So That All Are Fed

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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

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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:

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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

 

 

A New Way of Thinking

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After hearing very little news for almost two weeks while on vacation, the very first thing I heard while making my way through the airport last week was the hourly update on our Presidential Election and the negative feedback from every corner. I sighed, missing the peace and quiet of the silent cell phone and absent computer. As I thought about what I was hearing on the news and reading in the selected scripture text in preparation for Sunday’s worship, I hoped and prayed that what I had been told about Hillsborough Presbyterian Church by their pastor, Rev. Bob Brizendine, was true because I had a feeling that I would touch some nerves with my sermon. When Rev. Brizendine and I met over lunch last month he explained to me that this is was a very open-minded congregation but I couldn’t help but think, at the time, “Sure… everyone says that!”

Hillsborough is a small town at the edge of Orange County in North Carolina, only minutes away from both Durham and Chapel Hill. The town has become home to several people who travel to “the city” for work but seek the calm of a small town for the “off hours.” This small, and even sometimes forgotten town (at least when talking to people from “the city”), is a beautiful mix of both blue and white collar, conservative and liberal, and almost all mainline Protestant denominations.

As Rev. Brizendine and I talked about the life of this particular congregation within this town, he explained that later that day they would gather with their Muslim brothers and sisters at a local Mosque for a study and then meal (after sundown as this was during the season of Ramadan). He continued to explain some of the other connections the congregation has within the community as well as the beautiful dynamic that takes place as the members discuss and challenge one another in their discussions and studies, never forcing agreement but instead seeking to understand disagreement.

On Sunday, I was delighted to witness and receive this incredible welcome and open-mindedness that had previously been described to me. At times during the sermon I had the thought of “I bet I am preaching to the choir!” but as I saw many nodding along with what I said, I could also see that there were those who were challenged by what I said. Following worship, I was surprised when these same individuals who appeared to be challenged by my words still came and not only thanked me for the sermon but engaged in discussion about what I said.

I would love to think that this is something that we all experience each week, but I know from experience that it is not. This is not to say that this is better or worse than any other congregation, but I do tend to think this is a rather unique experience especially in a small town. As I continue to ponder what I was told about Hillsborough Presbyterian and what I experienced firsthand, I can’t help but think that this beautiful dynamic has come to be with thanks to the nurturing of current and past leadership.

As congregational leaders, we are called to care for our congregations not just by making them feel good about themselves and the work of the Church, but also by challenging them and helping them to think and live in new and different ways as we usher in this new era for the Church. Even if we do not always agree, we learn from these discussions and experiences and our lives and ministries grow in incredible ways.

How do you encourage your congregation to break out of their comfort zone, thinking and living in new and challenging ways? What has been the result?

Please share your own story so we can learn from your experiences as well!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

CRO Update: Summer is here!

Hello from your Church Relations Officers!

We have had a busy few weeks between the two of us. Currently, Rev. Jordan Davis is enjoying some much-needed vacation time with her husband. Jordan has not taken a vacation since beginning her journey with Union shortly after graduation, so we hope she is enjoying some time away!20160714_133229

If you’ve been following our blog, you will have noticed that she has written entries for several weeks. She was carrying the torch for our office while I have been away on maternity leave. My husband and I welcomed our first child, Estelle McCoy Ball, in the early morning hours of Monday, May 30th. She is perfect in every way, but we’re a bit biased!Baby Stella-7

Last week was my first week back to the “office” of emails, liturgical preparation, and traveling to guest preach at Fairlawn Presbyterian Church in Fairlawn, Virginia. I was a bit nervous to get back into the pulpit after several weeks away, but I was greeted with such warmth and hospitality at Fairlawn. My worries soon melted away after walking through the front doors.

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Fairlawn is just outside of Radford University campus and is currently pastored by alum Rev. Allison Unroe, a 2011 graduate of Union. The plan for my visit worked out well as Allison was scheduled to serve as Pastor in Residence at Camp Hanover, a site and position very dear to her heart. Fairlawn Presbyterian Church holds Allison very dear to their hearts. She was described by several members as, “a young pastor with an old soul”, and it became very clear that she has cared well for this predominately older, smaller congregation.

I was aided by a lovely congregant, Anne Green, who assisted in worship with me. Anne was a great resource to me, a visiting preacher, because she shared about how things are “done” to help orient me to their worship style and preferences. I find this incredibly helpful as I navigate as visiting pastor! Moreover, the use of lay-leadership is incredibly empowering for congregational members and Fairlawn does this very well.

If you are a clergy person, you may understand the necessity of taking off Sundays for Sabbath, continuing education, or, God forbid, in an emergency. If you are a lay-person, you may understand the joy in participating in planning or leading worship in your congregation. Supporting the full-participation of members and leaders, alike, in worship unites the Body of Christ in beautiful ways!

Do you include lay-leadership in your congregation? In what ways are lay-leaders invited to plan, participate, and lead in your congregation? We’d love to hear about them!

Follow us via social media on our Facebook page!

