Bivocational Pastor Called to Promote Racial Justice and Healing in Jasper, Texas
As a former drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, Cyndi Wunder is no stranger to dealing with trauma and crisis.
Neither are the residents of Jasper, Texas, where on June 7, 1998, James Byrd Jr. ―a 49-year old African American―was dragged behind a pickup truck to his death by three men who were subsequently convicted of his murder. One was later executed for the crime, which eventually led to the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, named for Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.
For Wunder―a native of the Northwest, who was called in December 2014 as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jasper―1998 “feels like a long time ago.” Not so for the people of Jasper, for whom the events of 1998, and their aftermath, are still current, fresh and raw.
Well before the congregation extended the call to Wunder, its leaders had been engaged in the hard work of defining the church’s mission by acknowledging Jasper’s painful past, its racially-charged present and the church’s own history.
The congregation decided to call a pastor whose primary goals would be to work toward racial reconciliation and to promote healing. Toward that end, it formed and incorporated Peace Beyond Understanding (PBU)―a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting peace and justice for all people―in the fall of 2014. The church intentionally created the position as bi-vocational, envisioning a candidate who would serve half time as PBU’s director and half time as the church’s pastor.
“Here we are in this time in our nation where we are dealing with Ferguson, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and New York,” said Wunder, “and here is this church in Jasper engaged in a visioning process with the help of the Presbytery of New Covenant before I even received the call. And the one thing that was on the hearts of all of the session members unanimously was racial division.”
Wunder was called to the church―which averages 17 in worship―through the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Small Church Residency Program. Launched in 2009 and originally named For Such a Time as This, the program is focused on spiritual, vocational and congregational transformation.
Although its name and application process have changed―with candidates and congregations now simply indicating their interest in the program on their personal and ministry information forms on the Church Leadership Connection (CLC), the online matching and referral system for the PC(USA)―the program’s goal of pairing small, underserved congregations in rural, small-town and urban settings with recent seminary graduates remains the same.
Wunder―a 2012 graduate Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, who was then a candidate under the care of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area―first entered the search process in August 2014. She said that the CLC matched her with the Jasper church almost immediately.
“It happened so quickly,” Wunder said. “I made an immediate connection with the church. I was incredibly impressed with the people’s willingness to put themselves out there, to take risks, and to engage in a different process of trying to gain trust among people who have no reason to trust us. It’s hard not to look at this and say that the hand of God wasn’t in it.”
When Wunder arrived in December 2014, the church was already making plans to take part in Jasper’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. march. And so on the day of the march, she and one member of the church simply “showed up.”
“We had no banner, no T-shirts like some of the churches,” Wunder said. “We just wanted to ‘be with’ and show our support. We were received with incredible grace.” She, the one church member, Jasper’s police chief and a Roman Catholic priest were the only four white people―among some 150 participants―who made the march that day.
“I found out later that one of the church members was afraid to step out and march with us, but was willing to come to the edge and saw us,” said Wunder. “I know that there are people here in the church and in the broader community who are afraid for me and afraid for our safety. What we’re doing is kind of an audacious thing in a town that still struggles with racism, but I don’t feel threatened.”
The march concluded with the annual Sing With One Voice event, which was initiated following Byrd’s murder to help unite the community. “It is the only instance of intentionally desegregated worship in Jasper that I know of,” Wunder said.
She added that while there were some nice conversations during the march, she felt the impact of her participation days later in small, personal encounters. “A woman approached me at the grocery store and said, ‘I know you,’” Wunder recalled. “As we talked about the march, I thought to myself, ‘I know I’m not supposed to greet you like family, but I’m going to do it anyway.’ The question for all of us is how can we actually create and maintain such relationships? The question is: how can we follow Christ and be more kind, compassionate and loving?”
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Creator God, we pray for discernment and guidance as we try to walk the narrow path that has been put before us. We know that it will be difficult but that the rewards will be great. It is in your Son’s name that we pray. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Pastor Scott Weimer asks ‘What Gifts Do You Have?’ for Misisonal Living
Situated on the north end of downtown Atlanta, North Avenue Presbyterian Church began its life over 100 years ago as a suburban church. But the city grew, the neighborhood changed and the people who originally lived around North Avenue migrated farther out.
As other churches around it relocated to newer suburban communities in the ’60s and ’70s, North Avenue decided to stay in the area, even though much of the neighborhood had become blighted. The problems associated with poverty, drug use and prostitution had by then spilled onto the streets and into the doors of the church.
The Rev. Scott Weimer, senior pastor at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, says the decision to stay was a bold move, sending a signal to neighborhood residents that the congregation was going to stand with them.
The church continues to grow and extend its mission. Under the banner of “radical hospitality,” it has become home to many immigrants and refugees, including many non-Christian visitors. Weimer notes that scores of Chinese students studying at local universities have started attending, which has resulted in over 90 baptisms.
Weimer presented a workshop at Big Tent 2015 that detailed the church’s commitment to be present with its neighbors, ministering to their needs and advocating on behalf of them.
The scriptural guide for the workshop was Mark 6:30–44, the feeding of the 5,000, which Weimer sees as a model for how congregations and individuals are to engage in ministry and mission.
“Jesus has compassion for the needs of people around him, for the masses,” he said. “The disciples notice that the people are hungry and they tell Jesus about it, saying, ‘Fix it!’ But Jesus says to them, ‘You feed them.’ And Jesus asks them, ‘What gifts do you have?’ And they bring the five loaves and two fishes to Jesus, and he does something extraordinary with them.”
Though his context for engaging the passage is North Avenue’s work on human trafficking and poverty in Atlanta, Weimer believes it applies to any ministry to which people are called.
“Atlanta had become a major hub in the human trafficking of children,” he said. “When, as a pastor, I heard those stories and read those statistics about Atlanta, it was like the disciples seeing the people are hungry and [wanting] Jesus to do something. We said, ‘We see kids being trafficked, but who’s going to do something?’”
The church rallied around the cause, and Weimer saw his congregation doing as Jesus asked the disciples, bringing their gifts and joining them together to address the problem.
Weimer spoke to Presbyterian News Service from Chicago, where he was attending a Presbyterian Foundation board meeting.
How did North Avenue Presbyterian Church become such a focal point for advocacy around human trafficking?
There were three corners of Atlanta that were named as particularly problematic [for human trafficking], and one of those corners was our corner—North Avenue and Peachtree Street.
It blew our minds.
[We asked ourselves:] How do we love our neighbors in this neighborhood where we’re located? How do we embrace our neighborhood? And who’s going to do something about human trafficking of children?
I felt it was important to speak about it from the pulpit but didn’t know how the congregation would respond. We don’t talk about sexuality very well in our churches anyway, in my opinion. We tried to find language to talk about living in a culture that’s filled with sexual saturation.
I thought that if someone would respond negatively, it was maybe going to be some of the older women. But they came right up to me after church and said: ‘We have empty bedrooms in our homes. Our children are gone; we have space to house these [trafficked] children. If they can be rescued, just tell us and we’ll open our houses.’
We have a lot of college students, young adults, and they came up after the service and said, ‘If you want us to form teams and go out in the middle of the night and rescue these kids, we’ll do it.’
I didn’t know what to do. It was like asking, ‘How are the disciples going to feed 5,000 people?’ And as I wrestled with that, I felt the Spirit saying: ‘Just bring your gifts, Scott. Bring the gifts of North Avenue Church.’
How have you partnered with other faith communities and civic organizations in this advocacy effort?
It’s become a way to engage other churches in the area, and the mayor has been a strong supporter.
We started a nonprofit agency called Street Grace—taking the grace of God into the streets of Atlanta. ‘Grace’ has also stood for Galvanizing Resources Against Child Exploitation.
It continues to flourish and has gone to changing attitudes around the city in terms of being able to talk about these issues and address them in substantive ways. It’s gone to the passing of legislation at the state level and local level, particularly at the state level, so that Georgia is now becoming a model for the country to look at ways of looking at trafficking and especially the trafficking of children.
What’s your response to people who say, ‘Our job is to spread the gospel, not to be involved in politics,’ when it comes to advocacy efforts like this?
What we say is that we believe caring for the poor, caring about justice for those who don’t have it, speaking into the presence of evil in the world, and doing that in the name of Jesus is the unique calling of the church.
