Focus on Resources: Mental Health First Aid

One would think that if there was anywhere we could show exactly who we are and talk about our deepest joys and deepest struggles, it would be the church. And yet, so many ideas of who we “ought to be” as Christians become the standard of what we expect people to be within our church communities.

Instead of being vulnerable and honest around issues of relationships, addiction, insecurity, job loss, sexuality, mental health and financial security, we tend to pretend everything is just fine for the sake of not upsetting one another. How can we pray for and support each other if we don’t even really know each other?

While the Christian community has become more communicative around sexuality and our physical being, mental health is still a topic to be avoided, as it is in the world beyond our churches. Instead of waiting for the world to lead the conversation, wouldn’t it be great for the church to once again be at the forefront of conversations that lead people away from shame and secrecy into a practice of being whole together?

If your friend broke their leg, you would want to help as they needed, right? The same goes for mental health. If you know you could help your friends and other neighbors be full members of the community, wouldn’t you want to try? Also, if you were struggling, and you didn’t know why, wouldn’t it be a kindness to have a friend notice and work together to find answers?

These are some of the conversations church leaders are having, but with few tools to address conversations around mental health, much less long-term mental health need or immediate crises. As the Newark Presbytery Leadership Training Team discusses educational opportunities to offer, talking about mental health was a clear need.

Doing a mental health first aid training specifically for our youth leaders was a good place to start because there is already a cohesive group of youth leaders within the presbytery. We have been working to build a support system and programs for the youth and youth leaders in the presbytery, and offering such a training was a good next step.

Newark Presbytery has many small churches with volunteer youth leaders, part time youth leaders and elders in charge of youth programs. These leaders don’t always have the opportunities for Continuing Education or training that full time and ordained staff might, including and especially dealing with mental health. This training is accessible and available to anyone who works with youth. We encourage you to join us on April 8th. You can find more information on this event on the event page.

The Leadership Training Team is interested in partnering with other people and groups in the presbytery to support, enhance and publicize training events like this one. If you would like to share an idea, please email Rev. Mike Capron.

Lent 2017

Lent begins March 1st, with Ash Wednesday, and concludes with Holy Week, April 9-15. We wanted to share some resources for worship, study and practice this Lent as well as what churches around the presbytery are doing this Lent.

We will post Holy Week schedules closer to Holy Week, as churches add Holy Week events to their schedule.


From the PC(USA)’s Lent resources page:

The season of Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and self-examination in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord at Easter. It is a period of 40 days — like the flood of Genesis, Moses’ sojourn at Mount Sinai, Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb, Jonah’s call to Ninevah to repent and Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness. (The Sundays in Lent are not counted in this reckoning of the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, as every Lord’s Day is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.)

In the early church, Lent was a time of preparation for the celebration of baptism at the Easter Vigil. In many communities of faith it remains a time to equip and nurture candidates for baptism and confirmation and to reflect deeply on the theme of baptismal discipleship.

The PC(USA) is also offering a new curriculum aimed at youth to explore the theology and practices of Lent. Find more information on ‘Pray, Fast, Love’ here, and free downloads available in English and Spanish.

Carol Howard Merritt, a PC(USA) pastor, speaker and writer, has a new book out that is part memoir and part travel guide to healing spiritual wounds. Healing Spiritual Wounds takes you through Carol’s journey of faith, including the hurts and also healing found within. Questions in the book help guide you through your own path toward healing spiritual wounds, and there is a study guide that can be used on your own, or in a group.

LEAD, a ministry organization dedicated to building up, educating and encouraging leaders in the church, offers a wonderful blend of resources each season of the church. Art, devotions and liturgy for church and family use. Check them out here.

Lent Madness is just a little fun for Lent, started by a group of Episcopal priests, and is a “competition” based on the NCAA’s March Madness, pitting saints of the church against each other. Popular voting determines the outcomes, and you learn a lot about the saints of the church along the way. Not just for church history nerds.

Newark Presbytery Lent Schedule

Here are Ash Wednesday and Lenten activities happening in Newark Presbytery.
Contact the churches for more information and to confirm participation in meals or small groups.

