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?

Author: katyandtheword

Pastor Katy has enjoyed ministry at New Covenant since 2010, where the church has solidified its community focus. Prior to that she studied both Theology and Christian Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also served as an Assistant Chaplain at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and as the Christian Educational Coordinator at Bethany Presbyterian at Bloomfield, NJ. She is an writer and is published in Enfleshed, Sermonsuite, Presbyterian's today and Outlook. She writes prayers, liturgy, poems and public theology and is pursuing her doctorate in ministry in Creative Write and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She enjoys working within and connecting to the community, is known to laugh a lot during service, and tells as many stories as possible. Pastor Katy loves reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, theater, arts and crafts, music, playing with children and sunshine, and continues to try to be as (w)holistically Christian as possible. "Publisher after publisher turned down A Wrinkle in Time," L'Engle wrote, "because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was too difficult for children, and was it a children's or an adult's book, anyhow?" The next year it won the prestigious John Newbery Medal. Tolkien states in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegories and that the story was not one.[66] Instead he preferred what he termed "applicability", the freedom of the reader to interpret the work in the light of his or her own life and times.

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