We do it from the perspective of following the call of Jesus to heal the brokenhearted and bring release to the captives and to feed the hungry, and all those admonitions come from Jesus himself.
In the Old Testament the verse that kind of drive us is Micah 6:8—‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.’
When it comes to working with state and local government, it comes to this: Why wouldn’t we work with those who are working for the same end ? It’s part of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It’s bringing our faith into our community and working with people of good will who want to bring about what we believe are God’s purposes in the world.
We do it in the name of Jesus. They may do it for some other reason, but we’re working for the same common good.
What does ‘living missionally’ mean to you?
For me it comes down to a simple motto: internally strong and outwardly focused.
It’s first to be internally strong in the things of God: to grow deep in my relationship with God, abide in Jesus, allow him to abide in me—and the fruit that comes from that is what God desires to do within and through me.
Yet it’s always to do this with an outward focus. Jesus was always looking outward and calling us to be salt and light.
If we just focus outward, we don’t have the internal strength, and we burn out. If we go deep spiritually, but we’re not looking out, then we’re not much good to anybody.
It also goes back to that important point in our church—the priesthood of all believers. Each one of us is uniquely gifted and called and given a sphere of influence that is an opportunity to live out a mission wherever God has called us to be.
Gregg BrekkeLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
God, we love our neighbors as we love you. Let us feel your embrace when we embrace others. AmenDaily Lectionary
Helping Those Victimized by Violence at Forefront of Peacemaker's Mission
“I know that we cannot do everything, but whatever we are able to do—even if it’s rescuing a single soul—it is enough for the Lord.”
Those are the words of Rev. Berthe Kalombo Nzeba, believed to be the first female Presbyterian clergyperson in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is referring to her mission to help women and children as the current general secretary of the Women and Families Department of the Church of Christ (ECC) in Congo. She shared insights from her native country with other Presbyterians as part of the International Peacemakers initiative in the fall, touring the U.S. to speak about improving women’s self-sufficiency, surviving sexual violence and helping communities to support orphaned children.
Nzeba said she wanted to talk about strengthening partnerships “so that the burden is not carried by isolated and abandoned individuals, but by everyone.”
“With more hands we can offer solutions to help the most vulnerable,” she said.
It’s believed the Congo wars, which began in 1996, have resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people due to starvation, disease and combat between government and rebel forces. Millions more have been displaced by the violence that ensued from the estimated 30 different militia groups that terrorized local populaces with killings and brutal sexual violence.
“Peace is a great challenge in our country,” said Nzeba. “We are faced with the question on how to help people recuperate who are victims to violence.”
According to Nzeba, dealing with war orphans and children of rape is, as one might imagine, a huge difficulty. Substantial means are needed to empower communities to help these children study, eat and sleep—in even “adequate” conditions—if they’re ever going to overcome the bitterness and trauma of their situation and eventually become leaders in the church and society.
“When the children sing of their suffering, vulnerability and not having anyone they can trust, it makes you want to cry,” she said. “But crying doesn’t respond to their needs.”
Nzeba’s experience with ECC dates back to 1978, when she trained women in building leadership skills. Most recently, she’s coordinated national and international efforts to support women and children impacted by the protracted conflict in eastern Congo. In the last 10 years her greatest concern has been women who have fallen victim to sexual violence.
“It is shameful in our society to learn someone has been raped,” she said. “You find women who have lost their sense of dignity and live in humiliation, rejected by their own family members. Sometimes a woman is raped in the presence of her children and neighbors—even in the presence of her husband. I take this as my cause and pray to God that peace returns to my country so that these women may live in dignity and those who have not fallen prey will be protected.”
Her work also includes helping women fight poverty. Congolese women often lack schooling and property ownership, and it’s not uncommon that upon the husband’s death the husband’s family takes ownership of family property without any consideration of the wife and children’s needs.
“It’s not right for a woman to live in poverty all the time,” lamented Nzeba.
The church is a great pillar for Congolese society, according to Nzeba. It has created schools to train and engage individuals in social action and is trying to advocate with the government, which considers the church a major partner. While it lacks sufficient means to be at the side of every vulnerable group, it’s doing its best. Nzeba points to what Jesus says in Matthew 25:35–36 to illustrate her faith:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Scott O’NeillLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Merciful God, continue to nurture those you are calling to serve your people and work for justice and peace. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Daily Lectionary
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
Jesus wants us to pray to God and God alone because he wants the energy, passion, love, and focus of our souls to be on God. Ash Wednesday is a call we can be thankful for, a call to repent and re-focus our spiritual vitality on God.
Consider two people playing tennis.
One is me.
The other is Serena Williams.
If I’m the one serving the ball, you could probably lob it back for points while you were taking a nap on the court.
If Serena Williams is the one serving, you’d better wake up and run. She has intense focus. With her energy and skill she could knock you over with one ace.
Jesus tells us that taking the crowd more seriously than the task (prayer, in this case, not tennis) is actually a distraction from focus on God.
Bernard of Clairveaux wrote about the four degrees of love of God, degrees that have to do with the direction and focus of our love. First, we love ourselves. Second, we love God for what God does for us. Third, we love God for who God is, apart from us. Fourth, we love all that God loves, all of creation, which even includes ourselves.
Making sure people hear us is one way we have of being sure of ourselves.
Jesus switches things up. We can’t be sure of ourselves. After all, we don’t even love ourselves – let alone others – as much as God loves us. Nor can we be sure of God, not by our own powers.
But God is sure of us. How hard it is to let go and rest in that assurance. How hard it is to let go and focus on the God of the universe, who, we read in scripture, is love! It is Ash Wednesday, and we aren’t just called to pray in secret. We are called to be rewarded by God who hears us in secret. We are called to an intimacy with God that is already given to us. Let us turn quietly to God and rejoice!
Rev. Dr. Michelle J. Bartel, Coordinator of Theological Education and Seminary Relations, PC(USA) Office of Theology, Formation, and EvangelismLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
God of grace, as we prepare for this season of Lent, equip us with perseverance. Use our brief lives to your glory. Empower us as your disciples, that even when the land is parched, we may know your presence with us, transforming what seems barren into life overflowing. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Church Sells Building to Make Way for Affordable Housing, New Worshiping Community
Arlington Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia is a mile from the Pentagon. The average per capita income is $100,000. Families of four making $60,000 a year—teachers, firefighters, medial personal staff, the lifeblood of the community—are being forced out of their own neighborhood by high and rising rents.
When Pastor Sharon Core arrived at the church in December 1998, her primary work with session leaders was to help them See themselves as the spiritual leaders of the church, rather than an administrative body.
“As we made this shift together, we began to discern that what we were doing wasn’t working anymore,” says Core. The church began their discernment as one of the initial churches in National Capital Presbytery to use the Transforming Congregations Project process offered through the presbytery. The process continued for several years through various iterations, including working with a consultant from the Center for Parish Development.
At a retreat in 2009 the session and ministry team leaders discerned a vision that led them to propose to the congregation that the church property should be given over and replaced by a new church within an affordable housing development. A firestorm of controversy and conflict was ignited when this proposal was presented to the congregation.
Recognizing they had proposed something as radical as demolishing the building without establishing the groundwork and reasoning behind the idea, they tabled the proposal.
In 2010, Arlington's presbytery suggested they follow a Presbyterian Mission Agency discernment and assessment process known as New Beginnings to look closely at the congregation’s financial and spiritual health, neighborhood demographics and its own ability for change.
“New Beginnings helped the entire congregation recognize that something needed to change,” says Core. “That gave us the clarity to focus our efforts on what our mission should be in our neighborhood.”
Arlington Presbyterian invited New Church Development coach Shannon Kiser to work with the congregation in 2012.
The first thing Kiser did was form a vision team that would commit to the following practices:
♦ Daily scripture reading and prayer
♦ Daily praying Matthew 9:38 (that the Lord of harvest would send forth laborers into the mission field [their neighborhood])
♦ Entering into conversations with people in their neighborhood, listening “for whom our hearts are breaking.”
Kiser and the vision team lived into these practices throughout the summer while Core was on a three-month sabbatical.
“By not relying on our pastor to tell us what to do, we gained confidence in our own ability to listen to God day today,” Says vision team chair Susan Etherton.
When Core returned, the vision team was full of stories about the people they’d met who lived and worked along Columbia Pike, where the church is located.
