How to Care about #GA223 #PCUSA

My name is Katy Stenta and I’m the pastor of teeny tiny pastor 30 members, 60 congregants. I attended GA via twitter last year, when I broke my foot and was limited in the running around type of ministry I’m used to. I was so energized and excited about electing 2 women as CO-Moderators and our first African-American Clerk, gender-neutral bathrooms, etc.! I saw some problems (the Young Adult Advisory thing is still way weird and ageist, but still) I saw Vision 2020 unfold and thought the name for a committee that looks at the past and toward the future was perfect!

“The intention is there would be a new vision for the denomination” by the General Assembly in 2020, the proposal states. https://pres-outlook.org/2016/06/way-forward-committee-approves-2020-vision-team/ I’m ready for the vision.

But somehow, we are back to structure. And although it does affect me and my church, I cannot begin to explain what is going on to my church other than “we are trying to restructure.”

But I’d rather be telling my church “we as a denomination are finding our vision”

We with missionaries across the globe, we with a deep history of translating Bibles. We with our Belhar Confession, and our hope to address POC, queer, white culture, gun violence, economic injustice, hunger, etc. We, with more money than small nations are looking at our gifts. I want to say that we are doing the work of faith seeking understanding, that we are providing access to God to ALL people. We are becoming the denomination to go to learn about God.

I want us to be saying “We could plant 100 churches tomorrow if we wanted to”

“We could support a college intern at every church, to help them pay off their student loans and give them leadership skills for their passion”

I want to be able to say “Every local church is a welcome map, with a website that gives salient information about the neighborhood and area to every family in the community”

I want us to have denomination wide advocacy about racism and gun violence in a way that ties us together.

What if we had courses at every church and Louisville as a place to learn about God

I want us to be infinitely supportive of all our children going to camp, of all the chaplains of college and hospital ministries.

I want us to be actively training people to help our ageing population, and our special needs community.

I want us to be just place to work, where people say “go work for the Presbyterians, because they are awesome”

There are so many ideas we can do, and these are just mine. I want us to be in a position to do these great things and so many other, very doable things.

Why do I love church? Because it has the most potential to empower anyone, ANYONE, to do good works. If you have a good idea, church oughtta be a place where you can try to pursue. And age matters (less), Paperwork matters (less), we are still working on issues of justice but if you wanted to truly help people and got a couple of people on your team, church is a great place to pursue that passion.

And I don’t know what to do with a structure conversation which I barely can understand, despite being well-educated and trying to follow it.

I want us to get the structure to a place where it can work for us instead of obsessing about it.

And I am a born and raised Presbyterian, I love decent and in order. I love structures, I am a list person, I recite my schedule constantly, and I rely heavily on having a piece of paper for everything I do (like every stereotypical Presbyterian).

However, I know we can do better than this. This is not a plea to stop the structure conversation, but to try, our hardest, to move beyond it. Do you know HOW MANY PEOPLE applied to be on 2020 Vision Team? There are that many people excited for vision, excited to become the faith seeking understanding church, excited about what is just beyond the horizon.

We have so much potential, how can we help to pursue it?

#HolySaturday musings

Saturday is the breath caught, chest aching,

Its the moment when you don’t know if you are going to celebrate or cry

The heartbeat of one in the womb, the phone call with good or bad news, the applications that are awaiting decision.

Saturday is running the race, but not yet knowing who is going to win,

Its crying so much that you can’t recognize the person standing in front of you

Its the why moment.

Why, why, why? Why does this happen? What does this mean? What is the purpose behidn it all.

Saturday is the day of unanswerable questions,

the time of tangled mysteries,

the moment of mindless emotions.

Remember, God gives us that uncertainty, blesses it, and reminds us that we all have that moment of throat-catching, almost-not breathing.

The moment of full humanity,

Because God wants to remind us that our God is the one who catches us by surprise.

Even when we supposedly know what’s going to happen.

Maybe its should be known as Surprising Saturday Instead.

 

Prayers and Liturgy by Pastor Katy Stenta who is the solo pastor at a bigger on the inside church in Albany, NY and enjoys reading fantasy, soaking up sunshine, playing with her three sons and visiting her husband at his work, the library.

#Walkout #Prayer #Neveragain (The this is not enough prayer!)