Bethel Presbyterian Church
East Orange, NJ

Ash Wednesday Evening Worship
Wednesday, March 1

Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green
Bloomfield, NJ

Lenten Small Groups
Soup and bread meal and lectionary study
5 Sessions:
Sundays, 6:00-8:00pm (March 5 – April 2)
Or –
Thursdays, 12:00-2:00pm (March 9 – April 6)

Central Presbyterian Church
Montclair, NJ

Ash Wednesday Evening Worship
March 1

Lenten Soup Suppers
Meal, Fellowship and Worship
Thursdays, March 30, April 6 and 13

First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell
Caldwell, NJ

Ash Wednesday Evening Worship
March 1

Grace Presbyterian Church
Montclair, NJ

Ash Wednesday Worship
March 1

Presbyterian Church of Livingston
Livingston, NJ

Ash Wednesday Worship
March 1
12:00pm at Presbyterian Church of Livingston
7:30pm at Livingston United Methodist Church

Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair
Upper Montclair, NJ

Ash Wednesday Evening Worship
March 1

Prospect Presbyterian Church
Maplewood, NJ

Ashes To Go
March 1
Maplewood Train Station

Ash Wednesday Worship and Meal
March 1
Soup Supper at 6:30pm
Worship at 7:30pm

United Presbyterian Church of West Orange
West Orange, NJ

Ash Wednesday Evening Worship
March 1

Wyoming Presbyterian Church
Millburn, NJ

Ash Wednesday Evening Worship
March 1

Focus on Resources: Educational Opportunities for Students and Pastors

Clergy Renewal

The Lilly Endowment offers clergy renewal programs that are intended to build up both pastors and their congregations.

From the Lilly website:

Seeking to strengthen Christian congregations through renewal and reflection

Welcome to the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary!

Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Programs are administered by the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary.

Through its religion grantmaking, Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation, seeks to deepen and enrich the lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes.

To this end, National and Indiana Clergy Renewal Programs provide an opportunity for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God’s life-giving waters, for regaining enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.

Details and application materials for the 2017 programs are now available. In the 2017 Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program and the 2017 Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program for Indiana Congregations, eligible congregations will be able to apply for grants of up to $50,000 each to support a renewal program for their pastor. Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used for congregational expenses associated with the renewal program.

Scholarship Opportunities from the Synod of the Northeast

The Synod of the Northeast offers the Wurffel-Sills Student Scholarships & Interest Free Loans for undergraduate and seminary students from all the presbyteries in the synod.

  1. Application is open to any member of any church within the Synod of the Northeast’s 22 Presbyteries.
  2. Application is open to any under-graduate student and/or seminary student.
  3. Application deadline to apply is APRIL 1, 2017.

Download more information and applications:

2017-2018 Wurfell-Sills New Applicant Form

2017-2018 Wurfell-Sills Re-Applicants Form

From the Top of the Pile: Do Something Else

Editor’s Note: We are introducing a new periodic blog series, with book reviews from our Transitional Director of Presbytery Ministries, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Smith. Like most of us, Barbara has a reading pile full of books of interest to others in ministry. She’s eager to share what she gained from this reading, and how your congregations might benefit.

The Presbyterian Outlook is hosting a 90-minute webinar with Nate Phillips, discussing where churches can find encouragement as we look forward and “stop doing things as usual.” Newark Presbytery will host a watch party at the Presbytery Center, if you are interested in the webinar.

by Nate Phillips (Cascade Books, 2016)

Do Something Else book coverFrom time to time as I have the opportunity to finish something in my reading pile, I will share my thoughts with you –

In his Forward to the book, Bruce Reyes-Chow points out that this “is NOT a book that intends to give a list of “how-to-do” church tips to save any particular faith location, but one that simply asks the question, “What if?” in order to inspire and give texture to the idea that the church is and can be so much more than we can imagine.  So read this book, not as a command to go and do something specific, but as a powerful encouragement to go out and be the church in ways that are specific to the community into which it is called to serve.”

Maybe it is because I visited MATE (Mission at the Eastward) in rural Maine a number of years ago that the beginning of this book immediately captured my attention.  The author – Nate Phillips – while he is now a pastor at Red Clay Presbyterian Church in Delaware – grew up in rural Maine in an old manse owned by local church.  He shared his experiences of church groups showing up to “do something” with their hands.  It taught Phillips that “the church can do something.  For a long time, it’s done the same thing.  Perhaps it’s time for it do so “something else.”

