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Silhouetted hand holding a 2-inch glass ball with the sky reflected in it

Stewardship of Creation

Silhouetted hand holding a 2-inch glass ball with the sky reflected in itAs we continue to think about stewardship, stewardship of creation often comes right behind (if not before) financial stewardship. After all, it’s right there in the beginning of the Bible. The very first thing God tells us is that we have power over creation.

Wow! God isn’t subtle here. We have extreme power over the world around us, which we see as the movement of humanity throughout the globe has changed the very shape of mountains, rivers and fields, not to mention the health of the water, land and everything living on the planet. We need to use parts of creation in order to survive, but if we do not take care of it, we won’t survive. It is a delicate balance.

In order to do our part in caring for creation and ourselves, the PC(USA) encourages churches to become Earth Care Congregations. They have resources on why caring for our environment is so important, liturgy and more information at the Environmental Ministries page of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and more information about becoming an Earth Care Congregation. You can even go deeper, and join the Environmental Ministries Action Network or become an Eco-Steward. There are ways to jump into creation care at any level you and your congregation are ready for.

You can learn what other congregations are doing to be responsible stewards of this great power God has granted us. In fact, First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell is an Earth Care Congregation, first certified in 2014!

Stewardship of creation is deeply tied to food sources and security, which is why Environmental Ministries is part of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, so you may also want to check out what FarminaryFarm Church, Mercy Junction and Stony Point Center are doing around food justice and security. There are plenty of non-PC(USA) groups like Bread for the World and Garden Church doing more good ministry around food, reclaiming land and building community.

What does it look like to be good stewards of creation in your neighborhood? Are there empty or run-down lots that could be reclaimed? How can we look at meeting the needs of the hungry in ways that are sustainable? Do we have a community garden bounty that we could share with neighbors that may be living in food deserts? How does caring for the creation we see everyday help ourselves and others?

From the beginning we were called as caretakers to God’s creation. How are we answering the call?

Focus on Leadership: Generosity

kids small featuredFor many of us in churches it is, or will be, stewardship season. This is a good time to consider our practices of generosity and discipleship. In fact, these concepts are inextricably intertwined – to be a good disciple means to live a life of generosity, and to live generously helps us become better disciples.

In John 10, Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he encouraged people – his disciples, the crowds in synagogues, in the hills, and along the roads, Pharisees, tax collectors, friends and enemies – to live abundantly, generously. This summer the Revised Common Lectionary had texts both warning us what our lives will look like if we do not share everything we have been given (given, not earned), and what it looks like to share all that we have and all that we are.

Whether Hebrew prophets, Paul and other apostles, or Jesus, the message is consistent – there is a big, generous, overflowing life to participate in, but like the manna in the desert, if one tries to hold onto or hoard it for oneself, it rots. There are several points here – 1) God gives us everything we have – it does not belong to us, 2) God gives to us because God loves us and wants us to be taken care of, 3) God has specifically called us to steward what we have been given, 4) God tells us that part of stewardship is making sure those around us are also cared for, given what they need out of what God has given to all of us. A life of abundance means a life together where no one gets overlooked.

Being generous is not just about food, clothing and shelter, it is also about seeing each other, including each other, comforting one another when someone is hurt, grieving, or has messed up. We see it in the Bible as feeding the hungry, caring for and healing the sick and injured, visiting the prisoner, welcoming the stranger, sharing what we have, sharing in feasts with the whole community, forgiveness.

The common element in all of these actions is that they cannot be done alone – these are all activities that involve two or more people. To live an abundant life means to live a life with others. As we think about how we will give in this stewardship drive, or just as everyday disciples, these are our stretch goals – give a little more financially, be better listeners so that we might know what is going on in the lives of those around us, and respond by spending time – feeding, visiting, welcoming, work to be graceful to someone who has messed up, engage in community fellowship.

Go out and live life abundantly. That’s what Jesus tells us, over and over. He sent his disciples, and we continue to be sent in the name of Christ to share love and life throughout the world.

