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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.

A Confession for This Moment

by Brandon Frick

“the church writes confessions of faith when it faces a situation of life or a situation of death so urgent that it cannot remain silent but must speak, even at the cost of its own security, popularity, and success.”

– “Confessional Nature of the Church Report, I.B.,” PC(USA) Book of Confessions

It began almost a year ago.

In May of 2016, I submitted an article to the Presbyterian Outlook about the promise and possibilities of a Reformed confession of faith for the 21st century. As I surveyed the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Confessions, replete with helpful theological language, there was a nagging feeling that those confessions and statements seemed to be speaking past our current cultural moment. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was struggling with was how the church could reverse the disintegration of communal bonds in the midst of what has since been defined as the “post-truth” era – an era in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In short, I was plagued by this question: How could we proclaim Jesus as Truth in the midst of a world that, like Pilate, could look right at it and ask “What is truth?”

As election season wore on (and wore everyone out), I grew to believe ever more strongly that the church needed to speak a word of hope in the midst of cynicism and despair. As I watched my congregants, yellow-dog Democrats, Tea-Party Republicans, and everyone in between, get ground up in the gears of the politics of antagonism, it became clear they needed a word of renewal. Then, the morning after the election, friends who felt, too, the election as a rejection of their right to belong and congregants who needed their church reached out en masse.

As I sat in our sanctuary, wrestling with the pain that so many — conservative and liberal — were voicing, I asked God the questions that would ultimately lead to the composition of the Sarasota Statement: “God, what am I supposed to do? As a pastor, what is my responsibility in all this?” The answer was revealed over the course of a day: it was time to put my money where my mouth was. If I really believed all the things I claimed in that article, then we needed a confession to address the world and the church and claim our hope in God for this particular moment.

So, there was the answer, all I had to do was get a team of people together to write a confession. Funny thing though: no one has written Confession-writing for Dummies. I needed help, so I reached out to Glen Bell, who I had recently gotten to know in the Pastoral Development Seminar hosted by the saints at First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota, FL. Several weeks later, both NEXT Church and the Presbyterian Foundation pledged their support to the endeavor.

Through Glen and Jessica Tate’s hard work, a team (that I am now privileged to count as friends, and from whom you’ll be hearing this month) was put together. We began corresponding over the intervening weeks, sharing resources and ideas, and then met in January at First Pres Sarasota for a little over a day of intensive work.  What began there, and was shaped over ensuing weeks by our group (thank God for the internet!), has become a document that I am honored to have had a part in crafting.

In the trust, grief, and commitment described in the Sarasota Statement, I take great hope for myself, the church, and the world, and I pray others do as well. What I did not expect is the degree to which I find hope in the process of actually composing the Statement and the friendships that have been formed there. Eight people who love God and the church, but who come from different contexts and perceive the world differently, gathered together to hash through some massive theological and cultural questions, and now together, we lift our voices to witness to Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and Reconciler of all things. What a testimony to God’s goodness and fidelity in a world where we told consensus is impossible!

This month, the NEXT Church blog will feature reflections from the team on the Statement and the writing process. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from them over the month of April; I know I will.


Brandon Frick is Associate Pastor for Adult Education, Small Groups, and Young Adults at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, MD. He is married to Aaryn and has played in almost every sandbox around the Chesapeake Bay with his two boys. 

Thinking About Your Own Theology of Migration

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 Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty

Theological perspectives are noticeably lacking in news reports and political debates about the Trump administration’s immigration policies even though many religious leaders and faith communities are inspiring non-violent demonstrations and advocating for a new, more robust sanctuary movement. Indeed, there is a deep well of resources to inspire faith-filled activism.

Two “must reads” remain easily accessible on my desk: Daniel G. Groody’s and Gioacchino Campese’s co-edited volume entitled A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration (Notre Dame, 2008) and Miguel de la Torre’s Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration (Orbis, 2009).

Groody and Campese have assembled a vivifying collection of essays written by the world’s leading theological voices on economic migrants and refugees. Essays explore the basis for a theology migration in biblical stories and the traditions of the early church, attend to the politics of human rights, and imagine a constructive theology of migration. Groody is well-known for his work with migrants seeking to cross the U.S. Southern border. He has also collaborated with John Carlos Frye to produce films such as Dying to Live and One Body, One Border which partner well with A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey.