Walkout Prayer

We come for sanctuary Knowing the world is not safe, so we do not trust in the power of mortals or princes but in the Lord, who executes justice–the one who feeds the hungry, and frees the captives.
Breath departs & plans perish, but our God is the God who promises peace, the God who says #neveragain, the God whose kingdom welcomes both the lion and the lamb.
We pray for that day to come.

And then we move, we ring bells, we sing out, we walkout, we post signs, we weep when 6 year olds play lock out, we listen as closely about the 17year old Trayvon Martin as we do to the 17 Parkland Students. We befriend one another, we call mental health when a friend feels violent, we take time to listen to those who are bullied, we report domestic abuse, we give homes to the homeless. We do the hard work of worrying about each other’s safety. And then we work to MAKE the places where we assemble safe. The movie theaters, the churches, the colleges, the kindergartens the high schools, the middle schools, the elementary schools, the daycares, the malls, the homes, the libraries, the public spaces.

And we make our prayer with the work of our hands, each and every day.

May we all pray this prayer together

Tasting #God

I look over as I raise my glass, the bread has been swallowed individually, because we are all individuals in Christ, and there is Westley, 7 years old and dead serious.

“This is the blood of the New Covenant, Friends, drink ye all of it” I pronounce. Westley holds his cup as steady as he can…and then he drinks it and we drink it.

And Westley tastes God.

Watching my autistic son take communion, being soothed by its ritual, experiencing the taste of the liturgy in community in a way the wordy-words of the sermon and even the half-warbled hymns from his throat doesn’t.

Westley loves church, because he knows he is loved. He knows he is accepted. Working on body language, empathy & instinct, Westley will run from the room if he feels unwanted. He knows. This little boy who doesn’t sit, not even in front of his beloved electronics without fiddling or bouncing or squishing. Sits solemnly throughout service. participating not just with the community, but as a part of it.

But this is his church, this is his space, he is growing up here. And for a little boy who has a lot of trouble speaking and understanding words, the bread and the cup (grape juice) speak to him.

For Westley, Communion is community, its love, its ritual, its sensational in all the right ways. Communion is the taste of God, the one-ness with humanity. Seeing Westley take Communion is holy ground, because we ask God to be present, and miraculously, God is there. God is in the little boy who carefully picks his bread from the platter, and eats it, waiting for the cup to be raised, so we can drink it, as communion.

 

Being Open to Interpretation, #faith

Faith is opening oneself up to interpretation. Laying your whole being and existence of the line in order to interpret

the who of oneself

the why of existence

the where to now of being

These interpretations are done, usually, using a text, speaking from the Presbyterian perspective that text is the Bible, followed by the Confessions of faith and the Book of Order (our rules/discipline/consistituational documents)

But opening ourselves up to interpretation means being open to the interpretations varying, and interpretations themselves to change, because GOD is not a static being.

Consistent and faithful–God can be counted on.

Generally most people think God does not change, altho this does little for the times in scripture when God changes God’s mind (go figure).

But I say, if God can change God’s mind so can we.

If God is not static, neither should our faith.

If something is not growing, its not alive, we want a lively faith, we need to be growing in our interpretation and our understanding.

I have learned so much, by listening closely to all those people whose faith is especially different than mine. To my one best friend who never was churched but has a strong sense of God and Jesus. To my other best friend who was raised more Pagan than anything else and has a strong sense of the Greek & Roman Mythos of the world.

To my siblings all of whom are millennials, none of whom attend church regularly.

To all the fellow-clergy on twitter & Facebook who are feeling our way through social justice issues and the state of the world.

To my LGBTQUIA community who can interpret scripture in ways that are beyond my ken as a hegemonic individual.

To my brown sibs and and black sibs who are empowered, loving and honest in ways that need to be heard.

Here I am, open to interpretation, and my faith informs that, and the scriptures equally are being interpreted and re-interpreted.

And I read the Bible, and that is Canon, but I read the other texts too, Langston Hughes and Madeline L’engle, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Malala Yousafzai, Elias Chacour, and so much more.

If you are asking a questions of faith, be sure to be open to interpretation, hard as it is.

For you know, that’s the kind of faith that will change you.

#PCUSA Overture for #lbgqt

I am writing in support of the overture to apologize to the lbgqt community (this is what you would say if you were at a meeting about this overture). I am in full support because I believe it to be more about safety & the lives of my lbqt family on the line.