Focus on Resources: Financial Stewardship

start sign The Fall marks the kickoff not only of the typical school year for our children, parents and teachers, and parallel church programming – regular Sunday School and other weekly activities and Christian Education programs – but it is also a time when many churches focus on stewardship.

From Wikipedia:

Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.

We are called, from the very beginning of creation, to be stewards of what God has created. In churches this often looks like budgeting, and collecting the financial resources to support that budget. On Thursdays in September, we’ll be looking at stewardship that goes beyond money – creation, time, space, spirituality – all resources we need to care for and use faithfully.

As many churches get ready to dive into a season of financial stewardship, here are some resources that can help you think about, plan and execute a stewardship campaign that not only fulfills your budgetary needs, but engages congregations in thoughtful and faithful giving as growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

Here are some helpful online Presbyterian and ecumenical resources that talk about financial (and beyond) stewardship and how to do it well:

The Presbyterian Foundation has a long history of helping congregations and individuals think about how their financial resources can be used to build the future of the church. Many churches and members are thinking about maintaining the current buildings and programs, especially if they are thriving. But what will the church look like in 500 years? How can we think differently, and support a future of the church we not only won’t be around to see, but also probably can’t even imagine? The Presbyterian Foundation can help you think about investing in an unknown future, not just creating a legacy for the present church. The Presbyterian Foundation can also help you with online giving, and they have a monthly newsletter you can subscribe to.

Other online resources for stewardship planning are:

The Lake Institute goes beyond simple stewardship resources, and trains people to be fundraisers.

Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate, by J. Clif Christopher (founder of Horizons Stewardship), is a book that has been helping congregations think about approaching the stewardship conversation in new ways. The income, lifestyle and expectations of our parents is not what many of us have experienced, nor what our children are or will experience. Yet, we still see that when people have the opportunity to give of themselves, they want to share. That has not changed. Instead of assuming that because different generations do not give in the same ways does not mean that they are generous in different ways, but rather that we need to adjust how we talk about giving and discipleship. This is a positive thing because it gives us an opportunity to examine our own inherited and learned inherent ideas about stewardship, and challenges us to do things in new ways that might feed our souls as well as provide for the church, community and world around us.

If you want to talk about how your money is used beyond your congregation, within the PC(USA) and in world mission, an excellent source of information is the PC(USA)’s Special Offerings page. You can also look up more information about mission and PC(USA) budget, but Special Offerings gives a good snapshot of the priorities and mission of the PC(USA).

drawn image of a hand on silhouetted head, silhouette of Jesus on the cross

Focus on Ministry: Central Presbyterian Church, Montclair

Central Presbyterian Church spireMany of the churches in our presbytery are the oldest churches in their communities, not to mention the nation. Central Presbyterian Church in Montclair may be a relative newcomer compared to some of the historic East Coast churches, but it is the oldest continuously worshiping community in Montclair.

However, being a long-standing congregation doesn’t mean they look like they did almost 200 years ago. As they state of themselves:

Members of Central Presbyterian Church come from five continents and several island nations. The founders of our Church in 1837 might never have imagined a church family as diverse as we are. While our worship remains traditional, we are open to the Spirit of God leading us in new directions. We are “Reformed and Reforming”.

In fact, Central Presbyterian is one of the Newark Presbytery congregations that have used New Beginnings to guide conversations about identity, mission and the future. Coming out of these conversations, Central has decided to focus their community outreach efforts on families of young children, birth to three years. What that looks like is part of the next stage of conversations.

Often Presbyterians are accused of talking things to death, and that can be true if there is no action to go with discussion. However, without these on-going conversations that examine how we are fulfilling (or not fulfilling) our mission, how we can continue to change, adapt and grow as the Spirit moves, we may miss the work of the Spirit altogether.

Thank you, Central Presbyterian Church, for being a community willing to examine yourselves, and act to continuously be reformed by God, not getting stuck.

