“Word in the World”

word in the world
Photo by Emily Rhodes Hunter, M. Div. 2015, taken by the Sea of Galilee

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

“What’s on your mind?” This question greets many of us every morning, afternoon, and evening as soon as we type “f” into the address bar at the top of our browser window. We may not even have to finish typing the address “facebook.com” because we visit the site so regularly. This social media page has become one of our closest communities and ways to stay in touch with one another.

Union Presbyterian Student, Carol Ferguson, decided to utilize this community as one aspect of her ministry during her “Student Year in Ministry” term at First Presbyterian Church in Henderson, NC. Not long into her time at First Presbyterian, Carol saw an opening for a new way to have open discussion. Schedules couldn’t stand the way of something with 24/7 access, and the “closed group” aspect provided a safe space for inquisitive minds to discuss everything from how they relate to Samuel’s call story to how they can see and use the Lord’s Prayer in new ways.

Every week, Carol posted a Scripture selection accompanied by a picture and question to ponder. She included tradition and historical information that could be useful and informative for that particular topic. The following day, Carol would invite people to begin discussing if they had not already.

“Word in the World” attracted several members of the congregation from different walks of life. In some cases, participants were not members of First Presbyterian, but they were friends of members. Some posted a response to Carol’s initial thought or question every week. Others never posted but simply read and pondered on their own. Some participants had a great deal of knowledge, others may have had none. No thought was disregarded and no conversation brought to an end before it ended on its own.

In a world where it seems that most words shared are done so online, it can be a struggle to find ways to share God’s Word in accessible and interesting ways. It is up to us as congregational leaders, community witnesses, and practicing theologians to respond to those changes. These three roles are what Union’s  academic curriculum encourages students to address in every class[1]. These three roles are what can guide us in our own curriculum development, worship planning, and community events for each individual congregation and the greater Church.

Facebook is not for every person or every community. Other’s might respond better to the photography focus of Instagram while some might respond best the 160 characters of Twitter. Some communities may not even know what any of those three are. Our challenge today is to look at the needs of those whom we minister to and what they are most interested in, and find ways to faithfully intertwine God’s Word into that.

“Word in the World” may not continue as Carol moves on to her final year at Union, or maybe a participant will take the lead and keep it going. Only time will tell. However, the conversations and thoughts that were shared  will last in every participant and all who joined the group saw that the daily question of “What’s on your mind?” can mean so much more than the daily photo of a cat or complaint about work.

What is on my mind, thanks to First Presbyterian Church in Henderson? My mind is spinning and flipping in all directions as I too try to find new ways to share The Word in the world.


First Presbyterian Church in Henderson, NC is led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum, Rev. Keith Benze (M. Div. 2009) who continues a tradition of all Union educated ministers. Carol Ferguson has completed her third year at Union and plans to graduate in May 2016 with a Master of Divinity. She served as intern at First Presbyterian from June 2014-May 2015. Find out more about First Presbyterian’s ministry at http://www.fpchenderson.org.

[1] Learn more about the roles of Congregational Leader, Community Witness and Practicing Theologian on pages 21-22 of our Academic Catalog- http://www.upsem.edu/img/academics_pdf/Academic_Catalog_2014-15.pdf

Stories

Westminster Presbyterian Church Raleigh, NC
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Raleigh, NC

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

When you walk in the front doors, the soft light fills the sanctuary in front of you as it streams through the ornate stained glass windows. A beautiful depiction of Christ’s ascension sits above the choir loft and the Communion Table. If you arrive early enough, you can sit in one of the pews admiring the different windows while listening to the radiators or A/C (depending on the time of year, of course) slowly click on and the creaks of an old building moving and settling with every gust of wind.

The sanctuary at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC isn’t anything special. It wouldn’t necessarily stand out when a picture of it is placed next to several other sanctuaries; but just like any church building, it carries its stories with every creak of the building and click of the radiator. For a smaller congregation like Westminster, this is where the heart of their ministry takes place.

A person can’t sit in the company of the creaks and clicks too long on a Sunday morning before one of the members comes to greet them. A friendly smile, a handshake or even a hug, and if they are lucky a short story or a memory from when the member was growing up in that same sanctuary.

