Three Presbyterian National Gatherings Scheduled for Early 2017

2017-calendarSeveral Presbyterian gatherings have been planned for the first three months of 2017. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, the Fellowship Community and NEXT Church have all planned National Gatherings to start of the new year.

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians: ECO’s National Gathering will be held Jan. 24-26, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C.

The theme – “Entrusted” – is based on 2 Timothy 2:2: “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.”

Three pre-conferences will be held from 8:30-11:30 on Jan. 24, before the Gathering officially begins at 1 p.m.

Speakers include:

  • Jo Saxton, a leader, visionary and practitioner. “Her message encourages people to engage in missional living and discipleship. Her message specifically equips women for leadership and influence and inspires all believers to engage the world in the same way God does—by going out rather than just reaching out.”
  • James Choung, who has been involved in campus ministries for over 23 years. He serves as InterVarsity’s national director of evangelism, and is ordained with the Association of Vineyard Churches. His books include True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In and Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out.
  • Paul Borden who was the executive minister of Growing Healthy Churches, formerly American Baptist Churches of the West for 15 years. This region of 220 congregations saw over 70 percent of their churches transformed and is now focusing on congregational reproduction throughout the United States and around the world. The region is planting ten churches a year, many starting with 200-500 people at launch.

For more information, visit the National Gathering’s web site. Early bird registration is now open.

Fellowship Community: The Fellowship Community will hold its National Gathering Feb. 21-23, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Fla.

According to the web site, “this year’s theme ‘Deep & Wide: Making Missional Disciples,’ will explore the connection between spiritual formation and missional transformation and look at the theological and programmatic changes needed to live out God’s Good News in an ever-changing world. Through inspiring preaching, teaching and discussions, we will be challenged and encouraged by leading missional practitioners, theologians and church leaders as we connect and grow together.”

Various tracks will be offered at the gathering including:

  • Leading Toward Missional Discipleship
  • Missional Small Churches
  • Korean Ministry
  • Church Planters
  • Ruling Elders
  • Global Engagement

More information about the National Gathering can be found here.

NEXT Church: “Wells & Walls: Well-Being in a Thirsty World” is the theme for the NEXT Church National Gathering to be held March 13-15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. The guiding Scripture for the gathering will be the story of the Samaritan woman at the well found in John 4:1-42.

The Gathering’s web page states:

As we look toward the 2017 National Gathering, as we invite local congregations and regional leadership to come together in the nation’s heartland of Kansas City, we recognize there are many walls and wells that manifest in our lives. In March of 2017 —

  • we are in the early months of a new US presidency (and after an embittered, fear-based campaign season),
  • we watch the global unrest created by the largest refugee crisis in history,
  • we continue – 9 months in – with new leadership in our highest PCUSA church offices,
  • congregational life continues to be growing slowly for some and declining for most in the North American church,
  • we continue to negotiate what it means to be a “big tent” denomination that holds space for minority voices,
  • we confess our fears that manifest in racism, homophobia, demonization, and polarization.

In thinking about this national gathering, we want to explore how we — as disciples and as the church — participate in Jesus’ pattern of moving across barriers, new understanding, and life-giving transformation. In short, finding and offering well-being.

More information on the NEXT Church National Gathering can be found here. Registration will open in the fall.

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NEXT sets goal of being 50 percent non-white by 2017

NEXT church update

Lori Raible and Andrew Foster Connors

Approximately 600 Presbyterians have gathered in Atlanta this week for the 2016 National Gathering of NEXT church.

Meeting Monday through Wednesday (Feb. 22-24, 2016) at the First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, the gathering is focusing on “Faith at the Crossroads,” and includes worship services, keynote speakers, workshops and fellowship.

On Tuesday morning, the Rev. Lori Raible of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian in Charlotte, N.C. and the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors of Brown Memorial Park Ave Presbyterian in Baltimore, Md., both leaders in the organization gave an update on NEXT.

“When we started the gathering our goal was not to create space to make sure we all agree,” said Raible, “but through a variety of diverse speakers and conversations our perceptions are challenged about the work of the church and our positions in that work and ultimately, who God is.”

NEXT was founded on the conviction that “we believe that God is active in the world and we are called to be a part of that action,” said Connors. “If the church is going to be a part of what God is doing in the world then we have to pay attention to how we are all in relationship with each other, because the church is — in essence — God’s people in relationship with a purpose.”

The conference participants were told that NEXT is more than a national gathering: “We are about more than talking.”

Realizing that “we need to do what we say at NEXT Church,” Raible said that the leadership team set a “new diversity benchmark with a goal of being 50 percent non-white by 2017.” Currently, NEXT has a racial diversity of 30 percent.

Last year, they said, NEXT partnered with other organizations to host a retreat at Montreat Conference Center for 150 newly ordained people, partnered with the Board of Pensions to host a second web site specifically geared toward the newly ordained in the church, held five regional gatherings and just completed a national listening campaign, hearing from nearly 500 leaders in the country through 50 small gatherings.

In other news, the organization has received a grant to explore the question “How do we measure the faithfulness and success of ministry in both traditional and experimental settings?”

