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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

Focus on Ministry: Bethany Church, Bloomfield

bethany pres bloomfield

In our Wednesday Focus on Ministry posts, we hope to introduce you to your Newark Presbytery neighbors and their unique ministries. Today we are highlighting Bethany Presbyterian Church, in Bloomfield, where they like to simply go by Bethany Church.

We love what Bethany Church in Bloomfield has to say about itself:

Just before World War II, a handful of local Christians started the “Bethany Presbyterian Church” in a humble store front in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Today, Bethany Church members come from as close as a few streets away to as far as a few counties away for Sunday service, numerous activities and events and fellowship. We are multiethnic and multicultural; we are seniors, singles, married couples and children. No matter what your circumstance, ethnicity, family make-up or background, you are welcome here. At Bethany, we embrace all people with the amazing love of God.

Bethany Church is proudly multicultural and active in local and global mission that connects their members to their community and the world in Christ. They are engaged with their local food bank, mission trips to the Philippines, support missionaries, and sponsor children through World Vision. You can learn more about Bethany Church, including their active youth and children’s ministries, check out all of their outreach opportunities, and listen to sermons on their website. Whether you are looking for a church home, or just want to get to know your Newark Presbytery neighbors a bit better, this is a good place to start.


Update

In our original profile we mentioned the mission work that Bethany Church engages in, not just locally, but throughout the world, including trips to the Philippines to work with mission partners in person. We are blessed to have an update from Bethany’s most recent trip in July:

2016 Philippines Short-Term Missions Report
by Pastor Jin Bae

Arriving in the Philippines

Arriving in the Philippines

Team: Pastors Jin Bae & Emily Kim, Jonathan Ahn, Charis Bae, Simone Byun, Angie Son, Jake Son, Alyson Yun & Haley Yun

I want to thank our God for calling and assembling, and then training and equipping the team that went to Samar, Philippines in July 5-18. We went as God’s will and as Bethany’s representatives. I want to thank our elders and Bethany for keeping us in your prayers.

While the trip was for 14 days, the planning for it took two years. From late 2014, the missions committee led by Youngsook raised funds through kimchee selling twice and yard sale twice. And the first information meeting for this trip was held in November 2015, to the youths in December 2015, and another meeting in January 2016 before the team was assembled in early February.

Magsaysay

Magsaysay

For this trip, Youngsook and I decided that we will not ask for any church funds (other than my personal Study Leave fund to cover my JFK-Incheon airfare). Asking the members to pay for their airfare from JFK-Incheon, we decided to fundraise the rest, and by God’s grace, we raised more than enough. In fact, we brought back $1,775 for future missions work.

Our training began in early April and ran weekly for 3 hours at a time. We began with praise and prayer and studied the Bible, Filipino culture and language, and cross-cultural dynamics (what we might encounter and how we must process for a healthy experience). We also learned songs and prepared for various ministries, knowing that our team’s main ministry will be with the children. Pastors also expected to preach whenever called upon.

Guin-on

Guin-on

Along with smaller ministries (Meeting with college ministry in the city, participating in an all-day high school event), we went to visit and live among the locals at two villages, Magsaysay and Bante. In both villages, we ran children’s programs (twice), a film ministry at night, door to door visitations, and spent our free time getting to know the locals.

Bante

Bante

As for the most effective program, it had to be the passing out of color T-shirts. We purchased 420 shirts in all and passed out everything at a cost of $600. The color T-shirts created an immediate buzz, and it helped the children to focus and organize into teams – they lined up quickly, rooted for each other, and followed instructions excitedly. Rev. Dan Kim, the executive director of SICAP told us that in 20 years that he’s been there, he’s never had a team use color T-shirts that way. That made us quite happy – we might have started a trend.

wrap-up 1But our primary focus was on making friends and building relationships, not on running effective programs and feeling good about ourselves. We believed that when we focus on building relationships, we become open and sensitive, careful with the locals and loving in our behavior. Our team never wavered from this focus and made us very proud.