“We were drawn to those who couldn’t afford to live here, even though they worked nearby,” says Etherton. “People wanted a deeper sense of belonging and community, where they lived and worked.”
Members of the congregation had discovered the ones for whom their hearts were breaking.
“It was like ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve come full circle to affordable housing,’ says Core. “It’s as if God was saying to us, ‘Now you know why there was energy there, and why you’re going to do this.’”
It took nearly two more years of work, but in January 2015 members of National Capital Presbytery unanimously approved the sale of Arlington Presbyterian Church to an affordable housing development partner for $8.4 million.
If everything stays on schedule, the affordable housing development will close in July. Demolition of the church building and new construction will begin in early 2017, with completion scheduled for 2019.
Arlington Presbyterian is now deciding whether it will rent back worship space from the housing development. The congregation is working with an affordable housing project manager who recently completed a project with a Baptist church in neighboring Clarendon.
Acknowledging the “unfortunate reality” that many urban and suburban churches can no longer maintain their real estate, Jill Norcross says, “Affordable housing is a way for them to give something back to the community.”
“We’re trying to the reach the lowest income group possible, but most of the units will be for those making $60,000 (the lifeblood of the community that Core referred to),” she says. “Plus, the church can re-create something new with some leverage.”
Arlington Presbyterian has also hired a mission developer to help them understand how to meet neighbors' desires for deeper connection and belonging.
“There is a remnant of folks who want to be part of this,” says Etherton. “It will probably be about half of what our current attendance  has been.”
“We don’t need a building to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our neighborhood,” says Etherton, who raised her two college-aged students there and, like Core, was married in the church. “Arlington Presbyterian has been a vibrant faith community serving our neighborhood for over 100 years. We will continue to do so, building or no.”
Adds Core, “I get the building as sacred space, but just because we have great memories, that is not a reason not to redevelop. I’ve shifted as a pastor; I’m no longer trying to raise good church people.”
“To me the beauty of church is people learning to listen to God and their neighbors, and becoming good disciples in the community.”
Paul SeebeckLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
God, thank you for planting in us passions for mission and for giving us the opportunities to pursue them. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Training Helps Congregations Focus on Emergency and Disaster Preparation
A collaboration between the Presbyterian Women (PW) and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) ministries provides specialized training to equip Presbyterian women to work with their congregations and witness to the healing love of Christ through caring for communities adversely affected by crisis.
Sixteen women received commissions as disaster preparedness trainers in a brief ceremony held at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) offices in Louisville, Ky. They are now responsible for returning to their local congregations and presbyteries to conduct a minimum of three disaster preparedness trainings per year.
The training was the first PDA event to train Presbyterian Women to become certified as volunteer trainers. The PW and PDA ministries will train a minimum of two women in each presbytery to prepare families, congregations and presbyteries on how to plan for natural, human-caused, and/or industrial-technical disasters. To become a commissioned disaster preparedness trainer, individuals must:
♦ Exhibit an interest in disaster preparedness;
♦ Display a three-year commitment to actively seek, set up and conduct at least three training sessions per year
in congregations or presbyteries;
♦ Give group presentations;
♦ Be comfortable using email and PowerPoint; and
♦ Complete an application and provide three references.
“With PDA’s experience and PW’s organizational skills, our goal of having at least two PW disaster preparedness trainers in every presbytery in the country is achievable,” says Laurie Kraus, coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. “We’re off to a great start and are very proud and excited for this new collaboration between ministries.”
The new trainers, commissioned in Louisville, include:
Joyce Ann Batty (TX) – Mission Presbytery, Synod of the Sun
Kirsten Berlin (NC) – New Hope Presbytery, Synod of the Mid -Atlantic
Wanda Beauman (CO) – Denver Presbytery, Synod of Rocky Mountains
Emaline Dhaliwal (CA) – Riverside Presbytery, Synod of Southern California and Hawaii
Heydi Morales-Gomez (TX) – New Covenant Presbytery, Synod of the Sun
Patricia Snyder (VA) – Shenandoah Presbytery, Synod of the Mid –Atlantic
Reba Woller (CA) – Riverside Presbytery, Synod of Southern California and Hawaii
Carol Winkler (KY) – Cincinnati Presbytery, Synod of the Covenant
Mary Jorgenson (MO) – Heartland Presbytery, Synod of Mid –America
Sheila Louder (GA) – Greater Atlanta Presbytery, Synod of South Atlantic
Several PC(USA) staff members also became commissioned trainers, including Jessica Maudlin, Kathy Reeves, Susan Jackson-Dowd, Carissa Herold, Rhonda Martin and Beth Snyder. Members of the PDA National Response Team who became instructors at the training were Kathy Montgomery, Morella Larsen, Pamela Ruarke, Carolyn Thalman, Meg Scott-Johnson, Liz Branch, Lynette Williams and Ken McKenzie.
It is hoped that the commitment of these trainers will ensure that congregations and presbyteries have basic plans and preparations in place in the event of a church emergency or a disaster in their area. For more information about PW disaster preparedness training, contact Beth Snyder at email@example.com or visit www.pcusa.org/pda.
Scott O’NeillLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Praise to you, abundant God who knows no scarcity! Praise to you, living God who makes all things possible and new! Amen.Daily Lectionary
Brad Smith, then a seminary intern serving at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, gave birth to the Souper Bowl of Caring with this prayer: “Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat.”
This youth-led movement to help hungry people shifts the attention given to the Super Bowl to collect dollars and canned food for those who struggle to put enough nutrition on their tables. Youth collect donations at their schools and churches in soup pots, and then send every dollar directly to a local anti-hunger group of their choice.
In that first year, 1990, with 22 churches in the area participating, they raised $5,700. Each year the contributions increase, and in 2002 the now Reverend Brad Smith became the first paid staff.
Twenty-five years after its founding, hunger in the United States is lamentably still with us. Why? Because more than 45 million Americans live in poverty. The majority of these people work, but still cannot earn enough to guarantee their daily bread. 15.3 million children live in food-insecure households!
In 2015, Souper Bowl raised more than $8 million. The spirit of generosity clearly exists and we produce more than enough food for everyone, yet poverty and inequality in our nation prevent many from enjoying this basic human right. As people with faith in the imminent kingdom of God, let us join in the difficult work of reshaping systems that prevent the flourishing of life.
Andrew Kang Bartlett, Associate for National Hunger ConcernLet us join in prayer for:
Loving God, we absorb your goodness in the food we eat, in the beauty our eyes receive, in the fellowship of family and community and in the unconditional love you shower upon us. May we take these gifts and become mirrors of such fullness through words of praise and, as you’ve instructed, by loving our neighbors and working for justice in the land. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Mission Agency Board Members Visit Philadelphia-Area Sites
Ministries of literacy, art and other community-enhancing endeavors provided inspiration when the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board met for its most recent annual retreat, at the offices of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.
Executive Committee members visited four Presbyterian ministries in the Philadelphia area: First Presbyterian Church Germantown, Freedom School; The Common Place; Beacon new church development; and Christ’s Presbyterian Church. All were lifted up as examples of innovation and mission excellence.
The Freedom School at First Presbyterian Church Germantown has served Germantown children since 2011, helping create enthusiasm for learning and reading. During the seven-week summer program, participating children read a total of 56 books, all with a theme of “I can make a difference.” As part of their program, the 50 students build a library of books they are able to take home with them. Core activities of Bible study, assemblies, arts and crafts, dance, music, field trips and swimming occupy their days, which start at 8:00 a.m. and continue until 3:00 p.m.
The Common Place, a ministry partnership between Wayne Presbyterian Church and New Spirit Community Church, was birthed in 2013 and operates as a hub of education, art and faith for youth in Southwest Philadelphia.
Wayne Presbyterian bought the building from the Presbytery of Philadelphia for $1—allowing them to transform the space into a faith-based, educational outreach and community center. This site continues to be a worship space for New Spirit Community Church, while now also serving as an annex space to Cornerstone Christian Academy—a school started by the Rev. Tony Campolo from Eastern University.
Beacon new church development, part of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative, was founded in 2012 with the expressed mission to invite people into their space by engaging the arts. As part of this commitment, they offer year-round art programs for children and youth, with an after-school program on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the school year, and Tuesday and Thursday during the summer.