In this book, Phillips talks about different churches that have engaged in different mission, entered cooperative parish arrangements, and started new worshipping communities.  All excellent food for thought, but Chapter 4 is the one that caught my attention.  As I travel around the Presbytery, I hear a similar question over and over again – a question that wonders how to increase church attendance and, especially, attract young families.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been read a lot of these kinds of books and heartily agree that it’s time for the church to rethink itself, that Chapter 4 has the most yellow highlighting of any other.  Chapter 4 – “What We Mean When We Say ‘Church’” is actually written by Phillips’ colleague, Matthew Bruce.

A good read through and through.  But the icing on the cake for me was the Study Guide at the end of the book – one study guide for each chapter.  It is scriptural based and the questions are quite thought provoking.

This would be a good book for an adult study, or a visioning group!


Continuing Education Resources 2017

Whether your continuing education budget is practically infinite or non-existent, choosing where to spend your valuable time and budgets can sometimes be challenging. You may be looking to learn a brand new skill, grow in a particular area of ministry or just shake things up.

Harvard Business Review has some great advice that applies to ministry-based continuing education as well as it does for getting ahead in the business world. How do we choose which conferences and education events to go to?

Here is a list of more traditional PC(USA) and other events that pastors, educators and other ministry leaders continue to gain deep value from:


The Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators has courses and conferences that can be attended on an individual continuing education basis, or as part of a certification program.

Big Tent

Big Tent is actually a set of PC(USA) conferences all occurring at the same time in a common location so participants can choose one track, or sample different interest areas while also gathering with friends and colleagues from across the PC(USA). It alternates years with General Assembly.

Festival of Homiletics

The Festival of Homiletics is an ecumenical preaching conference. If you are someone who preaches regularly, or wants to, it is a great event that speaks to a multitude of styles and practice.


And here are some new ones you may have heard about, and wanted to know more:

NEXT Church

NEXT Church is a PC(USA)-based group thinking about the future of the church. They host regional and national gatherings as well as providing resources and conversation about the future of church and ministry on their website.


The Unconference is an ecumenical open-space ministry conference. Instead of relying on big-name speakers, Unco gathering topics and conversations are determined and guided by participants, sharing expertise gained through practice. The goal is not just to talk about innovative ministry, but to start and support innovative ministries.

The White Privilege Conference

Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly, has suggested several ways for PC(USA) churches and members to face and talk about the consequences and benefits of historical white supremacy, in the United States, and in the church, including the PC(USA). This conference is one way we can do that work head-on.


In addition, PC(USA) Camp and Conference Centers and Seminaries are great resources for continuing education from pew to pulpit, covering a wide range of interests and learning styles. As the largest conference centers, Ghost Ranch and Montreat have been leaders in creative and varied events, but there are wonderful events offered throughout the country, so you can find the event, location and dates that fit your schedule and needs.

Major Camp and Conference Centers:

Ghost Ranch

Massanetta Springs



Stony Point

Zephyr Point

Our local camp, Johnsonburg, and other smaller camps and conference centers offer great programs year-round as well. The Presbyterian Camp and Conference Association has a full listing for locations beyond our local options:


PC(USA) Seminary main sites or continuing education links:

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Columbia Theological Seminary

University of Dubuque Theological Seminary

Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary

McCormick Theological Seminary

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Princeton Theological Seminary

San Francisco Theological Seminary

Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Focus on Resources: Leadership Training Day

Newark Presbytery leaders have a history of participating in Princeton Seminary’s Continuing Education event Equipping the Saints. This year’s Leadership Training Day, scheduled for January 21, 2017, offers a wide variety of workshops for leaders – ordained or not ordained, from churches of all types and sizes.

Equipping the Saints: Leadership Training Day will happen, as the name indicates, in just one day at Princeton Seminary’s Stuart Hall (maps and directions here). And it is free! Register individuals or groups by January 17th. There is a lunch offered for $14, or you may bring your own.

The list of all the workshops offered ranges from the nuts and bolts of church structure to justice issues to spiritual practices to being church in many different forms. If you haven’t already registered for the event, we encourage you to look over these workshops and sign up! We guarantee there is something for anyone looking to be more deeply engaged in the practices of our faith, in building, growing and living as disciples and communities of disciples.