(Also I am not representing my church or my Presbytery of Albany since I have not been authorized to make a statement on either behalf. A widely publicized opposing view is here)

Particularly I am thinking about my sister–who is trans and feels unsafe every time she uses the bathroom…or goes to church…or does a million other things. I am thinking of the fact that she lost a trans underclassman to suicide in the last couple of weeks. I will be speaking form the perspective of those who are trans because they are the least of these, within the least of these…the vulnerable in the midst of an already vulnerable community (esp. transgendered people of color, who my sister is not, but I am thinking of theirintersectionality issues of bigotry).  23 transgendered people were murdered in 2015 according to http://www.thetaskforce.org/stop-trans-murders/.

People’s lives are in danger and the church helped to perpetuate that danger. We have a responsibility.

I’m thinking of all those who are still receiving hurt, especially by way of the damaging legislation which started in North Carolina, and is being varied upon throughout the country in MS, GA, MI and TN.

Why not apologize?

  1. I have heard arguments about it being a breach of trust with those who have an conscientious objection to homosexual relationships.
  2. I have also heard it will cause turmoil on the floor; raising the hopes and dreams of our lbqt family only to crush them.

 

First is this apology a breach of trust?

 

My Presbytery proposed the following rationale to be added should we have supported the overture, clearly stating the intention to bring forth transparency not to “point the finger”

“Albany Presbytery acknowledges that the language in this overture may be perceived to single out specific groups within the denomination for criticisms. However, we believe the entire denomination, across all theological perspectives, should be invited into making amends. We would expect the General Assembly to address these perceptions as they deliberate action upon this overture.

“Furthermore, we concur with this overture as a first step in our pledge to work for an even deeper, denomination-wide, opportunity for healing and reconciliation across all theological and political lines, beyond the scope of this overture (up to and including the possibility of requesting a diverse church-wide task force on healing and reconciliation) and invite the General Assembly to join us in that pledge.

More importantly to the first point: Are we saying we did not hurt lbqt people? or Are we saying that they are not worthy of apology? Are we valuing the feelings of those who might disagree with us more than the rampant homelessness, depression, suicides & murder within the queer community? What are we afraid of, truly….

If the issue is hurt feelings of some that we work with vs. lives on the line for a marginalized people, I know where I stand. Its with justice.

As to the 2nd part, we might as well give up and go home now. You are afraid of raising the queer community’s hopes to crash them? Too late, we’ve been doing this for the last 40-50 years. I’ve got news they can take it. I’d rather speak to real hope of someday healing and reconciling than not speaking of the Dream that I have that someday all people can be counted by the content of their character rather than the orientation of their sexual and gender identities (what if Rev. Dr. King refused to raise hopes needlessly?)

A third, more quiet argument I’ve heard is that we can’t force an apology out of some of us who don’t believe it.

I agree.

But we have to start the hard work somewhere, we have to believe in healing. We have to hope. If we can’t hope, then I don’t know what God it is we are following. I hope for reconciliation between all of God’s people, I hope for a love that passes all understanding, I hope for the day when the Kingdom of God allows us to feast together.

If we don’t chose reconciliation it will because we value “being nice” over truth. I cannot help that this move is one that is made from our own privilege…we can wait on the apology because it doesn’t suit us yet…

I can’t believe that any move towards healing is a breach of trust…

And I say this as a pastor of a church that is slowly making its way towards understanding what true welcome of all people mean. I’ve done the hard work, and I know it is worth it. However, healing has to start somewhere, and I would prefer for us to discuss it at the national level, now, when so many are being hurt by US legislation.

That is why I am in favor of the apology overture.

PS: Love is a revolution, take a listen here http://thirtysecondsorless.net/revolution/

 

#GoodFriday (?!?) #emptiness

Good Friday is an emptiness so loud it echoes

The taste of hopelessness dry upon the the tongue

Its is the silence of all the voices that are not allowed to speak

My God, My God why have you abandoned Me?

Hell existing wherever and whenever love is impossible

Humans visit Hell all too frequently

When terrorists bomb, when children die, when hate masquerades as institutions or gospel or love

When our bodies betray us, when we are at the absolute end of everything we have to give, when sanctuary eludes us

It is the moment when we become stuck in the mire, knowing that even if someone wanted to help….they couldn’t

Emptiness Echoes

Somehow, Christ descended into Hell

The third day he rose again from the dead, conquering even death, even emptiness, even Hell

Making Love exist in impossible places

For Jesus came not to condemn the world, but to save it

Emptying himself

Because God loves the world, this impossible world

 

 

So…#farmersmarket @ #church=>Results

This is my third post in our Farmer’s Market Series

Why Farmer’s Market?

