Next Church

I’ve now been going to Next Church so long that I don’t really know if it’s been 8 or 9 or however many years.

It hasn’t been the whole time, but a couple years in I started going to the movement NextChurch and saw it become more established.

I have gone every year since, including online.

I value and love Next Church. I think its the beginning of the work the Church needs to be doing.

Reasons why I keep coming: It is a place to feel excited about church, it is a place where I was seen and affirmed, it is a place that is doing some of the cutting edge work of church and trying to bring it to the attention of larger church, it had actual workshops that might work for a teeny-tiny church that wasn’t necessarily in a thriving metropolis (unlike most of the conferences for churches),

I go because it positioned itself clearly as a place of hope for the church.

It was a place where pronouns are the norm and gay marriage was announced as completely passed, and we partied like the future church we wanted to be, some of in a way we could never party at home.

it also continually called me on my whiteness, and had great worship and was always super-super contextual in such a way that every single speaker opened with; I wasn’t going to say yes to doing this, and then I heard your topic….

For a lot of us as pastors, Next Church was way more of our home church than our Presbytery ever would be. Our Presbyteries which would not listen, let us lead, much less imagine a church different than what it is.

Then some of the leadership became busy, becoming a part of the greater work of the church, the more established Next Church became, the more in demand the leadership became–in their Presbyteries, other boards, GA, etc. Stretching their gifts in what was no doubt creative ways; perhaps giving them hope that all of these entities will also become more hopeful and progressive in their policies, polities, etc.

In the meantime, Next Church discovered itself not to live up to its ideals. Places where Next Church struggles: It is, we aren’t the anti-racist organizations we want to be. (It’s still primarily a white woman’s conference), It’s not very intersectional: poverty, disabilities, etc tend to be shunted to the side, it became the mascot of the denomination: a place for the PCUSA to point to all the work that is continually in committee but not actually getting done. So much for our leadership hitting the mainstream.

Then Covid came–and all the pastors who have been shouldering a lot of the transformative work of the church, became super exhausted. I heard that the Festival of Homiletics was about trauma, turns out many many pastors are traumatized by the church, welp I’m not surprised. If this is true for those of us white pastors in the church; how much more is this true for our marginal siblings.

Many, many pastors who are in the middle of their careers are quitting ministry altogether. I’ve talked to something around 40 pastors in the PCUSA for whom that is true.

Most of my colleagues did not even start ministry, because I graduated during the recession, more quit than usual. There are basically no ministers my age (comparatively).

I attended Next Church this year, which was still beautiful, affirming and imperfectly important, I can tell the leaders are exhausted. And I frankly, don’t know who they would hand it off to even if they had the energy to which lets be clear it makes perfect sense that they don’t at this point.

Because despite my phone calls, conversations and letters to anyone who would listen; I have found little to no direct and immediate support for exhausted pastors.

And all I can think is the same thing I have been telling every single mid-level pastor I have met who has been telling me that they have been leaving ministry: I value all the work you have done, and if that work needs to end, it needs to end. Be blessed, and thank you for all that you have done.

I am angry that most of the things Next Church wanted to do became ultimately sidelined. The Antiracist work is even more incomplete than anyone might wish, but then again there is little to no back up “at home” if Next Church is at the starting line, most of our churches and Presbytery and GA are not even at the starting line.

I am sad that all the things people at Next Church want: Antiracist statements and work, Family Leave, Oil Divestment, Broader support of LGBTQIA people, Reparations for POC churches, Revolution in the Seminary Systems, Better Systems for the Ordinations tests especially for those with disabilities, equity in pay for ministers across the board, reform in the pensions system, a broad look in healthcare for non-ordained staff, and on and on has been ignored by the larger church or tabled or relegated to a committee at GA.

It feels as if as long as Next Church was doings some of the work, the greater church could do less of it.

I’ve had some people ask me, what’s up with Next Church. That’s my overall take on it. I’m not on the board, so I’m sure there is way more no going on than what I perceive but this is my own opinion which belongs to me. I know its not perfect, but it definitely fed me, and as its status is in question, because everyone is exhausted, I ask again the question I have been raising

as Presbyteries are held together with string and duct tape

and Pensions Board has only upped relief marginally, when deep Sabbath is urgently needed yesterday

And the Foundation continues the bulk of their offerings are for mid to large and metropolitan not to mention white perspectives

And I see the few Pastors around my age burn out, more and more.

