Worshiping With the Whole Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Service and Gratitude

Bulletin board welcoming Jonathan Bowman to the Lunch Bunch

In addition to my Church Relations work, I have been preparing to meet for Final Examination for ordination. I have spent much time, recently, studying our Book of Confessions and reflecting upon the mission of the church for members, the community, and the world. In a recent visit to Mattoax Presbyterian Church near Amelia, Virginia, I was reminded about our collective mission, as the body of Christ, to love and serve the community:

The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity. – The Confession of 1967, section 9.37

I met Nita Saunders during my visit and she shared with me how this call to serve inspired a mission outreach that serves an important group of people.  Nita had a dream to meet the social and emotional needs of the aging members of the congregation at Mattoax Presbyterian Church and their surrounding community. With some financial support and encouragement from the congregation, she started an outreach program titled, “The Lunch Bunch” which is a monthly, community gathering for anyone who wishes to share in fellowship, fun and a well-prepared lunch.

Sandi Huddleston-Edwards signs copies of her book for the Lunch Bunch

Nita and several others in the congregation help with gathering members and friends around the community by picking them up and taking them to the church for the social. Many of the participants live in the surrounding community on their own or in nursing and retirement homes. Building relationship with these members of their community is so important to the work of this little, country church. “Not everyone is a member of our church, and many of them are not even Presbyterian. There are folks who are Episcopalian, Methodist and Lutheran. We also have several people who are un-churched, and we welcome all. They may not join our church as a result, but we still want to show them our love.”

Author Sandi Huddleston-Edwards leads a discussion on her book

Each month, folks are welcomed into the cozy fellowship at Mattoax Presbyterian Church. Volunteers act as greeters and assist participants to their seats. While the program material changes each month, participants can expect a time which centers on fellowship, a guest speaker or presentation, time for games, and even an exercise element to get folks moving. Games and fellowship time are encouraged, and several members love to work on Suduko puzzle or play the crowd favorite, Bingo! A well-prepared, special lunch is shared with all before folks return home again.

A few months ago, the Lunch Bunch welcomed North Carolina author Sandi Huddleston-Edwards who authored, “Richard’s Key”, the feature for their book discussion. Sandi led the group in a discussion about the book and signed copies for every participant. Most recently, the newest Young Life leader to the community, Jonathan Bowman, visited with the Lunch Bunch and shared about this mission to serve high school students in the local community.

Nita receives so much gratitude from those who participate in the Lunch Bunch. “They are so appreciative for the little touches and the things we do for them. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is really important that we do something nice for them once a month. So many of them tell me how much they look forward to this event every time.”She has several others who help and contribute but much of the fine detail and special touch is from Nita, herself. For Nita, it is important that everyone experience welcome, friendship, engagement and community rooted in Christ’ example of love and hospitality to all.

How do your daily actions serve as the church’s mission in the world?


Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Unity in Brokenness

After another string of disheartening weeks in regards to the news we continue to receive about violence both at home and around the world, I needed the reminders that this past Sunday’s worship offered. On October 2, Christians around the world gathered around one Table in millions of locations as the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in a multitude of languages.  If only for one day, every Christian was reminded that despite our brokenness we truly are the ONE Body of Christ.

World Communion Sunday was highlighted in an especially beautiful way at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. In addition to celebrating communion in multiple languages, the congregation also celebrated with the children as every third grader received their very first “real” Bible. Just as each person is called into God’s service by name, each child was called by name to stand at the front of the sanctuary with their parents. As they received their Bibles, Dr. Lynn Turnage (Director of Christian Education, M.A. 1982) encouraged each child and family to do three things:

1607611) For the next month, leave the Bible in a common area in the house where the family gathers regularly so that each family remember can look through and read it as they feel led.

2) Write in your Bible! Mark the things they like and have fun with it. Use colored pencils and write a date when you mark scriptures so you can look back one day and remember what was important to you.

3) Ask your friends to mark their favorite verses when they come over and ask your family members and people at church to mark their favorites as well!

