“Union on the Move” at the “E3 Learning Fair”


“Elmo” attends Dr. John Carroll’s lecture at “E3 Learning Fair and Union on the Move”

A very common memory shared by many congregations I have visited, especially throughout North Carolina, is “that time when students and professors came and led worship… it must have been twenty years ago!” That time that so many refer to was what we once called “Caravan”. Union students and faculty would load up and caravan to a region where they would then lead Sunday worship services at multiple churches.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many good things, “Caravan” eventually came to an end.

Five years ago, Union Presbyterian Seminary began a new initiative to connect congregations with the seminary by giving individuals the opportunity to attend lectures by our professors for a day and aptly name it “Seminary for a Day.”

29826348236_c5ca1742f4_o.jpgToday, we alternate years and offer “Seminary for a Day” every other year and an even newer initiative “Union on the Move” in the off years.

The Presbytery of Eastern Virginia hosted our very first “Union on the Move” in October 2014 and this past weekend, The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina hosted “Union on the Move” in conjunction with their own “E3 Learning Fair: Educate, Equip, Empower”.

“Union on the Move” is very similar to “Caravan”- some of our students, faculty, and staff head to a specific region to lead workshops at a Saturday gathering and then assist in worship leadership at several congregations on Sunday morning.


Attendees peruse “The Thoughtful Christian” for new resources.

“E3 Learning Fair” is a unique opportunity for members of The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina to gather together for a day of networking and learning. The presbytery provided a resource table for church leaders to borrow books from and “The Thoughtful Christian” set up a table where books could be purchased. Several committees and organizations within the presbytery set-up tables filled with prayer, media, and mediation resources. I along with Union faculty members Dr. Brian Blount, Dr. Sam Adams, Dr. John Carroll, Dr. Stan Hargraves, Dr. Ken McFayden, and Carson Rhyne (adjunct faculty and Presbytery of the James Executive Presbyter), and with other staff members and alums Rev. Thomas Agbemenou and Rev. Clay Macaulay joined the event to assist in leading workshops and connecting with individual congregational leaders.

Dr. Brian Blount offers the keynote for the day.

The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina has done a lot of reshaping over the past year, placing a focus on strengthening the relationships between individual congregations. Presbytery meetings are now held as a whole only twice per year and the remaining meetings take place in “clusters”. I was able to attend two of the three cluster meetings in June and was amazed at how smoothly everything went and how easy it was to connect with other leaders. Coming from a very large presbytery myself, I understand that these meetings sometimes can be so busy that connections cannot occur easily. In this new setting, neighboring congregations are connecting on a deeper level and are able to join in ministry together in a new way. This “E3 Learning Fair” is another opportunity to deepen those relationships and provide important and transformational resources to the congregations. In many cases, individuals might be overwhelmed or not know where to look for certain resources and this provided them a venue to make contacts with those who can help in the search.

Rev. Clay Macaulay greets a member of The Coastal Carolina Presbytery

It was such a great joy to join with others from Union Presbyterian Seminary and with The Presbytery of Coastal Carolina this weekend. I was able to witness reunions between our alums and professors and between pastoral colleagues who might just be coming up for air following an eventful summer and “Rally Day”. No business meeting was held, but stories and resources were shared. We also delight in the fact that Union Presbyterian Seminary might now be more than just another name in the list of seminaries and is now a “go to” resource for several more congregational leaders.

How does your presbytery help provide educational resources for your congregational leaders?
What resources do you need most in your ministry today?

Rev. Jordan Davis
Church Relations

Sing a New Song

It has been a few years since the release of Glory to God, the new Presbyterian Hymnal. I remember celebrating the release as a final year student at Union, standing around the choir room with my friends and professors. We sang through the hymnal over the course of several hours, laughing and rejoicing the whole way.


Union students, faculty, and staff welcome the arrival of
Glory to God on campus in 2013

Not every church rejoiced with the new hymnal though. Many were not able to afford to replace their current hymnals and others found themselves in deep discussion about whether or not they should purchase the new hymnals. Many congregations were nervous about what the new hymnal would bring – Would they be able to learn these new hymns?

Over the last several weeks I have spent time with many different congregations (and been in touch with several where I plan to visit soon) who are beginning to explore this “new” hymnal at a deeper level. As much as we love singing the hymns we know and love from our childhood, this hymnal encourages us to stretch our voices and praise with brand new, and new to us, hymns.

As a musician, I eagerly search the pages for the perfect hymn to follow my sermon, but I also realize that I am in the minority. As congregations begin to branch out though, I am both surprised and proud at the many ways these new hymns are being introduced and taught.

As a music education major, I learned a concept called “scaffolding” in which the teacher uses a previously learned concept to build upon, one step at a time. I saw this wonderful practice played out recently as a choir director paired the words of the new hymn with a familiar tune. Soon they will return to this hymn and pair the now familiar words with the new tune.

