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?

I will be your #God, You will be #my People–this is my promise to you

Sermon Snippet: The Presbyterians of the United States have been almost embarassingly blessed in the past, so to feel anything but hope now would be…foolish (Tom Are) So the promise that we need to know, the one that we have trouble with, but the promise that God continues to make through Abraham, Moses and in Christ, the promise that is sealed into each of us at our baptism, the one that is so hard to believe when religion and worship changes. God’s simple promise is this no matter what: I will be your God, and you will be my people. Isaiah 42: 5-7. 2 Cor 2:15 & 3:18

Good NEWS and extroverting

Nextchurch2015

We are listening to the immeasurable Diana Butler Bass who is greatly illustrating her theories on church and culture, when the news breaks on twitter a little before 7:30 (she started at 7).

Its a amazing, its wonderful.

I text the news to my parents.

I can’t believe it.

Twitter is going crazy.

The real question is Can we interrupt Diana Butler Bass?

7:28 pm @miheekimkort suggests “@revJohnRussell at 7:30 lets stand up and scream”

I tweet @bookkats “Feel the pcusa urge to stand up and proclaim the good news even tho its rude to interrupt awesome DBB” at about the same time

I wait for 7:30, sure someone will do it…

THREE agonizing Holy Spirit Bubbling minutes later (7:31) I realize no one has….

Then she talked about the fourth awakening, and its true realization (as in any realization) is when social justice comes into play, so I’m like “Ok, and now she’s talking social justice. Holy Spirit help my extrovert.”

I am totally bursting with the news. This is good news! This is my job to tell good news, and I have REALLY GOOD NEWS, and texting my parents isn’t going to do it!

@jledmiston says Can someone ask Q@dianabutlerbass for a brief space to acknowledg the PCUSA’s big news?

We were awaiting authority, in Nextchurch, which I love to define as the organic and hands on ideas of what is next for the church …irony….

So I’m like, maybe a quiet way is better (I guess I’m getting better at practicing some restraint) I Tweet “Stand up and hold up your phone maybe?”

This is the time, I realize, Diana Butler Bass is talking about the no going back change, the revival at the point ofsocial justice: what a moment to tell the news!

Meanwhile I hear rustle, rustle, rustle, everyone is looking at their phones

@mollyfid nails it on the head “Y’all, I”m about to Burst! UNfreeze yourselves presbys! Surely DBB will pause for a cheer”

Then I realize…I’m in the balcony, I’m in the first row. This is totally not awkward (I mean heck I’d love to do it from the most awkward and silliest position ever)….I’m the extrovert.

Oh my God….its me…I’m the one who is called into this place at this time to do this….its me, and I’m going to LOVE it

I stand up and (rather timidly) raise my hand. “Excuse me Diana….Sorry to interrupt, but we are just bursting here. We just passed 14F, all people can marry”

And I see it……from the balcony, everyone stands up and hugs and cheers in an almost disordered fashion….

It was beautiful, it was holy

my sister is trans…

I burst into tears

Diana Butler Bass asked my name and then said “The Episcopalians welcome you” 🙂

The amazing moment when God uses my no-hold-barred extroverted self who happened to sit in the front of the balcony at that moment…on the day when Brian preached about acceptance in the morning in the evening where the Presbyterian Light people were already planning their reception.

What do you call that but holy?

Holy

And then, we listened as best we can to Diana, hearing all the better her critiques because we were in a better place as church (claim the entire denom has failed, no problem : )

And then, we went and did church! The planned 80 people who went to the Presby Light reception were way…way…more….

Too many Presbyterians, after a long day, did church that night at a bar.

We have become a fuller church, how can we include people next, is Belhar Confession around the corner?

We did church, then and there with loud music and too many Presbyterians and drinks and food…

And we told each other the good news.

Amen. Alleluia

.