In the end, we give glory to God for his faithfulness. We had a few that got sick and many struggled with skin rashes and mosquito bites, and the heat and humidity was consistently heavy on us, but our team’s spirit was always up and positive. You should be very proud of the team and our youths.

wrap-up 2

Focus on Ministry: Synod of the Northeast

As Newark Presbytery explores its future, and rebuilds the structures and mission to support that future, our partners in this process are the Synod of the Northeast and the other presbyteries of the synod. Today, we wanted to share a bit about ministry of the Synod of the Northeast through their guiding New Way Forward statement, a missional statement that was created through deep conversations, discernment and prayer as the synod sought to explore its own future.

Synod of the Northeast

A New Way Forward is a foundational document in the current day life of the Synod of the Northeast.


THE SYNOD OF THE NORTHEAST—A WORKING DEFINITION

We understand our Synod as a regional community of PCUSA presbyteries and their congregations committed to serving as supportive mutual partners. It is the responsibility of this regional community to walk alongside its presbyteries, offering the kinds of resourcing presbyteries are unable to provide alone. The Synod exists to serve its presbyteries through resourcing, guidance and the ability to gather partners on a larger scale. Drawing upon its regional size and diversity, the Synod provides valuable resources and opportunities for its presbyteries. The Synod also provides creative and less encumbered space for innovation. With governance simplified and without the intense relational and governance demands faced by most presbyteries, the Synod can be a place where creativity might be allowed to flourish.

THE MISSIONAL PURPOSE OF THE SYNOD OF THE NORTHEAST

This is the vision God has placed in our hearts, that together we will become witnesses to the ever-expanding community of Christ, following his way: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) We are a regional community of presbyteries and congregations learning to respond to God’s call to become agents of divine justice, transforming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the Northeast into a community of hospitality and welcome for all. We recognize that we have not always lived into the gift of our great diversity. We have not always fully welcomed all those within the communities we serve, including people of different racial or ethnic identities, economic classes, genders, abilities, sexualities, immigration statuses, or those who are marginalized in other ways. Finding deep joy in our differences, we commit to equipping the saints for a courageous and steadfast witness of love and hope; learning, growing, worshiping and working together.

For the history of the New Way Forward process, and full statement, including translations into Spanish and Korean, as well as more about the Synod of the Northeast, you can see it here.

Presbyterian Youth Triennium 2016 pictures

Here are some pictures from this year’s Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University. We’ll add more as we get them!

General Assembly Wrap-Up

The 222nd General Assembly is a couple weeks behind us, but the work of the General Assembly is not confined to a week of meetings, but continues on, from local churches to presbyteries and synods to the national church. Here is a summary of some of the major work and decisions to come out of Portland, and some links to thoughts others have in response to the work the PC(USA) did in Portland, and has before us.

For the short and sharable version, the Office of the General Assembly offers a downloadable version of a bulletin insert – “The Assembly in Brief” – which you can use with your congregations to share what happened at the 22nd General Assembly.

Here are our short takes on GA 222:

Some history was made.

  • IMG_4993Almost exactly 50 years after being in Portland for GA in 1967, where the Confession of 1967 was affirmed, the long process of adding the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.
  • After the rule changes made at the 221st General Assembly, we were able to elect co-moderators, and so we had two sets of co-moderators stand for election, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston and Adan Mairena and David Parker. Ultimately, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston prevailed.
  • We elected our first non-white GA Stated Clerk, 3rd generation Presbyterian pastor, J. Herbert Nelson.

This is all historical as we are a church that continues to be reformed through confession, reconciliation and transformation, all work of the Holy Spirit. The important thing is to follow through. Embracing leadership that looks more like the church we hope for does not mean we have reached the end of the journey. We are not done with this work, and we never will be.

We still don’t agree on everything.

Though this General Assembly was largely calm and uncontentious, don’t think that Presbyterians are of one mind on every issue. And it is a great thing. Without disagreement and discussion, we might end up doing some things we’ll later regret. We will still do things we will later regret, but having all the voices in the conversation helps us find our way back to the right path again. And, sometimes the path changes. Embracing many voices helps us be more open to and better navigate change. How we have these conversations is important. Throughout the Portland GA there were many examples of people with very different viewpoints coming together to do this work with love and care for one another, without having to agree all the time.

