‘Tis the season!

adventwreathHappy New (Lectionary) Year! This past Sunday, November 27th, we celebrated the First Sunday in Advent and rotation into the next Lectionary Year. *If you are unfamiliar with the Revised Common Lectionary or how it is organized, click here for a great resource out of Vanderbuilt Divinity Library!*

Many of you belong to, or lead, congregations in full swing with Advent activities. My home congregation recently sent home a flier chock fulls of opportunities to worship, serve, and fellowship in celebration of the coming of our Lord this Christmas. While traveling about in my Church Relations work, I have seen creative and inspiring opportunities to celebrate Advent.

With this spirit in mind, you will find several resources with descriptions below. Links to each resource are captured in the italicized name. Feel free to use them in your personal quiet time, with your families or neighbors, in small groups in your congregation, or in worship during this Advent season! Similarly, comment below with your own creative ideas for Advent or interesting ways in which your congregation celebrates this season.

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Advent Season Daily Devotional, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Written by staff and faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Subscribe via email to receive daily lectionary readings and a short devotional to center your spirit each day.

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Storypath, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Connect lectionary scripture readings to children’s stories throughout the Advent season. Lectionary readings are listed chronologically; scroll down to catch up on the First Sunday in Advent and find narratives with reflections through the New Year. This is an excellent Christian Education resource to be used throughout the year!

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Advent Worship resources, The Presbyterian Mission Agency

“The Office of Theology and Worship has provided a collection of worship resources for Advent, including candle-lighting litanies, eucharistic prayers, an order of worship for a service of lessons and carols, a chart with two sets of lectionary readings, and an Advent calendar starter kit.”

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The Text this Week, Jenee Woodard

A treasure trove of online resources for pastors, Christian’s educators and faith leaders. This portion of the site chronicles Advent resources, including Advent candle/wreath liturgies, worship planning, “Blue Christmas/longest night, hanging of the greens liturgies, artwork/music/multimedia resources and devotionals/Advent calendars.

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                The Advent season is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year. As God’s faithful, we prepare, again, in hopeful expectation for the coming of our Lord. May you be encouraged this season to have faith, spread hope and choose love!

Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Letters of Compassion

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One of the beautiful parts of working in Church Relations is not just serving as a connecting point for our “connectional church”, but seeing the many ways that congregations are already connecting with others. I see joint worship services and service projects, joint lock-ins and pulpit sharing. On Sunday, Peace Presbyterian Church (Winterville, NC) introduced me to a new connectional opportunity.

“Letters of Compassion” provides a weekly opportunity for members of Peace Presbyterian to pray for individuals on their prayer list and for other congregations within the Presbytery of New Hope. Two letters – one for an individual and one for a congregation – sit on a table outside of the sanctuary. Members are invited to sign each letter before or after worship. The letter is then mailed out and that individual and congregation are made aware not just that Peace Presbyterian is praying for them, but that members of the congregation have intentionally taken a moment to step aside in the midst of activity to say a quick prayer as they sign their name.

As I watched individuals come sign each letter, I began to wonder how common it is that someone is placed on our prayer lists and doesn’t even know it? When I think of times that I know I needed prayer, it was nice to know that someone had said they would pray but it was much more powerful and meaningful to hear that they had already been or are currently spending time praying for me. These brief letters filled with signatures, offer that reminder and moment of reassurance.

This week we move into a time of thanksgiving, but also of gifting. With the model set by Peace Presbyterian, I encourage each of you to take a moment each week to send a note to someone just to let them know you are praying for them! This just might be the gift that keeps their light burning through the shorter, darker, and busier days.

How does your congregation reach out to those on your prayer list?
How does your congregation join together with other congregations, in action and in prayer?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations


As we seek new ways to join together in prayer and praise, you are invited to join Union Presbyterian Seminary in daily devotion during this Advent season! Download your PDF today, or subscribe via email to receive devotions in your inbox each morning. www.upsemdevotions.wordpress.com

Looking Up: How Technology Helps Us See the World Around Us

technology-cartoonTechnology. It is an ever-changing and constant presence in our lives.

I remember the first time that I saw a projection screen in the sanctuary. It was “Youth Sunday” and the high school youth were excitedly flipping through a stack of transparencies and teaching their favorite camp songs to the congregation. As excited as they were, and the other youth, I will always remember the grumbles about how the screen and projector “ruined the worship space” and were a distraction. “Keep camp at the beach” one person said at the close of worship as they lamented the use of this technology. This was just the start of a constant debate in almost every church that continues even today.