Focus on Leadership: Hospitality

welcome sign featuredMany churches describe themselves as “Welcoming.” And for some of them, it’s actually true. But, what does it mean to be a welcoming church? Some churches only seem to be welcoming to those who are most like themselves. Many communities have a hard time when language, cultural practices or behavior of visitors are outside the norms of what the main membership is used to.

Yet, over and over in scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, we are told to be open to the stranger, to those who do not speak the same language or have the same customs because they are from another place. Or who cannot dress up on Sundays because they do not have the means to do so. Or who cannot conform to the common understanding of “appropriate” behavior because of age or trouble adapting to new social situations because of inexperience or differences in mental processing. In the Bible, the shorthand of “strangers, widows and orphans” is often used to encompass people traveling through, immigrants, the poor, desolate or criminal.

The point was, and is, that everyone has a place among God’s chosen people. A hospitality that was related to, but more than, the common hospitality of the time. And it was those who disobeyed this simple, central command that drew the fullness of God’s anguish and wrath, warned of by prophets in ancient Israel and Judah. We also cannot escape hospitality/lovingkindness as a central theme of Jesus’ teachings during the time of Roman occupation.

If your church follows the lectionary, you have been reading through texts from Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah that all say the same thing – if you do not care for each other, you will be destroyed. So many people think that this is destruction from God, but the exile and/or ultimate destruction of Judah and Israel is just a national manifestation of the destruction they have already caused among each other and between nations. Likewise, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is an outward sign of the rotten core they had created by not being welcoming and hospitable places. (See J. R. Daniel Kirk’s recent Patheos piece, Checking in on Sodom, for more on why the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is not what we think it is.)

Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. These two commands are paramount. Yet, they are also difficult. Because human beings are difficult sometimes. We make it hard for others to love us, and we often have high expectations of others before offering our love to them. And yet, Jesus called us to love without regard to whether we were receiving love in return. Jesus showed us exactly what that love looks like, along the roads and in the towns of Judea, in the Temple and synagogues, in the houses of the rich and haughty, and those of known criminals.

In fact, we are blessed in the act of loving one another, not only if that love is returned. It is not easy work, though. One of the people we think of as full of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ love, Mother Teresa, often despaired and felt emptied of those very same qualities she is most known for.

Hospitality is inconvenient. (Jan Edmiston has a wonderful post about this.) It can delay you, distract you or upend your life. The people you are called to love may not be very nice, or share that same love with you or others. Salvation may not look like fiscal success or perfect health or the kind of people you would invite to a dinner party. But we are called to love anyway.

And it matters. It matters that we are Jesus’ emissaries in the world. It matters that we show up. And sometimes people really get it. Hugh Hollowell, a Mennonite pastor who founded Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina, sees the full range of this love in action every day. You can read all about the great victories and great tragedies as well as mundane irritations of loving human beings on the Love Wins website, but today he also reposted this oft-requested piece that shows how this welcoming love in action is picked up by others.

Yes, hospitality is inconvenient. Yes, welcome is hard. Yes, including others is messy. But we don’t do it alone.

We are called together by God’s endless, boundless love that welcomes us in and teaches us how to love. We have communities filled with different gifts of hospitality. We can hold each other accountable for keeping our minds open when new people come into our midst. We can look out for each other when there is danger, and ask each other for help.

Love for God and love for one another cannot be separated. Does your church have a gift of hospitality? Who do you have trouble welcoming well? What stories of hospitality that have touched you as you have received and offered welcome?

Focus on Resources: For Christian Educators

Bible Study 2 smallChristian Educators are a gift to the church. Christian Educators are responsible for a wide range of educational needs, often for those at all stages of life, from birth to death. Whether they have formal education or training, or are self-taught, there is always something new to learn and share for Christian Educators. Last week we shared about curriculum resources, but what about the people who use them? They need opportunities to be refreshed and renewed, to learn and grow, so that their work does not become stale, and to recognize that you cannot do this work without the support, resources and connection we expect for every area of the church.