Some of the things we are working through as a church, and are likely to come up again:

  • Fossil Fuel Divestment – this went one way in committee, with the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee voting to divest all but a small portion of investment in the fossil fuel industry, but the full body of the General Assembly deciding to follow more closely with the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Commission’s suggestion to continue selective, phased divestment and full corporate engagement to discuss the issues of fossil fuels and climate change.
  • Israel and Palestine – Though reaffirming the PC(USA)’s current preference for a two-state solution, GA222 followed the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) recommendations to re-evaluate that stance as we continue to seek ways to best support a peaceful relationship between Israel and Palestine.
    This is also while seeking to advocate especially for the human rights of children throughout Israel and Palestine, to study boycott-divest-sanction (BDS) options and to call on realty company RE/MAX to “do everything within its legal and moral power to stop facilitating the sale and rental of property in Israeli settlement colonies,” in continued conversation with the company, which has already responded favorably to current discussions with church representatives.
  • PMA/OGA merger – The two main bodies that do the day-to-day work of the PC(USA), the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) underwent reviews this year that led to recommendations to merge the two bodies into one. The committee charged with thinking about the future structures of the PC(USA) at this General Assembly, The Way Forward Committee, started meeting before the rest of the assembly, knowing their discussions might take extra time and care.
    Ultimately they authorized an administrative commission of no more than 12 members “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA),” and with the authority to “describe and implement a General Assembly-level staffing pattern that will accomplish its vision.” The commission is to “engage a qualified examination team to assess institutional performance both internally among the agencies and externally as they interface with the congregations.”
    So, no merger for now, but some important work ahead for that administrative commission as they attempt to help the PC(USA) create a structure that fits how the church needs to work today.
  • Number of Synods – The assembly voted to rescind the action of the 221st GA, which sought to decrease the overall number of synods from 16 to 10-12 by redistributing the boundaries of the synods. The discussions around this issue have to do with the purpose of synods in a time when communication between local churches, presbyteries and the national church have been made much more simple, but also recognizing that some synods are doing work that simply cannot be duplicated. The vote to rescind the action of GA221 was not without the added commentary that synods continue to coordinate mission and ministry between each other, and to be vigilant about self-evaluation, to not simply exist for existing.
  • Reversing the reversed history? – Once Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, they became Ministers of Word and Sacrament/Pastors and Elders in our Constitution, only to go back to being Teaching and Ruling Elders in the New Form of Government approved in 2012, and back again to Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Elders (and, proposed: Commissioned Pastors to replace the previous terms Commissioned Lay Pastor, now Commissioned Ruling Elder).
    The sticky issues here have to do with how Presbyterians view call and ministry in different ways than many other denominations. We do not truly have “lay” officers in leadership – one is ordained to a specific office in leadership, whether Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder, Ruling Elder, Deacon or Commissioned Pastor/Ruling Elder. At the same time, ruling elders can and should be called upon to preach and teach, and many teaching elders do not simply or even primarily have teaching as their main focus. The struggle between these terms is partly about parity – no one office has hierarchy over another either in call or actuality – and partly about finding terms that define, but do not limit the possibilities inherent in these calls (which are expanded upon beyond the simplistic terminology in the Book of Order).
    What will come up in the discussions at the presbytery level as they decide whether to make these changes will be interesting to watch. Whether or not this comes up again as a discussion for the national church at a future General Assembly, this seemingly small change is about how we view our call to God’s work and how we do our work together, so the struggle is understandable.

And more.

