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Diversity, Acceptance, and the Need for Reconciliation

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 Jason Brian Santos

For as long as I can remember, the topic of diversity within community has never been a serious point of conversation in my home. Coming from a bi-racial family, navigating the challenges of diversity was a fact of life. Growing up, our holiday dinners and birthday celebrations were always an interesting blend of Filipino culture and Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced Americana. While the food was amazing, our feasts were always accompanied by a myriad of obvious cultural differences and unspoken customs. Inevitably, at times tensions arose; sometimes we figured it out and sometimes we didn’t. Consequently, for most of my life, I just assumed real diversity always came with challenges.

Though I would still maintain that viewpoint today, I had an experience in 2005 that changed my thinking about what happens when a bunch of diverse people come together in Christian community. I was working on an independent study course for my M.Div on the topic of young adult spirituality and the Taizé community. My project included a research trip to Taizé, the small village located in the Burgundy region of France, which is home to over 110 brothers – not to mention over 100,000 spiritual seekers who make pilgrimages to the community every year.

For this vastly diverse group of pilgrims, Taizé has become their “spiritual home.” It doesn’t matter where they are from, what language they speak, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, how much money they make or what religious tradition they’re from – in Taizé, everyone is welcomed and accepted for who they are. Each pilgrim is shown genuine hospitality, a 1,500 year-old hallmark of western monasticism.

In Taizé, all pilgrims pray together three times a day in the Church of Reconciliation using sung prayers written in dozens of languages. They study Scripture in diverse groups, which guarantees an assortment of different perspectives on the passage. They work alongside one another preparing food, distributing meals, and cleaning up. They clean bathrooms together and pick up trash alongside one another. Every pilgrim is expected to participate in the communal practices established by the community: the brothers understand that it is in their very participation that these young adults experience genuine acceptance, which in time opens a path towards reconciliation with one another.

These pilgrims aren’t just tolerating diversity in Taizé for the sake of political correctness; they authentically celebrate it as part of what makes the community feel like a living example of God’s Kingdom on earth. In fact, in my research on why young adults make pilgrimages to Taizé, one of the key themes that surfaced was the “feeling of acceptance.” At the core of this feeling, pilgrims experience a tangible sense of reconciliation. This should come as no surprise, considering that reconciliation has been the doctrine undergirding the Taizé Community since its humble beginnings in 1940.

For the late Brother Roger, the founder and first prior of Taizé, reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. Whether it was offering Jewish refugees sanctuary or caring for German prisoners after the war, the brothers have always sought to be a sign of reconciliation. Even more, as more young Europeans began making pilgrimages to Taizé in the 50s and 60s, the brothers realized they needed to adapt their sacred French liturgies in order to truly welcome the pilgrims into their daily prayers. Latin soon became the primary language used in their sung chants, because it functioned as a universal language belonging to no particular country, nation, or people. Over the course of the next decade, chants in other languages were integrated into Taizé’s prayer book, and the prayers as we now know them gradually emerged. Still today, the sung prayers of the community function as a sign of acceptance and reconciliation.

Come to think of it, it’s rather ironic that these pilgrims find such acceptance in one of the most diverse environments they will likely experience in their lives. Maybe the central reason why is because they are never asked to put aside who they are, as if diversity is a hindrance to reconciliation; instead, through the rhythm of Taizé’s communal practices, the pilgrims are invited to take their gaze off of their own particularities and focus it on what draws them together and unites them – their identity in Christ Jesus. It’s through Christ that we bear witness to the magnitude of God’s reconciliation with all of creation and in Christ, that we are accepted and claimed as children of God.


Jason Brian Santos is the Mission Coordinator for Christian Formation (Christian education, children, youth, college, young adult, camps and conference ministries) at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. He also serves as the National Director of UKirk Collegiate Ministries. He is an ordained teaching elder in the PCUSA and holds a Ph.D. in practical theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of A Community Called Taizé (IVP, 2008) and Sustaining the Pilgrimage (IVP Academic, forthcoming). He currently resides in Louisville, KY with his wife, Shannon and his two sons, Judah and Silas (aka Tutu). In his spare time, he plays and designs board games.