Here are some places your Christian Educators can find support, rest, renewal, continuing education and inspiration:

The Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE) is an obvious go-to when seeking resources, certification, continuing education and support. But not all of our Christian Educators know about this resource. There is a national gathering every year with workshops, including courses that count toward certification. This coming year, it is January 25-28, 2017, in Denver, CO. There are also regional gatherings and support. Newark Presbytery is in the Eastern region – you can find the regional representative and information on next year’s Spring regional gathering here. Certification in Christian Education is also available.

Cross+Gen is a conference started by Faith Inkubators through their experience working with the changing nature of Christian education, coaching churches, pastors and educators to help all the generations of the church talk about and explore their faith, with each other. The conference and materials don’t limit themselves to the Sunday morning education hour, but rather encompasses new ways of looking at faith in worship, education and home. Presentations are done by the people who are actually putting these practices…into practice, using case studies of their own work, not just theory. For those who are looking for a new way of doing things, Cross+Gen is a good place to start.

Many of the PC(USA) (and other denominational seminaries) offer continuing education courses on a wide range of topics that can be helpful for spiritual renewal or lifelong learning. There are several seminaries within driving range of our churches, so these can be a great opportunities for educators with limited travel budgets. From retreats and spiritual practices, certification courses to courses on theology, worship, church leadership, fundraising and more, there are many ways to refresh, renew and learn.

Beyond conferences specifically designed for church educators, there are other conferences that provide opportunities for growth, renewal, support and new ideas. Conferences like NEXT and Unco have a mix of pastors, educators, other leaders and members who are thinking about innovative ways to do church, both in the PC(USA) and ecumenically.

Likewise, there are other conferences and courses, through other denominations, conference centers, etc., not specifically focused on Christian education, yet which could be informative, educational, and spiritually renewing for your educators. Thinking beyond the ordinary bounds of what we have traditionally thought of as Christian education and the roles of educators is important as our churches and this presbytery move into the future.

Bloomfield Church on the Green featured

Focus On Ministry: Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green

Bloomfield Church on the GreenFifty years ago four Bloomfield Presbyterian churches joined together to form the Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green. This April they celebrated their 50th anniversary with worship and celebration. But they don’t rest on the history of the last 50 years, nor on the history of the four churches they are built upon. Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green continues to look outward into their community to invite, welcome and serve. They have a weekly food pantry that serves 50-60 families per month (75-165 individuals), and are committed to confronting hunger and food scarcity issues in other ways, as well.

They also recently hosted an afternoon ‘Bible Palooza’ for families – a fun exploration of Bible Heroes for all ages. This fits well within Pastor Ruth Boling’s passion for fully engaging children within the church community, including writing several children’s books on worship and the church year.

Rev. Boling has also been called and agreed to be Vice Moderator of the Presbytery. We will be installing her, along with Moderator Ruling Elder Victoria Andrade, at our next Newark Presbytery Gathering on September 10. As a connectional church, we celebrate our churches being engaged in their communities, and also our work together, in presbyteries, as a national church, and in the world. Thank you, BPCOG, for being involved in our common mission.

Focus on Resources: Curriculum

curriculumThough the church year operates on a different calendar than either the ordinary January-December calendar or the typical United States Fall-Spring school schedule, the programming schedules for churches typically follow the typical school schedule, kicking off in Fall with regular Sunday School, new curriculum and activities, and taking a break, or moving to a much different schedule in the summer.

This means it is the time of the year when preparations for Fall programming are at a peak. Most churches choose their Sunday School and other Christian Education curriculum earlier in the year, but new staff – pastors, educators and program directors – often begin around this time of the year.

Sometimes curriculum decisions are put off until the new staff is in place, which can be a frantic time for new staff members settling into new positions. Other churches may be planning for the future – thinking about making a change, looking at a different focus, or just need a fresh curriculum. We wanted to share some good sources for curriculum to ease in that work.

