“We are the Church”

I have a daughter who is 9 months old. At this age, she loves to clap her hands together whenever she hears a song, particularly to the “ABC’s” or “The Wheels on the Bus”. I remember loving to sing songs with hand movements like, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Father Abraham” when I was a kid growing up in the church.

church_steepleAs an older child, I was introduced to a little rhyme that included lacing my fingers together at the knuckles, fingers facing down, and creating a ball with my fists . It went like this, “Here is the Church (thumbs come out and thumb tips together), here is the steeple (pointer fingers come out and fingertips together), open remaining fingers) and see all the people!”. it up (twist hands inward and upward, wiggling.

The movements were not only difficult, but it took me several tries, watching friends, before I was able to master the lacing of my hands. I was reminded of this song after a visit this past Sunday at Salem Presbyterian Church because the song we learned during the Children’s sermon invited us to consider how “we” make up the Church, together.

Union-PSCE alum Rev. Janet Chisom invited children, and the congregation alike, to participate in singing a beautiful hymn by Richard Avery and Donald Marsh, titled, “We are the Church”. It goes as follows:


I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world! 

Yes, we’re the church together!

The church is not a building;
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people. (Refrain) 

We’re many kinds of people,
with many kinds of faces,
all colors and all ages, too
from all times and places. (Refrain)

And when the people gather,
there’s singing and there’s praying;
there’s laughing and there’s crying sometimes,
all of it saying: (Refrain)

Rev. Chisom proceeded to preach on 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, the lectionary text for that Sunday. She highlighted Paul’s reminder that Jesus Christ is our foundation, that God’s spirit dwells within each of us, the people, and not a building, and that we belong to Christ.

The hymn, “We are the Church” embodies Christian unity unlike the childhood rhyme I learned because the church is not about a building, nor the steeple, and we are not bound by our walls to be called “church”. When we gather, there is singing, and praying, and laughing and crying, all of it reminding us that WE are the Church.

Before the service began, Rev. Chisom shared with me that she and Rev. Will Robinson felt called by the Spirit to preach on our unity in Christ despite our differences in age, looks, abilities, and passions.

She is not alone in feeling compelled, as a clergy-person, to preach prophetically and rigorously about Christ’s Lordship and our collective call to love one another.

This is an unusual time for congregations around our nation in the aftermath of the 2016 election season. Many congregations celebrate the changes in our political atmosphere. Many congregations are troubled by the changes in our political atmosphere, while others may be experiencing tumult as members feel split between party lines. Paul reminds us, however, that we are all in this together. We belong to each other and we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

So this day, be encouraged that God’s word is timeless and in all times and places, of all colors and ages, WE are many kinds of people who make the Church, together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, YES! We are the Church together.

Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Union Ignites North Carolina

DSC_0187.JPGOver the last several weeks, Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni and friends have gathered for a time of fellowship, learning, and of course eating! These “Ignite” events are developed as part of our effort to connect with our alumni and friends closer to home, while sharing resources and keeping them updated about what is going on at our seminary and ways that they can be involved.

The greatest resource that we have to offer to congregations is our faculty. Over the last few years, North Carolinians have been both reunited and introduced to these incredible educators and leaders who are helping to shape the education and lives of our students. Throughout these recent “Ignite” events, they have reunited with Dr. Frances Taylor Gench and Dr. Ken McFayden, and were introduced to our newest faculty member, Dr. Richard Voelz.

dsc_0223Dr. Frances Taylor Gench kicked off these series of events with a bold statement that anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I personally strongly believe as well, “Saying the Church is dying is a self-absorbed view. We are changing. We are transitioning.” She continued the address as she explored Matthew 14: 22-23, the very first text that she assigns for translation in New Testament 1. Dr. Gench reminded those of us gathered in the Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, that we are not the first disciples to find ourselves in a time of turmoil and that this text presents a realistic picture of the Church in inclement weather, straining to be faithful in uncertain times. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, everyone gathered was transported back to their own New Testament experience at Union while being reminded of the challenge and encouragement we find in this text for our Church today.