I guess I’m offering the question back to the church in general.

What’s up with Next?

Era, A Prayer

It’s the end of an era

God, you know it and I know it.

Doors are slamming shut;

some of us have had our fingers pinched in them,

some of us have breathed sighs of relief at the ensuing silence afterwards.

It’s the end of an era–

We have not entered post-pandemic, post-capitalism, or post-racism

sadly

but we are post-something.

It’s the end of the world as we knew it,

Apocalypses continue to unfold, and Some of us are wringing our hands,

while other of us breathe in the fresh air

while others of us get to work (finally).

Jesus is this how it felt in the world of Acts?

With the politics all whirly, and no one knowing who they belonged to anymore?

And the things being torn down seemingly at random?

Is this why people fought over whether they belonged to Paul or Apollos

or Trump or Biden?

How was the church built in that era of chaos?

How did the the Lydias and Tabithas do it?

As people ask why things are different,

I laugh

Because you know God, that mostly

things are the same,

People have just finally noticed.

God walk with us as we enter this new era–

you’ve been with us so far.

Amen.

Feel Free to use/adapt/Share with Credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Crummy Confession

Loving God

We confess that sometimes we aren’t sure how to relax, that sometimes it feels like a burden, or this thing we have to figure out. 

Or a reward that I can only receive after we have completed after we have done every single thing on the list. 

I also confess that when we feel crummy, and are given crumbs of Sabbath—that doesn’t help.

That too often Sabbath looks like this piecemeal, cobbled together, misshapenned monstrosity that happened throughout the day, or week, and so we aren’t sure if its good enough or counts, as if someone is grading the Sabbath—

when I know, deep, in my bones, 

that the abundance of Sabbath your promise is supposed to be a promise, not threat

and that you would never grade my rest-keeping

and that the point is to know my belovedness, and to relish myself, not to take a million bubble-baths or try to fix myself

You know, God, how I don’t give space for others to be free either–because I have all of this baggage, and its just, not good!

I confess I need all the help this Sabbath thing!

Forgive me God, For thinking that this Sabbath thing is all up to me.

Help us to find Sabbath

in better systems

in safer communities

and in ourselves we pray.

Amen.

Feel Free to Use/Adapt/Share with Credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Truth: A Prayer

Guns don’t spell peace

Just like White Supremacy can’t define Jesus

And Transphobia doesn’t protect families–but breaks them

And making abortion illegal, never, ever prevents abortions

God,

How can we humans be so confused

as to take the truth and completely

misconstrue it

so that somehow we make Christianity about power

and Church about politics?

Sometimes I think about this and I think,

only us humans are silly enough to mess up

messages as simple and easy as:

Love and serve one another

or the last shall be first.

Yet here we are God,

Tangling Truths around our Tongues,

Tricking ourselves, with comforting lies.

Ignoring the whisper of the Holy Spirit that says:

Fear Not.

Nothing can separate you from the Love of God

You can never be replaced.*

I hope you have some truth for us today, God.

Some clear, cool and collected truth,

gathered into the waters of baptism–

spilling into our hearts and souls.

Because we need your truth.

Help us to tell ourselves the truth

I pray.

We pray.

Amen. Feel Free to share/adapt/use with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

*replacement theory is a dangerous white supremacist theory that white Americans are being replaced usually by Jewish and Black People and it promotes violence and terrorism against said “replacement” races and religions. It is dehumanizing, bigoted, wrong and as stated a terrorist training ground. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/15/us/replacement-theory-shooting-tucker-carlson.html

Imprecation

God,

I call you might and power

Against Guns

Violence

Racism

I REJECT this evil.

All the violence and the ongoing bombing across the nations

that is so commonplace, we don’t even report it anymore.

I reject all Violence,

What I’m saying is…

Peace of Prince; you need to deal with this.

And as for the ongoing fires, floods, tornados and hurricanes of the earth

Whew…Lord. I don’t know, because we have just done so little,

(so I’m sneaking in a prayer about that too)

I also deny the evil that prevents

Trans girls from playing soccer

Trans Families from taking care of their children

Trans Individuals from accessing healthcare

I call God’s judgement on you–because Lord Knows its above my pay grade.

