The BTS Center
97 India Street • Portland, ME 04102

April 18, 2020

Dear friends:

In a recent piece called " Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting ," writer and filmmaker Julio Vincent Gambuto invites us think about the pressure that everyone is feeling to get back to "normal" — he writes, "In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it. We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life, to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones, to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work."

"Normal" would feel good, wouldn't it? The current reality we are all facing is unsettling — disruptive — disorienting — and in so many ways, demanding. Many of us long to return to the way life was before the Coronavirus upended everything and set us adrift.

But the truth is, there's no going back. We never get to go backward — that's not a thing. Life is always about moving forward, into some new reality.

And so the question is, what new reality will we embrace? In what ways do we hope our future will resemble the reality we remember before this pandemic? And in what ways can we acknowledge that business-as-usual wasn't working — certainly not for everyone?

These are important questions, and they invite us not to settle for quick or easy answers, but to engage in deep, prayerful, lingering exploration. They invite us to listen not only to the dominant voices, but to the voices on the margins — to those who were so often disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the "normal" we thought we were living. They invite us to imagine a new future — a future that takes into consideration the realities of global climate devastation, since there are many connections to be made here — as well as the realities of social and economic injustice, not to mention the very personal, practical realities that each of us must consider as we think about the life we want to live and the world we want to inhabit.

Fundamentally, these questions are spiritual in nature. These questions invite us to prayer. They invite us to seek first God's wisdom and will.

This Thursday, we will host our next Zoom meetup in a series of conversations about the impacts of COVID-19 on spiritual leadership and congregational life. This one, called Wisdom Revealed In the Midst of COVID-19, is an intentionally intergenerational conversation with guests Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian, Pastor Emeritus of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, now living in Cumberland Foreside, Maine (we are glad to note that Jim serves as a member of The BTS Center's Board of Trustees); and Rev. Kaji S. Douša, who serves as Senior Pastor of the Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City. Rev. Nicole Diroff, The BTS Center's Program Director, will be moderating the conversation, inviting our guests — and you, our participants — to reflect on questions like: What are the things that this moment has allowed us to drop, which were not serving us well in the first place? And what has emerged as life-giving that we'll want to cling to for years to come? I hope you will register and plan to join us for this conversation.

This is just one of a number of upcoming programs that we are offering in our effort to support, resource, and connect spiritual leaders during this COVID-19 crisis. You'll find others in this e-newsletter, and we will be announcing more opportunities in the coming days, so please watch our website for details.

In that essay I mentioned before , write Julio Vincent Gambuto concludes: "From one citizen to another, I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the @#//$%^+ and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud."

There's no going back. Together we will go forward into a new future. That may be a scary truth, or it may be a hopeful one, but either way, it's going to require our very best, most faithful, most spiritually grounded leadership.

Thank you for all that you are doing in this moment to serve your congregation, your community, the people in your circle of influence. Your creative, caring, and compassionate leadership is so important, especially in this moment, and I trust that God will give you all the strength, guidance, and wisdom you need to faithfully lead through the joys and the struggles ahead.
With gratitude and peace,
Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill
Executive Director
Online Multi-faith Earth Day Service
Sunday, April 19 • 2:30 pm (Eastern)

Washington National Cathedral and Interfaith Power & Light will co-host this online service focused on our shared call to climate action. Join others in prayer and song in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day at

Leaders from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Latter-Day Saints, Muslim, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist and other spiritual communities will share their traditions' gifts through sacred text, commentary, and song, and call us to collective action.

Let’s join caring people of every faith tradition, across the country, who are coming together to respond to the climate crisis.
Wisdom Revealed in the Midst of Covid-19 
An Intergenerational Conversation between Spiritual Leaders

Thursday, April 23 • 2:00-3:15 pm (Eastern) • via Zoom
For many reasons and in many ways, the Covid-19 global pandemic has led to an abundance of individual self-reflection and communal discernment. People are asking: What are the things that this moment has allowed us to drop, which were not serving us well in the first place? And what has emerged as life-giving that we'll want to cling to for years to come?
We are bringing together two Christian leaders for an intergenerational conversation on the wisdom they're seeing revealed in the midst of this crisis - reflecting especially on the places where faith leaders and faith communities seem to be approaching their deepest vocations.
Our guests include:
Rev. Kaji S. Douša , Senior Pastor of the Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City
Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian , Pastor Emeritus of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis
It’s Okay to Grieve
A Zoom Meetup for Spiritual Leaders During COVID-19

On Friday, April 17, we hosted a Zoom meetup called "It's Okay to Grieve" — a conversation with Dr. Terri Daniel and Rev. Daniel Wolpert, moderated by our Executive Director, Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill.