How Farmer’s Market?

Five years into running a farmer’s market we have the following results.

Neighborhood

The most often comment we get is that the “Farmers Market brings people together in a way they haven’t before.” We definitely see the community now. We love getting to know all the people int he neighborhood. Since getting people to church is not the goal (serving them is), we get to know many of our Jewish and Catholic friends as well.

Many people WALK to our farmer’s market, which is superfun

We have regulars! Last year we had about 4 Tuesdays where it didn’t rain at all, and yet approximately 400 people attend a week. Our word is spreading via natural talk, advertising and increasing our sign circumference in a considered fashion.

 

Community

We have about 20 groups that meet in our church building. Including over a dozen AAs, some other churches,  the playgroup and the nursery school students, the Neighborhood Association, Choirs, etc. The Farmer’s Market was definitely when some of these communities started to connect with one another, and us. The communication improved, and the church worked to serve as a community of these communities.

scrabbledisparateShared

Building a Community

The biggest result of the farmers market is difficult to communicate, because it is so huge. We have in essence started to build a community.

Starting with the Farmers: We set an amazing tone through two things 1. a Civility clause in the contract 2. our customer service. We required civility, but we also modeled it, lending chairs, helping farmers put up and take down their tents, asking what they needed, you know helping them out. We have a very small community market, but we are told ours is like no other. People are not mean-spirited or pushy, our vendors built a community, trading tips and goods, being genuinely kind. We are like no other market in this way.

Building more communities: Since the Farmer’s Market started, we have learned to be savvy about building events and communities off the market. We have offered exercise (for children and adults), conducted chicken BBQs both the week before and after the market, advertise our children’s events (ex: breakfast with Santa, Easter egg hunt). We have also art spaces including a community visual art show, putting on tiny theater plays, and paying local musicians a small fee to play at the market. We do this, because we want to support the community and build it up in as many ways as possible.expanded

Farmer’s Market Community: And of course we’ve built a community of people who want to go to a neighborhood farmers market. Some of them walk their children around, some of them drop by just to get dinner, some of them like to get out and chat, and some of them are hardcore local/organic followers. There is a lot of natural communication that goes on in a Farmers Market (what corn isn’t available all year? Strawberries are more expensive because of the frost). When you know your farmer you appreciate where your food comes from and how much work it takes to get it, and you start to consider what you consume in a slightly different way.

Millennials & Silent Generation: One of the best things about communities–and churches–are when multiple generations get together (its one of the church’s strengths in fact). The Farmers Market draws together millennials who are invested in cooking, bodies and the health of the planet, and the silent generation whose families often were farmers, who know how to and love cooking, and who remember and value farming.

Community Gardens: We have a small bin out at our Farmers Market. It doesn’t seem to get much every week, but two years ago 100 pounds of fresh vegetables were collected to redistribute in the urban food deserts, last year over 200 pounds were collected. This is the seed of extending to the community.

 

Church

Our church has changed. Always a community invested in serving our neighbor. Through the farmers market, we have found energy & purpose. We value the community and being in the community. We are shifting our perspective from sometime landlord with ministry to community participant and incubator. People have noticed, and our church has seen some growth. (We are teeny-tiny remember). We did not do a farmer’s market to grow the church, we did it to serve the community. This has made all the difference. We continue to strive to figure out how to serve the community, and if sometimes people find their way from the parking lot to the sanctuary, we are doubly blessed as a congregation of servants.

How to Farmers Market

When we started our Farmers Market we knew two things.

  1. We have a parking lot
  2. We wanted to be there to help and “man” a table

See the post on Why the church decided our ministry would be a farmers market

We had to figure out logistics: Time, Duration, Placement of Vendors, Parking, Cost, etc.

We started visiting Farmer’s Markets in the area. We kept on a lookout for when other farmers markets are…

TIME:

We decided right away, no to Saturday. Too much “competition” probably not enough vendors, plus I couldn’t commit to spending every Saturday at church.

We picked Tuesdays, there seemed to be different markets on other days, but none on Tuesdays (by the way, multiple markets nearby seem less important, just that they are not on the same DAY in the same Area). Plus we rent out our church a lot and Tuesday was an “open” time.