Serving a disenfranchised working-class community, Beacon has become a faith community, meeting weekly for worship on Sundays at 5:00 p.m., offering a free communal meal following worship the first Sunday of every month. The community has also become a “Mission Lab,” offering day-long retreats and mission work opportunities to interested groups. Another ministry birthed out of its identity is the Studio Volunteer Corps, where youth are trained in job skills and nonprofit basics.
Christ’s Presbyterian Church, founded in 1899 and located near Philadelphia Italian Market, continues to be a hub for new immigrant arrivals. Once a place of welcome to Italian immigrants, today this South Philadelphia neighborhood also embraces new arrivals from Asia.
One of Christ Church’s ministries, their summer program known as Abundant Life Camp, is a joint ecumenical effort bringing together more than six small churches and about 100 children. The presence of this ecumenical partnership provides a welcoming place for the “stranger” in their community and allows for church and spiritual growth through teaching, evangelism and discipleship.
The 35 -member congregation continues to seek out creative ways to be a relevant presence to new arrivals to the U.S., many of whom come from other faith traditions.
Speaking on the importance of the Executive Committee presence in the Presbyterian of Philadelphia, Executive Presbyter the Rev. Ruth F. Santana-Grace expressed thanks for the visit by representatives of the PC(USA) and for their experience at the site visits.
“The temptation is to go where the glitz is, where the huge ministries exist,” she said. “We were glad these sites let us show the faithfulness of people working in their communities.”
“At a time when many lament the decline of the church, I believe it is time to look outside ourselves and identify where signs of resurrection hope are to be found,” Santa-Grace said of the four sites selected as examples of dynamic ministry in Philadelphia. “It is on the edge of those places—between the known and the unknown—that we are called to find and be a vibrant and relevant witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gregg BrekkeLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Creator God, you formed the earth and called it good. From the earth you brought forth food to nourish and sustain us. Teach us to be good stewards of what you provide, and help us to be a blessing through our stewardship of your good gifts. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Volunteers Make Repairs Following Heavy Rains and Flooding
Nearly two weeks after massive flooding damaged several buildings at John Knox Ranch near Fischer, Texas, volunteers with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and local Presbyterian churches were making it possible for the ranch to be open for business on June 10, 2015. The heavy rains that flooded portions of Texas caused the nearby Blanco River to spill over its banks, damaging some of the ranch’s low-lying facilities.
The dining hall took the brunt of the damage along with the pool, meeting house and both bath houses. Cabins and other lodging facilities were located on higher ground and were not damaged by floodwaters.
PDA teams visited the camp shortly after the flooding and were amazed at the extent of damage.
“The greatest loss was the kitchen/dining hall. All of the appliances, cabinets, utensils, pots and pans were twisted in a horrible, muddy heap,” the team reported. “It appeared as if someone had ripped out everything in the kitchen and tried to build an ugly, impassable mountain. Food from the summer delivery was scattered across a nearby field.”
The team said providing showers and a way to cook in two weeks became top priorities. PDA Team Lead Kelly Buell, working with Lutheran church leaders, connected with Orphan Grain Train’s Disaster Response Division in Norfolk, Nebraska, and secured the services of its 45-foot long commercial kitchen trailer. Mission Presbytery near San Antonio supplied the funds to cover the cost.
The ranch’s executive director, Kathy Anderson, credited PDA and volunteers from Mission Presbytery for the quick response. Without the support, Anderson said the loss of revenue in 2015 could have possibly closed the ranch permanently.
“We’ve received help from a number of amazing people and organizations, mainly from the Presbyterian community and Mission Presbytery,” she added.
Work at the site included building new benches and tables, hauling away trash and debris and cleaning up the cabins.
During the summer months, the camp employs 20 young adult staff and counselors. Camp sessions average between 50 and 90 children and youth campers.
Rick JonesLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Gracious God, fill us with power to proclaim your name boldly at every age, until all come to the knowledge and love of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Associate Reports Continued Concern for Troubled Country
Although significant progress has been made in stopping the spread of Ebola in Liberia, the economic and humanitarian recovery may take a while longer. In 2014 Liberia and Sierra Leone were in the midst of a lockdown as the disease claimed thousands of lives and drove their economies into the ground. A new case was reported in Liberia in November 2015, and Sierra Leone continued to report a few outbreaks.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) international associate Luke Asikoye recently returned from Liberia, where he saw firsthand the efforts to jumpstart the economy and help communities become more self-sustainable.
“One of the biggest challenges is to try and get the market systems going,” said Asikoye. “Because of Ebola, numerous market opportunities nearly shut down, but we are beginning to renew those markets. The communities have missed planting and harvest seasons, and people are finding the cost of food out of their reach.”
Asikoye said the disease forced many companies to shut down; airline service in and out of the country was suspended, forcing a number of the markets to close. As travel slowly opened, the cost of fares skyrocketed.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People have been working to help Liberia and Sierra Leone rebuild and rehabilitate in light of civil war and disease. The West Africa Initiative (WAI) grew out of the collaboration in 2007. The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) also joined the effort.
The WAI goal is to improve food security and the economic status of individuals, families and communities, develop and strengthen community-based organizations and develop the technical and management capabilities of the Liberia Council of Churches. For years, WAI saw growing cooperation with various communities. Shared farms developed self-reliant food production, reduced food shortages and improved the quality of life. But Ebola cut into the council’s accomplishments.
The disease outbreak has created another problem for Liberia: a rising number of orphans. Some have been taken in by extended families, but authorities are still struggling to meet the needs of children who have lost everyone and everything. Authorities estimate the number of orphans in both Liberia and Sierra Leone at more than 25,000.
“Even before Ebola, children were facing numerous challenges after more than 15 years of war,” said the Rev. Kortu Brown, first vice president of the Liberia Council of Churches. “The worst of the disease outbreak may be over, but the stigma of the virus has lingered on and one of the main challenges we face is the stigma on survivors.”
The council has been working to provide shelter for thousands of orphans. Brown said the role of the church is to create an awareness of the problems facing children without families and to encourage people to embrace them.
“People are afraid. Because of the stigma of the disease, people don’t want to be near them,” said Brown. “During the Ebola outbreak, we felt the ecumenical community abandoned us, especially in North America. But the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stood with us.”
Brown said that only after the virus was contained—before the recurrence in November—did the ecumenical community begin to return to the region.
For now, the church has been working with its ecumenical partners to help prepare Liberia for this year’s planting season, which runs from June to September. Unemployment in the region was high before Ebola and the closing of various markets is making it even harder for communities to recover. In addition, schools have been slow to reopen, and the Council of Churches is working to provide opportunities for orphaned children to return to the classroom.
For more information on the work in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, go to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance website.
Rick JonesLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Gracious God, you provide us with more than we even know. You showed us the meaning of compassion through your son Jesus. Help us to emulate his example as we work to become the church to our communities through loving compassion. Amen.Daily Lectionary
PC(USA) Congregation Puts Hearts and Hands into ‘Promise House’
An active and growing church. A recently vacated adjacent home. An expected need for additional parking. A match made in heaven?
For Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Kennesaw, Ga., the chance to purchase the lot and home next door in 2013 was a golden opportunity. Although it had no immediate plans to expand its facilities, the congregation voted unanimously in February 2014 to purchase the land based on future needs.
Kirkwood’s pastor, the Rev. Catherine Renken, explains that the church is built on a slope and isn’t particularly accessible to people with disabilities. Some long-range goals included converting the level lot next door into more-accessible parking or using the home for additional meeting space or Sunday school rooms.
Yet none of these needs were immediate concerns for the congregation. So, following the purchase, the home sat unused until January 2015, when Renken said to herself, “This is ridiculous; we have to do something.”
Renken remembered a call she’d received from Family Promise of Cobb County, wondering if Kirkwood could serve as a host for families working their way out of homelessness. Renken declined participation, since the church has no showers and all its spaces large enough to host families overnight were being used for community meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous. But this new property, she believed, could be of some use to Family Promise.
Renken says that when she contacted Family Promise Executive Director Camilla Worrell, her response was, “We’ve been praying for this—we’ve been looking for a transitional home for our graduates!”
Family Promise’s mission is to help homeless families with children “achieve adequate and consistent income, stable housing and lasting independence by mobilizing [the] local interfaith community to provide temporary emergency meals, shelter, compassionate hospitality and professional services.”