I have heard choirs rehearse and share beautiful anthems straight out of “Glory to God” rather than purchasing new music each week. Not only are the choir members learning these hymns, but the congregation is invited to follow along in their own hymnal so that they might learn the hymn as well. Soon they will sing these anthems with one another and praise God with their unified voices.

A final way that I have heard hymns introduced is through building blocks. The first week of each month brings the first verse of a new hymn, and one verse is added each week following until the hymn is sung in its completeness at the close of the month.

Not everyone in our congregations is a musician, and fewer have formally studied music. We should not allow this to bring our praise only to a certain point though. As we learn together, as we laugh together, as we lift our voices together, God celebrates our joyful noise and our understanding of scripture broadens with each new verse.

How do you introduce new hymns to your congregation? Share your stories!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Students In Ministry

We do not become pastors overnight. For folks interested in becoming Teaching Elders in the Presbyterian Church (USA), three or more years are dedicated to academic development, spiritual formation, and practical ministry experience. On the campuses of Union Presbyterian Seminary, students are challenged to engage the spectrum of Bible, theology, ethical principles, Christian Education, preaching, worship and pastoral care in conversation with one another and the communities around them to craft a foundation for their vocational path.

The Supervised Ministry curriculum integrate interests for ministry and learning goals based upon three leadership roles: practicing theologian, congregational leadership and community witness[i]. Students engage in theological reflection and integration, peer reflection, vocational discernment and practical ministry. Opportunities for learning are crafted in Clinical Pastoral Education settings, parish internships and Church in the World internships.

First Presbyterian Church, Covington

Mid-July, I made a visit to First Presbyterian Church in Covington, Virginia to guest preach and share about Union. It was a real joy to hear about the rich connection between this congregation and the seminary over the years. Elder Jim Snyder informed me of their historic relationship through the, then, Student-In-Ministry, or SIM year program.

Through this one-year program, students developed hands-on, practical ministry experience in a parish-based setting. First Pres, Covington welcomed several students throughout the early 1980’s and 1990’s. Mr. Snyder contacted one of their former SIM students, Rev. David Witt, current pastor of Opequon Presbyterian Church in Winchester, Virginia, to hear about his experience as a SIM student.

Like SIM students before him, Rev. Witt was responsible for three main areas in the life of the congregation:

  • Pastoral care, including hospital visitation and funeral assistance
  • Preaching and worship leadership for FPC, Covington and a local, country chapel service
  • Christian Education and formation for the youth of the congregation

The relationship between the SIM student and the congregation was mutually beneficial. The SIM year student gained practical, hands-on ministry experience in a variety of contexts and scenarios. Moreover, Rev. Witt and others benefited from the year to discern their vocational path. The congregation at FPC, Covington enjoyed the fresh perspective of the seminary student and the support to staff to meet the needs of the congregation.

With these same goals in mind, Union Presbyterian Seminary has continued a legacy of deep theological reflection, integration, and learning through the Supervised Ministry curriculum. Whether through Clinical Pastoral Education training in a health care setting, in a parish-based internship, or working in a social justice ministry context, students have a better grasp on their gifts, passions and further growth opportunities.

How did your practical ministry experience inform your current practices for ministry?

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

[i] http://www.upsem.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Academic-Catalog-2016-17-1.pdf Scroll to page 23, “Academics”, “Program Goals” for full description!

In the Interim

An interim period of time in the life of a congregation can seem like a liminal space between what has been and what will be. This fertile ground can be an opportunity for healing, reflection, and prayerful discernment of future hopes and dreams. This past Sunday, I was invited to lead worship at a congregation that is using this interim period of time to look critically at their identity as well as how others perceive them.


Orange Presbyterian Church is nestled on Main Street of downtown Orange County, Virginia. Serving as interim pastor, Rev. Liz Hulme Adam encouraged the Session of the congregation to explore a mission study as they discern a plan of action for the future of the congregation as well as their hopes for their next installed pastor. Spear-headed by Clerk of Session, Ralph Graves, the congregation will begin surveying this winter.

With a goal in mind to explore both the congregational and community perceptions of their institution, OPC will undergo a two-part study.

The first survey will focus upon how they perceive themselves as a congregation and how they perceive their strengths and weaknesses in their various ministries. Each participant will be asked to list congregational ministries by their perceived importance. Finally, each participant will also be asked to rate how well OPC carries out that particular ministry opportunity.

The second survey will focus upon community perceptions of the congregation from the perspective of organizations that work with OPC and those which use the congregational space. Some of those groups included, but are not limited to, pastors representing the Orange Ministerial Association, the local Habitat for Humanity offices (located on OPC property), the local Food Bank, Alcoholics Anonymous groups which gather at OPC, and GED training classes. It is vital to hear how the community perceives OPC’s role and value in the local community.

