#SnowChurch

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This past weekend, much of the east coast was left staring out the windows at the result of Winter Storm Jonas. As the snow and freezing rain began to fall on Thursday evening in the mountains of North Carolina, church leaders all over the east coast began wondering if it was even worth the time to finish their sermon on 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31 (I personally rarely trust snow predictions in NC, so my sermon was printed and in the folder before I finally gave in to the fact that I couldn’t even move my car).

Finally, early Saturday morning emails, Facebook posts, and notifications on news
channels came through as “All Activities Cancelled on Sunday” followed the name of each church. What happened next is what really grabbed my attention though. With each email and 12540811_948198521902228_5674434581482386478_nFacebook post came a link to the church’s website where one could find archived worship videos and sermon manuscripts. Union alum, Rev. Aaron Houghton (M. Div/ MACE, 2014), realized he wouldn’t make it to Ampthill Presbyterian Church for worship so he worked with one of the students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s UKirk ministry (behind the camera) where Aaron serves as Campus Minister, and Aaron’s brother (a fantastic musician) in New York to create a series of worship videos. Together, they took to social media and led #SnowChurch complete with gathering music, hymns, prayers, and the sermon… he even included instructions for cutting out snowflakes for offering!

As I looked at these and several other opportunities for worshiping from home when it wasn’t safe to be on the road, I was amazed at the creativity and passion that I found not just in the posts from the congregational leaders like Rev. Houghton, but also from those who took the time to watch the videos and respond. One family from Ampthill Presbyterian Church even posted a picture of the family gathered in the living room in their pajamas, following along with #SnowChurch.

If I am honest with you, I personally struggle worshiping through a video while sitting at home. It lacks the personal connection that feeds me each Sunday morning. That being said, I understand the need for it and have, at times, wished that my home congregation had a live stream each week (this would have helped greatly when I was in college and homesick!) For those who cannot leave their homes or beds, or those who cannot attend their home church because they are away for school or travel, these opportunities to be a part of worship at a distance are irreplaceable. This past Sunday when it seemed that no one could leave their homes, #SnowChurch fed not just the members of Ampthill Presbyterian, but also those who saw the videos being shared on Facebook.

aaronAfter watching a few of the #SnowChurch videos, I began to think about the ways in which one might connect with a church community in a non-traditional sense. I had never heard of Ampthill Presbyterian until I began to see Aaron’s #SnowChurch videos on my newsfeed and decided to Google the congregation to learn a bit more about who was gathered together via social media that morning.

The 21st century has given us several options for ways to get word of our congregations and our ministries in front of the masses. These are just a few examples of how congregations gathered through the use of technology when they couldn’t gather with one another in person. Other congregations shared sermon manuscripts for members to read and others shared the bulletins so that members could “pray through” the bulletin. The Revised Common Lectionary  selection on Sunday spoke of the Body of Christ– what better way to live that out than finding ways to gather with one another when the snow and ice kept us apart than taking advantage of our many technological resources?

How did you, or would, your congregation gather if they couldn’t gather in person,
continuing to worship as The Body of Christ?

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


To view the #SnowChurch worship videos, visit Ampthill Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page. Each video is numbered, 1-7, so you can follow the worship service in order.

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Worship Without Walls

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I am a strong believer that worship can and does happen outside of the sanctuary walls– that is why I was overly excited when my husband handed me a business card for one of the founders of “Farm Church.”  He explained that he met Rev. Allen Brimer earlier that morning and that “they are doing this cool thing… church on a farm or something like that.” Full disclosure, my husband is one of the many young adults who do not go to church regularly for a variety of reasons, so when he told me that this was “really cool” I was all over it.

Farm Church started showing up in my Facebook news feed within days of my initial introduction and research. I read article after article about these three friends who attended seminary together and were now starting a new worshiping community with one another. Two of three recently moved to Durham, NC where they intend to plant this new, non-traditional, 1,001 worshiping community.

Finally, I sat down with Allen and Ben to hear their story first hand and begin brainstorming how Farm Church and Union Presbyterian Seminary can work together (I have not yet met Rev. Brandon Wert, the third friend who currently lives out of the country). As I listened to the two friends take turns recounting the many steps from the hypothetical discussions around the dinner table while still in seminary, all the way to their recent move to Durham, I was filled with a range of emotions. Neither Ben nor Allen holds back and it is all too easy to both hear and even feel the struggles and fear that came with this new faith adventure, and my already present excitement grew even more.

(Learn more about how Ben, Allen, and Brandon moved from hypothetical discussions to dropping everything and moving to Durham, NC here.)

Allen, Ben, and Brandon are currently working with a core team through the discernment and development process at as they look for land for the farm and envision what worship will look like. As a team, they are asking questions like “what do the sacraments (baptism and communion) look like in this non-traditional setting?” and “what will the welcome look like at each worship service?” while also working through more in-depth and foundational things like a statement of faith.

