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Nurturing Diversity in Preaching

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Patrick Johnson

About the time I was first discerning a call to ordained ministry, I had the privilege of spending some time with a nearby pastor whom everyone knew as “Pastor Dave.” The church he had served for decades was not the biggest, not the most innovative, and not the most active by a long shot. But it was widely regarded – especially by other pastors – as one of the healthiest churches around. Amid the continual swirl of tips, tricks, and programs for doing church better, Pastor Dave had patiently cultivated a diverse and strong congregation. I asked Pastor Dave one day, “What’s your secret?” He replied quietly, “There’s one question that often keeps me awake, especially on Saturday night. It’s probably the driving question of my ministry: God, what kind of people am I forming?”

Week in and week out, more than anything else, preaching forms a congregation. In small bites of 15, 20, or 30 minutes, added up over the course of seasons and years, preaching cultivates a church by shaping its questions, fostering its conversations, kindling its faith, weaving its guiding metaphors, naming its values and beliefs, setting its tone, and ultimately nurturing its diversity. How can we nurture diversity and make room for difference from the pulpit?

One place to start is simply to recognize the rich diversity that already exists in our congregations, even in congregations that look the same on the surface. You can sense this standing at the door after worship, hearing fifty or a hundred different versions of the same sermon. It’s not that the sermon was muddled, but that it was speaking into a thick context of engaged and multi-layered meaning-making. Each of us listens with a set of beliefs, values, experiences, questions, challenges, hopes, and fears that is our own personal hermeneutic. Sometimes in a sermon, this hermeneutic reminds me to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but more often it’s where the Holy Spirit does her connect-the-dots work in my soul.

In my experience, finding ways to explore my congregation’s rich diversity has made me much more sensitive to how I nurture diversity and create room for others in preaching. Feed-forward and feedback discussions – discussing the text and sermon before and after preaching – have been invaluable. They have helped me understand how a text and sermon actually intersects with the lived experience of the congregation. I have learned where the affirmations are, and where the pushbacks are, where nuances are needed, and most especially where others’ views and experiences are different from mine.

It’s also been very important to me to find ways to celebrate and affirm diversity actually in the pulpit. As a friend says to her congregation often, “God created a riot of diversity. Get used to it!” Imagine if we intentionally and regularly preached on the diversity of creation and the kingdom of God the same way we intentionally focus on stewardship, or mission, or even Advent and Lent? And surely that would include making room for a diverse group of voices in the pulpit. Any congregation, no matter how small or homogenous, needs to hear a variety of preachers. Different races, genders, life experiences, and diverse ways of speaking the gospel breaks open new meaning and makes space for others.

Of course, even as we cultivate the voices of others in the pulpit, we can’t neglect the really important work of finding and claiming our voice. Preaching that tries to be all things to all people or treats the pulpit as a “neutral space” does not, in the end, create a diverse or strong congregation. Ironically, it creates a fragile congregation, where people are afraid to be different from one another and there is little room for the stranger. On the other hand, preachers who can bear witness to God’s word to them, who can confess their core convictions and name their deep questions, and especially who can be honest about their blind-spots – in the long run, those preachers shape congregations of people who can do likewise. To put it simply, by being ourselves we make room for others. Perhaps it’s paradoxical, but well-differentiated people – and preachers — are essential to diverse community.

We’re living in such a sharply polarized time that maybe one of the few things we share in common is a deep concern about our ability to hold together as communities and plural societies. Yeats’ grim diagnosis in “The Second Coming” – “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” – has become a daily worry for nearly all of us. One of the great promises of the gospel is that in Christ all things do and will hold together – even the most diverse congregations of our wildest imagination! The work of preaching, over seasons and years, is to invite us to live with and into that promise. When we trust that the center will hold, riotous diversity is not a threat – it is the joyful feast of the people of God!


Patrick Johnson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina and an active member of the Academy of Homiletics. He is also the author of The Mission of Preaching: Equipping God’s People for Faithful Witness.