A fund-raising pitch was also given.

“Last year we raised $118,000 which covered an amazing director, a creative part time specialist, a dynamic young adult volunteer, an awesome web site, a Beyonce soundtrack and a case of Miller Lite,” they said

The money came from 30 congregations and 50 individuals. “We need your support. We need to be able to continue not only the national gathering, but the great work of revitalizing our relationships with the conviction of God is at work among us. Plus you all know how expensive Miller Lite is.”

“As long as our denomination is in transition we know that there will be work for us to do,” said Raible,” and we just need some help doing it. We need you to invest.”


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NEXT Church: Say ‘Yes’ to the unexpected plans of God

NextCHARLOTTE, N.C. – Greeters stood at all of the entrances to the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., on both days of the two-day NEXT Church conference, giving everyone who entered a brightly colored stole to wear around their neck.


While these stoles, which at times were called ribbons, were solid colors, they were a reminder of the multi-colored stoles, or scarves, worn at other Presbyterian Church (USA) events that signify support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lobby. While the lobby has succeeded in opening ordination in the PCUSA to LGBT people, they are now focused on allowing PCUSA pastors to perform same-sex marriages in their churches.


A screen shot from the documentary Love Free or Die.

Bearing witness to the connection between the agenda of NEXT Church and the LGBT lobby, those who arrived for the conference early were treated to a free screening of Love Free or Die: How the Bishop of New Hampshire is changing the world, a documentary on Gene Robinson, a former priest who after leaving his wife and two children to live with his homosexual partner, was consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA).


The NEXT Church Conference, attended by approximately 600 people, was held March 4-5 at First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C. The mission of NEXT Church is to “foster relationships among God’s people: sparking imaginations; connecting congregations; offering a distinctively Presbyterian witness to Jesus Christ. Trusting in God’s sovereignty and grace,  NEXT Church will engage the church that is becoming by cultivating vital connections, celebrating emerging leadership and innovation, and working with congregations and leaders to form and reform faith communities.”


Jessica Tate, director of NEXT Church, was the preacher at the opening worship service held March 4. Before coming to NEXT, she served as an associate pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia.


Her sermon included texts from the first and second chapters of Luke – the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.


“The story is so familiar,” said Tate. “Anyone who stops and thinks about it will tell you it is unbelievable. … How did we get to this strange and awe-filled moment? Someone had to say yes to the unexpected plans of God.”


After pausing for a dramatic reading of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, Tate continued, “I wonder how she did it – how Mary found it within herself to agree to become the mother of God?”


Tate acknowledged that Gabriel was not asking Mary to do this task, he was telling her, but “let’s set all that aside and wonder what made her put down her Martha Stewart Wedding Planner and pick up What to Expect When You’re Expecting. How did she set aside her fear and give up control?”


Mary had a lot to lose, Tate said. Unlike Christians today, she did not know the end of the story, but “somehow Mary found the gritty faith to enter the uncertainty … to allow for the unexpectedness of God and to allow salvation to be born.”


Tate said that “we know the end of the story and how it will change the world. …. It teaches us how to inhabit this space of radical availability to God, and in that space, salvation is more than an idea, it becomes an experience. It becomes God with us.”


“We don’t inhabit that space very well,” Tate said. “We don’t open ourselves to radical unexpectedness enough.”


Tate spoke about how churches prepare for worship services or fellowship times, but she wondered if perhaps, “we prepare God right out of our plan and our lives. If we set out to do just what we can control.” She said Christians then can put God right out of the equation.


“Where is the space for God to show up and surprise us? Where is the space for the good news of salvation?” she asked.


Tate said that controlling behavior is a symptom of fear, and she listed several fears in the world today, including financial, gun violence, cancer battles and dementia.


Trying to control fear, Tate said “we hoard, we calculate where we can risk without exposing our underbellies. … Maybe that is why angels always start by saying, ‘Do not be afraid,’ because we are perpetually afraid.”


But it isn’t just fear that binds people. It is also the unknown, said Tate. “We don’t know what to do and how to do it. We can pull off a potluck lunch after service … We know how to do these things, but inviting people to worship, reaching out, changing our way of being church so that we go out to be an exhibition of the Kingdom to the world, we don’t know how to do that, and we close ourselves off.”

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Freedom to improvise

NextWhen most of us hear the term “improv,” we think of a comedy routine performed on stage. But Ashley Goff is encouraging the use of improv as part of liturgy.

During the NEXT Church national gathering at First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte March 5, Goff discussed the use of improvisation in worship services, calling it “the practice of freedom.”

Goff, ordained in the United Church of Christ, is the minister for Spiritual Formation at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) in Washington, D.C., an urban, More Light denomination of some 80-90 people.

While noting that people usually associate improv with comedy, Goff said it is not a means of developing a comedy troupe, but rather a method of creating unscripted moments in worship, allowing spontaneity to take over.

“We need to unearth a newness and creativity,” she said. “We need to say ‘yes’ to unexpectedness.”

