This week, I’ve been attending the annual gathering of an organization called NEXT Church in Seattle. When I mention the trip to people, the follow-up question is usually, “What’s ‘Next’?” I want to say, “Exactly! That’s what we’re asking!” On reflection, the question deserves a better answer. I’ll take a whack at it, but you may want to ask Jennifer McCullough, Deborah Mayhew, or Betty Christiansen - other St. Mark members who attended, along with about fifteen other persons from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. I should add that Susan Thornton is a real behind-the-scenes asset to NEXT Church, bringing excellent organizational skills as well as the right spirit to her work on the leadership team. She makes our presbytery proud.
You can visit the NEXT Church web site yourself by clicking
. According to our Mission Statement, NEXT Church is
a purposeful relational community of Presbyterian leaders whose mission is to strengthen a vibrant and thriving PC(USA) that shares the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that matter to and have impact on God’s evolving world
. There are two things in particular that I would lift up about this statement. First, being a “purposeful relational community” is a lot harder than writing a mission statement. It is a tear-filled journey of listening, taking responsibility for our complicity in structures that have systematically oppressed too many of God’s beloved children, and pleading for the grace to be transformed. It is learning the difference between “white guilt” and “lament.” It is creating space to discern who needs to relinquish their voice and who need to find theirs. It is leaning into criticism, instead of shutting it out, pushing back, or letting long-standing barriers keep it at a safe distance. None of that work is easy.
Second, it may sound odd for us to describe the Presbyterian Church (USA) as “vibrant and thriving.” All of the statistics and church analysts have been screaming otherwise for four decades now. Those stats and wonks are not wrong. There is a lot about the church that is anachronistic and longing for those past “glory days” is an exercise in futility. But, those things about the church that are “dead and dying” (my attempt to find the opposite of “vibrant and thriving”) help us to see the biblical distinction between wine and wineskins. I truly believe that God has called the church into being, not as the end all of God’s reign, but as a provisional witness to a new way of being in the world, empowered by God’s own Spirit at work in our lives. Because this is a shared and gathered movement of God’s Spirit, the church takes institutional shape along the way (despite whatever aversion we may have to the word “institution.”) Those institutional forms, the wineskins, must always be adapting to the fresh new wine that God is pouring out. That is hard work, because familiar institutions give us comfort. But, new wine is potent and has a tendency to burst through old, dried, shrunken wineskins. New wine is “vibrant and thriving,” and I experience NEXT Church as a place where we are intentionally focused on how the new wine of God’s Spirit is calling us to discover new wineskins that enable us to carry this life-giving Spirit to the world.
I don’t mean to beat the wine/skin metaphor to death. I just don’t know how else to describe how NEXT Church transforms me and calls me to a more enthusiastic embrace of what God is doing – even if it means that a cis-gendered, heterosexual, white, male, head-of-staff, large church pastor (I’m talking about me, by the way) needs to remember how to be a disciple in this conversation, not always the talking-head teacher.
If you’d like to get a glimpse of a “vibrant and thriving” Presbyterian Church, click
, scroll down, and watch the video capture of the closing worship service. You’ll need to give yourself some time to savor each part. If you’d like to get a glimpse of the challenge of discarding the old wineskin in order to take up the new, click
and scroll down to the keynote presentation by Tali Hairston. It is marvelous and challenging.
Challenging. Now, there’s an apt descriptor for the NEXT Church annual gathering. As I continue to unfold some of the gifts that have been stuffed into my mind and heart, I will search for ways to share them with you.
Mark of St. Mark
Join us Sunday at 11:00am in the Fellowship Hall. Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, will lead us in our discussion as part of our EarthCare Presentation on
The order of creation and the chaos of rising sea levels