A Promise House committee was soon formed at the 162-member congregation to explore the partnership. Within a month, Worrell notified the church that Home Depot had partnered with the project to supply materials and labor to remodel the 1969 ranch-style home that was in desperate need of updates.
Renken says Home Depot’s contribution to the project was “way more” than the church could afford. Items ranging from new flooring to decking, paint and construction materials, even new appliances, were donated by four Home Depot stores in the area.
“They installed the hardwood floors. They installed the appliances. They installed the countertops and the knobs,” she says of the effort Home Depot put into the remodeling. “There were many days where the manager of the Home Depot store was over there just by himself, working.”
Renken got involved as well, checking with the construction manager to see if they could open up the kitchen and dining room area. After verifying replacement cabinets were in the budget, she put her own hand to the sledge to help with demolition. “It was hideous—not functional,” she says of the original kitchen.
The combined volunteer efforts of Home Depot, Family Promise and Kirkwood Presbyterian made quick work of the demolition and remodeling, bringing a fresh and contemporary look to the three-bedroom, 1 ½-bath home that Renken described as a “time capsule from 1969.” The home passed final inspections in May 2015.
Family Promise requires transitional residents to pay rent as they prepare for life beyond the supervision of the Family Promise program. In Kirkwood’s case, residents will pay $400 per month in addition to utilities. That will go a long way toward helping Kirkwood pay the $600 monthly mortgage on the property that was purchased for $96,000, with the congregation putting $50,000 toward the purchase price.
But Renken says the church never envisioned the home would be a moneymaking venture.
“We tried to convince Family Promise to allow people to live in the home rent free, as a ministry of the church,” she says. “But they insisted that residents pay rent to establish good patterns, learn responsibility and prepare for budgeting beyond subsidized housing.”
“Family Promise has been amazing in stepping up to say they will handle the tenants,” Renken says of the lease- landlord arrangement with the organization. “They have a very strict covenant that they make their tenants sign. It includes things beyond no smoking and no pets, but they can’t have visitors unless they get written approval from Family Promise. There’s no alcohol. And they engage with Family Promise through the process, including handing over their check from work so Family Promise can walk them through the process of maintaining a budget.”
She applauds the Family Promise model, saying it gives families a base from which to launch out of the program with a credit history, a rental record, and skills and habits that will help them manage their household.
“God has beautifully orchestrated this project in ways beyond our own imagination,” says Renken. “We had no idea how exactly we were going to use this property when bought it. We hadn’t outgrown our current building, our pockets were not overflowing, and we didn’t know about the needs in our community for affordable housing.”
As she reflects on the project, Renken expresses amazement at the amount of support it received from the people of Kirkwood Presbyterian—not because she doubted the congregation’s generosity, but because of how passionate members were to use the property for ministry.
“[The project] has provided so much energy and enthusiasm for mission,” she says. “New members, long-term members who haven’t been as active—it simply has provided a chance for people to be hands-on. We offered a day where we said, ‘Hey, come and paint,’ and people could just show up and paint. They didn’t need any history with the church or experience with teaching or any preparation.”
Susan Miles, a Kirkwood member who helped document the remodeling process and register volunteers, agrees. “The real benefit to us is having a mission close to us where we can see the blessing grow. We saw church members get involved in a project that helped others and not just us.”
Renken says the congregation was clear in its motivation and purpose for the project, recalling the meeting that decided the adjacent home’s use. “When the decision came before session about moving forward with Family Promise, some of the elders, who tended to be more reserved, started quoting Scripture.”
“They said: ‘Jesus told us to clothe the naked and to help the poor and to feed the hungry and to use what we have for those in need. We have This [property], and there are people in need.’ It was a mutual feeling for everyone on session.”
Gregg BrekkeLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
God allows that our life can express gratitude with our actions.Daily Lectionary
Quarter-Century Volunteer Group Remembers ‘In life and in death we belong to God’
For the past 25 years a group of alumni, staff and friends of Holmes Presbyterian Camp in New York have been volunteering for a work project weekend each summer.
Last year they wanted to do something special for the place and space they love. It’s where many had their first formative faith experiences, and where they began to come to grips with life and death.
The first two years the group gathered, their reunions were born out of tragedy.
When they first heard the news “Keith Miller, a staff alumni member is dead; he drowned in Florida,” they were mostly in their 20s. Understandably, it sent a jolt through the youthful group.
They felt the need to be together, to do something, that first year, so they improved the Lakeside cabin that Keith had loved.
The following year there was more death— another young staff alumnus had been killed in a tragic farming accident.
Sang Park, the planning and fundraising team leader for last year’s work project, remembers how he felt when his phone rang.
“I was alone in my apartment,” he says. “I was sad, angry, bitter, frustrated. Peter and I were close; we’d directed the waterfront together one summer.”
Once again Park and other alumni returned to Holmes and upgraded the waterfront with a low fence.
They’ve been coming back ever since to do work projects.
Some projects, like constructing a bell tower, or blowing up deteriorated cabins, “were exciting,” says Park. And he remembers that others, such as clearing a hiking trail, or replacing shingles on cabin roofs, “were simple, yet fun and satisfying.” Then there were those, like cleaning out cabins, that were “somewhat mundane.”
“Being part of a group like this grounds you in your faith,” says former camp counselor and lifeguard Mark Hostetter. “They know you and love you—through the good and tragic things that happen.
Hostetter’s father, Don, was executive director at Holmes when the decision was made, after the first two years, to make the work project an annual event.
“I lived at camp all summer long,” says Mark Hostteter. “The faith formation that happened for us is remarkable. It sustains us in time and through life, even when we’re not at camp. To me that is the wonder of the experience.
Hostteter says many of the alumni staff and friends had their first significant faith experience at Holmes, in the old Scudder cabin. That space became “a think place” of sorts where they “felt closer to God,” he says.
Built by the civilian conservation corps during World War II, the building was used to watch subs off the coast of Long Island.
“It was a campers’ cabin, right there on Denton Lake,” says Holmes executive director Peter Surgenor. “The alumni remember the lakeside conversation, and the campfires in the fireplace.”
About five years ago, the alumni volunteers took the old cabin down, creating an open platform, where they built a deck with railing. It gave the camp additional space for programming and conversation. But it was being underutilized because of its exposure to the element including intense sun and heavy rain.
The volunteers decided on their 25th anniversary to turn the open space in the woods into pavilion by putting a roof over it.
Naming it the “Raising the Scudder Roof,” they also raised $21,000 to pay for the materials they would need.
“They have a pretty sharp investment there,” says Surgenor. “It’s not just dollars and cents; it’s emotional as well.”
“I still look back and ask, ‘Why was it that I needed to be part of taking on a project to remember the loss of friends?’” muses Park. “Why is that a memorial service was good enough to move on? I may never know the answer.”
He wonders if it was the “feeling good” after completing a project, or “the satisfaction” that physical labor results in something one can be “proud of.” Or maybe it was that these camp friends eventually became like an extended family—70 to 100 people sharing biannual Thanksgiving celebrations.
“Together we prepare, cook, serve, partake, clean up, do dishes, dance, laugh, with all layers of generations, young and old,” says Park. “Initially, those first two years, it was a way to build something—and not just watch something go missing.”
“But now it is about knowing, or maybe it is just hope—someday this [the camp projects] might improve or touch some lives of younger generations.”
Paul SeebeckLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
May God help us to continue to live, learn, and work together. AmenDaily Lectionary
PC(USA) Seminarian Follows Call to Transform Children's Worship
Performing on the Spirituality state at the 2015 Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, N.C., Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminarian Rebecca Stevens encouraged children of all ages to experience well-loved hymns and stories with new insights.
“My work with children is centered around how we think about music in the church and the words that we say in our songs,” she says. “I do a lot of study of songs—old songs that we used to sing, that we love, that are in our Christian heritage and history. I work with those songs to rethink them, appropriate them or maybe to decide that they should be put on the shelf and are just a part of history now.”
She says composing new songs to illustrate biblical themes is part of this work. “I also write songs to bring in new voices for what we can be thinking about the world and, if you will, the kingdom of God.”
The native of Lenoir, N.C., and a cradle Presbyterian, moved to New York several years ago and began working with children at First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, where she soon found herself drawn to attend Union Theological Seminary.