Handy Dandy Tips for Navigating #PCUSA call process for PNC from a pastor

PCUSApastor

Dear PNC,

     1. You are awesome, seriously this is a lot of work, much group prayer and more! Here are some things I’ve learned from “my” perspective as a candidate that might help you know the process

a. this is not a corporate job–its more like dating, the interest needs to be mutual. Although you (the church) do take the more “traditionally male” role in doing the asking, you get to indicate to the pastor when you want to first speak person-to-person.

b. There are three kinds of referrals on the clc.pcusa.org website. the NUMBERS only are SELF-REFERRALS straight from the pastor, indicating interest. The EP numbers are referrals made by an EP (probably yours altho possibly the pastor’s). The other numbers, cs or crs are computer generated matches (which are definitely valid but are without a human hand).

c. When you email/call or do any kind of contact kindly include your MIF #. Getting an Email from Springfield PNC and not knowing what state Springfield is in, makes it difficult for me to indicate my interest.

d. Pastors do NOT get updates (by email or otherwise) if they have been matched to a church. (Actually what you have to do is filter through ALL the churches that have ever matched you and try to find you). This means the pastor might have missed you on their “matches.” Its not that the pastor is uncaring, its just that the pastor gets many matches from churches who will never call or indicate interest, plus a working pastor is probably busy taking care of his/her own ministry, so again, include your MIF number and expect that the pastor will have to remind themselves who you are before he/she proceeds.

e. PNC defines the process. As you know you spend a lot of time deciding what the next step is in the process, try to keep the candidates informed as to where you are and what the next step is, and (approximately) when that step will be taken.  (also, unanimous decisions might be trickier than you think and we believe in consensus and embrace differences, so do the best you can and think twice about requiring unanimous decisions)

 

f. Different Churches have different technologies: The pastor only has 1 video sermon? Probably that was really hard to finagle. Do not assume that the church’s technological knowledge is the same as the pastor. Maybe the pastor wants taped sermons or video streams but the church just can’t get it together. Be open minded about how sermons come your way.

g. Similarly most churches don’t know their pastor is looking: It may be as simple as the pastor isn’t ready to tell them or some other complicated reason. Getting congregational references might not be possible if the pastor is doing a closed search (i.e. their current church doesn’t know). Professional, Peer and Educational references tend to be what you get. Usually you get SIX references while the church only gives two. These refs are prob enough to give you an idea of how the pastor works.

h. The Pastor is juggling a lot. You may be calling when a congregation member died, the pastor may be waiting to hear back from a neutral pulpit, or perhaps he/she has been out sick. Chances are if the pastor is asking for a little time its because they are taking care of their current call (yay! You want a pastor who is maintaining a good working relationship with their current call). Ask twice if you need to and remember that you and the pastor are working in different time-space-realities. i.e. its like you are in 2 different dimensions. Try not to feel blown off if the pastor gets bogged down, maybe that’s just a hint from God about how the process is going and it probably isn’t personal.

i. A good indicator as to whether the interview went well is if it goes beyond the paper MIF and PIF info exchanges and starts to examine theology (i.e. where is Jesus, God, Holy Spirit at work in the church and in the pastor and do those things match)

j. Be honest. Talk about those skeletons, the rough spots, the imperfections. I fully believe that God calls pastors to churches where they can help each other in their imperfections, there is no such thing as a perfect pastor or a perfect church. There is such a thing as a loving pastor and a loving church.

k. The first visit is a conversation, and part of that conversation is showing how you will be taking care of the pastor. These and other interactions will help to “set the tone” of your relationship with one another. Try to be thoughtful if family cannot come, weekends are hard to come by (pastors are usually using their vacations to come out and see you), or if the pastor has pets for the manse, is not planning on buying a house right away or some other life piece that actually has less to do with how they are as a minister and more to do with their personal life situation. Tip: Try to leave some down time for the pastor to get out on their own, and to process and pray about the visit. Its very kind to tell the candidate how many people have reached this point and when you hope to decide.  

 

Exceptional Ideas: Big Church with lots of energy? Consider hiring a young/fresh pastor who has lots of ideas? Fulltime Solo Pastorate? Consider hiring a woman (most women only get part time ministry jobs) Got a favorite ministry? Send the links to the candidate, Want young families? Consider a single pastor with more time or a more experienced, older pastor. Hiring an Associate Pastor? Consider hiring a competent CoPastor instead. God calls different people to extraordinary roles we don’t expect. Moses was shocked to be a leader, Samuel, Daniel and Joseph, all of these people were put into ministries that “weren’t usual” for the time.

 

Also, pray for each candidate, pray that they find God’s call wherever it is. We the pastors REALLY appreciate it!

 

 

The burning que…

The burning question I have for General Assembly….wouldn’t it be cool to have the Order of Worship online? (or am I missing it), I think it would be so cool to pray what they are praying while I’m many miles away…and maybe even bring those prayers to my congregation as I try to educate them about GA?