The PC(USA) has a wide range of curriculum created and published by Congregational Ministries Publishing. Here are some brief intros to different options, by age level. They have a helpful interactive catalog, a downloadable catalog and information on curriculum resources for Spanish or Korean speakers located on the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s site.

Theocademy is a video-based series (with accompanying materials and activities for the confirmation curriculum) from the PC(USA)’s Synod of Mid-America. There are several tracks of adult curriculum and a confirmation series. And a reliable little birdy tells us that more is on the way.

Sparkhouse is a division of Augsburg Fortress, associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), that creates innovative multi-media curriculum for all ages. Since the ELCA is also in the Reformed tradition, the curriculum produced by Sparkhouse can be easily integrated into your overall curriculum plan, as it meets your needs. Whether talking about God’s grace, sacraments and other faith practices, you will see our shared tradition throughout the lessons and activities.

Cokesbury is the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) publications and resources distribution entity. They are a great resource for curriculum beyond UMC-based curriculum. As you will see when you look at the curriculum Cokesbury offers, there is a huge array to choose from, so we only hit the highlights below. As full communion partners, the UMC provides curriculum many PC(USA) churches use that fit well with their overall curriculum plan and education themes.

Another great resource for churches using the rotation or workshop model of Christian education is Rotation.org, which provides a space for group collaboration. Educators can share lessons they have created, resources, and ask questions about how to tackle particular themes through group discussion threads.

Here are some specific curriculum from the PC(USA) and Sparkhouse, with a few other good resources listed, as well:

Birth-3 years

Frolic {Sparkhouse} – Designed for use at church and at home, practicing and growing faith from birth.

Splash {PC(USA)}– Designed for your youngest members and their families. Resources for families to talk about faith throughout life.

Children

Activate Faith {Sparkhouse: ages 2-12} – Focuses on Scripture with flexible teaching models to fit any style.

Awesome Adventures {PC(USA): Elementary} – This is a short curriculum from designed for use in the summer.

Connect {Sparkhouse: 5th and 6th grades} – Intended to continue the work of Holy Moly (see below) in sparking the imaginations of tweens in a deeply transitional time as they begin to learn to tell their own stories of connection to faith in new ways.

Growing in Grace and Gratitude {PC(USA): ages 5-10} – The PC(USA) is introducing a brand new children’s curriculum for Fall 2016, focusing on hospitality in the classroom for different needs and learning styles and grace in the world.

Holy Moly {Sparkhouse: ages 5-10} – Designed to spark creativity and connection to Bible stories through multiple styles of learning – intended to deepen the understanding of Scripture as it relates directly to the lives of the students.

We Believe Workshop {PC(USA): Elementary} – Born from the We Believe PC(USA) curriculum, this curriculum fits the workshop or rotation model of education.

Whirl {Sparkhouse: ages 2-12} – A fun, video-based, two-year curriculum that engages kids in learning Bible stories and themes in two different tracks.

Youth

The Bible – The Story of God’s Faithfulness {PC(USA)} – Survey of the Old Testament.

Colaborate {Sparkhouse} – You will notice that the name of this curriculum seems to be spelled incorrectly. Indeed, the students are called to collaborate, but they are focusing on the hands-on of faith, in a “lab” of faith, so to speak. There are Lutheran and Methodist confirmation versions of this curriculum, so you know that the main track will ask similar questions as students attempt to investigate Scripture and their own faith life more deeply.

Echo the Story {Sparkhouse} – This curriculum continues from Sparkhouse’s Holy Moly and Connect curricula (see above in Children’s curriculum), connecting Scripture directly to the lives of students, echoed back in their own faith stories, using various forms of storytelling. Practicing telling their faith stories in their own words and forms helps them share those stories beyond the church walls.

Faith Questions {PC(USA)} – Multi-media lessons on different topics of Christian faith and life.

Informed {PC(USA)} – An online resource using a reformed perspective to talk about difficult issues.