We decided to do 3-6pm. We wanted to hit the afterwork crowd, and we are nearby the state offices that begin releasing at 3:30, and a elementary school.

Duration:

The First summer we were only open June-Sept. The next year we expanded from May-October. The fall months are GREAT for veggies, the early months are better for craft vendors: people tend to buy from them only once and they aren’t spending much on food yet.

Cost:

Our parking Lot is free…so our cost is minimal. We decided the first year to invest some church money, but also to promise that all the dues will go back into advertising for the Farmer’s Market to get it off of the ground.

We decided to ask $25 to hold a spot, and $100 total for the four months. Costs were purposely lower than other markets. This was good, because we soon learned that farmers spend a LOT of money to get to the market. Then we made signs, lots of signs to put up around the city. We put them up every Tuesday and then took them back down (you avoid a lot of regs that way, plus people tend to notice moving signs more).

Farmers:

Getting Farmers to agree to try us out was HARD. (Nowadays we can give them two weeks to try us out). We weren’t established, and no one knew anything about it. The Farmers Market circuit is a tight one. Everyone knows each other.

I and a co-chair took turns calling everyone. We would tell them our principles (we will spend your fees on advertising), our location (all the good parts), and who else we had on the line (translation, they haven’t said yes, but they might).

We visited lots of Farmers Markets, took lots of names, and called lots of people for months. I think we started in late February.

Then finally, one farmer, Farmer Jon said yes. Once we said “Farmer Jon confirmed and …..so and so and so and so are on the line” everyone else started signing up. We opened with a couple of food vendors, a couple of crafters, and three farmers (Farmer Jon never did show up…but he did his part).

Logistics

We made a contract, we included the website with all of the regulations telling people they were responsible to abide by it.

We told people they had to call us if they weren’t coming.

We gave them timelines and fees

And we made them promise to realize that “This is a church” and we “expect civil behavior”

We got signatures.

Then we set up the farmers in the middle of the parking lot, staked off a walking area with cones, and got ready for the first day.

Grand Opening

We invited the neighbor, we cut ribbons.

We papered invites on the cars who came for AA, other churches, most of the people who used the building. (We did the annoying under the windshield thing, but only ONCE for each group)

We personally dropped flyers in the local neighborhood–abiding by the mailbox rules (mostly flyers can’t go into mailboxes, I think door mailslots are the exception)

We invited the mayor and local small news stations.

200 People came for the grand opening!!!

Next post will be about the ONGOING effects and results of what started out as “just” a farmer’s market.

 

Our own personal Logo!!Farmers market logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why a Farmer’s Market?

We are blessed to open our 5th Farmer’s Market season this summer. A Farmer’s Market that we put out for our community. A Farmers Market that the church’s volunteers run from May to October.

So why a Farmer’s Market? Where is the discipleship in this? and how exactly is this a ministry?

New Covenant Presbyterian Church spent a lot of time trying to participate within the neighborhood. We wanted to be a part of what was going on. With approximately 15 community groups meeting in our building, we felt the disconnect. Many people will come to these gatherings, but nothing sponsored by the church.

We got to work to be a part of the community. Some events were short: a one day electronic recycling drive, a Mendelssohn concert and Ice Cream Social, a Dove Nominated Gospel Concert. We started some long term things too…we opened a free weekly playgroup.. We organized and oversaw an ongoing clothing exchange.

We looked at our resources, we looked at our strengths. We are place that is easy to gather at, we have a large parking lot. We are close to major highways.

How about a Farmer’s Market? Which we committed to do, as long as we remembered WHY we want to do this. To participate within the neighborhood.

To be a part of the community.

To be PRESENT. We committed to help to set up, to serve, to strive for a caring environment built on balance and needs (as opposed to being purely profit driven).

We will then sit at the church table and HELP people. Answer questions and LISTEN carefully to what is being said so we could get reacquainted with the community.

We did the work (See the upcoming post on HOW a Farmer’s Market) for details. By the Grand Opening close to 200 people came. Which was a huge number for a 50-60 person church.

By the middle of the summer we clarified our why into one phrase.

Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?

holyappreciation.jpg

Because we want to be your neighbor, we want to be a community-building congregation, we want to be a community that supports communities.

The ministry of presence, of listening of neighboring is a part of who we are and what we do today! We look forward to our 5th rendition of this particular ministry of Farmers Market.