by Lindsay Conrad
What’s NEXT? I think that question had everyone’s heads spinning at the beginning of the conference in Dallas last year. How can we answer that question when we are mourning the loss of some of our churches? Severed and splintered over theological differences, we sat at this conference and thought about this question. The thought of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and walking forward in the footsteps of Jesus seemed out of the question. What’s NEXT just seemed like too much.
What’s NEXT? The video played begging that question at the beginning of our conference in Charlotte this year. Do you know what that question feels like to a student in the last months of seminary? It’s like looking down the barrel of a gun. It’s like being asked to jump from the place without a parachute. It’s that feeling like plunging into deep waters with no sure sign that you’ll reach the surface of the water before you run out of air. What’s next just seemed like too much, but it was coming at me whether I was ready or not – just like graduation!
What’s NEXT? The most awesome and terrifying part of that question is the very answer. All of us sitting in those pews and participating online via livestream and twitter and facebook – we came to the shocking realization that we are the next church. We are the vessels used by God to be participants and initiators of the NEXT. Like Nicodemus, we are charged to be reborn. Like Mary, we are charged to bear Christ into the world. Like Jesus, we are charged to be mindful that in our baptisms we have died to ourselves. And as we break the surface of the water gasping for new air and new life, we are one with the communion of saints before us and those to come. With them we hear the same words Jesus did bursting from the heavens – YOU ARE MY BELOVED. What’s next is us – the pastors and seminarians and faithful witnesses to the Spirit moving and shaking the church into something new, something better, something exciting.
What’s NEXT? We are answering that question in lots of that ways – many discovered here in Charlotte. We are pulling improvisation and storytelling practices into our worship experiences. We are learning to band together across denominations and cities to bring new ideas and insights into our programming. We are embracing world music that opens up our view of the church. We are shaking away the frozen chosen-ness that binds us to our pews and we are dancing. We are clapping. We are rediscovering gifts that make us the church reformed and always being reformed.
So, What’s NEXT? I don’t really know – but I’m thrilled and terrified, and hopeful, and grateful to be a part of the movement determined to discover the answers.
Lindsay Conrad is a graduating senior at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is a candidate under care of Presbytery of the Peaks in Virginia and seeking ordination as a teaching elder this summer.