifts for ministry. I’ve been biking down this road for awhile now – writing papers, receiving feedback, going to counseling, working in congregations, preaching and leading worship, completing CPE, winding my way through the ordination process. When I graduated in May, I felt a healthy sense of accomplishment; I felt capable and confident, eager to begin my call.

I’m not even sure when the training wheels came off. Were they unscrewed in the middle of my summer internship after I preached my fifth consecutive sermon? Perhaps they were left in the dust when I sat with an anxious and grieving family at the children’s hospital. Regardless, I didn’t notice their absence until this week, until I asked myself for the umpteenth time, “am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have the dream “first call.” As the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian, I am responsible for creating and coordinating a brand new worship service on Sunday evenings, for writing all of the church’s liturgy, for teaching a well-established bible study, and for exploring the many other ministry areas of the church over the course of two years. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and to work alongside so many people that I admire and respect.

And still, every day so far, I’ve looked around my still unsettled office asked myself, “am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?” Of course I’m attending scheduled meetings; acquainting myself with the building, staff, and congregation; leading in worship; meeting deadlines; and so on. I feel equipped to fulfill these responsibilities, and for that, I am grateful.

What has been completely unanticipated, and somewhat terrifying, is knowing that I am capable and called, and still feeling like I’m faking it.

Many people in the last few years have reflected on the “imposter syndrome,” the feeling of self-doubt and fear that leads to asking the question, “what if they find out that I’m just faking it? What if they realize what a fraud I really am?” I have realized that I might be especially prone to imposter syndrome as an Enneagram Type 3 (The Achiever) because I am both goal oriented and image-conscious. Certainly there have been moments this month where I have felt confident in myself, but often, they have been overshadowed by this syndrome, this tendency to downplay what I am doing

So here I am, feeling like I’m faking it, all the while being introduced to people as “the newest pastor here at Preston Hollow!” Here I am, finally realizing my own grief that seminary – an incredible chapter of my life – is over, all the while forming a beautiful new community here in Dallas. Here I am, repeatedly asking myself an unhelpful question, all the while doing the work of ministry, the work God is calling me to do.

And as I look down toward the tires of my well-loved bicycle, I realize my knees are shaking but my muscles are strong. Maybe it’s time to trust myself a little more, to trust the training I’ve received and to recognize that I’ve been biking without my training wheels for a long time. As I start to pedal again, I look forward once more, and enjoy the breeze.

Jessie Light completed her Master of Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in May 2017, and is currently serving as the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian in Dallas, TX. Jessie is also a graduate of Vanderbilt University. Prior to serving at PHPC, Jessie worked in various capacities at Village Presbyterian Church (Prairie Village, KS), University Presbyterian Church (Austin, TX), and North Decatur Presbyterian Church (Decatur, GA). Jessie serves on the Executive Board of Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and finds joy in baking sourdough bread, writing poetry, and being outside in God’s good creation.

Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse

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 Bob Henderson and Jessica Patchett

Four years ago, we invited our session to consider the possibility of launching a new, unique worship service. Five years earlier we had broadened our worship life by offering two distinct styles of worship, so the questions came rapid-fire: “Why? Aren’t the ones we have good enough? Won’t a new service simply steal people from one we already have?”

Our response was that even though our present services spanned the traditional/contemporary divide, they were still structured largely the same: a song or two of praise, a time of confession, community concerns and prayers, scripture, sermon and closing song.  

But what if we could have a service that intentionally fostered participation for the worshiper, regardless of their prior faith experience? What if we allowed prayers to be written, candles to be lighted, and feedback to the sermon to be spoken and discussed. What would happen if, each week, we offered a time for personal prayer with the minister? In other words, what if we designed a service that required no faith knowledge or training while inviting and expecting full participation?

The day we started our new service, our weekly worship attendance grew, but more importantly, the face of our congregation changed. We had long been an organ and choir robe church. Just a few years earlier we added a casual and contemporary dimension to the church. But now, we’re becoming a multi-racial, multi-faith, open-to-feeback-and-different-opinion church where seekers and searchers are taken on their own terms.

Why? Because God speaks to different people in different ways, and our families and neighborhoods are diverse – in age, political party, faith background, race, and sobriety. The people we love and care about span spectra that society says can’t be reconciled.

But we believed that if we loved all these different kinds of people, surely the Spirit of God could find a way to gather them into one congregation. That’s why we’re always inviting God to help us reform our worship. It’s why our new worship service is interactive and invitational, so that there would be space for people who aren’t just like ‘us’ to come in and shape it in a way that makes it theirs, too.

Two and a half years later, we’re so excited every time a young adult brings their parents to worship, proud to show them that they’ve found a church and a faith of their own. And, we’re equally delighted that older adults bless these same young adults with careful words of hard-won wisdom in the service’s sermon ‘talkback.’

As people live longer than ever before, we see this intergenerational cooperation and mutual blessing as a vital characteristic of the church in the 21st century and crucial for the success of any sustainable worship innovation.

We hope you’ll join us for our workshop. In the meantime, check out this invitation to our interactive service:

Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse” is being offered on Tuesday of the 2017 National Gathering during workshop block 3.

Bob Henderson, Senior Minister of Covenant Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC, has led vibrant, growing churches for more than 25 years. He enjoys curating worship that that both remains faithful to Reformed theology and speaks to contemporary people.

Jessica Patchett, Associate Minister at Covenant Presbyterian, has served in church leadership for nearly 10 years. She enjoys helping people explore the way of Jesus and articulate their own commitments of faith.