Carefronting as True Allyship

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, David Norse Thomas is curating a series featuring reflections on the 2019 National Gathering, which we held March 11-13 in Seattle. We’ll share the stories and insights of people who attended the Gathering in person and virtually (via our live stream), and experienced new life and a deeper sense of hope for the people of God we call the Church. What piece of the National Gathering has stuck with you? Where are you finding hope? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Karen Hernández-Granzen

Karen and Amantha’s workshop

I appreciated being invited for the first time to a NEXT Church National Gathering. I felt privileged to co-lead a workshop with my new Amiga/Colega Amantha Barbee. We met at the PCUSA General Assembly in St. Louis when each of us received the Women of Faith Award. Our workshop gave us both the opportunity to share how our churches are seeking justice, loving mercy, and working humbly before our God (Micah 6:8). I was inspired by what she and our participants are doing to respond to that call. I enjoyed every worship service. I was feed spiritually through the preachers, worship leaders, and music. The diversity of music and worship styles effectively reflected the diversity of the participants. I was moved to tears of gratitude, joy, grief, and laughter!

During what I would like to call the “Holy Times” separated for People of Color to gather separately in a safe space for mutual support via dialoging and debriefing, I appreciated witnessing us implement a Latinx idiom: “Hablar sin pelo en la boca.”/ Speak without hair in your mouth. Another way of stating this Latinx idiom is: “Hablar sin pelo en la lengua.” Speak without hair on your tongue. Basically, what it means is don’t swallow your voice. Instead speak immediately in order to communicate any questions, concerns, offenses.

I would encourage the planners of future NEXT Church National Gatherings to make this “Holy Time” for People of Color to gather together separately a new tradition. I would also suggest that during this time the group consider adopting the norm of “carefronting.”

David Augsburger coined this term over 30 years ago in his book, Caring Enough to Confront.

Carefronting takes a different approach to managing conflict. In carefronting, the overall goal is to attain and maintain effective, productive working relationships. Carefronting is a method of communication that entails caring enough about one’s self, one’s goals, and others to confront conflict courageously in a self-asserting, responsible manner.

In a future Next Church Conference, I would also love to be a part of an open and honest dialogue with People of Color and Euro-Americans to discuss what true allyship means as stated below, and how PCUSA can intentional develop more allies for People of Color within our denomination.

an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group

  • allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people
  • allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with
    • it is important to be intentional in how we frame the work we do,
      i.e. we are showing support for…, we are showing our commitment to ending [a system of oppression] by…, we are using our privilege to help by…


Rev. Karen Hernández-Granzen has passionately served as pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church of Trenton, New Jersey for over two decades. As the co-leader of the Arts, Music and Culture Committee of the City of Trenton, she is seeking to ensure that creative ways are used to celebrate the history of the city and educate. As a commissioner of Princeton’s Civil Rights Commission, she is seeking to ensure that issues negatively impacting residents are addressed.

Sources of New Life

by David Norse Thomas

Church conferences can be, lets face it, weird. Long exhausting days can overwhelm me with an even worse sense of imposters syndrome than my first few weeks of seminary. Sometimes I leave with a nagging feeling that maybe this was the year I should have organized a reading retreat with my friends with my continuing education funds instead. But this year, at the NEXT Church National Gathering, I had a uniquely different experience, and I’m not the only one. This month the NEXT Church blog will share the stories and insights of pastors who attended in person and virtually, and experienced new life and a deeper sense of hope for the people of God we call the Church.

This year, the gathering was in Seattle, and as a child of the Pacific Northwest, it wasn’t just the weather and the mountains that made me feel at home. For three days, I found myself engaging in the conversations with colleagues and friends, hearing from speakers doing the work that I see Jesus’ resurrection made visible in. This was a year full of honesty, tackling the ways in which we can be woven together too tightly without room for the people God is calling into our communities, speaking prophetic words about how we need to shift from constructs of racial reconciliation to repairing relationships and seeking reparations alongside our Black siblings, poetry that spoke to the power of being honest about how difficult the work of the Church can be, and where new life is showing up.

For me, one of the most powerful experiences was a workshop on utilizing design thinking in our congregations. Design thinking centers the experience of people and pushes us to creatively utilize the resources we have, instead of mourning what we lack. It is a powerful tool for opening leaders to new possibilities that God might be calling us to risk trying. In the workshop, we utilized the “Mission: Possible” game, and I took away two surprising paradoxical lessons from this experience. First, being encouraged to look at the resources we were given in the game (in the form of resource cards) set my imagination, and those of my table mates, to be creative with the skills and experiences we have. It seems so simple to start with the gifts God has given us in our congregations, but I realized that we so often start with what we lack, instead of giving thanks for God’s provision.