2017 National Gathering Sermon: Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts, president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, gives the final sermon of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering during closing worship.

Scripture: John 4:19-26

The liturgy from this service is also available:


Paul Roberts is is president of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA, a position he has held since the spring of 2010. He is a native of Stamford, CT; however, he grew up in Bradenton, FL, which he considers his home. Paul graduated from Princeton University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture and African American Studies. Prior to his career in ministry, Paul worked in advertising in New York City. He later received the Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in New Testament Studies from Johnson C. Smith Seminary. He also is an Academic Fellow of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Celigny, Switzerland. From 1997 through 2010, Paul was the pastor of Church of the Master (PCUSA), a church founded in 1965 in Atlanta, GA, as an intentionally interracial congregation. He serves on the boards of the Presbyterian Foundation (PCUSA) and the Macedonian Ministry Inc. of Atlanta. He is the recipient of the 2016 Devoted Service Award from Louisville Theological Seminary. Recreationally, Paul enjoys tennis and yard work. Paul and his wife, Nina, have three beautiful children—one adult daughter and two teenage sons.

2017 National Gathering Reflection: Tim Hart-Andersen

Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, senior pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, MN, gives a reflection on interfaith dialogue during Tuesday morning worship at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Tim has also made his manuscript available as a resource:

We are grateful to Tim for providing his thoughts; to Meghan Gage-Finn for coordinating the video and text components of the reflection; and to Eric Adams for editing providing the video to be used during this reflection.

2017 National Gathering Sermon: Marci Glass

Marci Glass, pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, ID, preaches on John 4:15-18; 29 as part of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.


Marci Auld Glass is the Pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and blogs at www.marciglass.com. She co-moderates the board of the Covenant Network, and serves on the boards of Ghost Ranch, Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.  She and her husband, Justin, have two sons, Alden and Elliott. Marci is a professional espresso drinker, bourbon snob, labyrinth walker, and lapsed cellist who voluntarily listens to opera.


Worship Liturgy

Call to Worship

In Jerico and in Samaria
In Syria and South Africa
In Argentina and Afghanistan
In Palestine and Israel
In Charlotte and Seattle
In Washington, DC and Kansas City
In ancient times and in this time
Around the font and around the table
For sinners and saints
For the broken and the beautiful —
For all of these and even more,
Christ opens wide the arms of love and shouts,
“Come! Come!
Rest and drink deeply!
Eat and be glad!
Your life is holy
and you belong here with me.”

 

Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, forgive us.
Unlike the psalmist,
we are afraid to lie down in green pastures
or rest beside still waters.
Unlike Matthew the evangelist,
we forget the words of Jesus
and insist on carrying heavy burdens.
Unlike Paul the apostle,
we are not always sure that nothing
can separate us from your love.
Forgive us when we are fragile enough to believe
that our brokenness is stronger than your grace.
Help us, O God.
Pour out your Spirit upon us once more,
so that the story we are so used to telling
becomes the story we really, truly, fully and completely,
trust.
(Silent prayer)

2017 National Gathering Opening Worship

Alonzo Johnson preaches the opening worship service of the 2017 National Gathering.

Scripture: John 4:1-42

Alonzo Johnson is coordinator for the Self-Development of People Program (SDOP). SDOP is a branch of the PCUSA’s Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry. He is also the convener of the Educate A Child, Transform the World initiative. Alonzo has 25 years of experience specializing in urban, youth, education, creative arts and social justice ministries. He served an urban congregation in Philadelphia, PA, and worked as a volunteer chaplain for 9 years at Luther Luckett Correctional Facility in LaGrange, KY. He has an MDiv from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is currently a DMin student at the same institution.

 

Speaking Our Truth Without Shaming Those Who Don’t See It: The Soul of Shame

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 Linda Kay Klein

One of the most meaningful influences on my ministry and work today is Dr. Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame — a Bible-based exegesis of shame authored by a psychologist most comfortable in the intersection between interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spirituality.

