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The Blessing that Changed My Life and My Church

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 Karen Ware Jackson

“God loves you, and so do I,” my son lisps as he kisses my forehead. I return the blessing, listening as the ritual of love echoes from sister to brother, from father to son. And I know it is true. Deep in my bones, in the darkest recesses of my soul, I know it is true: We are loved by God and by one another. Every night, my heart simply bursts with the love and grace and truth. But it wasn’t always this way.

As a family with two young children and two pastors serving two different churches, our home life is harried. You would think a family led by clergy would have faith formation covered, but the sad truth is church schedules and the challenges of professional faith leadership can wreak havoc on a home. We usually managed a bedtime prayer and a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” but it wasn’t enough. So, encouraged by the work of Rich Melheim and Faith Inkubators, we embraced the Faith 5:

  • SHARE your highs and lows
  • READ a Bible verse or story
  • TALK about how the Bible reading might relate to your highs and lows
  • PRAY for one another’s highs and lows
  • BLESS one another

In our house, we usually share our “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” at dinner and read a bedtime story from the Bible. Sometimes we talk about what we read and we almost always pray, but we never ever miss the blessing. It’s the sacred moment when our love for one another connects seamlessly with our love for God.

These simple, powerful steps transformed our family life, and we didn’t even need to buy a curriculum! Suddenly, all the things we were already doing – sharing, reading, talking, praying and even the “good night kiss” – became part of our family faith formation.

Soon I began to wonder: if this works so well in our home, what about in our church?

At Faith Presbyterian, we’ve been welcoming people of all ages into worship for a few years. We created a PrayGround at the front of our sanctuary to give families the space to move and engage in our traditional setting. We have a lot of fun during the service and love the joy and life the kids bring! But worshipping alongside children is not quite the same as worshipping with children.

We have the kids and the adults in the space, now how do we bring them together? How do we help them tell their stories and pray for one another? How do we foster relationships and build cross-generational community? How do we become the Body of Christ?

Inspired by my experience of Faith 5 at home, I decided to experiment with it in worship. After all, share, read, talk, pray, and bless are authentic and traditional service movements. If these practices could bring us together in the home, why not in the sanctuary?

In order to reduce anxiety and keep everyone open to new experiences, we kept the basic flow of the service, but before we began the prayer of confession, I encouraged folks to form small groups around the sanctuary or use Faith 5 as a personal spiritual practice in the tradition of the examen. I closed the PrayGround and guided anxious but willing kids and elders to share and interpret the Word together. It was beautiful! We practiced Faith 5 Worship every Sunday in October and we will return to it at least once a quarter, but one movement remains every week:

We form a circle around the sanctuary, literally knit together in a single body. As we gaze upon the faces of the family of God – young and old, black and white, refugee and native-born, long-time members and first-time visitors – we hear the charge, “… that the love of Christ that dwells within you can reach out and touch others through you.” Then we turn to one another, crouch down or reach up, grasp hands, touch foreheads, kiss cheeks, and know the truth: “God loves you, and so do I.”


Karen Ware Jackson leads cross-generational worship at Faith Presbyterian Church, a small but mighty congregation in Greensboro, NC. As the mother of two young children who worship front and center, she knows firsthand the joys and challenges of parenting a child while leading a congregation. She blogs about engaging all ages in worship at  www.karenwarejackson.com and tweets at  @karenwarejack.

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Race, Relationship, Repentance

This month, strategy team member MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series of posts on our most recent National Gathering. Now that we’ve been back in the trenches of ministry for a while, what ideas have really “stuck”? What keeps nagging at us, whether in a positive or challenging way? How has our view of or approach to ministry been impacted by what we experienced? What continues to be a struggle? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Andrew Foster Connors

Like most worthwhile things, the NEXT Church strategy team’s initial commitment to become 50%+ non-white in our leadership was born more out of Gospel idealism than out of competency. We believe that the “next Church” will reflect the culture in which the PC(USA) is situated, a culture that will be 50%+ non-white by 2042. God will make that a reality and the PC(USA) has an opportunity to be a part of it if we choose. I believe Paul’s words to the Galatians subordinating the divisions that we take for granted to a unity in Christ that is as clear as the color of the water in our baptisms. But as a Calvinist, I also know that racism coats everything in America. It warps the way we see each other. It’s warped the Church, too. There is no way to dismantle a sinful system that’s had generations to percolate, without a “gird up your loins” gritty commitment to abide with each other through the crap that we all swim in.