After each child received their Bible and Lynn’s challenge, the congregation was reminded of the vows they have made at the baptism of each child, and once again answered:

“Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture these children,
by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ and
to be faithful members of their church?”

In this moment, every voice was raised in recognition and reaffirmation of our baptismal vows to grow and lead one another in the way that Christ taught.

20161002_104509As we gathered around the Table, we celebrated and recognized that we did not come alone but came with Christians from all around the world, just as those who came before us and those who would follow us. The Words of Institution were shared in German, Dutch, Spanish, and a Ghanaian dialect as Rev. Ernie Thompson (M. Div., 1988) and I broke the bread and poured the wine. The elderly came to the Table and the children came, those who are both strong in faith and weak in faith, those who need comforting and those who comfort…  two dogs even came along side their owners!

In a broken and hurting world, I think we all needed a moment of celebration and peace this past Sunday and I pray that each person found hope and reconciliation around the Lord’s Table. I pray that each person was offered some reminder that each of us has been called by name, no matter where we find ourselves in life. I pray that God did hear true rejoicing, in every language and on every continent, as each child of God gathered together if only for a brief moment.

How did your congregation celebrate “World Communion Sunday”?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

The Next Generation #hopeful

Edge Career Fair Online Banner GraphicYesterday, I had the pleasure of spending time with students at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Randolph-Macon is a small, liberal arts college nestled in the “Center of the Universe”, a railroad town half way between Richmond and Fredericksburg.


The school put on a fair for graduate schools, internship programs and potential employers. Students were encouraged to treat the fair like a first interview, including business dress and with resumes in hand. This was a most exciting event for me because I am alum of both Randolph-Macon College and Union Presbyterian Seminary! It was a treat to share about my experience as an R-MC Yellow Jacket and my decision to attend seminary after finishing my undergraduate studies.

I had a great time meeting with several students who expressed interest in attending seminary to further their theological studies. As we chatted, I explored with them their sense of call and how they would like to impact the church and the world around them.

One student mentioned feeling a call towards parish ministry where she might use her gifts to support the ongoing efforts of congregations modeled after 1,001 New Worshiping Communities and to learn from resources like the Next Church movement.

Old Chapel on the campus of Randolph-Macon College

Another student felt called toward missions and was exploring options to serve in programs across a number of denominations that encouraged young people to engage in relational and servant ministries as a means to discern a greater call in ministry. We talked about programs like the PC (USA) Young Adult Volunteer program and the Peace Corps. He also expressed a desire to consider life-long ministry in the mission field.


Another young man caught me on my way out the door. He was interested in continuing studies in religious education but had many assumptions about seminary. It was clear he had not been informed that seminary was like other graduate school programs where students gathered to learn, grow and prepare for their future career. We laughed at one point because he remarked, “I thought seminary was like going away to spend long days in prayer!” He found it helpful to hear what he described sounded more like life in a monastery and that, while prayer and reflection were an important piece of life in seminary, he could find similarities to his experiences in a college classroom.

Upon reflection, I am left feeling hopeful for the future of the church. There were common threads of excitement, encouragement, and hope in our conversations. The young women and men with whom I spoke were all raised in some flavor of Christianity and acknowledged the challenges they faced despite affirming a call towards ministry. These young people were not naive to questions and comments about their vocational discernment from their peers:

The church is nothing but a mess of hypocritical, closed-minded people.

 You cannot simply think that Jesus Christ is the only way to truth?

 We know so much more about the world around us. Where does that leave space for religious belief?

 I’m spiritual but not religious. I would never fit in a church.

 You will be so poor!

And yet, they felt hopeful about the impact they will make in their respective community and the world around them.  I have no doubt that lessons will be learned, tough questions will be faced and growth will occur in the fertile ground of their hearts. However, their passion for service to others in the name of Jesus Christ shined through. Thanks be to God!

“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NRSV

Do you have young folks in your respective community who are discerning a call to ministry? Consider inviting your local Church Relations Officer for a visit or contact our Director of Admissions, Rev. Mairi Renwick for questions: mrenwick@upsem.edu


Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer



“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!