At a time of tremendous national division, I wonder if some of us have become too comfortable with the notion that we and our kind are “right” and “good,” while others are “wrong” and “bad.” For example, I recently heard a pastor say that she would not speak with anyone from “the other side” unless they first admitted to her that they were a bad person. The room full of similarly-politically-minded pastors and other religious leaders mmhmm’d in agreement.

I am uneasy with how easy shaming has become among us. And I fear that, if left unchecked, it will continue to lead us down a very destructive path.

After all, that’s just what shame does.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about what shame — or what Thompson calls “the primarily tool that evil leverages, out of which emerges everything that we would call sin” (page 22) — actually is, and how it affects us. From a research perspective, shame is different from guilt, humiliation, embarrassment or any of the other words we tend to lump together.

For example, researchers consider guilt the feeling “I have done something bad,” and shame the feeling “I am something bad.” The effects of these two neuropsychological states on people’s lives could not be more different. Whereas guilt makes us reach out to people and connect in an effort to repair relationships, shame inspires us to disconnect — perhaps we withdraw, lash out (either at ourselves or others) or hide.

It is important to name and fight for what we see as right, and against what we see as wrong. But when we engage in shaming — dehumanizing others by declaring them, rather than their positions or actions, to be wrong or bad — we create what Thompson refers to as “states of aloneness within us and between us, and most substantially between us and God” (page 54).

It is the disconnection that shame and shaming engenders within and among us that causes Thompson to refer to shame as “the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity” (page 13).

For communities that are, like me, trying to find ways to unapologetically speak and fight for our truths while honoring the humanity of those who disagree with us, Thompson’s book is a resource. He presents meaningfully about the nature of shame, which can help us understand the dangers of shaming, and offers Biblical tools for growth and healing. Thompson’s review of Biblical stories through the lens of shame also makes it a particularly strong tool for those interested in offering sermons and Bible studies on the subject.


Linda Kay Klein blends research and stories to expose unseen social problems and devise potential solutions. Her current project centers around the developmental effects of purity-based religious sexuality education programs on the lives of girls as they grow into adulthood. Formerly, Linda was the founding director of the Work on Purpose program at Echoing Green, a social entrepreneurship accelerator best known for helping launch Teach For America, the Freelancers Union, City Year, and over 600 other ground-breaking social change organizations.

“Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life

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 Derrick McQueen

The book that is providing theological perspective and inspiration for me these days is Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics by Josef Sorett. It is a work that examines the African-American cultural movements and their artistic offspring. From the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920’s through the Black Arts movement, Dr. Sorett examines the pervasive effect religion plays on these commonly seen as secular literary visions. This work is exciting because it puts religion in conversation with the secular and in doing so allows the church/religion to erase the divide between what is inside and what is outside of the church walls, or the boundaries of religious life.

Spirit in the Dark does not attempt to answer the question, “How does the church make itself relevant in the secular world?” It lays claim to the ways in which the division between the sacred and the secular is an artificial one. In fact, it sees the religious as an integral ingredient in the African-American literary tradition.

Church book study group leaders will find this book extremely helpful in training the eyes and ears to the religious undercurrents in the secular literary tradition. As Dr. Sorett’s work deals with the African-American experience, the culminating lessons are also applicable or at least adaptable for many different communities. It is just that in Spirit in the Dark, Sorett’s impressive research makes clear that the African-American experience is one that able to be clearly defined and claimed as such in this rich tapestry of literary tradition and can serve as a model to other communities.

Specifically, it frees the preacher up to understand that the literary resource of the African-American literary tradition is ripe for bringing in texts to be in conversation with the Bible and the community. It also provides a way for preachers and pastors to parse culture without giving in to the demand to “do something new to fill the pews” by watering down the theological foundations upon which their churches and communities are built. This is an important book and readers will definitely find their own jewels within.