dsc_0279Our newest faculty member, Dr. Richard Voelz, joined a group of alumni and friends at First Presbyterian Church in Durham. This lecture might have been the one that I was most excited about, in part because I had not yet had the chance to sit in on one of his lectures and also because of the title, “Preaching in Unsettling Times to Unsettled People”. As someone who has struggled many times with what to say on a Sunday morning following an attack or shooting, and especially in light of recent divisions, I greatly appreciated his transformation of the title in light of the current climate- “Unsettled Preachers preaching to Unsettled People in an Unsettled World.” Dr. Voelz continued to explain that the call to ministry comes as we receive students who feel deeply and profoundly unsettled and don’t know how to grapple with this call. Union now has to answer the question, and act on the answer of what it means to educate for ministry in this unsettled situation. “The ability to interpret doesn’t guarantee that one can lead with wisdom,” he told us.  Dr. Voelz’s talk filled me with confidence as I reflected on my own education and thought about those who will be entering the ministry soon. It also encouraged me to look at my own ministry and evaluate how I am encouraging each parishioner I come in contact with to move beyond only interpretation and into wise action.

dsc_0416Finally, Dr. Ken McFayden joined an excited (and Barbecue filled!) gathering at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, NC to share his own excitement for Union and our newest offering for home-based continuing education for Certified Ruling Elders, Pastors, and anyone else who wishes to develop their faith. “Pathways” is an online, five-week program brought to life through the urging of Virginia presbyteries in conjunction with two North Carolina presbyteries (New Hope and Coastal Carolina). This series of nine courses offered over a two-year period serve as a way to prepare individuals to lead a congregation as a Commissioned Ruling Elder. Anyone can join a course for the cost of $100 and then attend each course from the comfort of their own home or office at the assigned time (typically Tuesday or Thursday evening). As individual needs and demands on our time change, it is encouraging to know that there is this option available for those who might not be able to take a full week out of their schedule, or afford the travel expense, to gather in person for this training. Union is excited to begin using this very same technology throughout the rest of campus as we change the way that snow days and other gatherings look! And I am personally excited to gather online with this community next January for the 5-week course on “Addressing Racism in the Church”!

These gatherings have brought encouraging and exciting news to North Carolina, and we look forward to traveling to other areas very soon! If you are interested in attending an “Ignite” event, we invite you to join us at one of the following (For more information and to RSVP, please contact Bernie Howell at bhowell@upsem.edu):

First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota
Sarasota, FL
March 19, 2017; 6pm
Speaker: Dr. John Vest

Riverside Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville
Jacksonville, FL
April 2, 2017; 3pm
Speaker: Dr. Christopher Richardson

Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church
Norfolk, VA
April 23, 2017
(During the 11am worship with a reception to follow)

Cedar Point Country Club
Suffolk, VA
May 4, 2017; 6pm
Speaker: Dr. Brian Blount

If you are interested in hosting an “Ignite” event, please reach out to our Director for Alumni Development, Rev. Clay Macaulay at clay.macaulay@upsem.edu.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

Taking Jesus Seriously

Lady Gaga performs at Superbowl 51

This past Sunday was the Super Bowl 51 and no matter what side you cheered for, it was an epic game. I am a sports fan, but I was not particularly interested in the game this year apart from wanting to watch Lady Gaga perform during half time.

The thirty year old millennial superstar preaches a message of radical love of self and others, demonstrated in her most recent, blockbuster ballad, “Born This Way”. While her style of music and provocative artistry raises eyebrows around some religious communities, the chorus for “Born This Way” hits the nail on the head in terms of articulating a theology of inclusivity:

 “I’m beautiful in my way

‘Cause God makes no mistakes,

I’m on a right track baby

I was born this way…”

God did not make a mistake when creating all of us who make up the fabric of humanity, though we might side-eye a neighbor from time to time and think otherwise. Particularly in our current social and political situation, we may be more inclined to pray to God something along the lines of:

“I’m beautiful in my way, God,

And I know You don’t mistakes…

But Sally is making a mistake…

So I hope you can change her heart, oh God…”

Sound familiar? I will be the first to admit that my prayers, as of late, sound more like “Help (him/her), Oh God…” rather than, “Help me, Oh God…”.

I was reminded of this subtlety in my prayer life after visiting with Bayside Presbyterian Church, in Virginia Beach, Virginia this past weekend. Nestled near Lake Smith and to the northeast of Virginia Beach, Bayside Presbyterian Church has been serving the Church since 1948 and is currently pastored by Rev. Dr. David Rollins.