I hear more and more of people who want to be part of a worshiping community but do not attend Sunday morning worship for a variety of reasons. Many individuals have been hurt by a congregation or might not feel any connection when sitting in a seemingly sterile environment with a very formulaic worship service or cliques of friends that might make the environment seem unwelcoming. Even more common, I hear of people complaining because the congregations they have been a part of seem to be “all talk and no action.” Once Farm Church has land, members of the worshiping community will gather together for worship in addition to and while growing and harvesting crops for local organizations that reach out to those in need. This hands on, community focused worship is a breath of fresh air in a town that is commonly known for its low-income community.

People of all ages, not just young adults, are looking for something new and different- something that will put Christ’s teachings into action. My excitement is only a glimpse of the attitude here in Durham, NC as people wait to hear the next step for Farm Church, the worshiping community that is already planting seeds that just might open a few doors that have swollen shut over the years.

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer


Farm Church is preparing for their first public worship service which will ideally take place before Easter 2016. If you are interested in following this journey and/ or worshiping with Farm Church, “Like” them on Facebook and visit their website, www.farmchurch.org.

Communal Prayer

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“Prayer is at the heart of worship. In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, people seek after and are found by the one true God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. They listen and wait upon God, call God by name, remember God’s gracious acts, and offer themselves to God. Prayer may be spoken, sung, offered in silence, or enacted. Prayer grows out of the center of a person’s life in response to the Spirit. Prayer is shaped by the Word of God in Scripture and by the life of the community of faith. Prayer issues in commitment to join God’s work in the world.”
W-2.1001, PC(USA) Book of Order

“I can pray at home” is one of the most common reasons I hear for why individuals do not attend church; it is also a reason that is fact. We can pray at home. We should pray at home. For many of us, home is where we first learned to pray as we knelt by our bed each evening and folded our hands together, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” When we pray with another, however, we experience the Holy Spirit in a new way.

This past Sunday, I had the privilege to pray with the congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Edenton, NC. This small congregation gathers in the upper room of the church building, already bringing so much meaning into the act of worship (I couldn’t help but think about the disciples climbing the stairs to gather with one another and with Christ in the upper room for their last meal with one another.) Worship begins with the beautiful sounds of the piano, offering a few moments for each person to gather their thoughts and go to God in prayer, preparing themselves to receive, proclaim, and carry God’s Word into the world. Worship feels very familiar to a guest like myself– and then comes the time to share “Pastoral Concerns and Affirmations,” followed by the pastoral prayer.

Just before those who had gathered began sharing both their struggles and celebrations from the past week, Rev. Douglas Eddy invited them to say “Lord, hear our prayer” following each concern and “Thank you, Lord” following each celebration. The next few minutes were filled with communal proclamations of both as the congregation gathered together as one, lifting up each prayer to the Lord.

As Rev. Eddy moved from the communal proclamation of prayer into the more familiar (to me, at least) pastoral prayer, I was moved with emotion as I recognized the way that the Holy Spirit had just moved in that sacred upper room. No person was left alone in their sorrow and no person was hushed in their celebration as every voice in the room lifted each prayer, both vocalized and kept silent, to God.

In the past, I have lifted up the importance of creating a safe and quiet space for individuals to take time with God. Today, I want to add to that the importance to not only open a quiet space for prayer, but to open a communal space for prayer. Hearing the voices of God’s children lifting prayers up to God is more powerful than simply “liking” a prayer request on Facebook or subtly nodding and maybe even groaning a bit as prayer requests are voiced. The communal sound of many voices becoming one brings strength to each prayer, and might even bring strength to each individual.

How does your congregation share in communal prayer?
Share your ideas here!

Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

Worship Through Windows

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Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Stained glass windows have been artfully crafted in churches since the age of the Reformation. Iconic biblical stories are brought to life on a large or small scale, depending on the size of the window.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris during our holiday break. It was late evening and we decided to tour the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Because it was dark outside, we were unable to share in the beauty of the famous North Rose Window (pictured below). However, its beauty is remarkable in daylight.

The stained glass work depicts Mother Mary with Jesus on her lap while the surrounding elements depict scriptural prophets, kings and judges. The window has been titled, “The Glorification of Mother Mary”.

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North Rose Window at night,   Notre-Dame Cathedral

This Sunday, I had the pleasure of sharing about Union Presbyterian Seminary at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. Founded in 1924, Raleigh Court has been ministering to the wider community for 92 years. The main worship space includes a number of paneled stained glass windows depicting biblical accounts of Jesus’ ministry.

In a new sermon series titled, “Worship through the Windows”, Pastor Andrew Whaley will lead worship centered on one of the stories of the life of Jesus that is depicted in one of the stained glass windows from January through March. “As we go window to window, we hope that we begin to understand a bit more fully just who Jesus is and so be able to listen more carefully to His call on our lives”.

Every worship space tells a story about the particular church, and stained glass imagery shares in that greater story. Think about the particular church of which you are a part. Does your sanctuary or worship space have stained glass windows? If so, what images are depicted? How do these images share in the greater story of faith in the Church?

To learn more about this sermon series, and other happenings at Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church, check out their website here.