I call God down upon those govern and who want to

force pregnancy and birth on all people, risking their lives, livelihood, liberty and happiness

but cannot keep enough baby formula on the shelves, free school lunches or childcares open

May God have mercy upon you, in the sweet and loving way that God because I do not even know what to do with this information.

God I am calling you–who gave your very body and blood as the sacrifice for peace–you who always set the table overflowing so every single person could eat,

You who never ask someone their immigration, sexuality or gender status before you heap their plates with food, and extras and leftovers to take home with the communion feast–

I ask you to come down here and talk to these people.

Because I am done with your Children today.

Amen.

Feel free to use/adapt/Share with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Do You Reject Evil

One of our baptismal Question is Do you reject Evil?

In the Belhar Confession there is a rejection piece that condemns wrongdoing–and I find myself, over and over again, condemning the bad things that have happened.

So here’s me practicing my rejection and denounciation of evil!

I condemn senseless murder. All of it. I condemn that African-Americans are unduly targeted, I condemn that trans women of color are the most murdered and abused of our population, I condemn the ways our Latinx, Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Native Americans (as well as countless other minorities) are silenced and erased, I condemn small children being run over on holiday, I condemn people dying who were dancing, I condemn the violence against those who use the bathrooms who don’t look gender conforming, I condemn all efforts to divide by calling some groups racists and others anti-police.

I condemn gun violence. All of it.

In the name of The Belhar confession I condemn any threat to unity and recognize that separation is a sin Christ has already defeated. I will continue to work towards unity and reject the sins that are prejudice, separation and bigotry.

I am done with it. No more!

I will stand behind every humans right to live, breathe, laugh and love no matter who they are. I will resist the temptation to compare and separate and will work to treat all humans like the creations of God they are!

Prayer for Formula (Manna)

God,

What was the apocalypse Like

Wandering in the desert

with no food to eat

Was it like

no formula

for babies?

Or rising gas prices?

Or the Grocery Bills that are just too high!

Or jobs aplenty,

but no childcare?

Was it the choice between

Living somewhere you’ve lived

your whole life;

but your body was on the line

if your gender was in question

or your pregnancy?

Is this why the Jews grumbled?

God, it makes one wonder

Why humans choose diseases,

death and enslavement over…

other kinds of apocalypses.

God, I’m praying because

there are too many apocalypses right now…

and I have a feeling

we are about to wander in the desert.

So if you could give us some manna

along the way,

It would be appreciated.

Especially, for the babies,

Thank God for for formula

May it flow plentiful again soon!

I wouldn’t mind any peacocks

Or affordable chicken

or sweet dew or affordable milk and eggs either.

Selah.

Amen.

Feel Free to use/Adapt/Share with Credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Ducks & Wild Geese

Duck, Duck, Wild Goose!

katyandtheword

Lord God, I know that my ducks aren’t in a row,

because I don’t even know what my ducks are anymore.

How do I prioritize when everything is important? How do I do self care when my hours are chunked in weird ways and the schedule remains nebulous and to the wind.

Even when I breathe sighs of relief, or take moments of joy…I know that the ducks are waiting.

Sometimes they quack at me in the middle of the night, awakening me with all the things I’ve forgotten, or all the problems I’m not sure how to solve.

Lord knows, (that’s you God) that I don’t have my ducks in a row.

My work is never perfect no matter how much I try, my kids need more attention than ever (not to mention socialization) and I can’t seem to find a minute for myself.

Plus everything is different, still!…

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Anti-Mother’s Day Prayer

This is a prayer for the ones aren’t mothers

The ones who claimed their bodies

and said, not right now,

or no,

Or whose babies couldn’t,

wouldn’t be–and so they wept a thousand tears, and said goodbye

before they had an abortion.

Here’s a prayer for those for whom the decision was quick,

and definite, because there was no time for anything else–and no room for any other decision to be made. And you know that God.

Here’s a prayer for those who felt too young or too old to bring a child into their lives; there are reasons why Sarai laughed folks,

This is a prayer for those who had too many children–do we know why Abraham and his coat of many colors and his stepmother died– and those who work too many hours, and those who do not feel like they would make good parents–Abraham I’m looking at you.