Though workshops are designed to address our work in the PC(USA), most are conversations will enrich those engaged in the life and ministry of their churches, no matter the denomination. If you have friends and colleagues of any denomination who would add to and benefit from these conversations, invite them to join us.

One day, a multitude of workshops, enriching and engaging conversations – if you haven’t signed up, do it now!

Focus on Resources: Sabbath With Those You Love

We don’t often think about this, but while we connect Sabbath to the creation story – on the 7th day, God rested – Sabbath was not part of the practice of the Hebrew people until after they were brought out of slavery in Egypt. We don’t know what their exact routines were before becoming an enslaved people in Egypt, but since they started as a family unit doing agricultural work, and were free, they likely had rest and leisure incorporated into their regular routines. (Even the hard work of farming has times when you have done all the work you can do, and must take a break.)

Upon leaving Egypt, the Hebrew people had grown from an extended family to a nation of people. And it was a nation of people who had only known hard work every day, on someone else’s schedule, not their own. They were a people without a rhythm of freedom.

Sabbath comes as a revelation. Even in the wilderness, God helps the people learn these new rhythms of freedom. They were a people who only knew fear. Their fear had caused them to wander for even longer than they had hoped. And perhaps they needed that time to completely shake off the fears of not having enough, of dying, of truly living, before they could live settled lives where they decided when and how they would work and rest.

In the wilderness, they had only God and each other. The 10 commandments Moses brought to the people and the laws stemming from those commandments are centered around the main themes to love God and love each other.

Planning our sabbath time is often centered around our personal needs and schedules, rather than being seen as a communal affair, but from its very beginning it has been a work of the people. Or, the rest of the people. And if we think about it, we truly need each other to make Sabbath a reality in our lives. In order to not simply fall into the same routine of every other day of our lives we have to communicate how we are changing our rhythms. We have to say no to some things people might want us to do that does not fit into the rhythm of Sabbath. And we should invite others to share our Sabbath.

God created us to be in relationship with other people, and not to do everything alone. Only in community could the Israelites learn to be free, help each other break the bonds of fear. Our Sabbath practice should not exclude our loved ones, but include the needs of those around us, and encourage one another to take a break and enjoy time with one another. Sabbath should be centered on God and God’s will for us to be whole in body, mind, spirit and relationship, which may look different than what we think we need.

Hugh Hollowell, the founder of Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, NC, just wrote about missing his friends. As he was dreaming of and beginning to build Love Wins, a ministry that works with and has created a community among and for people experiencing homelessness in Raleigh, he drew support, comfort and creativity from regular one-on-one meet-ups and conversations with various people who are now friends. In the last year as Love Wins has been growing and successful in many ways, Hugh realized he hadn’t been taking the time to connect to these friends in the same ways. And he missed them. As Hugh says, it isn’t just the friendship connections, but that not taking the time to simply meet up and talk affects his work life, as these conversations helped create what Love Wins is today. If we don’t take time to step away from our regular, and important, routines, we wither.

You don’t have to throw a big party every week to celebrate Sabbath (introverts are breathing sighs of relief), but perhaps there is someone in your life you haven’t seen in a while that you would like to spend time with. You might have an activity your family enjoys doing that you never seem to have time for – take time to do that activity and simply be together. Don’t miss those connections – recreate them in your Sabbath time.

Focus on Resources: Sabbath Space

blur-1846131_1280-featuredWe don’t often think about space when we think of Sabbath. We think about it figuratively, as in making space in our lives for Sabbath. And this makes sense because we tend to think of our time as a commodity – to slice it up into pieces, and parcel it out to work, family, chores, play, spirituality, sleep. We think of it as a physical thing that we can get a hold of and manage.

Perhaps this is because time is not manageable. It is abstract. It ebbs and flows, moves quickly like a rushing river, then slows down like molasses on a cold day. We want to control it, but it seems to control us. We neglect some of the things we can control, or at least touch and grasp in reality. Like the physical space and objects around us.

We may not have the ideal space. We may dream of a bigger house, or an office with a door that closes. We may want to live in a forest, but are surrounded by streets. We may share our space with more people than is comfortable. Or be uncomfortably lonely.

Sometimes we fill our space with endless trinkets and toys, or clear all the clutter away in a fit of KonMari cleaning, hoping to find meaning in the things, or in the lack of them. We dress up our space or dress it down. But what if for Sabbath we simply gave ourselves a break?