From SERVING to Serving

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarang Kang and Lynn Turnage are curating a blog series on faith formation. We’ll hear from various people who are involved in faith formation personally, professionally, and perseveringly. How has your faith been formed? How has your faith formed you? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Boni Kim

Growing up in America, the only place I saw people that looked like me was at church. My parents were Christian and so I just followed them to church every Sunday. We started off at a smaller Korean church and later moved to one of the larger Korean churches in the area.

It wasn’t until eighth grade I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That was when I really started to explore what the church was. I had always liked helping out and volunteering for church and I discovered that I had been serving and being spiritually formed by my experiences even before I accepted Jesus into my heart.

During my college years, I went to an American church when I was at school and when I was home during the summers, I attended my home church. There was such a huge difference between the two churches that essentially did the same thing: worship God. When I attended church at school, I felt like I was learning so much and that I was getting something from the sermons every week. At home, I didn’t get the same kind of learning that I was getting at school. Nevertheless, after I graduated from college, I moved back home and started serving my home church.

Serving was my M.O. for most of my twenties. I believed that the only way I could grow spiritually was if I served. So, I served my heart out. I served as director for my church youth group for seven years along with serving and leading two summer camps for over ten years. During these years, I felt very tired and alone. There was only one person that was going through what I was going through, my best friend, and she was really the only person that I was able to talk to about my problems. Since she and I were pretty much in the same place in our respective churches, we just listened to each other and tried to encourage one another. In the end, I made myself believe that serving was the only way that I would learn more about myself, grow spiritually, and get closer to God.

Then, I burned out. I felt myself getting angry at the thought of stepping into church. Fuming when I had to sit through another meeting. I didn’t enjoy going to church. So, I stepped down from everything. I knew I needed rest.

During this time of rest, I learned that it was okay not to be in a leadership position in everything I was involved in. I learned to step back and be a participant and not volunteer. I learned to be more of a Mary rather than a Martha. (In my mind, I wanted to be perfect blend between Mary and Martha.) It was different because people around me have always seen me in a leadership position and have always asked me for help or asked me questions about certain events or camps. It was liberating to say, “I don’t know, I didn’t plan anything for this event.”

I also learned that it wasn’t JUST about serving. I didn’t just learn about God and my relationship with God only when I served. This time of rest was also apart of forming my spirituality. I learned that I could just sit and be a Mary and that was okay. It was definitely different and even uncomfortable at first. The more I was sitting back and not leading, the more I started noticing the small things with God. I never experienced just sitting back and enjoying God. This was a part of my spiritual journey that made me just sit and absorb God. Through just listening, God told me that I had done well in His eyes. All the serving that I did, was for Him and that He was delighted in me. When I realized that, I knew that servanthood was something that I couldn’t stop. It was just a matter of how much and what I wanted to be involved with.

Even though I told people I was taking a rest from serving, the servant heart inside me didn’t really let me stop for long. I was still involved with things here and there, so it’s not that I stopped serving altogether. I just learned how to say “no.” It took me a very long time to say no and to turn things down. It had to get to a burn out to say no. I learned how to balance and to know what my limit is.

I have by no means got my spiritual life figured out. I believe that’s something that is going to be an ongoing thing. I know that I just need to be connected to God first and foremost. After that, it’s really what God calls me to do to further the Kingdom. God is still working on me and I’m still discovering more about my relationship with our Father as well. In order for a relationship to grow, the relationship will always be going through some kind of transformation. That’s how I know that my relationship with God is still ongoing.

Currently, I am a deacon at my church and a Sunday school teacher. For now, that’s enough.


Boni Kim is an elementary school teacher at American Montessori Academy in Redford, Michigan. She has been a member of and served at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Metro Detroit (KPCMD) since childhood and is now a deacon at New Hope Church of Michigan, the English Ministry sister church of KPCMD. 