As you would expect, living into that commitment hasn’t been easy. One example of the way this came to the fore at the 2017 National Gathering was the Tuesday morning “crowd-sourced band.”  Steve Lindsley, a talented musician (and pastor, too!), had about as “nexty” an idea as you could come up with: to create a music team entirely off social media. The band would play well known “secular” music that would carry the worship service. It was risky, participatory, and agile – all values that NEXT Church has trumpeted as essential qualities for church to get beyond institutional rigidity. Steve was sensitive to a playlist that reflected diverse genres within the organizing idea. Then a member of our group raised the important question: was this going to be a bunch of white people leading “we shall overcome?” What about Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (both on the playlist)? And could two white guys really rap “Where Is the Love?” with any kind of worship integrity? Of course, having never met each other before we had to first find out, “Are we all white?”

When we discovered that we were, in fact, all white, some uncomfortable questions arose. Should we remove “Redemption Song” and “We Shall Overcome” to avoid cultural appropriation? Should we actively seek out persons of color to make the group less white? Should we try to contextualize each piece? Should we call the whole thing off? Immediately we were face to face with the ongoing, glaring sin that we all live with in the Presbyterian Church: we are whiter than God would have us be. We solicited some second opinions and came up with a plan. We would drop the white guys rapping “Where Is the Love” in favor of a video montage. We would add some context to the “We Shall Overcome” piece. Originally we were also going to add context to “Redemption Song” and to the other pieces, but in rehearsal it started to feel stilted, even defensive. We scrapped that plan, and added a few sentences of context at the beginning.

Evaluating the worship experience later, our diverse strategy team commended the group for some of our choices, but also critiqued the decision not to add context for the Bob Marley piece. One member of the team raised a question that was completely outside of my field of vision – whether the word “band” subtly signals “white music.” Could adjusting that one word result in a musical group with more diversity? Maybe. Maybe not. As we discussed other experiences of worship beyond Tuesday morning, an African-American member of the team was almost apologetic in her response: “It pains me to share my reaction with you. I don’t often share this kind of feeling in this kind of a setting.” But this strategy team member did share that feeling. And I am grateful for it.

Two things I’ve learned over the years as a person crossing racial boundaries (and other types of boundaries, too): healing is only possible when relationships are strong enough to handle the pain that comes to the surface; AND forgiveness and repentance (not perfection) are the only foundations on which to build real relationships. We’ll never grow as a church if we’re afraid of doing things that reveal our racism. We have to build relationships that are able to handle difference and division when they arise, calling out the racism that warps us, and moving forward together with courage and deeper trust. These are some of the conversations we’re having in NEXT Church leadership. With God’s grace, we’ll keep having them, building a broader community, and the church will move a little closer toward God’s dreams for us.


Andrew Foster Connors is senior pastor of the Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD. Andrew serves as clergy co-chair of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD – www.buildiaf.org), a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and Maryland’s largest citizens power organization. He serves on the executive team of NEXT Church. Andrew holds degrees from Duke University and Columbia Theological Seminary, was the 2001 recipient of the David H.C. Read Preaching Award, and was named 2016 “Marylander of the Year – Runner Up” along with two other BUILD colleagues for their work negotiating the largest Community Benefits Agreement in Baltimore history. Andrew is married to the Rev. Kate Foster Connors. They live in Baltimore with their two children.

Called To The Uncomfortable Place

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Brandon Frick is curating a series about the Sarasota Statement, a new confessional statement in response to the current state of the church and world. The series will feature insights from the writers and conveners of the group. What are your thoughts on the Statement? How might you use it in your context? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Layton Williams

I sometimes struggle to figure out where I belong in the church. I am an openly bisexual woman and a strong advocate justice for those the church has historically neglected. At times, I dream of being one of those unapologetically radical liberal Christians, who pull the church forward by refusing to compromise their ideals. But over and over, I find myself at the table instead, trying to remain true to my convictions and bring people along at the same time. It’s a role I can’t seem to get away from, though I am not always comfortable with it.