“I felt like I needed a framework to talk to children about love and justice and some of the things in the world that aren’t so easy to talk about,” she says. “So I decided that seminary and ministry as the way to go.”
Gregg BrekkeLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Eternal God, you call us to love our neighbors, to reach out to the least of our brothers and sisters, and we are grateful that you show us ways to serve you. Bless us and challenge us to love as you have loved us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Donaldina Cameron is one of the most well-known Presbyterian missionaries of the early 20th century. She led the Presbyterian Mission Home in San Francisco for more than three decades, working with police and the courts to save Chinese girls from the slave trade while fostering strong community support for the Home and the social services it provided. The renamed Donaldina Cameron House continues today, helping Chinese American individuals and families to fully participate in and contribute to a healthy society.
Donaldina was born in New Zealand in 1869 to a Christian family from Scotland. The Camerons migrated again when Donaldina was two, this time to California, where Donaldina’s father became part of the southern California ranching community. Donaldina started training to become a schoolteacher but found herself back home after her father’s death. There, at a pivotal point in Donaldina’s life, Mary Browne asked for her help, and Donaldina said yes.
Mary was the mother of one of Donaldina’s childhood friends. She was also head of the Woman’s Occidental Board of Missions, a group she had organized in 1873 with four other Presbyterian women concerned about the treatment of Chinese slave girls in San Francisco. While visiting the Camerons in 1895, Mary asked Donaldina to move to San Francisco to assist the current director of the Mission Home for one year. Donaldina said yes. After her first year of service, Donaldina decided to continue her work with Chinese women and girls. Buoyed by an institutional network built by Presbyterian women, Donaldina Cameron said “yes” multiple times and in multiple ways to the opportunities God presented in her life.
In 1934 after her official retirement, Donaldina Cameron wrote to the Board of National Missions, “It is my very earnest wish and prayer that with God’s help I may be able to accomplish some valuable service in His Name that will gladden all our hearts.” Her legacy established, Donaldina Cameron continued to look for ways to say yes to God’s call in her life.
Beth Shalom Hessel, M. Div, Ph.D., Executive Director, Presbyterian Historical SocietyLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Triune God, you created us in your image to serve you. You call us to follow Jesus Christ, who gave the eternal “yes.” Empower us through the Holy Spirit to say yes to your invitations to serve in ways that gladden all our hearts. Amen.Daily Lectionary
1001 Conference goers encouraged to pursue relationships
The Rev. Keith Gunter remembers what the first year of starting a new worshiping community was like. He’d moved from Georgia to Tennessee with his wife and one year old child to start, from scratch, what is now New Creation Church.
“We had two chairs in the living room,” said Gunter. “I’d be praying, look up and see my wife crying. Nothing seemed to be working that first year.”
Preaching from Mark 4:35-41, Gunter told the opening night crowd at the 1001 National New Worshiping Communities Conference that, like the disciples on the boat who thought they were going to drown, he would often cry out, “Lord, don’t you care? Why am I hurting so right now ?”
As Gunter worked harder and faster, his frustration and stress became overwhelming. “I forgot who was in the boat with me,” he said.
“Jesus was ready to expand his ministry, to meet new people on the margins whom he hadn’t met yet,” said Gunter. “To go to the edges where there is danger, discomfort, even anger and frustration, and yet this is where life happens.”
This kind of ministry with unexpected storms “impacts all of us,” he added. “Remember you are not alone. God walks with us. So pursue relationships with others, as God has pursued you, in grace and love.”
Vera White, coordinator for 1001, thanked the more than 200 conference attendees for their faithfulness to God through the New Worshiping Communities movement. “Your work is being heard around the world,” she said, announcing that she had just been asked to speak at a church planting conference in Cape Town, South Africa, because organizers there had heard stories of what was happening through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) movement.
“Share your stories with each other, she said, “so that we all may be encouraged in the days ahead.”
Paul SeebeckLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Almighty God, grant us eyes to see our world as you would have it. And use our hearts, our minds, and our hands to bring us one step closer to that world today. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois tries a new model in partnership with Small Church Residency Program
If the early Israelites journeyed to Egypt in search of sustenance and opportunity, Nathan Mochizuki and Elizabeth Moses went to “Little Egypt” for similar reasons.
Southern Illinois, that is.
Because Mochizuki and Moses—two seminary graduates who were seeking their first call to ministry in 2013—were ready to follow God’s call wherever it might lead them, they entered the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Small Church Residency Program.
Established in 2009, the program seeks to pair small, underserved congregations in rural, small-town, and urban settings with recent seminary graduates in a two-year pastoral-residency relationship, during which they are supported and guided by a cluster of pastor-mentors.
“We all became part of the Small Church Residency Program with the sense that we were going to try something new,” says Mochizuki, a member of the program’s Class of 2013. “We didn’t know exactly what it would look like. We didn’t know that it would work. But part of having a sense of call is saying, ‘I want to go where I can serve,’ and so, wherever that is, I’m willing to go.”
Although Mochizuki and Moses applied to the program individually, they were installed in their first call—together—in October 2013 as copastors of the “Little Egypt Parish” in the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois, a three-point model comprising the First Presbyterian Churches of Carmi, Eldorado, and Harrisburg, Illinois.
The three congregations, located within 30 miles of each other, had never worked cooperatively before. But the timing—and this particular program—seemed just right, according to the Rev. Wade Halva, a primary architect of the Little Egypt Parish.
“What we had [previously] was a unique situation where all of the churches were transitioning at the same time,” says the Rev. Wade Halva, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Marion, Illinois, who became a co-mentor with the Rev. Janice West for Mochizuki and Moses.
“Eldorado’s pastor of 17 years had just retired, as had Harrisburg’s pastor of 11 years,” he says. “Then when Carmi’s stated supply pastor left, there were three simultaneous vacancies. That’s about the only way to try to do a new thing because otherwise somebody might have felt like they were losing their pastor, and somebody else might have felt like they were having someone else’s pastor stuck on them.”
Halva says that the while the Small Church Residency Program wasn’t part of the original plan for the three-point parish, as soon as the program was recommended by the Rev. Anne Jones, then transitional executive presbyter for congregational care, it became integral to realizing the presbytery’s vision for Little Egypt.
“The program gave us a lot,” Halva says. “It gave us timelines and deadlines since I’m not sure we would have gotten anything done without a deadline. It gave us a much smaller pool of candidates to look at so that we could actually do something on a relatively quick timeline. It also gave us a more official support structure for what would happen after we got the pastors here as well as a little bit of financial support.”
Congregations who participate in the program receive a small salary support grant in the amount of $4,000 for each year of the residency, a financial commitment from their presbytery of membership, and other benefits.
“One of the things we’ve learned over the last few years is that there is something about the two-year timeframe of the residency program that opens people up to the possibility of trying something new,” says the Rev. Cindy Cushman, the program’s coordinator. “Ministry candidates who look at some of our more remote sites will often say, ‘I could live there for two years,’ and, many times, in the course of the two years, they fall in love with it and decide to stay longer.”
The same is also true of the participating churches.
“One of the reasons the churches in the Little Egypt project were willing to step out and try this new model for ministry was because we were able to say to them, ‘Try it for two years and if it doesn’t work, then at the end of the two-year program you can go back to the old model or try something else,’” Cushman adds. “Then, even if they don’t decide to stick with it, there still is no sense of failure, because they succeeded in completing the two-year program, and invariably they learned something new about themselves in the process. It’s exciting to see these new ministers and their congregations step out together into new experiences, broadening their understanding of what God might be doing through them.”
“It’s working,” Halva says. “Many of the members found some exuberance again, and for some of the folks in the congregations it was interesting to have the roles reversed, where they educated their pastors about the people, the personalities, and what’s really important in the community.”
Like chicken ‘n’ dumplings and homemade ice cream, neither of which Mochizuki had ever tried before.
“I had never had those things before and I loved them,” says Mochizuki. “For the members to be able to share those tastes and experiences with me and for me to get to share my delight with them was wonderful. It was a gift to be able to be enfolded into their church family and for them to get to know me and Elizabeth.”
“As we look to the future, more and more presbyteries are getting involved,” Cushman says. “It’s exciting to see the word spread and to witness more lives being transformed by the power of the Spirit through the work of this program.”