2017 National Gathering: Transformative Learning IV

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their final session from Wednesday morning.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning II
Transformative Learning III

2017 National Gathering Transformative Learning III

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their third session from Tuesday morning.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning II
Transformative Learning IV

Workshop Materials: The Church as a Learning Institution

At the 2017 National Gathering, Leslie King facilitated a workshop aimed at practical applications of Linda Mercadante’s book Belief Without Borders. A powerpoint was used during the workshop to frame the discussion. You can see that presentation (in PDF slide form) here:

Workshop description:

Following Linda Mercadante’s Monday night keynote, join us for a facilitated conversation making practical application of Mercadante’s work, Belief Without Borders. Together we will consider the real-life issues of membership, Christian education, and worship as it relates to organized religion’s interaction with folks who declare themselves to be spiritual but not religious. Bring your local ministry challenge and hopes to this discussion!

2017 National Gathering Keynote: Linda Mercadante

Rev. Dr. Linda Mercadante, Professor of Theology at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio, gives a keynote address about those who identify as spiritual but not religious at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.


Linda Mercadante is Professor of Theology at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She was once a “spiritual but not religious” person, but through an intensive spiritual journey has become a seminary professor, theologian, and ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can read about this in her memoir, Bloomfield Avenue: A Jewish-Catholic Jersey Girl’s Spiritual Journey. A former journalist, she has won many awards for her research in such areas as the theology of culture, film and theology, addiction recovery spirituality, conversion narratives, and the SBNR movement. She has published five books, nearly 100 articles, and speaks internationally on a variety of topics.

Dr. Mercadante received her Ph.D. from Princeton and has been serving at The Methodist Theological School for more than 25 years. She is married to Joseph Mas, a native Cuban, an attorney, a leader in the Ohio Hispanic community and a political commentator on the TV show Columbus on the Record (WOSU). They have three children, Sarah, Emily and David.

2017 National Gathering Transformative Learning II

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their second session from Monday afternoon.


Watch Jen and Leslie’s other sessions:

Transformative Learning I
Transformative Learning III
Transformative Learning IV

Are the Spiritual but Not Religious Turning East?

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post blog. Linda Mercadante is our Monday evening keynote speaker at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering. She is professor of theology at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She was once a “spiritual but not religious” person, but through an intensive spiritual journey has become a seminary professor, theologian, and ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Here’s a sneak peek of what Linda will bring to the National Gathering.

by Linda Mercadante

Are we all Hindu now? That’s what a Newsweek magazine claimed in 2009 when it observed the burgeoning world of the “nones.” “Nones” are those not affiliated with any part of the American religious heritage. Surveys seem to indicate they prefer not to identify with any religion at all. But the Newsweek article suggested instead that we are not seeing so much a lack of religious affiliation as conversion to some other world of beliefs, in particular Eastern.

Are we seeing a “turn to the East” among those people unaffiliated with any particular organized religion, especially those who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious?” I don’t think so. Of course, the influence of America’s increasing religious diversity is evident in the burgeoning world of alternative spiritualities. And there is, in fact, a particular attraction to certain ideas borrowed from such Eastern religions as Buddhism and Hinduism, such as “monism.”

But after spending the last five years speaking with hundreds of SBNRs, attending their diverse gatherings and learning as much as I could about and from them, I don’t think we are truly seeing a conversion to Eastern religions or religious ideas. Instead, I contend that many SBNRs are creating a particularly American spiritual mix, borrowing, adapting and adjusting from many sources. The key ingredients of this mix, however, are distinctly American. Here are some of them.

First, it is individualistic. Americans have always valued freedom of religion, but until recently were still fairly committed “joiners.” Now, joining with like-minded religious others does not seem to be as compelling for many. While most religions promote some form of community to a greater or lesser degree, this new spirituality does not give this top priority.

Second, it is “detraditioning.” Given that most of our ancestors came here from somewhere else, America has always held tradition a bit more lightly than other places. And much of American Protestantism did stress “the priesthood of all believers.” But this new American spirituality takes that impulse further. Now, the source of spiritual authority” has shifted from “out there” to “in here.” In other words, many feel they must rely primarily on their own spiritual judgment rather than looking to an authoritative figure or tradition as many religions advocate.