Another important book, Trails of Hope and Terror by de la Torre dispels the myths about migrants informing our contemporary politics of fear. Most important, de la Torre includes powerful testimonies given by people crossing the U.S. Southern border, border patrol officers, and ministers and activists carrying water out into the desert so people don’t die of thirst.

De la Torre also includes creative voices through poetry and songs. Corridos are Mexican ballads that convey news and can express the feelings of people who are oppressed by the most powerful. The excerpt below was translated from Spanish into English and originally written by a Salvadorian factory work about a Sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona.

“… he says that they are criminals.

But they only look for a decent job,

That in their country they have not found,

And without any apparent sense or reason,

Down the streets while in chains he paraded them”

(de la Torre, Trails of Hope and Terror, 130).

 These books will disturb your conscience and force you to confront the realities faced by economic migrants and refugees. Their stories will remain with you as you develop your own theology of migration and sense of God’s mission for the church today.


Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is chair of the department of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky and member of the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky. The church’s role in addressing issues of social and economic justice has long been one of her principal concerns. She is author of Dorothy Day for Armchair Theologians (2014), Beyond the Social Maze: Exploring the Theological Ethics of Vida Dutton Scudder (2006), Reconciling Paul: A Contemporary Study of 2 Corinthians (2014-2015 Horizons Bible Study) and The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to the Culture of Affluence (forthcoming from Orbis in 2017).  She co-edited Prayers for the New Social Awakening (2008) with Christian Iosso and To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians (2008) with Rebecca Todd Peters. She is an alum of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv 1995) and Union Presbyterian Seminary (PhD, 2002). Elizabeth and her partner, Lee, make their home in the Highlands of Louisville with their two children, Garrison and Emme, and their dog, Bacsi.

Living in a Constant State of Motion

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 Erin Hayes Cook

Put away your Bible cassette tapes and overhead projectors: the future is now. Journalist and author Thomas L. Friedman pauses his life to hear the cultural significance of busyness in his latest book, Thank You for Being Late. What he hears is not what you expect. Friedman realizes that our technological innovations move faster than our society and institutions can adapt. We are left feeling exhilarated and left behind all at the same time.

Friedman interviews everyone from the CEO of Google X research and development lab, Eric “Astro” Teller, to his hometown’s mayor. What humans need to develop in this age of accelerations is dynamic stability. Teller points out, “there are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.” Yes, humans are adaptive creatures but we have never had to adapt so quickly and with such versatility.

Through Friedman’s colorful and thorough research, I’ve learned what many of us knew but could not put into words. The institution of the church needs to teach her leaders, people in the pews, and potential community members how to develop their adaptability skills. We no longer move at the pace of the printing press. It’s Twitter’s fault. How can we learn to share the gospel when the vehicles of human experience change so rapidly? Be ready to be moved by the Spirit wherever she blows. And get rid of the overhead projectors. I’m sure Apple will come out with an app for it next week.

Send this book to your pastor friends and those considering ministry. Anyone who enjoys a detailed read interwoven with human story will appreciate it. However, Thank You for Being Late would not lend itself to a book study in my opinion. If you’d like to use it as a teaching tool, I would suggest putting excerpts in a bible study or topical discussion.


Erin Hayes-Cook serves a multicultural PC(USA) church in the small city of Rahway, NJ. She believes her call is to be bridge between cultures and generations where she currently serves. Outside of ministry life you will find her at the CrossFit gym or looking for a new recipe.  

NEXT Church is Not About You!

By Frank Spencer

As I have continued to engage in the NEXT Church movement, I continue to find the extended community of the PC (USA) upholding me in my faith journey.  What follows is an excerpt from my book, The Benefit of the Doubt.  These passages are taken from the Chapter, “It’s not about you!”  Let’s keep this in mind as we all discern together how we will be Church together.

*****

Spencer BookIt’s not about you!  That phrase may not be the most fashionable in today’s world of customized products, online shopping, mommy make-overs and human bodies as walking billboards.  We live in a fundamentally self-centered culture.  Even old commercial slogans evoke melody and message in the TV generation.  I bet you can sing right along with these words:

“You deserve a break today!”

or

“Have it your way!”

From the TV generation to the Facebook generation the self-focus has intensified.  We have our own web pages.  We tweet about what we are having for lunch, as if anyone really cared.  We hire personal college admissions coaches, personal trainers, personal shoppers, financial planners, lawyers, and accountants, all to improve the life of ME Incorporated.