Burning Question

Empty Church

GA is coming, that’s Presbyterian Speak for our large governmental gathering “General Assembly” where we discuss worrying things like Our Investments (or not) in Israel, How important gay issues really are (or aren’t), and……the fact that there are no young people in the church. Debate will ensue about most of these issues, except the last one. There is no governmental amendment to magically change the demographics of the church

There will be lots of worrying about the drop in membership, the drop in money and the drop in young people in the church.

People will ask where have the people gone? They will also ask why people won’t represent (Particularly the lay people), they will ask where the children are….and they will worry…

However, I do believe that at most churches, Presbyteries and even on the GA floor the wrong question is being asked. The question that really asked isn’t Where are all the people.

The worry IS about the emptiness.

But I think the question people are really asking are not “Where have all the people gone?” but rather “Where has Jesus gone?”

Because, if Jesus was in church, then wouldn’t the people be in church? If Jesus was here, wouldn’t people flock to us and what we are doing?

Here I have to confess: I believe Jesus is in the church!

But I also believe Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit is already at work in the world. I believe that church doesn’t hold a monopoly on God (our God is bigger than that)

and I believe that the emptiness the church is feeling is real and is scary….I also believe we have felt it before, when Jesus died on the cross, when the tomb was empty, when Jesus Ascended, when the church was scattering across Africa, etc. etc.

The church is empty, but what can we theologically learn from that emptiness

Maybe Jesus will find us in our church and ask us….

You are afraid of the emptiness? Look at what God did with an empty tomb!

 

(and p.s. if you want more families to be present I highly recommend BABYSITTING and FAMILY FRIENDLY accommodations as a start, it isn’t an amendment that will bring families flocking in, but it is a way to serve those who are already present–this should not be an uphill battle folks, it should be a given)

Small Church, New Church, Old Church, Blue Church: Credo Reflections

“Trust the Process”

Credo is a great program started by Episcopalians and picked up by the Presbyterians to help with clergy health and welfare (emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, financial). Its a process to work, worship and create so that a rule of life can be developed.

This year the Presbyterians are running the first ever early ministry model. (Previously it was only available to mid-career). I was lucky enough to be pulled randomly from the hat to attend. Its a support network to help what is now the overworked life of the clergy today.

I would say, for me, the process was a success. We shall see how the rule of life plays out and whether I can use the accountability tools helpfully.

Here are some interesting things that emerged for me….

1. Many of the pastors there were wishing to start a new church somewhere…

Which makes me wonder, what is that about? Are we prophets of the future? Are we wishing for a system with more pull? Is this what revolutions look like? Or is this how we manufacture hope? What is at the root of this and how does it effect the church in general as we go forward.

2. I also heard that a lot of people wanted to write, really write something, either through a blog or a publication or something. Recently I read a blog (I wish I could find it again) about the fact that pastors are writers who get paid

I personally feel that is true, I write sermons like I wrote my English/History papers (which I double majored in). Writing papers every week in undergrad was a good warm up to solo preaching.

So as we look forward, and as CREDO happens next year, I wonder, what can we do with these amazing revelations.

 

Small Church, New Church, Old Church, Blue Church–the clergy seems to be moving in a similar direction

Especially considering that us Presbyterians believe the Holy Spirit works by consensus 😉

 

 

Is the Holy Spirit Spiral Shaped?

Holy Spirit, breathe into us your light, your life, stir up hope in us. We confess that we go in circles, trying to find our own way to God, help us to ask for directions, move us on the path towards you Lord, God. Lead us into a spiral, instead of in circles! we pray this in your most Holy Name. Amen

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Things people have trouble understanding about ministry

Things people have trouble understanding about ministry

As he said, these don’t all apply to everyone, but my favorite today is

9. Ministry is a hard job. Sometimes it’s said as a joke, sometimes it’s said in anger, that ministers don’t work very hard. That it’s a cushy gig. If that were true I doubt I’d know so many ministers who have quit swearing never to return, including myself. The best way I can think to explain why ministry is hard is to compare it to being the parent of a young child. From the outside it might not look like a lot of ‘work,’ but from the inside it’s the most exhausting thing you’ll ever do. Because it’s not just about the amount of things you do, it’s the total emotional drain of it. It’s worrying all day every day about the people and programs you’re in charge of, being on call and not ever feeling really free to be away, feeling like you live in a fishbowl with hundreds of eyes watching you all the time and never really knowing what they are all thinking of you (unless they complain, which some of them do with regularity). It’s caring for people to the point that you have nothing left for your own family when you get home, yet expecting that they show a certain spiritually-put-together face to the church (because the church expects that). It’s often feeling empty, yet pretending to feel full. It’s presenting yourself and your work to hundreds of people, several times a week, for evaluation, and often getting no feedback except ‘constructive’ criticism. And after all of this, after years of this, it’s looking out at the people in your church and seeing little or no change. Ministry is very hard, albeit perhaps in a different way than your job is hard.”