Emily Enders OdomLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Gracious God, we give you thanks for your glorious creation and the ministry of camps and conference centers. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Making the transition from ‘a culture of the page to a culture of the screen’
In a featured breakout session on discipleship and evangelism at Big Tent 2015, a standing-room-only audience was encouraged to “experience God with others, as they are out and about in the world.”
“Discipleship is experiential,” said Columbia Theological Seminary professor Roger Nishioka, who used Matthew 28:16–20 as the scriptural text for his presentation. “We’ve tended to see this great commission text of ‘go and make disciples’ as a command, but it is more about shaping and forming [who we are as disciples].”
The church is trying to answer this commission, he says, in a 21st century world that is shifting from being “a culture of the page to a culture of the screen.”
People who were shaped by the culture of the written word, he says, are having trouble transitioning to new emphases on social and visual media. “That is us. We Presbyterians are people of the page. And yet people now yearn to experience the Lord and for that experience to be participatory, imagistic and communal.”
When Nishioka talks to young adults about what this looks like, they tell him that when their senses are fully engaged, “they experience God the Holy.”
“We need to replace our mission statements with a mission vision,” said Nishioka, telling the story of General Electric, which recently removed the gold letters of its mission statement from its building, replacing them with 18 screens portraying images of who they are.
“Within 12 seconds they discovered people had a sense of who they were,” said Nishioka. “Before when they’d asked people about the words on the wall, they hadn’t gotten much of a response, but now everyone had a favorite image.”
His point: we owe people images when they come to worship.
Recently the Rev. Amy Miracle and the session at Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, created huge blowups of images representing who they are and placed them in the narthex, so that it was the first thing people saw.
Now, Nishioka said, visitors are coming in to see what Broad Street is all about. People are asking for their favorite images to be put back in the rotation, such as one of an older woman and a child.
“The number one reason people join churches is because they feel so alone and isolated,” said Nishioka. “This yearning for community and belonging trumps everything. During worship they want something specific to happen.”
Making that “something” happen is remarkably simple he said. It doesn’t even have to rely on technology; they just want interaction. “They want someone to talk to them,” he said. “If someone turns and says ‘good morning,’ it becomes a warm church to them.”
“So let us move out into the world, always asking, “what happened after Matthew?” “The acts of the apostles,” the audience responded.
“Yes, that means we are sent out by the Holy Spirit to move from discipleship and evangelism to apostleship,” said Nishioka. That transition requires that we put less emphasis, he said, on what we’re doing and more on who we’re becoming and how we’re representing ourselves. And who we’re becoming is not just a matter of digital technology; it’s a whole new world of immediate interactivity. “[We are called] to see where God is at work in the world and then participate in this mission of God.”
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Heavenly father, your unconditional love inspires us to be loving, welcoming, and hospitable to our neighbors. Pour into our hearts your compassion; strengthen and guide us as we go forth to make your kingdom tangible. Grant us your peace and surround us with your presence. Amen.Daily Lectionary
Hunger Program's Joining Hands empowers women, small-scale farmers in El Salvador
The story of a high-quality El Salvadoran wine, Hidden Flame, began more than a decade ago.
Pastor Santos Carpio was having a conversation with God.
Little did he know what would result.
That he would live.
That through his church—Tabernaculo Biblico Salem—women in the community would “find their voices” by producing that wine.
That he would lead his community in promoting and advocating for small family agriculture.
And that he would be connected to Presbyterian churches in the North—through the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Joining Hands Network.
He knew none of this in 2003.
Fighting a life-threatening illness, Carpio felt God asking him to improve life for the entire community—and not just the church.
He was “in conflict with God.”
“If I live, how am I to do this?” he asked.
“God said: ‘You have a mouth, don’t you? You can speak.’”
Being obedient, Carpio began talking with people in his community about the vision he had received—that “God wants to improve our lives here.”
The more he talked, the more people listened. And gradually, as the word spread, things began to happen.
And we—a group of 15 Presbyterians who traveled on Voices from the Border and Beyond seminar were fortunate enough to see some of its beauty, in the home of church member Gloria Joaquin.
There, they began the wine-making project, making in plastic jugs what would become the Hidden Flame using the Jamaica flower (similar to hibiscus), orange and rice.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker Kristi Van Nostran met the women and Carpio in 2012.
Knowing of the good work he was doing through his church in the community, Van Nostran invited him and other local church leaders to participate in the farmer-to-farmer Agro ecology Training School.
Sponsored by the Joining Hands Network of El Salvador, which Van Nostran facilitates for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the school works to bring people together to transform a broken and unjust food system.
“To see the transformation happening in Pastor Santos’ church and community through slow and steady work is incredible,” says Van Nostran. “Lives have definitely been impacted through our partnership.”
Church and community leaders used their training and ongoing support from Joining Hands to develop patio farms, along with chicken-hen projects, for some 35 families who are now raising enough food for themselves.
Joaquin gathers around 40 eggs a day and some 300 tomatoes per season, which she and her children sell to neighbors. She also raises 200–300 tilapia through the winter season when water is abundant. Some of the fish is sold locally, but most of it and the vegetables, fruit and herbs she cultivates are primarily for consumption, for her and others nearby.
“God helps me every day,” she says, “with blessings here, so that I might help my neighbor.”
Other leaders in the village of El Espino passionately describe their work of germinating and growing their own seeds and working collaboratively at the national level to draft legislation to protect small family agriculture.
They want not only increased food security but also food sovereignty. That means they want to sow and cultivate their own seeds and eat the food they want to without interference from global agribusiness corporations.
“We hope you will join us in demanding that toxic agrochemicals no longer be exported here,” says Carpio, his voice rising, reminding us they have effectively been banned in the U.S., but not El Salvador.
“God desires abundant life for all people in all places, like El Salvador,” says Van Nostran. “What sets our work apart from other organizations’ [are our] raising awareness of injustice and inviting Presbyterians to add their voices in solidarity to the struggle for food justice here.”
Back in 2012, when Carpio was increasing his knowledge about food justice through the Joining Hands training, he met a Catholic priest, and despite a historic rift between evangelical and Catholic churches and their leaders, a deepening friendship and relationship developed.
At the closing celebration of that yearlong training, Carpio shared some of the Hidden Flame wine with the priest. After filling the priest’s cup, the pastor remarked, “Before becoming involved with Joining Hands, I never would have dreamed of sharing a cup of wine with a Catholic priest as brothers.”
And once again, word began to spread about this wine, these women and this church that was being obedient to God in order to make life better for those who lived there.
Eventually the women were told about a contest they should enter. Sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in El Salvador, it would award a $40,000 prize to the most entrepreneurial new product entered.
The women and their Hidden Flame wine won that prize.
Upon receiving the award, one of the entrepreneurs, Lillian Arevelo, and her family decided to donate land, in the form of a loan, to the wine-making project cooperative. It is where the new winery is now housed, complete with holding tanks.
The women produce only as much wine as they can sell, currently about 200 bottles a month. With their profits, the cooperative is buying back the land—thus paying off the loan.
To these women, the Hidden Flame label on their wine bottles symbolizes their lives since Carpio came to the church and village with God’s vision.
The wine, they say, “has very many good benefits.” They add, with laughter and delight, “We are like the hidden flame, for we have found our voices.”
Now able to bring income to their home, feed their children and contribute to their education, the women are creating a future enabling them to stay on their land rather than having to migrate for economic reasons.
“We are satisfied,” adds Arevelo, “and convinced [that] with effort and dedication any women can reach her goal.”
Paul SeebeckLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
For those who open to us the words of Scripture, we give you thanks, great God. As Scripture is opened, as hearts are transformed, may the church of Jesus Christ thrive and bloom for this and all generations. Amen.
Late Presbyterian scholar, Harold Daniels, continues to shape the church through his and his wife Marie's generous gift of art to First Presbyterian Church of Dallas
Even the famously cerebral John Calvin, widely acknowledged as the founder of the Reformed tradition, recognized the arts—music, sculpture and painting—as “gifts of God.”
In fact, Calvin insisted that Christians employ all of their senses in the service of God, a practice that was second nature to Harold Daniels, one of Calvin’s foremost contemporary heirs in the art of Reformed worship.