The other surprise came when our facilitators set firm time limits on our planning. Knowing that we had to make a decision freed us up to be more experimental, and to focus. This rang true personally for me. In my context at Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD, we have a firm deadline for when we have to become financially stable as a congregation, or begin to consider options like calling a part-time pastor, seeking to merge with another congregation, or consider selling our building. This deadline has unleashed unimaginable creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to risk failing that we would not have had otherwise. We have to act, and while we need to discern, decisions have to be made.

I returned from the NEXT Church National Gathering excited, ready to start from a place of gratitude and creativity, and I look forward to attending next year with more stories to tell. I ordered Mission: Possible for our next session meeting, and I am excited to see what our creative, motivated ruling elders dream up.

Rev. David Norse Thomas (he/him/his) is the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD. Known as “the little Church in the woods,” and “the Church full of badass, progressive Grandmas, and everyone’s favorite Aunt and Uncle,” MPC is a dream congregation for Rev. Norse Thomas to explore what radical hospitality and community organizing can unleash in the hands of loving followers of Jesus.

Editor’s note: We invite you to dig more deeply into two of the stage presentations David references by watching the video recordings and engaging with the provided reflection questions:

Workshop Materials: Inviting the Next Generation to Ministry

Workshop: Inviting the Next Generation to Ministry
Presenter: Matt Vaughan and Shelley Donaldson

The slides Matt and Shelley used in their workshop “Inviting the Next Generation to Ministry” are available here:

Workshop Materials: Intersectionality and Why Palestine Matters

Workshop: Intersectionality and Why Palestine Matters
Presenter: Addie Domske and Marietta Macy

Addie and Marietta offer the following resources following their workshop “Intersectionality and Why Palestine Matters”:

  • The book Why Palestine Matters: The Struggle to End Colonialism. Study questions for small group settings are provided in the back of the book. Visit its website here to order a copy.
  • You can access the Prezi they used in their workshop here.
  • Some of the folks they mentioned as informing their work included Walter Brueggemann, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Blair Imani, Nyle Fort, Angela Davis, Marc Lamont Hill, and Ilhan Omar.
  • The quote they ended their workshop with, in reference to the recent UMC vote, is copied here for you with permission. It was written by the Executive Director of FOSNA, Tarek Abuata:
    This was indeed a painful breaking of Christ’s Intersectional Body, one that strikes at everyone’s individual hearts and queerness.
    As a Queer Palestinian man, I will continue to call upon the Church to understand that my body is not one that it can, or has the right, to rip apart into identities as it seeks justice. Justice for my body is an internal union and a spiritual union from birth. In our Church’s justice calls, I add my personal call for us to network with all LGBTQI persons globally to unite them into The Church as the church continues to rip their bodies apart from God.
    Thank you all for you work of love into another step closer to the Beloved Community, one that points to Earthly divisions and to a greater Heaven to come. Salaam friends, Tarek
  • Thanks to a helpful question, we touched briefly on the different ID laws for Israeli nationals (Jewish) versus Israeli citizens (Palestinian) and on the Jewish Nation State Law. Here is a helpful analysis of that citizenship v. national question, published yesterday in Mondoweiss. We are ones for uplifting visuals, and there is a helpful group called Visualizing Palestine that helps uncomplicated the complicated ID system here.
  • As a reminder, we do a lot of our organizing work with these organizations:
  • Lastly, a devotional resource Addie curated is attached. It has some good sources for you if you’re interested in theologizing some of the things we discussed. In her youth group, they have their annual lock-in over Columbus Day weekend so we always have our devotional programming around the concept of decolonizing our theology. We used the welcome and acknowledgement from that resource at the beginning of our workshop session to name the native land we were on for our talk. Remember that the Native Land app is a helpful resource for the practice of land recognition work! As a further theological resource, we would commend the Sabeel Jerusalem Wave of Prayer to you, a once-per-week prayer to your inbox that cites news happening in the Holy Land and prays along with the World Council of Churches.

Workshop Materials: Creating a Culture of Generosity

Workshop: Creating a Culture of Generosity
Presenters: Robert Hay Jr.

Attached you will find the powerpoint from Robert Hay’s workshop “Creating a Culture of Generosity.”







Workshop description: Is your congregation’s approach to stewardship stuck in a rut? Are you living in a state of scarcity and longing for abundance?   This workshop will outline a program that has moved churches from a four-week stewardship campaign to a year-round culture of generosity. Learn how to form your Generosity Team, how to create an activities calendar for your church’s funds ministry, how to prepare a narrative budget, and how to integrate all aspects of your church into the life of generosity.

Workshop Materials: Leadership Essentials for Laity

Workshop: Leadership Essentials for Laity
Presenters: Ann Michel

Attached you will find the powerpoint from Ann Michel’s workshop “Leadership Essentials for Laity.”