Using audience members, Goff demonstrated an exchange of energy and motion throughout the expansive sanctuary at FPC-Charlotte, engaging them in sounds and motions that were mimicked in a loud and boisterous way.

“ZIP, ZAP, ZOP,” were just a few of the sounds voiced by audience members as they tried their hand at Goff’s improvisational style of worship for a few moments.

Goff noted the framework that tends to be present in worship settings but pointed to improv as a means of pushing the borders while staying with tradition.

She said that improv in the worship setting is spontaneous creation, balancing structure, discipline and freedom. It’s a matter of trust and real-life situations that emerge through being attentive, awake and living on the edge of your seat. She added that improv is collaborative and involves interdependence, taking risks and saying “yes” to what is happening.

“There is no ‘no’ in improv,” she declared. “It is all considered risk, and there are no mistakes.”

Goff theorized that liturgy practices freedom, noting that it takes place in homes and churches.

“We share a meal, we share drink, we share the Eucharist and stories of Jesus,” she said. “It does not all have to be scripted on a piece of paper or in a bulletin. It’s liturgy that practices freedom. It was freedom Jesus called for so that when His followers went out into the world they would know how to demand freedom.”

Goff declared that improvisation and stressing creativity in worship without following a script has been vital to the health of Pilgrims since she arrived there in 1999.

“It has been a building block, a master key to unlocking creativity and getting us where we are today,” she said, again referring to improv as a non-traditional approach to worship that still adheres to traditional tenets.

Goff pointed out what can be created by using improv as a prescribed method of liturgy.

She said it would develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit while joining the congregation as the Body of Christ. It interrupts the familiar and leads to new patterns of worship while allowing the Christian life to be lived out in a moment of uncertainty.

“It’s a transformative experience that gets us on the gospel script and paying attention to the voices of the Holy Spirit,” Goff proclaimed. “It creates worship without domination, which is participation in the divine nature. I think what improv does is allow you to experience your faith in moments of uncertainty.”


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The development of one-on-one relationships

NextRelationship building as a means of community organizing was the focal point of a discussion facilitated by Pastor Patrick Daymond during the NEXT Church national gathering in Charlotte.

Speaking at First Presbyterian Church on March 5, Daymond highlighted the need to develop meaningful one-on-one relationships in dealing with others, all in an attempt to build up the church community.

“It’s very important for the church of today and the NEXT Church,” said Daymond, senior pastor at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, N.Y.

“Americans are among the loneliest people in the world,” Daymond continued. “For most of us having access to people is not the issue. We can follow on Facebook or Twitter. But most of us have a very skewed definition of what a meaningful relationship is. Not many of us engage in meaningful face-to-face communication.”

While speaking from a societal point of view regarding the lack of meaningful communication, Daymond also associated that same issue to the church.

“It’s not just a problem with society at large, it’s also a problem in our congregations,” Daymond said. “It’s not too often that we have heart-to-heart, one-on-one communication with our fellow church members. So, we can draw the conclusion that something is missing between people and congregational life.”

Daymond pointed out that sharing between people should be an integral part in congregational life to bring the kingdom of God to earth, to enhance and uplift human life.

“Our world is plagued by a myriad of problems, and people are looking for answers,” Daymond said. “To deal with the problems effectively, many like us gathered in this room work together in large numbers. But it’s those relationships that are vital to connections in the community. The point I want to emphasize is the quality of the larger world we live in is determined by the quality of our one-on-one relationships.”

So why emphasize one-on-one relationships? Well, Daymond said they allow for invitation, connection, self-interest, evaluation and issue clarification. He spoke specifically about engaging others in a task and holding them accountable, making them feel responsible for what takes place.

Daymond said self-interest also is a key in one-on-one relationships when it comes to community building.

“We don’t want people to be selfish, and we don’t want people to be selfless,” he said. “I don’t believe we serve a God who wants us to be walked all over. What we want to be is self-interested, not only in the interests we hold dear but those of the organization we’re working with.”

Daymond added that the one-on-one scenarios work when people are on the same page and understand the passion others have in a particular cause.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said.

He told members in attendance that one-on-one settings should be public but personal conversations between individuals that link them into the larger organization

“The aim is pragmatic and instrumental,” he said. “It is to link the person into the larger organization and give the organization the ability to act. It’s more than just becoming a friend.”

The goals, Daymond said, are to develop a relationship, discuss the self-interest and ask the person to act, drawing them in to the community being built.

“People turn to the church (staff) to help with problems. The goal of community organizing is to help people understand that pastors alone can’t fix these problems,” he said. “It takes the engagement of the whole church to deal with them. We have to become the living body of faith with the responsibility of bringing to kingdom of God to earth.”

Doing that requires relationships with others rather than dwelling in a state of loneliness.

“It’s no secret ours is a culture craving relationships,” Daymond said. “We were designed to live in relationships. Without them, we die. God created us to be in relationships, and the church has an opportunity to be reborn, renewed through them. The church and society will only be as strong as the most meaningful relationships.

“Community organizing has a lot to teach us. The question is: Are we willing to learn?”

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