But it’s not all about ME, at least not when we talk about faith.  There are two dimensions of this external dynamic to which we should pay particular attention.  The first is that God is sovereign.  God has set forth the plan for the world.  We know God through God’s revelation to us………..

When we acknowledge that God is sovereign, the affirmation of God incarnate that has occurred in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has implications for the whole universe.  However, to acknowledge the truth of that claim requires the ceding of control by the individual because our finite minds cannot fully grasp the concept of an infinite God engaging humankind in this way.  Ceding control is something most of us fear on many levels…………….

The answer lies in the faith of the community.  This is the second external element of faith.  Faith exists within a community rather than as the province of one soul, one mind or one heart.  The faith of a community takes on dimensions that eclipse the capacity of any individual.  The first time I heard this concept, I wasn’t sure what exactly to make of it.  How can a community have a faith?  Surely faith is something we must each wrestle with for ourselves.  Like Jacob, I will grapple all night and will not let go of God until I am victorious or vanquished.  But it is my individual struggle.  Ironically, that attitude captures both the intellectual and the egotist in all of us.

But it’s not about me.  It’s about God and God’s faith in God’s people, us.  It is the community that preserves and passes the faith down to the next generation.  The community is there for me when I need support and sometimes I am there when others need help.  Even sinners and doubters can bear witness to the sovereignty of God and to God’s faithfulness to us.  In this sense the faith of the church relieves me of having to have it all sorted out myself.  I become part of the community that has wrestled with these same issues for centuries, and is still wrestling because we are not finished and will never be finished……………………..

Our Reformed theology specifically rejects the idea that each individual controls his or her fate relative to personal salvation.  In fact, it is not only OK to die with doubt; it is inevitable that each of us will.  God has acted in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through that grace has redeemed the world.  Our human response is not determinative of the mind of God.

Thus, the community of faith that proclaims the truth of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus and welcomes those who doubt, wherever they are in their journey, is the place where faith can build and develop in safety.

“Wherever you are, there we will meet you.”

That should be our communal promise.  This is not to say that whatever an individual believes is right and true and that’s OK.  Such an attitude breeds a consumption notion of the church, a desire to extract whatever good I can for myself and move on.  Faith builds over time as one lives, studies and worships in a community.  That is how we live Anselm’s credo of faith seeking understanding…………………


Frank Clark Spencer is the President of Habitat for Humanity Charlotte and a student in the Masters of Divinity program at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Before turning to full-time ministry, Frank had an outstanding business career which included creating one of North Carolina’s 50 largest public companies, leading the company to its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, and being recognized by Ernst and Young as 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year for the Carolinas. Frank has been an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1994, is the past Chairman of Montreat Conference Center and currently serves on the Presbyterian Board of Pensions. He was a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and was named a Baker Scholar at Harvard Business School. You may find additional information at www.FSpencer.com.  

Dispatches from Pittsburgh: Brian McLaren Speaks to the PC(USA)

As the 220th General Assembly moves forward, we continue to seek folks who are willing to write short dispatches about what they are seeing at GA that will help inform the ongoing NEXT conversation. In the meantime, check out this great summary of Brian McLaren’s talk to commissioners on Monday. (Plus a news article here.)

Lots of food for thought as it relates to the the issues being raised in NEXT gatherings, both in Dallas last February and around the country in the months to come as regional gatherings take place.

A short excerpt:

In Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass says the pendulum is swinging back from “spiritual but not religious,” and that these people are now hungry for spiritual andreligious. There are some indications that they’re not so much against “organized religion” itself as against religion organized for the wrong purposes.

People are looking for religion to organize for the right purpose: not so much for purposes of self-governance (the old model), as to conduct wholistic mission.

One of the wisest things church leadership consultant Lyle Schaller ever said: “You bring in a new day with new people.”

The new day will require welcoming in significant numbers of the erstwhile spiritual-but-not-religious.

The PC(USA)’s new “1,001 New Worshiping Congregations” project will not succeed unless we can make room for the innovations of the newcomers, and unless we can make sure they won’t be constantly criticized. We must create safe zones for innovation. Existing churches will need to actually see these innovative communities succeeding before they will begin to emulate their practices.

Thank you to the commissioner from New Jersey, whoever you are, for taking such careful and thoughtful notes. Read their entire post and check out their whole site here.