Workshop description: This workshop will equip lay leaders and church professionals who are not ordained clergy with some of the basic skills essential to effective church leadership. Beginning with the premise that all leadership is relational, the workshop will consider team building, recruiting, and how to develop others as leaders.



Workshop Materials: Communities of Resistance

Workshop: Communities of Resistance
Presenters: Emily Brewer & Sarah Sommers

Attached you will find the handout from the workshop “Communities of Resistance” with Emily Brewer and Sarah Sommers.

Workshop description: We are called to desert places and to walk alongside people who are forced to wander in the desert and seek refuge. But the desert is also a space for honesty and resistance. This workshop will look at examples of communities of resistance to gain a deeper understanding of the principles and practices of nonviolence. Learn how you and your congregation can also resist the violence and oppression of white supremacy here in the US through active non-violence and speaking truth to power.



Workshop Materials: In Ministry Together: How Laity Can Embrace Their Call

Workshop: In Ministry Together: How Laity Can Embrace Their Call
Presenters: Ann Michel

Attached you will find the materials from Ann Michel’s workshop “In Ministry Together: How Laity Can Embrace Their Call.”

Workshop description: This workshop will explore a more inclusive, synergistic paradigm of ministry that includes the work of lay leaders and church professionals who are not ordained clergy. Participants will be given the opportunity to consider how God’s call is active in their life and their work, and to claim a clear theological identity as ministry leaders.

Workshop Materials: Leading Fully and Freely

Workshop: Leading Fully and Freely: Deepening spiritual authority around issues of money
Presenters: Mike Little

Attached you will find the money autobiography Mike talked about in his workshop “Leading Fully and Freely.”

Workshop description: In many churches, issues of money and budget are wilderness places: leaders must navigate competing priorities, anxiety about scarcity, and the perennial stewardship campaign. One way to lead with deeper spiritual authority is to work with the ways in which we ourselves are not free with respect to money. In this workshop we will reflect on our own money stories and the practice of leading by example. What is our theology of money? How do we model a faithful relationship to money?

A Reminder of Divine Love

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: Justin is co-leading a workshop during the 2018 National Gathering called “Songs for the Journey.” It will take place during workshop block 2 on Tuesday. Learn more and register

by Justin Ritchie

Love is my favorite theme from the Advent season. Well, that’s true this year anyway. For me it seems each year at Advent, hope, joy, peace, or love seem to rise to the surface for different reasons. With everything happening in the world around us, this year I find that my heart is longing for love to return in places it seems to have been forgotten and to be born in hearts that seem to be missing it.

We are creating our own corner of Advent love in our home again this year. My parents are traveling from Augusta, GA, to be with my husband and I and a few of our close friends to celebrate Christmas day. Our tradition since I was a child is to wake up on Christmas morning, eat breakfast, and then read the Christmas story from Luke. We still do that every year. In recent years, I’ve looked at our little Christmas gathering consisting of my family of birth and our chosen family, different skin tones and widely differing belief systems and faith traditions. We are gay and straight, Yankees and Southerners, conservative and liberal. Each year we find a way to be together on that morning. We listen to the Christmas story. We exchange presents. We eat. We drink. We laugh. We reminisce. We LOVE.

The other night I watched the Pentatonix Christmas special on television. They are one of my favorite groups and their Christmas albums are already on permanent rotation in our home. Near the end of the program and just before they sang a beautiful arrangement of “Imagine,” one of the group members talked about how Christmas was the time of year we could put our differences aside and come together. It is a lovely, and true, sentiment. Why do we only expect that to happen during the holidays? I think that this seasonal feeling of goodwill to our fellow humans could be something that we practice all year long. What if we used that “Christmas feeling” as a model for how to interact with the people in our lives every day of the year? How different our world would right now?

I grew up in evangelical circles and we did not celebrate or acknowledge the Advent season. I have come to cherish and deeply appreciate this period of longing and expectation. For me, Christmas and the story of Jesus’ birth boil down to this: Divine Love was born in the form of a human baby. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love for all of God’s children. This Advent I am indeed longing and anticipating. My heart needs a reminder of Divine Love. Our world needs a reminder of Divine Love. One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Marianne Williamson, puts it this way, “Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. The real miracle is the love that inspires them. In this sense, everything that comes from love is a miracle.”

May your heart be filled with love and miracles this Advent and in the year to come.

Justin Ritchie is the music director at Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD – a multi-cultural More Light Presbyterian Church. By day he is a contractor for the federal government as a web developer. He lives with his husband Jason, Phoebe the French Bulldog, and Bruce the Pug just outside D.C. In addition to his ministry at Oaklands, Justin is the band director at Temple Rodef Shalom in Fairfax, VA. He is also an active cabaret performer in Washington, DC and New York and was recently seen in productions of “The Secret Garden” and “The Full Monty” in Annapolis, MD.