Rev. Derrick McQueen, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Director for The Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS) at Columbia University. He is also serving as pastor to St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem, N.Y., and is an adjunct professor of Worship and Preaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Derrick has been actively involved in work for LGBTQ inclusion in churches and society, facilitating dialogues and serving on the boards of such organizations as Presbyterian Welcome, That All May Freely Serve, More Light Presbyterians and Auburn Seminary. Recently he served as the Moderator of the Presbytery of New York City.

Marci Glass: Ninevite Lives Matter

Marci Glass is one of our three preachers for the 2017 National Gathering. Here’s a sneak peek into Marci’s preaching – here’s a sermon she preached at her church last November. The sermon was originally posted on Marci’s blog, “Glass Overflowing.”

November 6, 2016

by Marci Glass

We humans often have a bad habit of “othering” people. By that, I mean we look at someone’s life that seems very different than our own, and we place them in some category at a remove from our concern. (For a great video series on this topic, check out “Love an other” from Theocademy. Videos here.)

Sometimes we “other” people with observation. Sometimes with judgement. Listen to the difference:

They are different.
or
They are weird.

They eat food that is new to me.
or
They eat food that is gross.

They speak a second language. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to get by in a place where I didn’t know the language.
or
I can’t understand them. Why don’t they speak English?

They’re from New York. or Bagdad. or Kuna.
or
They’re from a place without culture or civilization.

or the one that speaks to where we are this week—

They approach politics from a different perspective than I do.
They are voting for that person? Are they insane?

It is appropriate to notice difference, to embrace it, even. We aren’t called to pretend everyone needs to be the same.

Sameness is the darkside of “othering.” Because often when we notice the things that divide, we notice it with a judgment that we would prefer it if the other person were more like us.

The story of Jonah is all about this. God sends Jonah to call Ninevah to repent so they can avoid judgment.

And Jonah won’t do it.

Because he wants Ninevah to be judged. They’ve been a basket of deplorables for so long that he can’t even remember if they ever used to be friends. They are nastydisgusting people, seriously bad hombres. Those horrible articles they post to Facebook. They are fully deserving of God’s wrath. And no way, no how, is Jonah going to preach one of his awesome sermons to them so that they’ll be saved from judgment, which will be yuge, I tell you.

Sound familiar?

So Jonah goes to Tarshish instead. It would be like God calling us to preach to Portland, and we instead drive toward Denver. You can’t preach to the Ninevites if you’re hiding out at your friend’s doublewide trailer in the mountains of Tarshish, now can you?

God will not abide having the message of grace and repentance withheld from any of God’s children, even the nasty, deplorable ones. Until Jonah acknowledges that Ninevite Lives Matterspecifically, God won’t let him get away with saying “all lives matter.”

The ship Jonah escapes toward Tarshish on ends up in a huge storm and Jonah recognizes his culpability. He is tossed overboard and swallowed up by a giant fish. God decides 3 days in the digestive juices of a fish ought to give Jonah some time to think about his choices.

And then Jonah agrees to the plan, and gets spat out on the shore, where he heads to Ninevah to preach.

You can almost hear the glee in his voice when he announces their destruction and doom.
“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! Ha! That’ll teach you horrible people! You ought to be in jail, crooked Ninevah! We’ll see how you feel when God’s judgment puts you in your place!”

Jonah delivers the message, gets out a lawn chair and maybe some popcorn, and sits down to wait for a ringside seat of the destruction.

But the people repent. The King repents. The cows repent, for pete’s sake.

This isn’t an isolated repentance of a few people. This is a repentance of all individuals, the government, and even creation.

God’s message of repentance and grace prevails. God shows mercy on Ninevah and doesn’t destroy them.

Jonah’s front row seat to the destruction of his enemies doesn’t turn out the way he had hoped. Despite his greatest hopes for their doom, they are converted. His very success as a preacher and evangelist annoys the heck out of him.

God will choose to be merciful to whom God will choose to be merciful. We don’t get the final say in the people who are beyond the reach of God’s love.

I’ve shared this quote from Anne Lamott before, but it bears repeating:

You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.

Our job, as it turns out, is not to judge.