PresbyYouth {PC(USA): Tweens – Youth} – A quarterly curriculum resource combining the best of the We Believe and Faithfully Asking Questions curriculums to explore different topics of Christian life.

re:form {Sparkhouse} – This curriculum is one of Sparkhouse’s original series. A multi-media curriculum with short videos and accompanying activities and questions that build on the topics of Reformed faith introduced in the videos. There are three tracks, one of which is denomination-specific curricula – including PC(USA) – that can be used as or alongside confirmation curriculum.

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses {PC(USA)} – Survey of church history.

With All Boldness and Freedom {PC(USA)}– Survey of the New Testament.

Confirmation

Professing Our Faith {PC(USA)} – A PC(USA) confirmation curriculum.

Study Catechisms {PC(USA)} – Some churches choose to use the Study Catechism as their confirmation curriculum, or alongside their confirmation curriculum.

Theocademy {PC(USA) – Synod of Mid-America} – A multi-media PC(USA) confirmation curriculum from the Synod of Mid-America that integrates history, scripture and polity with a healthy mix of games, activities and thought-provoking questions and discussion.

Adult

Animate {Sparkhouse} – A video-based series with three tracks: Faith, Bible, Practices. You will probably recognize some familiar faces among the various speakers, which includes a wide variety of ecumenical participants. Intended to spark deeper conversation around the main themes of each series.

Being Reformed {PC(USA)} – Mini-courses designed for Presbyterians new to the faith or the Reformed tradition, or as a refresher.

The Present Word {PC(USA)} – Designed to explore and connect Biblical texts with daily life, encouraging individual and congregational practices to deepen and connect to faith.

Theocademy {PC(USA) – Synod of Mid-America} – Several tracks of free PC(USA)/Reformed-based curriculum:

Being Presbyterian – Two tracks, designed for new members and church leadership.
Love An Other – A short series on Unity, Justice and Equality, hosted by PC(USA) 222nd GA Co-Moderator Rev. Denise Anderson.
Strange Books – An on-going series about the strange books and stories we call the Bible, hosted by Rev. Aric Clark.

Multi-Age

Disciple {UMC: Adults and Youth} – An intensive Bible study course that covers the entire Bible in the first 34-week course, with each progressive course going even deeper into particular Biblical books and themes.

Engage {PC(USA): Youth and Adults)} – Encourages participants to inhabit a life of faith through gospel sharing, mission and discipleship – actively sharing one’s faith in the world, not just at church.

Feasting on the Word {PC(USA): All Ages, from pre-school through adult} – Follows the Revised Common Lectionary, so if you are a church that follows the lectionary, this could be a good fit. It has several different tracks: Children, YouthAdults

Mission Stories for Youth and Adults {PC(USA)} – 13 stories written by PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) participants, reflecting on mission, and sharing what the PC(USA) is doing through the YAV program around the world.

Wired Word {Ecumenical: Written for adults, could be used with youth} – Topical discussions, connecting current news topics with Scripture. Good for small groups, pub or coffee theology conversations.

While not a exhaustive list of all the possible curriculum out there, these are some of the most-used curriculum in PC(USA) churches that also fit within the Reformed tradition. We hope this helps as you plan, and if you have any great curriculum resources you’d like to share, please do!

Focus on Ministry: Bethel Presbyterian Church, East Orange

Grilling for National Night Out

Grilling for National Night Out

Make sure to check out Bethel Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page! It is alive with everything the Bethel community is doing throughout the year. Their pictures from Vacation Bible School make us wish we were there! They just prepped and distributed backpacks and school supplies for the upcoming school year, and participated in National Night Out.

Prepping backpacks to give away for the new school year

Prepping backpacks to give away for the new school year

Deeply engaged with their local community, Bethel puts children, neighborly love and local mission front and center, with a spirit of encouragement and celebration of each other. If you are in the East Orange area, join Bethel Presbyterian Church as they live out their mission:

 

 

“Our mission is to share the love of God with all people through uplifting service, genuine fellowship, and cheerful service.”