Over the years, many churches have reformed their worship services to include the use of the latest technology. First, it was projected song lyrics to accompany the praise band. Then, the bulletin would be placed into a PowerPoint and projected. It wasn’t long before sanctuaries were remodeled and budgets included built in screens and hidden projectors, complete with a matching A/V booth. Today, many pastors can connect their tablet to the network and control the elaborate presentation from the pulpit!

I have seen these new and varied resources used in both wonderful and not-so-advanced ways as I travel around to different churches. I have longed for the physical hymnal that has been replaced by the colorful and void of music PowerPoint. I have understood sermons in a new way as I reflect with others on the pictures that the pastor projects.

This past Sunday, I saw a wonderful balance in the way that technology was used in worship at Topsail Presbyterian Church. Monitors are placed, not only at the front and back of the sanctuary, but also on the pulpit so that the pastor can look down and know what is being projected as they lead worship. Hymns are displayed with words and music, but the hymn number is made available for those who wish to use the hymnals in the pew rack. Images included in the PowerPoint add to the beauty of worship and each person is able to follow-along with the scripture reading without feeling as if it will take to too long to look it up. The use of a security camera even allows for the sermons to be recorded and shared with ease and at little expense! The use of technology never eliminated the physical bulletin and hymnal, however it did help each person to be able to look up and see who they were worshiping with rather than always having to look down and even invites others outside of the worship hour to join from home.

There is a change in worship when we see who we are with. Papers and books can be just as much of a distraction as a screen at the front of the worship space if we have to spend time flipping and finding, rather than looking up and around. More often than not, I personally find that I find a comfortable bubble- my hymnal, Bible, and myself- during worship. If our heads are up, we see who is front of us, we can see who is beside us. Faces are placed with prayers and smiles encourage us into our challenges.

The struggle of how to use technology in worship, if at all, continues in many churches. Topsail Presbyterian is a wonderful example of technology done right, complete with the ability to keep experimenting and changing the way the monitors are used. The monitors do not add distraction or take away from the worship time and space, but instead bring the congregation together in thanksgiving and praise, looking up at God’s creation rather than down at a piece of paper.

How does your congregation use technology in worship?
If you do not use technology, what are your reasons?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

A Ploy or A Promise?

20161106_081945This past Sunday, I visited Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Greensboro, NC. As I pulled up, I noticed their sign right away. “Inclusive, Open Minded, and Home For Your Soul: A Progressive Community.” Having gone to college only two blocks away, I smiled and figured that had to grab the attention of the students walking past on their way to and from campus. I also worried, wondering if this was just another ploy to reach out the students but didn’t actually match the congregation at all. I am so pleased to tell you that this is no ploy– this IS Church of the Covenant!

PCOC is a very unique and beautiful community of individuals of all backgrounds coming together over the course of two gatherings on Sunday mornings. This description of “Gatherings” has been intentionally chosen, recognizing that not everyone has come for worship but at the most simple level, all have come to be with one another.

The first gathering, while taking place within the sanctuary of PCOC, is not a religious one (although it is made clear that this is still a Christian Church). Individuals who come together identify as everything from Presbyterian to Atheist. Local musicians are invited to share their gifts with the community for ten minutes at the opening and close of the gathering (this week, I left with “One Love” by Bob Marley stuck in my head!). One individual serves as “Host” and welcomes the community to this time and space– “I hope everyone has had a great week and has been doing things that are good for you.”  The Pastor, Rev. Mark Sandlin, then offers a reflection on a topic that is important to the community in this moment in time (this week he spoke about forgiveness and compassion) and the reflection is followed by a period of silent reflection. This past week, this portion of time also included communion– explained as a time when each of us expresses full compassion toward one another, serving each other as a unified community around a table of fellowship. Finally, a safe and open space is made available for anyone to ask questions or share their own thoughts on the theme of the day. This week, some of these reflections pointed toward a forgiving God while others reflected on the ways that they have seen forgiveness and compassion in their own lives and relationships- one person even sharing that after many years, this discussion helped him to finally understand why he has had a negative relationship with Christianity.