Only God gets to do that, and even then, we can’t presume God will hate all the same people we do. God doesn’t “other” people.

There’s a lot of “othering” taking place in the story of Jonah. And not just between Jonah and the Ninevites. On board the ship when the sailors are trying to figure out who’s to blame for the storm, it says “each one cried to his own God.

Even though they are all dying in the same storm, they are not together.

There’s a lot of “othering” taking place in our world. I know we’re all waiting for this election to be over, but unless we have our own repentance and changes of heart, it won’t all get better the day after the election.

The things that divide will remain. The ways we disconnect ourselves and our well being from the lives and welfare of other people will remain.

It is up to us to tell a different story.

Or maybe to claim an old one. To remember who we are and whose we are.

We’ll be coming to the Table this morning, and it is here that the contrast between God’s Kingdom and our kingdom is most apparent. We speak of all people being invited to this Table. And I’m sure we mean it. But not all the people who should be at this Table are in this room. Our religious life is not exempt from “othering.” in other words. The most segregated hour of the week is Sunday morning worship. Somehow, despite God’s message of radical inclusion and grace, we still divide into sanctuaries of sameness, where the only lives that matter are the ones like ours.

We have systems in place in our culture that make racism and sexism, and the other ‘isms’, ingrained and invisible to us. So we can say “all are welcome” but until our divisions become more visible to us, until we can face our privilege with both honesty and grace, until we bring our very woundedness to the Table, how can we know of the fullness of God’s mercy?

That’s what Jonah faced at the end of his story. God calls him to awareness of his privilege. “I care about you, Jonah. Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, as well?”

Jonah has to tell himself a different story.

When we come to the Table, we say we “remember” on the night Jesus was betrayed…. We weren’t there.

Our remembering is recalling the story of our past in a way that “re-members” it,
re-orders it for the present.

We remember that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own. And we remember Jesus still offered his betrayer bread. We remember the body of Christ, broken for us. And we look around at the body of Christ and realize, remember, that is still broken today.

What story of our life, of our faith, and of our nation do we want to remember? How can we tell it differently in the days to come?

One thought is to remember the Table. Because it is here, today, in this very room, that Trump supporters and Clinton supporters will gather. Together. In unity despite their differences to share a feast. Around a Table which has room enough for all.

Can we remember the Table as we go out into a fractious and divided world? Can we remember being fed together and nurtured by each other, trusting that if the mercy of God is wide enough to include us, it is wide enough to include people who would vote for the candidate from Ninevah?


Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and blogs at www.marciglass.com. She co-moderates the board of the Covenant Network, and serves on the boards of Ghost Ranch, Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.  She and her husband, Justin, have two sons, Alden and Elliott. Marci is a professional espresso drinker, bourbon snob, labyrinth walker, and lapsed cellist who voluntarily listens to opera.

A Lenten Book List

This book list was compiled during our Lent/Easter planning Church Leader’s Roundtable on January 10, 2017. We hope you will find these resources to be fruitful for prayers, liturgy, sermon inspiration and more.

A Pilgrim People: Learning Through the Church Year — John H. Westerhoff

Stages on the Way — Wild Goose Worship Group

The Awkward Season: Prayers for Lent — Pamela Hawkins

God is on the Cross — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Forgiveness: A Lenten Study — Majorie J. Thompson

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World — Brian D. McLaren

Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgment — Rowan Williams

Lectionary Liturgy — Thom Shuman (there are several options based on the Revised Common Lectionary Year)

Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self — Richard Rohr

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life — Richard Rohr

2016 National Gathering Opening Worship

Mark Douglas preaches at the first worship service of the 2016 National Gathering.

Liturgist: Billy Honor

Sermon: “Who’s Got Next?”

Mark Douglas is Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, where he teaches a wide variety of classes and directs the Masters of Divinity degree program.  His most recent book is  “Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Sphere” (Cascade, 2010).  He is currently working on a series of books exploring the impact of climate change on war and the roles that Christian traditions of pacifism, just war, and just peacemaking may play in addressing climate-shaped conflict.