My favorite story? The one of the two families who couldn’t remember which pew was “theirs” so one of the ladies, a life-long member, found a Sharpie. To this day a visitor will find an “F” on one pew, and a “B” on the pew just behind it.

There are initials and pictures carved into the pews up in the balcony. The initials of the 80-year-old men who used to cause trouble up in the balcony as teens in worship, but now sit quietly down below.

Names of educators and leaders are found in the different stained glass windows.  Some are quickly remembered, others might not be as easily recalled, but their influence still remains.

For a smaller, older congregation the stories shared in the sanctuary are one of the best, and most accessible, forms of ministry. The hugs and smiles show how much they care, even if they did just meet you. The songs that are sung, the joys and concerns that are shared, the tears that are shed, and the Word that is proclaimed can be life-giving for the stranger coming in from the cold or the neighbor looking for some encouragement.

Looking around at the faces of those in the pews during worship, there is a glimmer of new hope that is present. The older faces show patience and wisdom. The younger faces are lit up with new energy. The quiet giggles of the children bring the potential for new adventures. New memories are made in the old sanctuary every single Sunday. New interpretations of centuries-old scriptures are brought to the surface for prayerful consideration. New life is found in the creaks and the clicks of the aging walls and equipment.

Every sanctuary has its own stories to tell. Stories of Baptisms, stories of funerals; stories of weddings, stories of tear-filled conversations; stories of kids climbing around under and on the pews, stories of the elderly who lean on the pew for support as they walk up to take communion. For many congregations, if not most, this is where ministry begins. This is where the greatest story of all time is first heard, and where other stories, as a result, begin.


Westminster Presbyterian Church is located at 301 E. Whitaker Mill Rd. Raleigh, NC 27608 and Sunday morning worship is held at 11:00am. They are led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum, Rev. Jonathan Sherrod (M. Div. 1992). Learn more about their ministry at http://www.westminsterraleigh.org.

What IS a Church Relations Officer?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Rev. Jordan B. Davis

My name is Jordan Davis and I graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary with a Masters of Divinity in 2014 and I returned to Union as the Church Relations Officer in August 2015. I am an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), living in Durham, NC (but a frequent visitor to UPSem’s Richmond Campus.

My job is to simply connect Union Presbyterian Seminary with congregations and presbyteries. So many times, connections are only made in one of two circumstances- 1) a church/ presbytery sends a member to study here or sponsors one of our students, or, 2) the seminary asks the church/ presbytery for financial support. I get the fantastic opportunity to connect the seminary and churches/ presbyteries APART from these two things. I don’t come asking for money, I don’t come asking for more students… I come asking how we, Union Presbyterian Seminary, can walk with your congregation and to show you how you can walk with us.

Why this Blog?

The purpose of this blog is to highlight congregations and their ministries, focusing on an aspect of ministry that really stands out during my visit with each congregation.  You will be traveling along with me by reading this blog—getting to know some amazing churches and innovative ministries.  Great place to get some ideas!

How do my visits happen?

As I continue to reach out to more congregations to build and strengthen the relationship between the churches and the seminary, I make myself available for almost any kind of leadership in your congregation (aside from dance lessons) as a gift from the seminary. More often than not, I guest preach and/ or give a “Minute for Mission” highlighting exciting things going on at Union, and how the congregation can benefit from some of our educational resources. I also love having discussions and giving presentations during the Sunday School hour or fellowship time. If you have an idea of what you would like to see, just let me know!

When I meet with presbyteries it can be something as simple as setting up a table and being available to answer questions and talk to your congregational leaders, or I can stand up and give a very brief update to the entire Presbytery during the actual meeting.

Where?

At this time, I am visiting congregations and presbyteries in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

When?

I am available both on Sunday mornings for worship, as well as during the week. My calendar is filling up, so I hope you will contact me as soon as possible.   Currently, I am working on FALL 2015 and beyond.

How?

If you are interested in having me visit your congregation to build and strengthen the relationship between your church and Union Presbyterian Seminary, please contact me at jdavis@upsem.edu.