So, when Jessica Tate reached out to me last November and asked if I’d be interested in joining a task force to work on a new statement of faith in response to our current reality, I told her I needed to think about it. And then, I immediately sent a message to my friend Brandon, who Jessica had told me was the person who had sparked the idea. I asked Brandon, “Can you promise me this isn’t just a statement to force unity or appease people? Can you promise we’re really going to dig into the hard stuff and wrestle to figure out what our faith is saying?”

Brandon said yes, he could promise me those things. So I said yes to Jessica too.

The reason for my hesitation is pretty simple, and when — on our first group call — we explained to each other why we had signed on to work on this statement, my reason for hesitating was also my explanation for why I said yes. I told the others on the team that I had seen the church fail to show up when it really counted on more than one occasion and this time, I wanted to be a part of the church doing better and really showing up.

On the far end of this experience, with the Sarasota Statement making its way into churches and conversations, I am proud of our efforts to show up in the way I had hoped we would. It was not easy process, and the statement is an imperfect document, but I know that it was the result of hard faithful wrestling between people of different perspectives.

At one point, I told one of my colleagues on the team that I had never been so aware of both my privilege and lack thereof as I was during this process. My race, gender, and sexual identity combined with my traditional Presbyterian education and my untraditional non-parish job placed me uniquely and intensely in the midst of the various identities represented in the group.

I was acutely aware of the need for those who were people of color in our group to be heard, respected, and trusted. I knew, too, that it is unbelievably rare for a bisexual voice to represented in a conversation about the church, faithful living, and justice. I found myself constantly pushing for us to be more outspoken that we were entirely comfortable with; I kept saying I wanted the document to be “an equal opportunity squirmer.” Meanwhile, I spent much of my energy in the group helping folks keep dialoguing, reframing, hoping, and trusting that we would find our way forward together — into a document of which we could all be proud.

It was an incredible experience to be a part of this writing team — humbling and encouraging at the same time. It was also as uncomfortable a place as it has always been for me — fighting for us to be bolder and more just while trying to do so in a way that many different people could hear and be convicted by. I suppose it will always be an uncomfortable place — to be at the table — but I’m so glad it’s where I’m called to be.


Layton E. Williams is an ordained PCUSA teaching elder currently serving as the Audience Engagement Associate for Sojourners in Washington D.C.. Her work combines data analysis, creative communications, new media strategy, and relationship building to grow the Sojourners community in both breadth and depth. She is also a writer, focusing on intersections of faith, justice, politics, and culture with an emphasis on sexuality and gender. She previously served as Pastoral Resident at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and received her M.Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

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 Sermon: Marci Glass

Marci Glass, pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, ID, preaches on John 4:15-18; 29 as part of the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.


Marci Auld Glass is the Pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and blogs at www.marciglass.com. She co-moderates the board of the Covenant Network, and serves on the boards of Ghost Ranch, Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.  She and her husband, Justin, have two sons, Alden and Elliott. Marci is a professional espresso drinker, bourbon snob, labyrinth walker, and lapsed cellist who voluntarily listens to opera.


Worship Liturgy

Call to Worship

In Jerico and in Samaria
In Syria and South Africa
In Argentina and Afghanistan
In Palestine and Israel
In Charlotte and Seattle
In Washington, DC and Kansas City
In ancient times and in this time
Around the font and around the table
For sinners and saints
For the broken and the beautiful —
For all of these and even more,
Christ opens wide the arms of love and shouts,
“Come! Come!
Rest and drink deeply!
Eat and be glad!
Your life is holy
and you belong here with me.”

 

Prayer of Confession

Merciful God, forgive us.
Unlike the psalmist,
we are afraid to lie down in green pastures
or rest beside still waters.
Unlike Matthew the evangelist,
we forget the words of Jesus
and insist on carrying heavy burdens.
Unlike Paul the apostle,
we are not always sure that nothing
can separate us from your love.
Forgive us when we are fragile enough to believe
that our brokenness is stronger than your grace.
Help us, O God.
Pour out your Spirit upon us once more,
so that the story we are so used to telling
becomes the story we really, truly, fully and completely,
trust.
(Silent prayer)

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. 

2017 National Gathering Monday Afternoon Worship

On Monday afternoon of the National Gathering, our worship service consisted of liturgy, music, and readings.