Third, it is therapeutic. Many Americans are focused on becoming whole and healthy, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Whereas many religions see greater goals beyond personal well-being, this new American spirituality often promotes this as primary.

And, fourth, this American mixture takes the freedom to pick and choose ideas, adapting them to the American context. There seems little felt obligation to take the whole religious package of any particular tradition. As a case in point, many of my interviewees believe in reincarnation. However, their version is often unlike an Eastern form, which allows that one might regress, rather than inevitably progress, in the next life. My interviewees Americanized this. Our belief in “second chances,” late-bloomers, and the rewards of perseverance, made them insist that endless lives of self-improvement were the trajectory of the afterlife.

There are many implications, both positive and negative, of this new American spirituality. But whether we applaud or lament it, it is impressive to see American resourcefulness at work. In the end, I don’t see a literal “turn to the East,” much less a rush to convert to Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, among my hundreds of conversation partners, all SBNRs, I saw very few who actually “converted” to a different religion. Instead, they borrowed, adapted, and adjusted what they found attractive or compelling in the culturally and religiously diverse world increasingly around us. My interviewees often believe that, rather than joining any particular religious group, they must keep their options open on the journey of spiritual growth.

Three Lessons This Christian Learned from Yoga

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we continue to post a series curated by Sarah Dianne Jones and 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 Jen Kottler

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about “The Yoga Workshop”:

No, this workshop is not just for yogis (people who practice yoga).
Yes, if you would like, bring your mat.
No, you don’t have to have any prior experience with yoga to attend our workshop.
Yes, do dress comfortably.
No, we won’t make you sit on the floor (if that is uncomfortable for you), but we might encourage a bit of exploration.
Yes, we will ask you to breathe.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

I do yoga almost every day. It keeps me sane. And it gives me hope. It opens my heart.

This is not why I started doing yoga. I started doing yoga because, well, you know, it seemed the thing to do, right? I’m a pastor, but the “not serving a church right now” kind of pastor, and since I work from home, I settle into a new community by finding a place where I can go to work out – preferably within walking distance of our home. (My husband is an interim pastor/mid-council leader in the PCUSA, and when we change jobs, we usually move. Often, it’s to a new state or a place that we have not lived before.)

So while it started out as an exercise class, it’s become much more than that. As my yoga practice has deepened, my Christian faith has deepened. My prayer life has deepened. And I’ve learned many lessons about Christianity and yoga and life that I’m looking forward to sharing at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering. Here are three:

  1. Christianity is a practice. I’ve learned that rather than a set of beliefs, Christianity is more about how I live out my day to day life. One of my yoga teachers taught me to remember that in every moment of the day begins the practice of yoga. In the same way, I am reminded in everything that I do as I go about my ministry and my work, that I am practicing Christianity. I am living it out. Some days I live it out better than others, but each day is a new beginning.
  2. Patience can be learned. Anyone who has tried yoga knows, crow pose wasn’t built in a day. In fact, most of the poses in yoga take a lifetime to master, and so we continue to practice. And we continue to breathe. Even when it’s hard and you really would rather escape the pose and run to the bathroom, you don’t. You remind yourself that it will be easier tomorrow and you just continue to breathe.
  3. Meditation opens us to the voice of God. I like to think that prayer is when I talk to God, and meditation is when God speaks to me. It’s hard to hear what God is trying to say to us when we rarely get quiet enough to listen attentively to the still small voice. Learning to be still allows us to be still and know.

We are looking forward to sharing so much more during our time together! See you there. Namaste.

Diving into the Well: Yoga Practice and Christian Praxis” is offered during workshop block 3 on Tuesday of the National Gathering.


Rev. Jennifer Hope Kottler is a spiritual director and a certified clergy leadership coach (ACC) focusing on vocational discernment, women’s empowerment, self-care and congregations/leaders in transition. A daily yoga practitioner, Jen encourages others to try yoga and other mindfulness practices to deepen their spiritual journey. She will be leading the session, “Diving into the Well: Yoga Practice and Christian Praxis” with Rev. Leslie Mott.

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.