A Sabbath idea of space might be to look around at a less than ideal space and find the good things about it. Or, in a place that is perfectly comfortable and familiar, to take some time to remember all the reasons we love being there.

In Judaism some families choose to follow stricter guidelines, making sure to finish preparing their Sabbath meals before sunset on Fridays, not using electricity throughout the Sabbath, walking instead of driving (these are just a small sampling of possible practices), while others incorporate more modern interpretations of Sabbath into their practice. The point is not be oppressive, but to give rest to even the objects that do work in our lives – in the past this might mean your donkey, today it could mean your car.

Changing how we use the physical things around us changes how we see them. If we decide not to drive, we can only go places we can walk to, and we will see things as we walk that we do not see when we drive, or we will see them at different angles, for different amounts of time.

Regardless of whether or not a Jewish family chooses to use electricity over the Sabbath, the lighting of the candles before the Sabbath evening meal is a common ritual among practicing Jews. Eating by candlelight changes the appearance of the room, the food and the faces around the table. It feels intimate and warm even in cavernous or crowded spaces. We cannot always change where we are – we do not always have the means to move or travel – but we can change how we use or see where we are.

During Advent and Christmas, Christians spend a lot of time transforming our spaces. We put up decorations, bake Christmas goodies, hang greens in churches and homes, and move furniture around to accommodate guests and gifts. We light candles for Advent and Christmas Eve, put Christmas lights on trees and houses and throughout the streets, build fires in fireplaces and yards – light in the darkness that reminds us of the hope of Christ.

For many people Advent is the Sabbath of the year. It can be busy – preparing for Christmas, celebrating Christmas, recovering from the preparation and celebration – but it is also a time set apart when we also change around our physical spaces and engage our senses in new ways, all to prepare our hearts to be changed. Again. The gift of this faith is the chance to do it all again – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time in between the festivals, and through it all, Sabbath. A chance to change how we see the world every week.

So, turn off the lights, light a candle, and look around.

Focus on Resources: Sabbath Time

sun-122982_640-featuredWe are continuing with our Sabbath theme for Thursdays, which will go through Advent, as life gets busier, and time to breathe gets shorter. Last week, we linked to this article on Facebook, and this week we wanted to share a bit about how to get into (or back into) the practice of Sabbath rest.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a Presbyterian pastor, wrote Sabbath in the Suburbs as she and her husband realized that though she herself was a pastor, though they were committed Christians and church members, they were neglecting this commandment of God to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, which was causing their family to feel and actually be less rested, overwhelmed and disconnected from each other. It turns out that even pastors have a tough time with this commandment.

It can be difficult to imagine how we could possibly set aside a whole day for Sabbath rest, which is where Rev. McKibben Dana’s book can be instructive. She talks about what Sabbath looks like for her family, as well as how they changed their thinking and practice in order to create a space in their schedule for Sabbath. She names the difficulty of wrapping your head around carving a whole day out of a busy schedule, and some ways you can create space for a Sabbath that you will actually be able to maintain, and perhaps increase to a full day as you begin to experience it.

Taking this time for Sabbath means that our thinking needs to change, that we will have to give up some things – Sabbath is time away from striving, to accomplish work or chores, for recognition, for purpose. We may have to let go of the fact that we didn’t get everything done when we wanted to get it done, which may compel us to change how we get things done, or help us to let go of the need to get things done. And to practice Sabbath has meaning and purpose in itself, it does not need to strive for further meaning.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t currently devote a whole day to Sabbath, that defeats the center of Sabbath rest. Do think about how you can make some space in your schedule, on a regular day and time, to simply enjoy God and enjoy your people and life. Take some time to step back and appreciate what we have, and set aside anxieties about your present and your future. This may seem like the ultimate privilege or luxury you can’t afford, but remember that God gave this commandment to the Hebrew people who were wandering around a desert, uncertain and afraid about what was ahead, not completely sure why they had left Egypt, and completely unaccustomed to having time to just spend in rest and enjoyment of life. God commanded the people to do this right when they least knew how or if they could do it, and right when they needed it the most.

You can see a bit of how Rev. McKibben Dana and her family approach their Sabbath day in this short interview on PBS.

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?