We recorded that conversation, and you can access it here . We are grateful for the wisdom of our two guests, who are thinking deeply about grief and about the role of spiritual caregivers in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis:

  • Dr. Terri Daniel, CT, CCTP, a hospice and hospital-trained clinical interfaith chaplain, author, and trauma specialist. View biography.
  • Rev. Daniel Wolpert, co-founder and Executive Director of the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing, Spiritual Director, Presbyterian pastor, and author. View biography.

Visit this page to check out recordings of all of our recent Zoom meetups.
Virtual Book Launch 
Part-Time is Plenty: Thriving Without Full-Time Clergy
by G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Hosted by The BTS Center via Zoom
Wednesday, April 29, 2020 • 7:00-8:15pm (Eastern)
Join author Jeff MacDonald and The BTS Center for a taste of  Part-Time is Plenty: Thriving Without Full-Time Clergy , as we celebrate its publication.

This event, online via Zoom, will include storytelling, music, and virtual mingling. (Please BYO wine or other toasting beverage!) There will be an opportunity to purchase the newly released book, and one lucky attendee will win an autographed copy.

Book Description
Churches experiencing numerical and financial decline may dread the day when they can no longer afford a full-time pastor. Freeing up funds that would go to a full-time salary sure would help the budget—maybe even enough to turn things around—but is it even possible to run effective ministries with just a half- or quarter-time professional? 

Journalist and part-time pastor Jeffrey MacDonald says yes—churches can grow more vibrant than ever, tapping into latent energy and undiscovered gifts, revitalizing worship, and engaging in more effective ministry with the community. 

Readers of  Part-Time is Plenty  get a much-needed playbook for helping congregations thrive with a part-time ministry model. They learn to see the model in a new light: to stop viewing part-time as a problem to be eradicated and to instead embrace it as a divine gift that facilitates a higher level of lay engagement, responsibility, playfulness, and creativity.

Note: The BTS Center awarded Jeffrey MacDonald an Innovation Incubator grant in 2016-2017 for a project entitled "Discovering the New Ministry: Exploring Shifting Roles in Congregations with Bivocational Pastors," and then invited him to share his learnings as the keynote speaker for our 2018 Convocation, "Growing by Half: Part-Time Pastor, Full-Time Church.” This book represents the culmination of his research, and we are so glad to be able to celebrate this milestone with him!
Faith Leaders Online Prayer Huddle
Wednesday, April 22 (and following Wednesdays)
9:00-9:45 am (Eastern) • via Zoom

In this time of social distancing, fear, and great uncertainty, faith communities are more important than ever, but let’s be honest: this current Coronavirus crisis stresses and stretches faith leaders in unique ways.

Join us for this informal weekly online prayer huddle for faith leaders utilizing the Zoom platform — an opportunity to bring our gratitude and our concerns into a sacred space, among compassionate colleagues, for prayer and mutual support.
Reports From the Spiritual Frontier Podcast Creativity, Compassion, and the Coronavirus

The BTS Center is teaming up with the podcast  Reports from the Spiritual Frontier  to release a podcast series and other resources to support and equip faith leaders for this particular moment.

We are talking with faith leaders about how to move your communities to a digital space, how to stay spiritually grounded in the midst of the anxiety that swirls around us, and how you can best love your neighbors during this time of social isolation and fear.

Check out the podcast, consisting of short, 15-20-minute conversations with guests like Wendy Hudson , who discusses The 101’s of Digital Community; Dan Wolpert, who shares thoughts about staying spiritually grounded during COVID-19; Dr. Alex Gee on The Black Church and COVID-19; Beth Estock on Fearlessly Loving Leadership during COVID-19; Rabbi Eli Freedman on backyard weddings and other life cycles during this pandemic; Rev. Carolyn Lambert on meaning-filled funerals during COVID-19; Paul Nixon, who asks, What Happens When the Church Gets Kicked Out of the Building?; and Andrea Lingle on parenting during COVID-19.

Subscribe to Reports From the Spiritual Frontier on Apple Podcasts (or wherever else you get your podcasts).
Convocation 2020 
Grounded Leadership in an Era of Ecological Emergency

Postponed to September 24-25 • Hallowell, Maine

The BTS Center | 207.774.5212 | |
Allen Ewing-Merrill
Executive Director
Nicole Diroff
Program Director
Kay Ahmed
Office Manager
Thank you for your gift to  The BTS Center , the mission successor to Bangor Theological Seminary. 
Our mission is to catalyze spiritual imagination with enduring wisdom for transformative faith leadership.
We equip and support faith leaders for theologically grounded and effective 21st-century ministries.