This is a prayer for those who were raped–like Bathsheba , whose bodies were violated who then had to make a hard decision afterwards.

Here’s a prayer for the widows or those hungry or alone or in hard situations like Naomi and Ruth. Here’s a prayer for those who choose sex work, who cannot be pregnant right now, the Rahabs who work in good faith.

This is a prayer those who might have wanted a child, but were definitely too unsupported–the would be Marys if they could have been–but they would have gotten thrown out, or who would have been in danger if they had said child–the ones who gave up their child, physically or medically because was just not to be–the Moses’s mothers of the world.

Here’s a prayer for the trans and the nonbinary people for whom healthcare and pregnancy or cost or some other piece was just too dangerous, I’m so sorry.

Here’s a prayer for the black and brown women, for whom birth control and abortion has become a tool of white supremacy to poke into their sex lives and to make them feel dirty–for all the Hagars of the world.

Here’s a prayer for all those who are not mothers, for whom abortion was healthcare, may you feel affirmed and blessed,

and know that there is no excusing faith becoming a weapon, to hem you in or to beat you up.

This is a prayer for all those who had moments of not-being mothers,

because Jesus knows that are beautiful, you are important, your choices are valid.

And he greets you by the well, and understands and affirms your decisions, and calls you lovingly, by name.

This is an anti-mother’s day prayer for you.

May you hold this prayer close when things get hard,

and know that God loves your full self,

the part that said no,

to say yes to a thousand other things–

God knows you and loves you.

May you feel blessed.

Amen.

Feel free to use/adapt/share with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Did She Want to Get Up?

The Resurrection of Tabitha/Dorcas is truly a wonderful miracle. There is Peter, and there are all the widows taking care of her who stand as witness as he says, Tabitha get up. To me, the most amazing part is, she does. She must have loved her discipleship. She must have had things to do on earth. Because part of me wonders if Tabitha laid down because she was really, really tired, so tired that she was burned out. In a time where more than half of women admit to being burned out according to Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/deloitte/2022/04/26/women-continuing-to-face-alarmingly-high-levels-of-burnout-stress-in-the-new-normal-of-work/?sh=12cd72432e5c

What kind of world are we running where we decide that the women of our society are allowed to be run off their feet? It’s ok to work our women to death—a truth I think which has only been laid bare by the pandemic. Certainly, most of our churches are primarily run and kept in order by women. And the more that is put on women’s plates, the less the church is able to do—plain and simple.

One of the main reasons Christianity grew was because it empowered women—it is shocking to see it as a place that now conversely hems women in. Shutting them up, taking away their individuality, sexuality, independence and power—regulating them to baby making volunteers for Jesus. A place where abortion becomes a dividing vote: https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/03/politics/abortion-politics-analysis/index.html Meanwhile, Acts makes it clear that the women were the original founders and financiers of the church, making disciples and decisions going forward.

I imagine that Tabitha wanted to get up because she had more good works to do—because she found the charity work in her life fulfilling, because she was a woman who empowered women. Why else would all the widows be there? Widows, who are politically powerless, but clearly have purpose beyond baby making in Tabitha’s world. They are the ones who are present. They are very, very important.

I am tired, of being angry that less women are employed now than when my mom was in the job market. That all women of color are especially being left behind: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/over-1-million-fewer-women-in-labor-force.aspx That abortion rights are receding.

That my queer siblings are unsafe, that genders are clearly & stupidly divided (by baby making abilities) and uteruses are a commodity to be bought and sold and that my value to many is about how many Christian white babies I can make—and that I am not a real pastor to most because I am a woman. I am tired, and very, very angry.

But I am reminded, that resurrection in Jesus Christ, is complete resurrection, one of joy and energy and that the work is good, and moreover—the widows are waiting. So I guess I better get up and get to work.

A version of this appears in the resources available in “The Immediate Word” section of The Sermon Suite subscription resource that gives all kinds of help in sermon writing and worship planning: https://www.sermonsuite.com/the-immediate-word. I am a regular contributor, and my colleagues are fantastic writers if you are interested.

Shannon A Thompson

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