“Collectively, these surveys should give us a very realistic picture of whom we are and who we want to be”, said Graves. “This should help us determine how we can move forward and effectively do the work of Christ.”OPC will digest their survey results into goals for the future and will aid them in determining an accurate Ministry Information File for future pastoral candidates.

Has your congregation ever conducted a mission study? What were your goals? What did you learn about yourself as a congregation? Share your thoughts with us!

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer



So That All Are Fed


One of the most common debates I have come across within the Church is something that I have never really understood- who receives communion. I grew up in a church where communion was served every week and a point was always made that anyone could receive communion.  However, there was always at least one person who made a fuss when my parents would allow my sisters and me, before baptism, to take part as they explained each element every week. For the longest time, I thought the conversation ended there- are children old enough or responsible enough for such an important aspect of worship. Fast-forward twenty years and I am hit with the fact that for many it isn’t just children who shouldn’t receive communion, but there is a longer list attached including exceptions.

After engaging in several, sometimes heated, discussions about when and where communion should be able to take place and who should be able to receive it, my visit to Thyatira Presbyterian Church was a breath of fresh air. As I stood around the Table with a few Elders before worship and they mentioned that the person to my right would need to be served first because they would be leaving to go to the nursery.

I stopped. I probably looked at them like they had three heads.

“You take communion to the nursery?” I asked.

“Well, yes. The people there need it to!”

I was blown away.

Now, I am a HUGE proponent of ensuring that ALL  people who wish to are able to receive communion but to find a congregation that goes to this length was incredible.

I have seen plates with one small cup and one small piece of bread sitting on the organ. I have heard people tell me that when they listen in on the intercom in another room, they pray while elements are passed but they don’t receive them down the hall. To take the time to send someone with plenty for all who are gathered down the hall- before worship even started, my heart was about to burst.

Finally, the time came and following a prayer and the Words of Institution, the Table was set. Elders spread throughout the sanctuary ensuring that everyone who wished to, received communion. The music played and the people prayed or looked around smiling at the others who had gathered. Yes, it did take an extra minute or two, but as we waited for the side door to open again and the final Elder to return from the nursery, I felt Christ’s presence in a new and powerful way.

Every denomination has guidelines that apply to this Holy moment in worship and there is debate around those guidelines in every denomination. However, when the moment comes to worship and praise God, and to serve God’s children in this truly unique and incredible way, all debate can and should come to an end as we serve only as vessels of God’s life-giving grace that truly is for ALL.

How does your congregation ensure that all who wish to take part in any or all elements of worship are able to?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Yoked Congregations: Well-Muscled and Powerfully Built


Over the last two years, I have developed a much greater appreciation for a commonly overlooked ministry — yoked congregations. When congregations are yoked, an intentional decision has been made to retain separate congregational lives but share a pastor. Usually, these are congregations that can’t afford to pay a pastor on their own but are not quite to the point of needing to close.

I first heard of yoked congregations when a Methodist friend was assigned to three small congregations in a small town nearby. I couldn’t imagine how he could do something like that, and honestly thought that something crazy must be going on in the Methodist churches! As days passed, I began to hear more and more about this type of setting in every denomination until I was asked to supply on behalf of New Hope Presbytery at two of our own yoked congregations. I was eased into this idea at first since the two congregations were worshiping together on this Sunday after Christmas but it was only two months later when I got the full Sunday experience.

For a pastor of yoked congregations, a typical Sunday morning might look something like this:

8:45am (or before)– arrive to church #1 to prepare for worship and greet congregation
9:45am– Worship begins at church #1 (be sure your sermon is timed and does not exceed a certain limit based on what other worship aspects are present!)
10:45am (no later)– jump in the car and drive to the next church (sometimes as far as 20 minutes away)
11:00am (or sometimes 11:15am)– Worship begins at church #2
12:00pm– greet second congregation

The remainder of the day could include committee and session meetings between both congregations, fellowship events, Bible studies, and of course pastoral care visits.

Up until this past Sunday, I definitely had a great appreciation for pastors in these settings but it was more in the sense that I wasn’t sure how they managed to serve two or more congregations when the schedule was so hectic. This past week, however, Littleton Presbyterian Church and Stanley White Presbyterian Church showed me a different aspect that pastors get to work with when serving in a yoked setting.

Quite typically, both Littleton and Stanley White were smaller congregations in smaller buildings on the outskirts of town. As I pulled up to park at Littleton Presbyterian around 8:40am though, I noticed a big cement slab out back. It was clear that this was a new addition and I was definitely curious. As I looked through the bulletin, two members and leaders from the congregation set-up for Fellowship following worship (yoked churches cannot run without the efforts of every member). They explained to me that just over a year ago, the congregation had dwindled to 10 people on Sunday and a vote had been made to close the church; a year later, there are 20 people in worship and the cement slab is the start of a new building that is intentionally being built in a way that it can transform over time from a much more basic shelter into an enclosed building that can be utilized for multiple things. She explained that people finally realized how serious things were when the announcement about closing was made, and they came back and continue to bring new life back to the church.