Daniels, a celebrated Presbyterian theologian and editor of the Book of Common Worship, who died on February 5, 2015, at the age of 87, had amassed—and deeply enjoyed—a considerable collection of liturgical art throughout his lifetime.
“Harold Daniels had a deep appreciation of beauty in life and liturgy,” says David Gambrell, associate for worship for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, “not for the sake of decoration, but for a holy purpose: drawing us into the great mystery of the living God, and opening our eyes to the transforming presence of the risen Christ.”
And in the months prior to Daniels’s death, he remained committed to finding a way for his art to live on in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He eventually achieved his holy purpose by gifting his collection—in its entirety—to First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas, a congregation with which he had no formal ties, yet, as a Presbyterian, nevertheless felt deeply connected.
His impressive collection includes works by Sadao Watanabe, Robert Hodgell and Nalini Jayasarya—all of whom were artists in residence at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky—John August Swanson, Jyoti Sahi and others.
How Daniels ultimately decided upon First Presbyterian to safeguard his legacy is a testament to the power of the connectional church.
As Daniels’s health began to fail, he and his wife, Marie, met with Hal Hopson, the well-known composer and church musician, and his wife, Martha, both “friends” of First Presbyterian. Their daughter, Carol Herriage, chairs the church’s worship council.
“When Harold asked the Hopsons if they knew of a church that would value and display art, Hal mentioned our church,” recalls Joshua Taylor, the congregation’s director of worship and music. “First Presbyterian has a rich history of valuing the arts—visual, musical and otherwise—in worship. That’s also present in our community ministries, especially the Stewpot open art program, where members of the homeless community participate in art classes. We frequently display the art they create.”
As plans for the gift began to unfold, Taylor says he continually discovered “fascinating intersections” between himself and Harold Daniels, as the two—and Marie—began to talk and exchange letters.
“Even though I grew up a Presbyterian, when I began my career as a church musician, someone recommended to me that if I wanted a deeper understanding of worship in the Presbyterian Church that I pick up a copy of To God Alone Be Glory, Harold’s book that he wrote about the Book of Common Worship,” Taylor says. “I still have that book sitting on my shelf. So when Hal [Hopson] mentioned that Harold might be contacting me to discuss the art, he said, ‘Are you familiar with who Harold Daniels is,’ and I was, because I had read this book and his journal articles, which makes me a Harold Daniels groupie. I don’t think I’m alone in that.”
Taylor also knew Daniels through their shared service to the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM), to which Daniels was given honorary lifetime membership in 1997, and for which Taylor served as a member of the executive board and as conference director for the 2014 Mo-Ranch/PAM Worship & Music Conference.
“As a young professional in the church, I’m humbled by Harold’s work and then I’m also humbled by this generous gift to our congregation,” Taylor says, “that will give back in so many ways, just like his writing and his scholarship on behalf of the denomination.”
Although Daniels had hoped to deliver his extensive collection to the church in person, because of his failing health—and subsequent death—the task fell to his wife, Marie.
Just over a month after Daniels died and two weeks before Holy Week, his widow and one of their sons delivered all 40 works of art to the church.
Taylor says that while Harold Daniels may have been the collector, it was Marie Daniels who was the lover of the art.
“Although it was his love of art that brought it into their home, for Marie giving the gift—actually being the one who drove from Albuquerque to Dallas to deliver it—was so incredibly personal,” he says. “It was so important to her that they carry out this wish because the day Harold passed away, he was still talking about it. He wanted to make sure that the art was taken care of and was going to have a good home. And so for her it was incredibly important that she be present to see where the art was going to be stored and where it was going to be hung.”
Taylor ads, “I think that one of the reasons they wanted to make this gift was because they wanted the art to continue to serve the church. Through the stories depicted we can inspire other artists, our young people and our congregation to ponder these stories in a different way through the visual arts.”
Taylor says that all of these intersections have helped him to more strongly appreciate “our Presbyterian world.”
“Harold truly embodies what it means to be the connectional church,” he says. “That someone who has given so much to the church would value a congregation he’s not connected with, and to which he would entrust the stewardship of his art collection, is just a beautiful example of the connectional church on display, which is such an amazing thing.”
Emily Enders OdomLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
O Holy Spirit, open each new generation to your renewing wind. Blow afresh in our lives, that we all might be empowered to do your will in service and love. Amen.
Mile-high ministry shifts from ‘conversion night’ to discipleship, stewardship
Calvin Crest Executive Director Tony Biasell remembers his dark night of the south. It was the turning point for what once was the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s second largest summer camp.
Calvin Crest, which sits just above 5,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the border of Yosemite National Park, had drawn as many as 3,000 summer campers at its peak in 1997. In 2003 Biasell, already sensing a cultural shift regarding the priority of church-related camping, was sitting with a group of high school youth when one of the young women asked him a startling question.
“Is tonight cry night?” she wondered.
“What do you mean?” Biasell asked.
“You know,” she said, “the night where we always talk about heaven and hell, and making a commitment to Jesus. If it’s cry night I have to make sure I have the right makeup on.”
A stunned Biasell went to the cabin counselors who’d come with the young people from their churches and told them Calvin Crest would no longer do “the heaven and hell nights,” effective immediately.
“We’re Presbyterians,” Biasell remembers thinking, “and this is what means to our young people to follow Jesus ?” He says he couldn’t think of “anything more blasphemous.”
In the many sleepless nights that followed, Biasell reflected on his personal journey at Calvin Crest and how it related to the PC(USA)’s journey. He says when he started in 1992 there were already philosophical differences within the churches of the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento presbyteries; and these divisions spilled into the camp.
He remembers church leaders and parents who said, “He talks about Jesus too much,” and those who didn’t want him talking to their kids about “the social gospel.” He felt that tension constantly, and began to see how the lack of trust between self-identified liberal and conservatives groups was impacting churches.
Because of what Biasell calls “this in-fighting,” church membership and camp attendance began to decline.
“Many churches stopped hiring seminary-trained youth pastors,” he says, “often replacing them with part-time students [returning] from college [who had] grown up in their youth groups.”
Increasingly, Biasell felt that the youth coming to Calvin Crest were being trained to become “Christianized culture consumers” rather than disciples of Jesus. He told his staff and camp counselors he wanted them to teach their young people how to be followers of Jesus in hopes they would eventually become disciples of Jesus.
“At first they were ticked with me, which is my fault,” he says. “I didn’t realize they didn’t know how to lead people to become a Jesus follower, let alone a disciple. They’d never been trained in it.”
In 2003, Biasell also felt that if he wasn’t speaking out about homosexuality and the church, he wasn’t doing his job. “But that’s where we were,” he says. “It’s how I was raised: conversion, the authority of Scripture. The keynote speakers of the day were these reformed evangelicals. It’s tragic to think this was happening as we were losing churches and members.”
Even as Biasell was questioning everything Calvin Crest was doing, he was trying to create followers of Jesus by bridging what some had positioned as a division between Christianity and the social gospel. While Calvin Crest’s attendance numbers dropped from its all -time high of 3,000 to 500 by 2012, big staff changes occurred related to budget and directional shifts. Staff went through furlough, and those who remained experienced pay reductions.
Through it all Biasell spoke to churches throughout California about the vision he had. Instead of using God’s creation as a backdrop for kids to get “saved” and have a religious experience on “cry night,” he wanted to use it as a classroom where people could learn how to live in harmony with creation and God’s way.
“We asked churches to partner with us to create lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ,” says Biasell, “as defined by Jesus’ teachings, of bringing shalom to our neighborhoods and communities.”
The message that Calvin Crest would no longer focus on divisive cultural issues, but instead teach people—young, old and in between—how to participate in Christ’s kingdom of heaven on earth gradually began to resonate with churches. Calvin Crest’s numbers have steadily increased, and in 2015 Calvin Crest served nearly 1,500 summer campers.
“This isn’t about numbers for me,” says Biasell. “I no longer want to be part of Christian institutions that don’t point people to the way, truth and life of Jesus. The growth we’re experiencing is because churches feel welcome again, which is what worshiping God is meant to do—bring unity. We’re learning together how to love God above all, and our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. At 5,000 feet, people, including all of our youth, are learning they matter to us, to God and to the universe, as they discover and live out the purpose for which they were born.”
Paul SeebeckLet us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Thank you, Lord, for the way you multiply what we give to you beyond what we can imagine. Amen.