Love Tree at Bayside Presbyterian

Upon entering the front doors of the church, one finds a beautifully crafted, wooden tree structure just before the main entrance to the sanctuary. Red and pink hearts are strung up by decorative ribbon. Each heart includes the name or names of individuals listed by members of the congregation. This community prayer project was inspired by Valentine’s Day and Christian love.

Rev. Rollins shared, “The idea is to get people to take seriously Jesus’ command to love one another or try to see our neighbors as ourselves, even when we have great differences because of our unity in Christ. It is easy to think about and name those people that we find easy to love, but God asks us to love our enemies.”

Paper hearts were handed out to congregants as they entered the worship space on Sunday morning and folks were invited to string up their names or prayers on to the tree at the conclusion of the service. As Rev. Collins and I processed out, I went over and tied my prayer to the love tree. My heart stated, “My prayer is that I work to see the image of God in all those I encounter. Help me, Oh God.”

How is your congregation addressing unity amidst our divisive cultural climate?

Comment below!

Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Let the Spirit Dance In!

mapTucked away in the largest city of North Carolina, there is a vibrant community of individuals from Togo (West Africa). One of these individuals is Union Presbyterian Seminary’s own, Yao Thomas Agbemenou (M. Div. 2015).

In 2012, while Thomas was studying at Union’s Charlotte campus, he sought to fill a gap in this community and started what is now known as “Grace of God Worshiping Community” (or “Amenuveve Hame” in their native language, Ewe). Thomas reached out and invited community members in multiple ways, including inviting those who he played soccer with each week! Almost 5 years later, this worshiping community has taken on a beautiful and vibrant form, shaped by the leadership of each member.

Healing Service in Ho, Ghana (January 2012)

I had the wonderful opportunity to worship at “Amenuveve Hame” recently. Having travelled to Ghana (a neighboring country of Togo), I was thrilled to have this opportunity to reflect on my worship experiences in the Ghanaian cities of Accra, Kumasai, and Ho!

The flow of worship is somewhat different than what might be experienced in the same worship space at Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church only an hour before. Songs of worship and praise filled the space and soaked into every part of my body. Following an explanation of why we pray and confess our sins, prayers of confession and intercession were called out in multiple languages, all at once as I reflected on the beauty of this diversity, and the welcome that has been offered to this congregation and in turn to me. I listened to sermon in both Ewe and English and wondered if anyone would take Rev. Agbemenou up on his welcome to be interrupted if there were questions. No questions came until the end, but a few members did seek further explanation on some points that were made and Rev. Agbemenou promised to continue the conversation the following week as time began to close in around us. We sang in Ewe, French, and English. We danced and made the most joyful noise as we offered our monetary gifts and our lives to do God’s work.

In the midst of a broken and hurting world, I found peace and delight as I sang and danced with my brothers and sisters at “Amenuveve Hame”.
New Worshiping communities seek to meet a variety of needs within our communities (learn more about another New Worshiping Community, Farm Church, in this past blog!). As I reflect on this community and my experience with them, especially in light of all that is going on in our country right now, I am beyond grateful for their presentation of God’s Word. The welcome I received made me feel right at home and the word’s I heard proclaimed joined each of us in the Holy Spirit. When so many question how they can and should join with those who look, think, act, and believe differently than themselves, I delight in the fact that I was welcomed to worship with the Love of God (and translations!) rather than left alone in the pew as I wondered what I would see and hear in the next hour and a half.

If you are wondering what you can do in light of the divisions around our world, or would like to learn more about someone else’s life, I encourage you seek out an opportunity to worship with them. There might not be a congregation like “Amenuveve Hame” in your own community but there are other denominations and even other religions represented in almost every neighborhood around the country. Take an hour or so to speak with someone in these worshiping communities if you are not able to attend their service, and invite them to join you at some point as well.


Union’s Travel Seminar Group with members of a Volta Region Congregation (January 2012)

I originally attended worship at “Amenuveve Hame” to support a friend and colleague in ministry, but walked away with a deeper understanding of his own story and the way that the Word of God is proclaimed around the world. I left renewed and excited, eager to share their story. As I have thought back, I wonder– what would our communities, our country, look like if each of us was more intentional about worshiping with our neighbors and embracing the diversity of our faith backgrounds?

 Have you experienced worship in a different setting than what you are used to?

How are you encouraging your congregations to learn more about how Christianity, and other religions, are practiced around your community?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations


Sharing is Caring!