Following worship, I enjoyed a few crackers with the congregation before jumping in the car to make the trip to Stanley White Presbyterian Church (following the church pianist who also serves both congregations). We arrived with a few more minutes than I am used to with the other yoked congregations I regularly visit, so I took a minute to greet the congregation and prepare in this new space. Quite unlike Littleton, this sanctuary looked newer and more modern. The building appeared to be a big bigger and the light streaming through the windows had a very bright and refreshing feeling. Following worship, the few of us there (roughly 10-12 people) had a conversation about “how do we get people to come? Not just young adults, or old adults… anyone?” I realized while visually, this church looked to be in one place that meant nothing. We had a great conversation and I continue to pray for and with this congregation as they discern their next step during this transition time without a regular pastor.

These two congregations, only twenty minutes from each other, served by the same pastor until recently, with the same Order of Worship every week couldn’t be more different. I imagine in the time they have been yoked, they have both changed in many ways. I imagine the pastor had many long weeks, but I also know that there had to be many more life-giving weeks. Each congregation brings its own joys and concerns every week, each congregation functions as an individual community. Each congregation took what I imagine could have been a very hard step, but one that just might have been what allowed them to get to where they are now — to join together and call a pastor who would serve each one in a complete, yet divided way.

Not only am I encouraged by the decisions that these and other yoked congregations have made, knowing it may not be the norm but it is the right decision for them and their community, but I am encouraged by the pastors who serve these yoked congregations. Ministry, as we all know, is an exhausting and emotional job. The demands that we have on our lives as ministers are unlike any other job. To willingly accept a Call to double the demands (because remember, it isn’t just that there are more people- there are at the very least, two very different community stories and lives) is an incredible recognition of God’s presence in our lives and demonstration of allowing God to lead as we serve as God’s hands and feet.

I have only experienced the Sunday morning aspect of yoked ministry, and want to nap for the rest of the day when I think about it. And so, to all of you who step-up and lead your congregation while the pastor is with another church — thank you. To the church musicians who might have to learn extra hymns each week due to different hymnals between churches, and who guide guest preachers like myself along the road — thank you. To the pastors who give so much of their time and energy to lead these congregations in remarkable ways — thank you. And to the congregations who spent a great deal of time discerning separately and together, who sought new ways to answer God’s Call, and banded together to continue your unique ministries side-by-side, thank you.

6113035626_984a483fd2_oOne of the definitions of “yoked” is “well muscled; powerfully built.”

Your faith, your steadfastness, your determination– this is what inspires those of us who see you, those of us who do not know what the next step might be. The leadership from within and the love that must be present and is shared with one another when the pastor can’t be with you because they are with the other congregation- this is a model for all of us. You might be small, but you are powerfully built both together and individually. Thank you.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Vacation Bible School: By Day or By Night?

vacation.bible_The summer months can be tons of fun for a number of reasons: daylight lingers, watermelon is in season, lightning bugs litter the sky at night, and churches host Vacation Bible School programs!

In my travels around the state, I have noticed that some churches host their Vacation Bible School program during the daytime while others host their programming in the evening.

Pastors, Christian Educators and lay-leaders must choose a time that best suits their congregation and their local community.

Considering making a change to the time schedule for next year? Below are some ideas about hosting by day or by night!

Daytime VBS:

VBS at First Presbyterian Church, Richmond
  • Early morning or mid-day programming supports families with working parents and keeps children engaged during normal business hours. Carpools and shared pick-up and drop off-times are a great way to help support one another!
  • Youth and College-aged students are generally free during the summer months. This can be a great option for volunteers and staff support. Moreover, learning and nurturing can be a two-way street!
  • Morning programming can allow for fun and engagement without impacting lunch and nap time for little, growing bodies!
  • Feeling rushed to have it all together each day? Programs that finish earlier in the day allow ample time to clean-up and set-up for the next day of fun.

Evening VBS:   summer_kids

  • More adult volunteers may be available with evening programming, especially if their children are attending. Sometimes, an adult class is offered simultaneously.
  • Kids aren’t the only ones who can have fun! Evening programs could offer special time for parents to consider a date-night out.
  • Evenings are a great option if the age range for participants includes middle and high school kids. And while you’re at it, encourage them to bring a friend!
  • Have volunteers for both day and evening? Schedule helpers the day after for clean-up and set-up to ensure smooth transition and to give your evening volunteers a break.


If your congregation puts on a Vacation Bible School program, does it occur during the daytime or during the evening?

What times works best and why?

Please share your ideas!



Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer