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:


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] Scroll to page 23, “Academics”, “Program Goals” for full description!

In the Interim

An interim period of time in the life of a congregation can seem like a liminal space between what has been and what will be. This fertile ground can be an opportunity for healing, reflection, and prayerful discernment of future hopes and dreams. This past Sunday, I was invited to lead worship at a congregation that is using this interim period of time to look critically at their identity as well as how others perceive them.


Orange Presbyterian Church is nestled on Main Street of downtown Orange County, Virginia. Serving as interim pastor, Rev. Liz Hulme Adam encouraged the Session of the congregation to explore a mission study as they discern a plan of action for the future of the congregation as well as their hopes for their next installed pastor. Spear-headed by Clerk of Session, Ralph Graves, the congregation will begin surveying this winter.

With a goal in mind to explore both the congregational and community perceptions of their institution, OPC will undergo a two-part study.

The first survey will focus upon how they perceive themselves as a congregation and how they perceive their strengths and weaknesses in their various ministries. Each participant will be asked to list congregational ministries by their perceived importance. Finally, each participant will also be asked to rate how well OPC carries out that particular ministry opportunity.

The second survey will focus upon community perceptions of the congregation from the perspective of organizations that work with OPC and those which use the congregational space. Some of those groups included, but are not limited to, pastors representing the Orange Ministerial Association, the local Habitat for Humanity offices (located on OPC property), the local Food Bank, Alcoholics Anonymous groups which gather at OPC, and GED training classes. It is vital to hear how the community perceives OPC’s role and value in the local community.

“Collectively, these surveys should give us a very realistic picture of whom we are and who we want to be”, said Graves. “This should help us determine how we can move forward and effectively do the work of Christ.”OPC will digest their survey results into goals for the future and will aid them in determining an accurate Ministry Information File for future pastoral candidates.

Has your congregation ever conducted a mission study? What were your goals? What did you learn about yourself as a congregation? Share your thoughts with us!

Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer