A Prayer for a Divided Nation

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As our nation prepares for a divisive Presidential Inauguration, we offer this prayer to God, our one true Leader.

For those who believe and those who do not,
We pray for your presence.

For those who are scared and those who celebrate,
We pray for your presence.

For those who will watch, and those who have no way,
We pray for your presence.

For those who cannot spend time worrying about government leaders,
For those who have nothing else to do,
We pray for your presence.

For those who will spend their day searching for their next meal and place to lay their head,
We pray for your presence.

For those who sit in the hospital waiting room, wondering if they will receive treatment next time,
We pray for your presence.

For those who fear for their loved ones, their families, their neighbors,
We pray for your presence.

For those on the right and those on the left, for those in the middle and those who do not know yet,
We pray for your presence.

For those around the world, with fears and hunger deeper than ours,
We pray for your presence.

For those who worship in hiding, and those who have yet to worship,
We pray for your presence.

For those who rejoice and share hope with the world,
We pray for your presence.

For those who stay silent, for fear of persecution,
We pray for your presence.

For all– divided and united, home and away, known and unknown,
We pray for your presence.

Gracious God, you have given each of us the gift of your Love even though we do not deserve it. You give us the strength and the knowledge to follow our own unique path, guided by your Word. You have chosen us and called us, rejoicing in the different interpretations we bring to Your Story.

As many try to divide us, may we feel this Love and hear your Word so that we might unite. As many try to divide us, may we stand together and sing Your praises as we drown out the words of hatred.

Your children are terrified, and they are excited. Your children yearn for an answer and they see glimpses of hope.

May we all remember, may we all see, may we all hear, may we all share Your Word, Your Light, Your Love, and Your Grace in this broken and hurting world.

Amen.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis, Church Relations

The “B” Word

It is the time for annual meetings in many, if not most, congregations. Are you ready?

I will never forget sitting in the annual meeting during my internship year. I was completely enthralled, and completely confused! Reflecting on that time, I think my confusion came mostly in the area of the budget and I am sure I was not alone!

Budgets are a confusing thing, especially for those individuals who might not even have a defined household or general monthly budget. At the time of this particular meeting, I had tackled the monthly budget but at the age of 25, that didn’t include too much.  I was, and am, no different than many of our parishioners and it has had me thinking— are our budgets one of the walls that have been built and are keeping individuals from being further involved in the life and ministry of our congregations?

Over the last few years, I have tried to understand budgets a bit more. One class offering at Union that helped me greatly as I started down this road was “Church Business Administration” which is also available through our Leadership Institute over the course of 8 separate and focused classes (one class completely devoted to, you guessed it, BUDGETS!). I highly recommend it to any church administrator, pastor, and clerk of session! (Learn more about our CBA offerings in Charlotte and in Richmond.)

I have recently looked at several different budgets in an effort to learn more about the congregations I am serving through Church Relations and have seen some really great ones, as well as some not so great budgets. As you begin, or finalize, your work on this year’s budget I offer these models to you–

  • wp-1484083706787.jpgThe Narrative Budget– this just might be my favorite that I have come across. This budget tells a story and draws the people in. Each ministry within the congregation shares their story of what has happened over the last year and what they hope to achieve in this coming year. Numbers are attached to the story, but are not the focus. These are the budgets that I have seen as most successful because we see a story and want to be involved. We see successes and dreams, and want to support that however we can.
  • wp-1484083534645.jpgThe Line Item Budget– almost complete opposite of the narrative, these budgets give a line by line breakdown. They are easily seen and understood for the most part, but show very little of where the money goes beyond each committee. These might be harder for individuals in the congregation to invest in, both financially and with their time and efforts. In my opinion, this budget might work best as an attachment to the Narrative.
  • time-budgetTime Budget– This is something that I saw for the first time at Peace Presbyterian Church (Winterville, NC). Their 2017 budget offers a narrative and line item model, but also includes the amount of time that is used for each ministry and the monetary value of that time.
  • weighted-budgetWeighted Expense Budget– Another new budget for me, introduced by Peace Presbyterian. This budget breaks down the overall budget (or a line-item) and explains what percentage of the budget goes to different aspects of ministry. This particular budget even includes notes about the percentage of the pastor’s time, helping to explain the age old questions of “What do we pay you to do?” and “Don’t you just write a sermon and visit a few people each week?”

 

Budgets are a tricky a thing, but the good news is that there are so many examples out there! Ask your neighboring pastors if you can see how they do their budgets, or dig around online (several congregations will be sharing them on their websites this time of year!). Most importantly, don’t be afraid to try something new or even ask your congregation what they would like to see!

I am a firm believer that many individuals are not as involved as they could be, because they don’t understand the language that many congregational leaders use. If we can make budgets accessible and use them as an avenue to share more about our ministry, we might be surprised at who shows up as a new committee member next month!

What type of budgets do you use in your congregation?
What has worked well for you?

I invite you to share your experiences so that might all learn from them!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Merry Christmas from Church Relations!

“Congregational Corner” will return in January, however we encourage you follow along with our Advent devotions as we journey through these final days of the Advent season.

www.upsemdevotions.wordpress.com

If you are planning your worship and fellowship schedules for 2017, please consider inviting one of our Church Relations Officers to join you! We are available to preach, teach, and/ or share a minute for mission at NO COST to your congregation.

Rev. Nicole C. Ball has openings Feb-May for
Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC congregations.
nball@upsem.edu

Rev. Jordan B. Davis has openings April-May for
North Carolina and South Carolina congregations.
jdavis@upsem.edu

From our families to yours,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jordan and Nicole

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Nicole, Tyler, and Stella
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Jordan and Marc

Alternative Gifting

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I remember the first time I learned about alternative gifts. I was a young child and desperately awaiting Santa’s arrival in hopes he would bring that Pony I kept asking for. As we wrapped gifts for family, my parents asked us to sign a card for our Grandparents, explaining that we were giving some animals from the Heifer Project. I was so confused! We could give animals to my Grandparents, but I couldn’t get a pony? We had a bigger backyard!! They proceeded to explain to three very confused little girls that the animals were not going to our Grandparents, but were in HONOR of them. A family in another country would receive the animals and be able to work on their farms and feed their family with thanks to the animals.

It was hard to understand this gift at first, but that idea has always stuck with me. Admittedly, I don’t follow my parent’s example as much as I should but I received a beautiful reminder of that gift, and how I can change my own gift-giving, when I visited Chapel in the Pines (Chapel Hill, NC) on the Third Sunday of Advent.

Chapel in the Pines might be a young congregation, but they are doing great work! As I explored their website to prepare for my visit, I was impressed by the outreach projects I saw listed. When I walked through the door on Sunday, I was greeted by examples of that outreach in almost every corner of the building. A full bulletin board, flyers on the doors, and baskets of food in the nooks. All of these caught my eye, but it was the tables up front that excited me the most!

20161211_100650.jpg“The Alternative Gift Market” gives those attending Chapel in the Pines an opportunity to think differently about the gifts they give during the holiday season. Each person has the opportunity to learn more about each organization the congregation supports, pick one or many to support financially, and then write a card to a loved one explaining the gift. Some material gifts were available, but the money from those went to organizations as well!

20161211_101330.jpgAnother great opportunity to turn focus away from the commercialized season is the “Reverse Advent Calendar” that each person is encouraged to take part in. Instead of opening a tiny door to find a piece of chocolate each day, each person or family places one non-perishable food item in a box. At the close of the Advent season, these boxes and baskets will be gathered and given to the food pantry that the congregation supports.

I believe it is incredibly important to set examples like these early-on in the lives of our children. At the very least, it helps to remind them that this season is not only about toys. It is also important that we remember that no matter how little we feel me might have, we always have enough to help another person. Whether it is a $1 gift or a $1,000 gift, an hour of service or a month of service. God has given us so much, and one of the greatest gifts is the ability to reach out. I celebrate and give thanks that Chapel in the Pines is turning the focus the Christmas season and empowering each person to give in a new way!

How  does your church encourage individuals to give in new ways?

 

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

Go to the Manger with Santa

December 6 is celebrated by many in the western cultures as St. Nicholas Day (Eastern cultures celebrate on December 19). St. Nicholas was a man of great faith and devotion who lived a life to serve others who were in need. The story of Santa Claus is based on the life of this real man, and can serve as a beautiful reminder for all if we take a moment to look beyond the sleigh and the toys!


Did you know that Santa prays for you and your children?

No, I am not crazy– please stay with me for a few moments!

Over the last several years, I have had the honor and privilege to get to know many men and women who “wear the red suit” as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. I have always sat in wonder as they talk not just about the toys that children ask for, but also about those little glimpses of an individual’s life that are kept hidden from the rest of the world. It seems no matter the age of the person, Santa is a “safe space” for many individuals with something weighing on their hearts or who need a listening ear.

I have been thinking about this a lot since Sunday. It was my week “off” and I filled the pulpit at a church in my Presbytery. During the prayers of intercession, something moved me to speak with each person who chose to come to the front to pray hand in hand. Prayers were lifted for loved ones who are sick or away from home, for personal struggles, and for peace. One prayer almost brought me to tears though.

In the midst of a circle of adults, there stood one little girl of no more than eight years old. She came up to me right away and hugged me before getting in the circle, and maybe that is what prompted me to start talking to those gathered. I leaned over and asked what she was praying for, expecting to hear something about school or a sibling. For the next minute, at least, she prayed for the world and the people who are hurting, the families who have no beds, the congregation who is without a pastor… the list went on and on. I stood there part in shock and part in awe. Such a young voice praying for such big things. A small person who might be overlooked anywhere else, crying out for those that so many look past every day. Her prayer inspired Advent light to shine in my heart!

santamangerAs I sat on the couch that night, next to my favorite decoration of Santa praying beside the manger, I began to think about the prayers of the morning in a new way. Here I saw a man who listens to all who come to him, praying at the side of the manger. One embodiment of love reaching out to THE embodiment of God’s Love and Grace. The one who many look to for gifts, praying at the side of the Ultimate Gift that no sleigh and reindeer can carry. This simple decoration, a reminder that even as Christmas is commercialized, the roots of Saint Nicholas’s story point back to Jesus Christ.

This Advent, each of us is seeking something, just as so many did thousands of years ago, and in many cases that might just be a listening ear that we can trust. I don’t know why I prayed with each person the way that I did, but I do know that some of those prayers– especially those of this young girl– likely would not have been voiced if I hadn’t taken that time to offer my ear and my heart. Comfort, healing, and peace can come in knowing that your prayers have been heard. Isn’t that something we all need this season?

Yes, it might seem odd, but I want to encourage each person to take a moment with Santa this year– especially if there is something weighing on you that you may not want to say to someone you know just yet. Many times, Santa actually carries a prayer journal with him, and if you watch during a break you might see him jotting down prayers that have been shared with him. The journal stays with him and he prays each day, keeping the children and families in his heart all the way.

These individuals in the red suit are ministers in their own right, taking on some of the hardest pastoral care there is this time of year– and the hardest wish lists! Santa breaks down dividing walls that we strive to but may not be able to quite yet, and offers a listening ear and prayerful heart for even our most personal Christmas prayers.

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On more than one occasion, speaking with Santa has helped me bring life to my prayers!

In a time that so many might feel alone or lost, seeking and longing, please know that you do have your family and friends here to listen to your prayers and I encourage you to offer that same listening presence for others as you are able. Your pastors are also available and waiting to sit with you and talk as needed. And if you aren’t quite to the point of being able to talk to someone you know, or if you have a loved one who might not be comfortable with your pastor but needs a listening ear, know that Santa is waiting and will carry those prayers with him all the way to the manger. You don’t have to be a small child to bend his ear!

Christ is the reason for the season, and maybe Santa is one of the unexpected ones who can help get us there when we might need it most!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

‘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