The second gathering follows a similar model, however this is the religious gathering complete with scripture, prayer, and communion at the Lord’s Table. A time of both silent and communal reflection is offered, once again allowing every voice to be heard as each person desires.

“Inclusive, Open Minded, and Home For Your Soul: A Progressive Community.”

Unique, powerful, life-shaping, and discerning. These are the words that I would love to add to the sign.

In a time when it seems that our communities are divided and broken in every way possible, I celebrate that Greensboro has this safe and open space for individuals to come to reflect with one another and to grow together.

In a place where it can seem that there is no answer for “the dying church” (read more of my thoughts on this in this previous blog) , I wonder if we can learn from these gatherings at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant?

As I reflected on this first gathering, I kept thinking “What is Church without all of the fancy language?” In my mind, church without fancy language is people gathering and loving, sharing and reflecting, serving and supporting. I saw more love and support in that hour than I see in some religious worship services. Stories were shared that I would never expect to come up without prompting on a Sunday morning, especially when there are guests– strangers– in the room, and each was greeted with an affirming and non-judgmental response.

One shared reflection sums up this unique and incredible gathering beautifully. Sharing from the book “The Shack” (Wm. Paul Young), one individual quoted from when Jesus was speaking with the main character, “I will walk any path to meet you.”

ANY path- traditional or contemporary, dark or well lit, religious or not… never alone, but always gathered together with one another; and whether we see it or not, know it or not, or believe it or not– always gathered with God. No fancy language needed.

Thank you, Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, for this beautiful reminder of how we can ALL gather with one another in a dark and divided time!

How do you gather with those who might not believe the same as you?
What space is opened for reflection and conversation in your congregation?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

we are ONE.

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This week, we are taking a brief break from our regular congregational features to share some information about a very big and important way you can be involved with and help to support Union Presbyterian Seminary!

Last night, family and friends of Union Presbyterian Seminary gathered on “The Quad” at our Richmond Campus to help us kick off our capital campaign, “we are ONE. Strength Through Union.”

This campaign has actually been taking place for several years now, and we are now very excited to invite each of you to take part! To date, we have raised  almost $47 of $53 million during the quiet phase that went to launch Nine New Programs at the seminary.

One of the most noticeable outcomes of this campaign is the renovation of Richmond Hall. This building was last renovated in the 1960s and desperately needed an update! When it is completed in only a matter of MONTHS, Richmond Hall will be home for many of our students who will study and form life-long friendships within the suites that will fill the top two floors. The Jim Holderness Dining Room will play host to daily meals and valuable conversations between colleagues. The Barbara Lemmon Community Center will offer our students a place to relax and step away from their books to enjoy some fellowship time. The Syngman Rhee Global Mission Center for Christian Education will serve as a constant reminder of the many people and places around the world that have shaped Union Presbyterian Seminary, and the many open doors that await our current and future students. Learn more here.

Other Opportunities to give to Union Presbyterian Seminary include, but are not limited to-

Communities of Learning: This program assists incoming students in the pre-matriculation process as they meet other students, alums, and professors from all three campuses- Richmond, Charlotte, and Extended Campus- online for several weeks, and finally face-to-face at the end of the summer.

Evangelism program: Currently led by Rev. Dr. John Vest, visiting professor of evangelism, this program works within our curriculum as it guides our students in discerning what the Gospel means for them and their ministry and how to best share that in their individual settings.

Christian Education chairs: The Sara Little chair and the Bannerman/Gephardt chair will honor Christian Education legacies while providing space for new Christian Education opportunities in the 21st century through the hiring of two new Christian Education professors, each with a unique focus that will encourage our students to think about Christian Education in a new way.

 


As a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, I was incredibly lucky to study with the best of the best at very little expense. Individuals, just like you, had given money to the seminary to help fund my education. I received a 100% tuition grant + the Promise for Parish Ministry grant. While I do still have loans that I am paying, I am not paying nearly as much as I could be. As a thank you to the seminary, and to those who helped pay for my education, I now give to the seminary every month in hopes that it might help make ministry possible for another student in the future.

These different initiatives that make up the entire “we are ONE” campaign will shape the education and ministry of all who are a part of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Your gift might help to provide a warm and safe place for our students to rest and study, or fund a professor to challenge those students and take their ministry to a new level. Your gift might help expand our library so that congregational leaders all over the country might benefit from the resources that Union has to offer, or help a new student have an easier transition into seminary.

As a proud alum of Union Presbyterian Seminary, I ask that you do take time to learn more about our “we are ONE” campaign and give as you are able so that we might continue to train students and connect with congregations around the world– because Union Presbyterian Seminary IS “For the Church in the World”!

Please visit our website to learn more about the campaign
and the many ways you can support Union Presbyterian Seminary!

http://www.upsem.edu/Onecampaign/

 

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

History in the Pines

Do you remember the first time you got the butterflies?

When you were overcome with admiration and felt at a loss because of the situation?

When I was in middle school, my dad received tickets to the local Washington Wizards basketball game and we had seats on the baseline. It was my first NBA game and I was in awe of the scene around me. Half way through the game, I went up the stands to buy some popcorn. On my way up, I glanced to my right as I was passing a VIP Box. I stopped, mid-step, to grab onto the railing because I thought I might melt into a puddle. I was staring at the face of His Airness, Mr. Michael Jordan. Being a fan was an understatement. I knew I was in the presence of someone extra-ordinary, someone that exemplified perseverance and excellence in the game. I was so overcome with admiration that I forgot why I was going up the stands in the first place and returned to my seat to tell my dad all about seeing Air Jordan, himself.

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Providence Presbyterian Church, est. 1747

This past Sunday, I had a similar moment as I ascended the pulpit at Providence Presbyterian Church in Gum Spring, Virginia. This gem of a church sits back in the woods off of Three Chopt Road and has a history as rich as the soil of the area. I arrived several minutes before the service started to take in the interior of the church building, it’s simple, dark wood holding fast to traditions and memories of years ago. Some of the Michael Jordan’s of the religious freedom movement in central Virginia preached at this very spot! It was a real honor and privilege to share from such an historic pulpit where saints from our distinct Virginian, and Presbyterian, history once stood.

My role as Church Relations Officer gives me the distinct privilege to connect congregations with our historic Seminary. That Sunday, I was humbled by the privilege to stand in the very pulpit where many have come before me, many of whom studied and prepared themselves at Union to bring God’s promise of hope into our weary world.

Here is their story, in their own words:

Providence Presbyterian Church, a unique historic site within the Presbytery of the James, has also been one of its best kept secrets. Very few know that this building has the distinction of being the oldest Presbyterian Church in continual use in the Commonwealth of Virginia, indeed, it is the oldest one south or west of Pennsylvania. It is also the only remaining example of the seven “Meeting Houses” built by dissenters of Hanover and Louisa when the Church of England was the established church. In the early 1740’s, Samuel Morris invited a group of people to read the Bible and worship in his home. As this group grew, he began to build “Meeting Houses,” for Bible study. Upon being called to Williamsburg to defend his actions before Governor Gooch, Morris and other dissenters declared themselves “Presbyterians”. Governor Gooch granted them permission to worship in this denomination under the “Act of Toleration”.

Samuel Davies, Apostle to Virginia, arrived in 1747 to minister to this group of Christians in the seven Meeting Houses. Although he was a weak and sickly man, he had a profound impact on the move for religious freedom in Virginia. Patrick Henry was greatly influenced by Davies’ skill as an orator. During his tenure in Virginia, Davies taught slaves to read and sent missionaries to the Indians. Davies only preached at Providence until 1752, when the Presbytery sent John Todd to take over some of his preaching points. Davies remained in Hanover until 1759, when he was asked to take over the Presidency of the College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

John Todd became Providence Church’s first pastor in 1752 and he remained in this position for 41 years, serving until his death in 1793. He became a resident of Louisa County and established one of the first classical schools in the area. This school was a forerunner of Hampden-Sydney College of which Mr. Todd was one of the original trustees. Rev. John Todd was a supporter of the American Revolution and served as the chaplain of the Louisa Militia. It was also during Mr. Todd’s ministry to Providence that the famous evangelist, George Whitefield, preached from the Church’s pulpit.

