Church

Remember That Time When Someone Interrupted Diana Butler-Bass?

I’ve written about Diana Butler-Bass on this blog a lot. So let me use this space to tell you about the time she was speaking at an event I helped organize and someone in the audience stood and shouted out in the middle of her presentation. Yeah, that happened.

“I’m sorry Diana!” she abruptly shouted from the balcony, and every muscle in my body tensed up. I knew something like this might happen here, on this second evening of our national conference, when, concurrently, Butler-Bass would be addressing a sanctuary of over 700 people and two presbyteries on the east coast would be casting potentially decisive votes to ratify 14-f, the amendment that will give PC(USA) clergy permission to perform same-gender marriages. We warned her beforehand that, should news of a decisive vote hit Twitter during her talk, there could be some disruption.

I knew it could happen, and still everything in me froze. It felt wrong and rude and like a derailing of something I’d worked on. I sighed a deep sigh as the interruption continued. “Amendment 14-F just passed. Everyone can marry!” Immediate applause. Almost as immediate standing ovation, an ovation that lasted well over a minute.

With each passing second of that ovation the tension I felt between decorum and consideration on the one hand and righteous celebration on the on the other hand relaxed and reclined into celebration. We firmly believe in creating space in the middle for people who don’t agree to feel heard and respected, and some feared that this celebration compromised that middle space. But I think the middle has moved on us, and trying to hold this space is like holding a hotel reservation long after the band has left town.

Diana was gracious. She welcomed the Presbyterians on behalf of the Episcopalian Church, which is years ahead of us in recognizing same-gender marriages. Then she incorporated the event into her presentation like it was planned all along.

I heard someone denounce the celebration as evidence that NEXT has made up its mind on this issue and is not truly neutral. But the NEXT church was always going to be about inclusion, inclusion as a practice and an ethos, though, and not simply an Issue. This gathering normalized inclusion in concrete ways; preachers told stories about transgender members and about their same-gender partners. And, of course, the entire assembly stood and cheered the achievement of marriage equality.

I don’t think that celebration compromises NEXT’s ability to be a space for people who disagree or who aren’t lauding 14-f’s passage. It seemed to me an authentic response that demonstrated the heart of the Church that will be NEXT.

Standard
NEXT Church, PC(USA)

How Will #nextchurch2015 Know If It Worked?

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for examplehere,here, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

Here’s my first question:

Here’s my second question:

Here’s my third question:

And now my fourth question . . .

How will we know if NEXT Church 2015 was a success?

There will be over 600 people there. Is that success? There’s a program full of recognizable names–preachers, speakers, and workshop leaders who are considered “experts” at what they do. Is getting them success?

Maybe you only know if gatherings like this worked much later, when people who were there trace their transformation back to it as the moment they learned something new or started important relationships or made a vocational decision or encountered God’s grace. Maybe if enough people do that it worked on a church-wide scale.

Evaluations will tell you if your thing worked as a thing: was the food good? Did the content connect with peoples’ expectations and experience? Was your communication clear? But we want our thing to move the needle in ways that don’t show up on evaluations. How do we know if that’s happened/ing?

Standard
NEXT Church

What Impact Will Young Adults Have on #nextchurch2015?

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for examplehere,here, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

Here’s my first question:

Here’s my second question:

Now my third question: what will be the impact of young adults?

The Mainline Protestant landscape is largely absent people in their 20’s, a fact that has been analyzed by multiple studies. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is not exempt from this reality, but it boasts a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program that each year commissions young adults to a year of service in a couple dozen sites in the U.S. and across the world. The PC(USA) is crawling with recent college graduates eager to impact the world, then. They’re just not in congregations.

NEXT Church national gatherings have featured young voices from the beginning, and I wonder if this one won’t do that to a greater extent than before. A Young Adult Volunteer is on the planning team and has already shaped much of what will happen. McCormick Theological Seminary’s innovative Center for Faith And Service will be on hand in the person of the incomparable Wayne Miesel, who has done more than anyone to shape the church’s thinking about ministry with young adults. One of the seven Ignite presentations will feature a trio of YAVs (see their pitch below).

Young adults–including those in seminary–will have lots of opportunity next week to connect, share, and even organize around their vision for the next embodiment of the Presbyterian Church.

There’s a YAV from my congregation coming next week at my insistence, so I’ve obviously got high hopes that NEXT Church 2015 will provide her and her peers with both an imaginative environment for discerning their place in the PC(USA) and a platform to constructively shape its future.

Standard
NEXT Church

What Can Non-Pastors Do with #nextchurch2015?

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for example here,here, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

Here’s my first question:

And now my second question:

Will this gathering equip non-pastors to lead in the church?

There will be significant leadership at this event from educators, non-profit executives, and entrepreneurs. NEXT has always lifted up the importance of Ruling Elder leadership, ever since the first gathering in Indianapolis, when the late Cynthia Bolbach–herself a Ruling Elder and General Assembly Moderator–pointed out the overwhelming majority of Teaching Elders (pastors) in attendance.

Are we getting closer?

George Srour is a Ruling Elder from Indianapolis who will describe the organization he’s built that is constructing school all over Africa.

Anita Ford is an elementary school principal who will help explain how her school partnered with a church to create a children’s music program. Charles Kerchner, an academic who specializes in public education, will also be part of that presentation. Charles is one of five Ruling Elders coming from the congregation I serve.

Bill Habicht is a pastor, but he calls himself a “common good and social media conspirator,” and he spends a lot of time working with non-pastors to form things like art collectives and coffee shops.

It certainly feels like a opportunity more attuned to the particular leadership gifts of those for whom ministry is not their job, so I’m eager to see what all the non-pastors will do with it. How many do you know who are coming?

Standard
Four Questions For NEXT Church 2015, NEXT Church

Will #nextchurch2015 Move The Church Toward Racial Justice?

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for example here, here, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

So, my first question:

The fouled up racial reality of the American context is more clearly in focus today than it has been for years, at least as measured by the mainstream media discourse. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are household names, and #blacklivesmatter is necessary to state now. How will the urgency of racial justice inform what happens next week?

A colleague shared this in an email yesterday:

I still have my same concerns about the church in general and about NEXT in particular. The events of the past six months, especially events around Ferguson, have even heightened my sense of concern for organizations that are predominantly led and and membered by privileged white people, including organizations like the PC(USA) and NEXT Church. I’ll be interested to see if your conference makes any movement this year compared to the last several years I’ve attended.

One way to measure movement toward racial justice in a gathering like this is by looking at who’s up front. NEXT has always work hard at diverse racial representation among its leadership, even if the PC(USA) is a mostly white palette from which to draw.

Among others, this year’s gathering will hear from Chineta Goodjoin, the Organizing Pastor of a new African-American church in Orange County, as well as Tiffany Jana, who heads a consulting firm with her husband Matt that helps organizations harness the power of diversity (watch her TED Talk below).

This year’s theme, “Beyond: Our Walls, Our Fears, Ourselves” lends itself well to addressing the church with urgency to explicitly address its witness to a world in which police officers openly send racist emails, fraternity brothers at a prominent university chant “hang ’em from a tree” with glee, and young black men are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police.

It’s on us to push things in the direction of justice and reconciliation. I expect next week’s gathering to offer concrete ways to do that.

Standard