Worship on Sundays is at 11am, and you can find their location on their Facebook page.

Focus on Leadership: Prayer

prayerPrayer is the foundation for everything we do together as Christians. Without prayer, we become easily disconnected from the important work of listening for God’s will in our lives. We rely only on our own knowledge and intuition, which most often leads us astray.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. ~Ephesians 6:18

God holds a deeper knowledge that sees what we cannot – value where we see only junk, a path where we only see obstacles, and the hearts of others, which can elude even the most empathetic. We may also be asked to do things in ways that are counterintuitive. We are used to leading a certain way in our regular work lives – efficiently, proudly, finding the route that produces the most return for our investment. But God often asks us to work in different ways – to move slowly, to listen to those who may not be experts, to invest with no expectation of return. Is that any way to run a business…I mean, church?!

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. ~Luke 18:1

As a matter of fact, God says it is. And we see this lived out in Jesus the Christ’s life. The story of Mary and Martha is difficult every time because so many of us are like Martha, and we understand the frustration of trying to do the work of hospitality, which is built into our practice of faith, and Jesus saying, “Mary has chosen the better part.”

Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. ~Hebrews 13:18

Even when we try to do the things we are supposed to do to follow Jesus, sometimes it is not the thing we are supposed to do in the moment. And how are we to know? What Jesus was telling Martha was to take some time to have a conversation with him, and to listen. She was so distracted she couldn’t see what was most important in that moment. Whether pastor or church member, we can get so distracted by the task in front of us that we can miss a more important moment happening right in front of us – helping someone even if it means what we are doing goes unfinished.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. ~Romans 8:26

If we stop to talk and listen to our God, we would hear the voice of Jesus, our friend, helping us figure out how to keep a posture of ceaseless prayer – that we remain open to the possibilities that God offers throughout our day. If we remain open and flexible, we might keep ourselves open to some holy moments we might have missed otherwise.

Pray without ceasing ~1 Thessalonians 5:17

This posture of ceaseless prayer, an openness and willingness to discover these hidden holy moments, is also important when facing conflict. There are few people in the world who actually like handling conflict, but those who are adept at handling conflict seem to be the ones who have a hidden well of calm and reason. Though some may naturally have more patience and grace in difficult situations, this well of peace they draw upon is most often replenished through a strong prayer life. And a strong prayer practice can help even the most conflict-averse find a flexible strength when dealing with the anger and rigidity that comes with disagreements in the church.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ~Matthew 5:44

Though many people think of the church as a place of peace, those of us who have been Christians for even a short while have been unpleasantly surprised by the ugliness we can find there. However, there is hope. Where our leaders exemplify lead to calm heads, openness in finding the ways God is leading us, and love throughout, because they are sustained and guided by prayerful hearts, we can teach others to do the same. If your leadership is anxious, the congregation will be also. If the leadership shows faith and love even in stressful times, so will the congregation. And do we make better decisions and do better work when we are anxious or when we are at peace?

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. ~Romans 12:12

And we do not just pray for our own benefit, but we pray to encourage one another, and that God will bless the ministries of others who are in this with us – in this presbytery, and throughout the Body of Christ. We pray to ask for intervention and healing when life hurts those we love, and those we do not even know. We ask for open hearts to abound all around us, so that we might all be listening in the same ways for God’s will. We pray for our enemies not just that their hearts might be softened, but our own as well. Sometimes we are the obstacle in a relationship, not the other person. We pray that we may be released from our sin so we don’t get in our own way.

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. ~Luke 6:28

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. ~James 5:16

We pray to open ourselves up to the Other. We pray so that we are not alone, so that our voice is not the only voice in our heads, but is accompanied by the love and wisdom of a God who knows us better than we know ourselves, and everyone else, as well.

So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ~Mark 11:24

Let us pray for our ministries, our spirit, our leadership, for one another, and for all we do together as we engage the communities in Newark Presbytery, and follow wherever God is leading us.

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you ~2 Thessalonians 3:1