Rev. Todd’s ministry marked the beginning of the long — and often difficult — history of Providence as a Presbyterian church. It is recorded that the congregation was nearly decimated by the Civil War, but was kept alive by one or two men and a few women. Over the years the size of the congregation varied little, usually hovering around forty members. Being a rural church, it was dependent upon the few residents of the area for its support. In 1947, the “Old Providence Rural Parish” was formed linking four churches under a resident pastor with Union Seminary and West Hanover Presbytery. This plan served the needs of the churches and provided valuable experience for seminary students and students of Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The plan worked so well that it was expanded to include other churches before a shift in Presbytery bounds caused it to be phased out of existence. The first seminary student to serve Providence under the parish plan was privileged to return as the church’s minister forty-six years later![1]

Providence is thriving and led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum Rev. Karen Witt. They serve the surrounding community in a variety of ways, including Providence Preschool. For more information about Providence and their rich history, or their preschool program, you can find information on their website:

https://providencepc.wordpress.com/

http://providencepresbyterianpreschool.weebly.com/

 

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

 

 

[1] https://providencepc.wordpress.com/

 

Worshiping With the Whole Body

When we physically participate in something, we are more likely to remember that moment or lesson. More senses are engaged and so more of the action is embodied and stored away for later. This is one reason why many suggest that it is better to take notes by hand rather than on a computer (clearly, those researchers never sat through on Old Testament lecture the week before an exam!).

“Research” also says that Presbyterians are “The Frozen Chosen.”

sleeping_in_churchWe have all seen it, and likely participate in it from time to time, if not every Sunday morning…the polite and calm worship service during which each person stands at the right moment to sing a hymn and sits at the right moment to pray. The communion tray is passed just so and each person nods just right in appreciation for the sweet and melodic anthem. The wiggle-filled child is quickly calmed down by the parent who glances sideways in hopes that no one was bothered by that dropped toy, and the older gentleman is gently nudged in the side by his wife at the slightest sound of a snore.

When I was younger, it seemed that my sisters, my father, and I had a goal to break every rule of “The Frozen Chosen.” We giggled with excitement when we saw a multi-language hymn in the bulletin and belted out the second language with great joy when the time came. We followed our father’s lead as he literally stood AS he began to sing, slowly and deliberately, instead of a few seconds before like everyone else. It was almost as if Sunday morning worship wasn’t complete without that glare from our Mom and that single finger held up, indicating that if we (the collective four) didn’t get it together, there would be a price to pay at home.

Now, maybe we did take it a bit far at times but I wonder if we were on the right track? We drew pictures of the scripture and made jokes about the sermon. We read every last word in the hymn in hopes of finding something to point out and laugh about. We focused on the prayers, even if sometimes that was just to find the right moment to make our sister laugh. We participated. We worshipped.

A few weeks ago, I worshiped with Northminster Presbyterian in Hickory, NC where one of our current students from the Charlotte campus, Jackie Putnam, is serving as Director of Christian Education alongside Charlotte alum, Rev. Merri Alexander (M. Div. 2013)- and what a joyful and participatory service it was!

Congos accompanied the opening hymn and brought a liveliness that was welcome the morning after Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. It took a great deal of control not to stand up and dance with the music! The call to worship was joy-filled and the passing of the peace was love-filled. I have always enjoyed those moments of moving around to embrace one another and share God’s peace.

Finally, the time came for the children’s sermon… my personal favorite part. Jackie asked that all children come to the front, and told them she was going to share a story with them but needed help. One by one, she asked ten individuals to come out of the congregation and help her. As they came forward, each was bandaged and given the role of one of the ten lepers from the Gospel reading for the day. One by one, each person helped to enact this story and bring new life, and new laughter to something many of us had only read up to this point.

The congregation laughed, the children bounced on their knees and clapped with excitement. The choir director, also known for the day as the Samaritan leper, demonstrated a praise for Christ like no other. The story was embodied. Each person learned something new about that story in those moments, my sermon changed slightly in response, and those children will not likely forget the day that Nathan threw himself at Jackie’s feet because he was the leper that was healed.

There is something to be said about sitting and listening, ensuring that every part of the service flows just right. It is helpful for those who like order and it is easy to know what to expect if you are a visitor. However there is also something powerful about a bit of laughter and truly embodying the scripture and inviting others to do the same in this Holy time and space.

Every person learns differently. When we open worship to every learning style…physical, mental, emotional, visual…every person not only feels welcome and comfortable, they are also able to walk away with a new and beautiful understanding of who God is.

How do you help your congregation worship with their whole body?
What would you try in worship if you knew that you wouldn’t fail?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer