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?

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

#BreakBlessBuild prayer (inspired by #NextChurch)

Lord, we confess we are Breaking. Shards of our personality lie upon the floor, mixed with the pieces of relationships we are trying to pick up and maintain.

It’s hard to see what parts of me are missing, because everything is so messy. I’m a mess, my house is a mess, and what is time in this mess anyway?

And we want to build so fast, God, but we don’t know the landscape yet.

How many things have to break before we start to rebuild? So far we’ve lost a dishwasher, an oven, an HVAC system, 3 phones, 2 tablets and a computer.

And they are nothing compared to the families we have broken, the healthcare system that is broken, the minimum wage is broken, education is broken, and whiteness breaks everything else along the way.

Is this how your people felt, when they lost their Temple?

Is this how Mary felt when she broke the perfume over your feet?

Is this how your disciples felt when they left you to die on the cross?

God, we are broken. Teach us to build. Help us to build peace, build hope, build relationships. Stop our hands from building structures, edifices and properties. Teach us instead to build up each other.

Bless us Jesus, with your abudant blessings that neither depend upon our brokenness or our building. Instead it is your binding–magnitizing us with love, encouraging us to love and serve one another.

Bless us, Because…

Just Because.

Break us, Bless us, Build us through our binding to you we pray.

Amen.

When in Doubt: #GoodFriday, Tenebrae Nail #liturgy based on the book of John

Good Friday
New Covenant Presbyterian Church Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?
INTRODUCTION TO THE SERVICE
The service tonight is known as the “Service of The Nails”. It is a series of readings, responses, and silent reflection and prayer designed to help us enter more deeply into the meaning of Good Friday. Everyone is requested to take a nail to keep it with them for use during the service. For the service, you are asked to remain seated

Call to Worship
L The Lord be with you.
P And also with you

THE NAIL OF BROKENNESS*
“We are a resurrection people” we like to say
And we say it often
“But resurrection doesn’t erase or replace the real life that happens before, during and after, the real life that we all know.
The places where we are broken.
Where we are grieving
where we are sad
where we are angry
where we are hurting
where we are anxious
Where we are lonely
where we are human—fully
And we each carry around the expreicnes of trauma, and loss and hurt, that are a real part of our life.
Those experiences live within us, and they exist before, during and after resurrction. Yes, we are a resurrection people
But we are also human—fully.
and that means that we know death, just as surely as we know life.
Death is real, it is excruciating, and painful, and it is a part of life.
But God is not afraid of death. God is big enough hold us in our hurt, in our brokenness, in those places of death where we cannot hold ourselves. When we find ourselves in those places, when we cannot imagine ever feeling joy again, may we remember, that although God will not erase the pain. God will hold us, God will stand with us.

John 18:2-5
Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ 5They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’* Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’

Sung Response: Extinguishing the Light
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (silence)

Prayer*
O God, will your stars never shine again?
Will they never again sing their songs to my soul?

THE NAIL OF HATRED
JOHN 19:1-6a Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’

Sung Response: Extinguishing the Light
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross?
O Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when they nailed him to the cross? (silence)

Prayer*
O God, will your stars never shine again?
Will they never again sing their songs to my soul?

THE RESPONSE
ACT OF CONFESSION
You are invited to have your sins nailed to the cross

Meditation and Prayer
Prayer*
O God, will your stars never shine again?
Will they never again sing their songs to my soul?

THE NAIL OF STUMBLING JOHN 18:15-17, 25-27
15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Sung Response Extinguishing the Light
Were you there when left him on the cross?
Were you there when they left him on the cross?
O, Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when they left him on the cross? (silence)

Prayer*
O God, will your stars never shine again?
Will they never again sing their songs to my soul?

THE NAIL OF DEATH JOHN 18:28-30
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Sung Response Extinguishing the Light
Were you there when the sun refused shine?
Were you there when the sun refused shine?
O, Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the sun refused to shine? (silence)

Prayer *
O God, will your stars never shine again?
Will they never again sing their songs to my soul?

RESPONSIVE READING: THE PROMISE OF MERCY*
O God of my heart, peel back the night and let the straight pour out upon my upturned face, Let my eyes drink a day of stars. Let my heart bathe in the stunning light, until my soul sings again with the conviction of the faithful. In your mercy and justice, O God of my heart call me by name, and the stars will shine once more, as they did on that morning when they first began to sing.

 

Communion
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Lift up your hearts
We life them up to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give our thanks and praise….(Pastoral Prayer & Lord’s Prayer)
Jesus came into the world, not to judge it, but to save it.
We are so grateful for God’s infinite love, and we celebrate with all of creation, the saving work, of our Suffering Saviour. On the night before he was nailed to the merciless cross,
Jesus shared His last meal with His friends. He took the bread, He broke it, and He gave thanks, and then He passed it among them saying,
This is my body which is broken for you. Eat it and remember Me.
He took the wine, and He gave thanks, and then He passed it among them saying,
This is my blood which is shed for you. Drink it and remember Me.
And so, we take, we eat and drink, and we remember:
There is no greater love, than this sacrifice which You, Jesus, made for us
God is with us, even when we fear
Come, let us taste and see the Lord

Sung Response: Extinguishing the Light
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (silence)

 

*These Prayers are  from Dying Liturgy of NextChurch national gathering 2018

 

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.

Shannon A Thompson

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