When do you Experience God repost

Reblogged from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/07/where-do-you-experience-god-well-answer-me/

(Studies say that what conservative churches have over mainline is that we are not good about directly testifying about who God is in our lives)

Where do you experience God? Well, answer me.

July 28, 2013 By  Leave a Comment

I actually did this. All by myself. Quartered and stacked. Three rows deep. I did this.

I had lunch a while back with two friends visiting the area, home for a few weeks from their normal lives in Kenya.

In the course of conversation, one of them asked me, “Where do you experience God?”

My inner recovering Calvinist quickly surfaces and I think to myself,

“Mind your own business. And another thing, we don’t ‘experience’ God. We read about him and formulate thoughts about him. When we do experience God, it may be in a harshly worded book review, perhaps a knock-down-drag-out doctrinal debate in a session meeting, or, as in the good old days, some form of physical punishment.”

All partial kidding aside, my own experience in various expressions of conservative Christianity has not set me up to answer easily my friend’s question. The theology of immediate retribution on Chronicles, sure. Got that one covered. But not this one.

Which is a shame. I actually had trouble saying where I experience God. That bothers me.

I was taught–implicitly and explicitly–that the experience of God is something that…well…it’s good if you can get it, but don’t go looking for it. After all, experience is subjective and potentially misleading. Best to get your theology in order and leave subjective experience to the Charismatics.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about this over the last few years, and my friend’s question pushed me further along:

Experiencing God is the point.

I know some of you may wonder why I even need to write this, but:

Without the experience of God, what use is all our cogitating? What good does it to to reduce God to having either the right thoughts neatly arranged, or busying ourselves with the “work of the Gospel” when immediacy with God is not part of the package?

A life dominated by worry, fear, anger, etc.,–which commonly accompany the life of the mind–is a life where the experience of God is a theory, not a reality.

So, back to my friend’s intrusive question. I wanted to say–just to get her off my back–”in church” but (1) that’s not true, and (2) she knows I know it’s not true.

So, I think I said, “I don’t know. Give me a hint.”

Here the part of Pete is being played by an actor. Also, my trim is barn red.

She encouraged me to sense God’s presence by being open to God while doing those things that jazz me. I mentioned that I sometimes get very antsy while writing, and I feel I just have to go outside and stack firewood or paint trim for a couple of hours.

She suggested that was a clue about the kind of person I am and how I actually already do experience God along paths I don’t normally think about. I need to learn to keep my eyes and ears open.

I was taught from early on to experience God in reading the Bible, prayer, evangelism, and church. Maybe an occasional feed the hungry weekend.

Or a miracle in your life. Miracles are good.

My friend, however, was reminding me that God is bigger and more pervasive in his creation than these formulas. Is this too radical to consider–that perhaps God may be present in our lives in all sorts of “unconventional” ways; and what jazzes me may be telling me when those experiences are happening?

I am a “physical” person. I used to be an active athlete; I do a lot of work on our house; I still exercise; and I am fidgety–boy, am I fidgety. My friend pointed out that I even tend to express myself using “physical” vocabulary–”no need to jump off a cliff about it” is preferred to “no need to be so concerned.”

So, as I’m stacking wood or painting trim (or rebuilding rotted trim so I can paint it), I should learn to be mindful of what is going on inside of me those moments and ask God, “Where are you right here and now?”

Or maybe better, “How are you here right now?

No bright lights of God’s brilliant presence–at least I hope not as I’m 20′ up a ladder–but perhaps deeper and more…soothing, peaceful. I don’t know. I’m new at this. Give me a break.

I am so used to accessing a far-off God through my mind, through words. Rather than me calling the shots, maybe I can cultivate a patient discipline of seeing other, less controllable, ways in which God is already part of my experience.

I’m sure I’m doing a rotten job explaining all this, but I’m fine with that. I do wish, though, that I would have been taught some of these things during my formative Christian years–especially in seminary.

On the other hand, it’s not like I can’t learn some new things and keep moving along on the journey.

I’m fine with that, too. And I believe, so is God.”