We would love to see you while we are out and about visiting congregations and presbyteries. Interested in a visit? Shoot an email to our address listed on the right column of the blog! —>

Nicole C. Ball, Church Relations Officer

 

Living Room Ministry

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As a Chaplain Intern at Rex Hospital, I spent many Monday afternoons sitting with one older patient in Long Term Rehab looking over the bulletin from worship at her church the day before. We would discuss the different worship components, read the scriptures, and pray the prayers. One of the richest parts of our conversation was discussing what we would want to say and hear in a sermon based on the scripture reading but she mentioned many times how much she wished could hear what the pastor had to say in their sermon.

Ministering to our homebound members can be a struggle. How much is too much when it comes to visiting? How can we do more beyond taking communion? What if they don’t have a computer to live-stream worship?

I have never worked through this with a congregation, but I have spent a great deal of time with some of those homebound members and heard stories from congregations about how they reach out. The one thing that I know for sure is that this is a ministry that is needed and craved by our members, and one that we can learn best from those around us.

When I visited Berea Presbyterian Church (Four Oaks, NC) last month, Dr. Paul Rowland (CRE) explained that he was going to place a voice recorder on the pulpit before worship. I regularly slip a recorder of some sort in my pocket or on the pulpit so that I can listen back later, so I thought nothing of this. Dr. Rowland continued to explain that in addition to posting the sermon online, he would burn the worship service to a CD and take it to one of the members later. She is not able to come to worship in person, but loves to listen to the recording in the comfort of her living room.

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In addition to this recording that I know means so much to those who can’t attend worship and is more accessible than a live-stream for many people, Dr. Rowland not only makes a point to visit homebound members regularly but he shares a picture and word of thanks for the individual via social media when he visits. These posts can serve as reminder and update for other church members and remind others to pray for and even visit their own family and friends who might not be able to get out of the house.

There is no one way to minister to God’s children, and it can be especially hard to do when we may not see some individuals regularly. Sometimes mailing a copy of the bulletin is enough, other times a simple (even if not professional) recording can be incredibly meaningful. When schedules allow, it might be possible for multiple individuals from the congregation to visit and stay in touch but other times our vague but meaningful social media posts can provide just enough information to remind others to pray and update members on the wellbeing of their brothers and sisters.

How do you minister to your homebound members?
How do you involve the congregation in this ministry?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

When We Know

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As I worked on the sermon for this past Sunday and reflected about events of the week, I couldn’t help but relate to Elijah a little bit (from 1 Kings 19: 1-18). I felt alone. I didn’t know what to say to take the pain away or to explain how we should respond to the violence filling our world.

After quite a bit of typing, deleting, adding, and crossing out I stood up to preach at First Presbyterian Church in Kinston, NC. My heart ached but I felt at ease for the first time in a week. As I looked out at the faces of those gathered, I knew them. I had just met them, but I knew them. We shared this grief and pain, we shared in the struggles of everyday life beyond the horrific events in the news from Orlando. We shared in the excitement of Father’s Day and we shared in our celebration and praise of The Lord. Despite only meeting thirty minutes before, we knew each other.

There is a power that comes from knowing one another. I experienced the surface level of that, but I quickly learned that this knowledge of one another– their histories, their memories, their stories– ran so much deeper. Following worship, several individuals came to talk with me and then direct me to talk to one particular gentleman. We had just sung “Happy Birthday” to him so I knew “who he was,” but the reasons they shared for their request told me so much more. I had just played trumpet for the offertory and this gentleman used to also play; “this was like a birthday present for him!” several told me. Others explained more parts of his story to me as they guided me down the aisle to officially meet him.

Before worship began, a family invited me to their home for lunch. As we broke bread together that afternoon, they shared their stories of living all over our country as well as in England and Australia. Their son celebrated and shared his own memories from family adventures. They shared what they love about First Presbyterian and some of the things they have been involved in through the church. After we finished lunch, they shared their artwork and Civil War collections with me. They opened their doors and allowed me to get to know them.

In this world filled with violence and hate, spending time with the people we know and love can help to distract us. Spending time getting to know and love new people can serve to push that hatred away, even if just a tiny bit at a time. What is incredible about all of this is that in this world, filled with millions of people who we will never know personally, we are united with one another through our faith.

13254298_1186480588063208_2243257117184660814_nDuring my sermon on Sunday, I echoed the words of The Lord and asked the congregation “Why are you here today? Why did you come to church?” I told them that I came because that is where I feel safe in times like this- in that sanctuary, and in sanctuaries around the state and the world, with people who I know even just a little bit because of our shared faith and trust in God. I seek shelter and comfort in these places that I may only ever visit the one time, but will forever be joined with through the waters of our Baptism.

13406806_1206146586096608_1656312716221705815_nWhen we know that we are with others we are already joined with, together we can make a difference.

When we take the time and make an effort to get to know one another at a deeper level, we just might begin to change our world.

It was very apparent that the congregation at First Presbyterian in Kinston, NC knew and loved one another and that made a tough morning just a bit easier, it even turned some of our grief into celebration.

How do you provide space for your congregation to get to know one another?
Share your ideas so that we can get to know you better!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


Opening image from http://www.mutualresponsibility.org/