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.

Moving Forward as NEXT Church


We are living through a time of significant change in Christianity in the United States. This is not a surprise to you. The systems and strategies we have inherited are no longer working; digital communications have connected us in unprecedented ways but also left us more isolated than ever. And our recent elections have clearly revealed the division and disconnection in our country. This is a time in which we need a strong relational fabric within our church so that our congregations are strong and healthy enough to be a sustained, effective, and moral voice that is engaged in the transformation of our communities.

NEXT Church plays an important role in the PC(USA) as we move into the future while holding onto the best of our Reformed tradition. Over seven years we have grown from a conversation to a movement that is known in the denomination for creating a new kind of connection.

Here’s how.

Over the last seven years, NEXT Church has hosted six national gatherings, with almost 3,000 people in attendance and another 3,000 who have joined us online. These gatherings create space to build bridges, to learn from one another, and to discover God’s transformative power at work. We are looking forward to our 2017 National Gathering, March 13-15 in Kansas City, where we will explore Wells & Walls: Well-Being in a Thirsty World.

We are working hard to support the next generation of pastors by partnering with the Board of Pensions to develop a website and partnered widely to offer Trent@Montreat, a conference to work closely with new pastors on their practice of ministry.

In the winter of 2016, we held a denomination-wide listening campaign to talk about transformational mission, which modeled for the church a new way to come together. We have received grant funds to explore accountability in leadership and how we assess the faithfulness and success of ministry. We are excited to begin sharing the fruit of this learning at the 2017 National Gathering.

Going forward, we see our work coalescing in three main areas – leadership development, equipping and strengthening congregations, and engaging in systemic work to strengthen our denominational connections.

We are able to do this work because of the generosity of 30 congregations and 74 individuals who have supported our lean operating budget of $160,000. We need you to join in offering that financial support so that this important work of moving forward as a church, in hope, can continue. Please consider making a gift today.

You can do so online or by sending a check payable to “Village Church” with “NEXT Church” in the memo line to:
Village Church
6641 Mission Road
Prairie Village, KS, 66208

Together, we can move into God’s future in hope and with confidence.

Thank you for being part of what’s NEXT!








Jessica Tate
Director, NEXT Church

Give to NEXT on Giving Tuesday!

Dear Friends,

As we near the end of 2015, we want to thank you for helping make NEXT Church what it is—a vibrant, creative space where leaders throughout the PC(USA) can dream about the church that is becoming, and help one another make those dreams a reality.

We’ve got big plans for 2016, but we need your help.

We’re thrilled to announce that a group of teaching and ruling elders has come together to offer a challenge gift of $5,000 to the ministry of NEXT Church. Any gifts given between now and the end of the year will be effectively doubled through this matching pledge. On this Giving Tuesday, can we raise an additional $5000? We absolutely can—but we need to hear from you today111-next-20140402-114237

If you’re one of the almost 4000 people who’ve joined our five national gatherings, in person or online;
…if you’ve attended one of our sixteen regional gatherings;
…if you’ve been inspired by blog posts, recordings of national gathering presentations, sermons, Church Leaders’ Roundtables, or webinars;
…if you’ve benefited from a resource shared on our Facebook page or Twitter feed;
…or if you haven’t gotten involved yet, but know that 2016 will be “your year,”
let us hear from you now.

Because we’re a grassroots movement, we’ve managed to keep our expenses low. But we simply couldn’t do what we do without the support and coordination of our director, Jessica Tate, a top-notch website (look for a reboot in 2016!), the vital support of a Young Adult Volunteer, and a brand new Communications Director!

The challenge is clear: $5,000 has been pledged to encourage gifts. Support NEXT now through a gift online. It’s quick and easy, two minutes, tops. Any amount can make a difference.

If you prefer to pay by check, make checks payable to Village Presbyterian Church with “NEXT” in the memo line and mail to: Village Church, Attn. Tom Are, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS 66208.

The leadership of NEXT is on board. Are you?

Blessings during this Advent Season,

Jessica, Angela, Linda, and the rest of us with NEXT Leadership

What are you going to do about it?


By Andrew Foster Connors

Well, what are you going to do about it? 

The question continues to stop me in my tracks. Honestly, I can’t remember who asked it or what prompted it. It was probably in response to some comment that I, or another church leader, stated on more than one occasion. Something like:

“Presbytery stinks.”

“My congregation likes to talk about living the Gospel but doesn’t want to live it.”

“I’m tired of rearranging the chairs on the decks of a sinking ship.”

As a pastor, I know that people who critique without investing themselves in community for change are some of the most frustrating people in a church. Even so, I had become one of them. So partly out of guilt, I joined NEXT Church several years ago. I felt guilty that I had all kinds of criticism about the atrophied, distrustful, bureaucratic culture of our Presbyterian Church, but truth be told, I wasn’t doing anything to change it.

Guilt led me to get involved in NEXT, but it’s not what keeps me here.

What keeps me here is rediscovering a culture of connection rooted in real relationships.

What keeps me here is lifting up people all across our church who are reinventing possibilities for church today and are already leading us toward the church of tomorrow.

What keeps me here is the hope that I experience when church folk get together and articulate the new things that God is doing in and through the cracks and fissures of the broken body that is the church:

  • The 1600 people who’ve gathered to be inspired at the last four national gatherings and the 2000 more who’ve watched online,
  • The participants in the sixteen regional gatherings across the country,
  • The creative ideas for the practice of ministry shared each month in the online Church Leaders’ Roundtables,
  • The thoughtful, provocative blog posts that engage me in fresh thinking about ministry, and
  • NEXT’s participation in conversations with theologically diverse leaders across our denomination as we seek ways to be Presbyterian together in a time of denominational fracturing.


What are you going to do about it? 

I’ve now answered that question in several ways – serving on the NEXT Strategy team, attending regional and national gatherings, and making a personal contribution toward the incredibly lean budget of NEXT. My medium-sized church has answered it with a multi-year financial commitment toward the difficult organizing work that drawing diverse people together around a common vision entails. Complaint gets transformed into action and leads to new life for everybody involved.

But the truth is that to continue to be a midwife to the church that is becoming, we all have to answer that question in concrete ways that are consistent with our particular callings. I’m not naive to think that NEXT Church is the only community of people doing transformative work in the church. I can only testify to how transformative it has been and continues to be for me and for others I’ve listened to who believe that God is at work in the church.

If you share that conviction and that hope, I hope you will help us to spread the word about what NEXT is doing and partner with us to invest in the church that is becoming. You can make a financial gift online or by sending a check to:

Village Presbyterian Church (memo: NEXT Church)

6641 Mission Road

Prairie Village, KS, 66208


Together we can do something about it. Thanks.


Andrew Foster Connors is the pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD and the co-chair of the NEXT Church Strategy Team.