  • Revised Directory for Worship – While not too controversial or historic, in that it is not a radically new thing for the PC(USA), after 27 years, there has been a full revision approved for the Directory for Worship. Those tasked with the update worked for 12 years to create a document that responds to changing styles and language used in and around the creation and activity of worship. You can see the full proposed revisions here.
  • Child Protection Policy – In 2014, the General Assembly approved a change in the Book of Order to require all church councils to adopt and implement child protection policies, which went into effect last year. This includes the General Assembly, which passed their version this year. These changes were made in response to too many cases of abuse falling through the cracks or being swept under the rug, allowing abusers to continue to hurt children and other vulnerable people. One of these stories was powerfully shared with the committee and whole assembly by a victim of abuse by a pastor, the victim now a pastor himself.
  • Peacemaking – The General Assembly considered and approved 5 new affirmations for our work in peacemaking that was the result of 6 years of discernment and study. Like the revisions for the Directory for Worship, these 5 affirmations are not a radical new direction, but rather provide clarity and fresh thinking and language around the PC(USA)’s work to seek and create peace.
  • Per Capita Increase – In addition to a proposed increase already on the table, in response to the cost of the work General Assembly set forth for itself, an increase of $0.35 over two years was approved. An increase of $0.17 per capita in 2017 and $0.18 per capita in 2018, in addition to the already proposed increases will increase the total per capita to $7.73 by the end of 2018.

Behind the scenes/In the streets

General Assembly always has a lot more happening than any one person participating realizes or could do even if they did know about it all. Some of the things going on behind-the-scenes, and beyond the walls were:

  • Connection and support of the unhoused in Portland – several different groups attending GA sought to connect to and support people in Portland who are living outside of permanent shelter.
  • Gift to Portland – As a gift to Portland, commissioners and other GA participants were encouraged to donate to the Oregon Food Bank, chosen as a beneficiary by the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA).
  • Prayer. There is always a room specifically designated for prayer at each General Assembly. Though you can pray anywhere, and there is prayer to open and close meetings, meals and other gatherings, sometimes you just need to get into a different space, away from the hustle and bustle of assembly business and activity. This year the room had a labyrinth and other helpful things to center ones thoughts and prayers. But in addition…there are always people praying for you at GA. People who have volunteered to come and simply pray. In committee rooms, on the plenary floor, in the halls, ceaselessly. If you were there, you probably wouldn’t notice them, simply sitting or walking, quietly praying for all those engaged in discussions, supporting committees, running about, and for the work we are all trying to accomplish together. It’s pretty amazing, when you stop to think about all the prayer that is happening to help us on the way.
  • Dependent Care Reimbursement – For the first time commissioners to General Assembly had the option of applying for dependent care funding, to spend in a variety of ways, to allow increased participation by those who have children or others relying on them for care needs. In addition to funding to provide support, a room was set aside and set up for those attending with children, including a private space for nursing mothers.
  • Process Observation – There are people who just observe how the PC(USA) does its work. In addition to all the committee and plenary support staff, recording official votes and decisions, there was an opportunity for observers without other official functions to help record what was happening by observing and noting who spoke, how often, and how long (for example), in committee and plenary sessions. A special application and training was available for those interested in helping in this unique way. Process observation is about noting who participates and how they participate in our work. In order to do our work well, we need to make sure all voices are both encouraged and heard, and process observation can help the PC(USA) evaluate that participation. Fascinating.
  • Ruling Elders celebrated – Even as the assembly discussed the terminology of our leadership offices, one of the important features of that debate is, and has been, the observation that often the importance of our ruling elders is overlooked, even by our elders themselves. A special point was made in this General Assembly to recognize and lift up the call of ruling elders.
  • Student Assistants – Or “Blue Smocks,” as they are also affectionately called. A host of seminarians doing the quite literal behind-the-scenes work. Busy passing on messages, making copies, assisting with technology, you will see them all over the assembly, but you won’t see them for very long. Thank you, Student Assistants, for helping this whole thing happen!

More observations from GA.

Here are some more responses to the whole assembly from those attending General Assembly, from observer to commissioner to committee leader:

Here is Greg Allen-Pickett’s 5 Important Outcomes of General Assembly

Leon Bloder was a Teaching Elder Commissioner from Central Florida Presbytery, and reflected on his time at GA throughout the Assembly. These are his post-Assembly thoughts.

Cynthia Jarvis, who served as Vice Moderator of The Way Forward Committee, shares how now might be a time of listening and taking a breath, simply sitting in the great silence God can offer us, instead of great storms and flurry.

Peace, Newark Presbytery