I really love my job. I am privileged to travel around the state of Virginia to greet pastors, educators, and congregations in my work as Church Relations Officer and to extend gratitude for the relationships built between our respective institutions. In addition to preaching, making presentations and sharing about the exciting happenings on both campuses of Union Presbyterian Seminary, I am eager to listen for ways in which we, as a Seminary, can support congregations as a regional body for curriculum, enrichment and further study.

With this goal in mind, the following is our latest installment of resources for the upcoming Lenten Season! We may be half way through this first season of Ordinary time in our liturgical calendar, but you still have plenty of ordinary time to intentionally prepare for Lent.

Below, you will find printed materials, online sites and local events to assist pastors, educators, and all believers for this coming season of Lent. Many of the publications can be found online at your favorite book distributor.

*Please note that the publications and sites listed below represent my personal recommendations and should be treated as such. As always, we would love to hear your favorites so please make a comment below!


“Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen” by Rachel G. Hackenburg (Paraclete Press, 2011)

I am not one to take time to sit and write. In fact, I find it incredibly challenging to stick to a regimen of journaling my thoughts, prayers or reflections in ministry. For this reason, Lent tends to be an excellent time to challenge myself to pray with my pen! This is an easy guide to praying with your pen, allowing God’s Spirit to move and to strip away insecurities about praying right or praying well. Challenge yourself to use a pen and not a pencil!

“40 Days, 40 Prayers, 40 Words” by Bruce Reyes-Chow (Westminster John Knox, 2016)

Short on time and attention? Join the club. As a new mom, I find it more difficult to center on daily practices for spiritual renewal as my little sprout grows. In my search for an applicable and accessible resource for Lenten study, I came across this gem from Bruce Reyes-Chow. Each devotion is centered upon a word inspired from the lectionary reading for that day, followed by a short reflection and prayer to summarize the study. Grab a cup of coffee and center in on God’s word for a fresh start to your morning.

“Lent for Everyone: Matthew, Year A” by N.T. Wright (Westminster John Knox, 2013)

Searching for a great study to use with a weekly group? Lent for Everyone is really for everyone. I found this study to be accessible for believers of all stages and walks in faith. Wright takes readers through the entirety of the Gospel of Matthew from Ash Wednesday through the week after Easter. Use this study alongside your favorite bible translation and reflect upon applications of the text to daily life. I have found this to be a real crowd-pleaser for both individual and group study!

“Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter” by Laura Alary (Paraclete Press, 2016)

This year I became a mother, but I have always been “Auntie” to 7 kiddos, ages 6-20. This year, I also became a Reverend so I am the go-to, theological resource person in my family (which is frightening and humbling all the same). In my search for practical resources for kiddos, I found this beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written book for children ages 8-12 (but you know your child best so use discretion). Let’s face the facts: Lenten stories and themes can be difficult to understand and scary for some little ones. This resource offers concrete examples of Jesus life and ministry and challenges little hearts in practical ways: Making Time, Making Space and Making Room as we wait for Easter. Check this one out for yourself and see if it is a right fit for you and your family!



Reviews of books for children and youth are written by students, alumni, faculty and friends of  Union Presbyterian Seminary.   The reviews are created using a common set of evaluative questions developed by Dr. Pamela Mitchell-Legg which consider literary elements and style as well as theology, Scripture and faith questions that can be  the used with different age groups.

 I love Storypath for use with children and families. The link above connects to books chosen based upon Revised Common Lectionary (Year A) and will offer a book for each week of study during Lent. They are listed in chronological order. So head to your local library and check out these fabulous books to use with your little ones as you prepare for Easter.



Seasonal devotionals are written by alumni, faculty, staff, students, and trustees. Check back to this website and sign-up to receive daily scripture readings and meditations! You can also download the entirety of the devotions and print them for daily use. This is a fabulous resource to use individually, as a congregation, or at home with your family. Enjoy!


EVENTS* (For those within driving distance to Richmond, Va)

“Preaching for Lent” by Rev. Jill Duffield, Editor of the Presbyterian OUTLOOK and Dr. Steve Eason, Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Richmond.

Thursday, February 16th at Presbytery of The James office, 9:30am-12noon


Now we need your help!

*Is your Presbytery or local church hosting a Lenten Study Series or continuing education opportunity for pastors or educators?

Do you have a favorite Lenten publication or children’s resource you wish to share with others?

Sharing is caring! Comment below.


Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer


A Prayer for a Divided Nation


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.


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