Scripture: John 4:1-10
Music: Neema Community Choir

Worship Liturgy

A Thought for Personal Meditation

“I knew too that this new war was not even new but was only the old one come again. And what caused it? It was caused, I thought, by people failing to love one another, failing to love their enemies. I was glad enough that I had not become a preacher, and so would not have to go through a war pretending that Jesus had not told us to love our enemies.”

                    – Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Call to Worship

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money, come, buy and eat.
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor that that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
We come now,
for we are a people of parched throats
and hungry hearts.
We come now,
for we are hungry
for the brokenness of our yesterdays
to be gathered up in mercy,
for the injuries we have caused one another
to be healed in honest forgiveness,
for the talent we have to see the wrong
to be replaced with the gift to see the good.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.

A Responsive Prayer of Confession

Confession of 1967       

The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ
has set the pattern for the church’s mission.
His life as mortal involves the church in the common life of humanity.
His service to humanity commits the church to work
for every form of human well-being.

And we, the church of this living-dying-rising-coming again Christ
Have brought shame on his name,
     for tolerating human suffering,
     for justifying human oppression,
     for accepting racial division,
     for ignoring the enslaving power of poverty.
This is the history we all share.

His suffering makes the church sensitive
to all the sufferings of humankind
so that it sees the face of Christ
in the faces of all in every kind of need.

And we, the church of this living-dying-rising-coming again Christ
have ignored his sensitivities
as we fail to see him in the face of the stranger,
as we refuse to see him in the suffering of the stranger,
as we deny that we see him in the dying of the stranger.
For we are sensitive to our own suffering,
     and our own fear,
     and our own cynicism.
This is the history we share.  

His crucifixion discloses to the church God’s judgment
on humanity’s inhumanity and
the awful consequences of its own complicity in injustice.

And we, the church of this living-dying-rising-coming again Christ,
are participating in his crucifixion,
as the way of the world is to crucify love.
We confess our complicity in humanity’s inhumanity.
But not only this:
We confess that we are hungry for
     the broken to be mended,
     the bruised to be comforted,
     and the sinful to be turned around and made right.
We, the church of this living-dying-rising-coming again Christ
thirst for living water for all.
This is the prayer we share.

(Silent Prayer)

Assurance of God’s Grace

In the power of the risen Christ and the hope of his coming
     the church sees the promise of God’s renewal of life
     in society and
     of God’s victory over all wrong.
The church follows this pattern in the form of its life and
in the method of its action.
So to live and serve is to confess Christ as Lord.

As a forgiven people,
bathed in grace,
given one more day to live and serve the living-dying-rising-coming again Christ:
We live trusting on God’s victory over all wrong,
     in us
     in Christ’s Church
     in God’s World.

The Sending                                                   

Jesus Christ came into a world where Jews do not share things in common with Samarians—
in this world we are called to live in faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

His life, death, resurrection, and promised coming
has set the pattern for the church’s mission.
In the power of the risen Christ and the hope of his coming
     The church sees the promise of God’s renewal of life
     in society and
     of God’s victory over all wrong.
So to live and serve is to confess Christ as Lord.

Bearing witness to a promised day that we have yet to see,
but on which we base our lives,
we will live this day in trust.

In whom do you trust?
I trust in Jesus Christ my Savior, and acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How does God’s Word come to you?
I accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to me.

I further receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will be instructed and led by those confessions.

How shall Christ shape your life?
I will serve in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and continually guided by the confessions.

How will you live in Christ’s church?
I will be governed by our church’s polity, and will abide by its discipline.  I will be a friend among my colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject o the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit.

How will you serve the world?
I will seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love my neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world.

How will you serve the church?
I promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the church.

How will you serve the people?
With energy, imagination intelligence and love.

To live and to serve is to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

 

2017 National Gathering Ignite: John Wilkinson

John Wilkinson, pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, gives an Ignite presentation on the Confession of 1967.

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.

 

Workshop Materials: Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse

Workshop: Designing Worship with an Expansive Evangelical Impulse
Presenters: Jessica Patchett & Bob Henderson

  • Click here for a link to their Prezi page.
  • Click here to view the proposal for launch of a new worship service.
  • Click here to view the timeline for the worship service.

Jessica and Bob have everything posted on their church website as well.