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 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.


A Clearer Image: Two at a Well

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Leslye Colvin

There are differences between our languages that no language, not even yours, can bridge. There are differences between you and me—differences of time and space, differences of culture and place, differences of perception and understanding—there are differences between us that language cannot capture.

Even when our language is the same, differences may whisper their presence—subtle differences in meaning or intonation may pierce the heart. Throughout the human experience, the wise have accepted the limitations of language as you and your neighbors accept the limitations of photographic images.

Rather than defer to the limitations, the wise gingerly hold language as though it were a fine gold thread with which to weave simple yet profound lessons that can neither be frayed nor unraveled by reasoning or lack thereof.


Across the centuries, my wish has been that you had witnessed our encounter. Had your ears heard us, you may have remembered it differently than written. That is, if your ears knew the language. If your ears knew not the language, your eyes may have observed that which was beyond words—if your eyes knew to move beyond the norms and beneath the surface to see clearly with the heart.


Some matters are best served through the language of heart and spirit. It is the spirit that connects one to the other in silence, in nuance, in the unspoken. The heart is the doorway. When fully opened, it embraces the spirit of the other. When securely closed, it imprisons the spirit of self and denies the spirit of others.


For you, what meaning is there in the word Samaritan? Is it possible that the meaning has been lost to you? Suffice it to say that many showed us no favor. It was easier to deny us, to deny our humanity. Even their laws condoned this action. For many, the mere thought of us barred the heart. Then, who would have faulted him had he chosen to travel the preferred, yet longer path to bypass Samaria?

Most, if not all, would have been amazed that the writers would have chosen to include me in his story, as amazed as they were that he chose to journey through our land. But amazing was this son born of woman. Did he see her in me or me in her?


To you, in your language, I am the woman at the well…not “a” woman, but “the” woman. For many, the distinction is of no consequence. Yet, to my mind, it is.

Having known him, I say that I was neither “the only woman” nor “the only Samaritan” to whom he spoke, whose presence he embraced. How do I know such? His comfort in my presence was real. It was the reality of his presence that disarmed me.

Seeing me as a woman and a Samaritan, he did not bar his heart. Pretense did not journey with him to be used as a garment of derision. His speaking was as gentle and natural as his breathing. He was sure of himself, but with no hint of arrogance. Of him, I say that it was not a state of mind, but a state of being—to be present, clearly present.

Our conversation was no aberration but to those limited by language, those who chose not to understand. Could they not think beyond the gate?


What understanding do you have of my significance—the significance of “the” historical woman? Do the women of your time share the standards and limitations that were my lot?


In affirming my humanity, he brought new light to the law of God and freed the law of man. Twenty centuries later, can you begin to grasp this reality? He affirmed me.


I understand that uncertainty accompanies the memory of me. Did he affirm the existence of my faiths or my lovers? I will allow you to ponder the answer, but I do say, far beyond this, he saw me clearly in my humanity.

Beyond judgments, labels, and stereotypes, he saw me. He knew me. He honored me.

Where others saw only a woman or a Samaritan, he clearly saw me in my humanity. Do you? With a clearer image of me, a clearer image of him may you see.

L ColvinLeslye Colvin is a writer at heart and a bridge builder among peoples who respect the value of listening and engaging in dialogue. She embraces the lessons offered by diversity and views life as an ongoing invitation to compassion. Currently in the midst of a professional transition, her measure of success is to live a life of integrity. A JustFaith graduate, she also earned a Certificate in Social Justice from the University of Dayton. This blog was first published in October 2009 on her blog Leslye Wrytes.