‘Tis the season!

adventwreathHappy New (Lectionary) Year! This past Sunday, November 27th, we celebrated the First Sunday in Advent and rotation into the next Lectionary Year. *If you are unfamiliar with the Revised Common Lectionary or how it is organized, click here for a great resource out of Vanderbuilt Divinity Library!*

Many of you belong to, or lead, congregations in full swing with Advent activities. My home congregation recently sent home a flier chock fulls of opportunities to worship, serve, and fellowship in celebration of the coming of our Lord this Christmas. While traveling about in my Church Relations work, I have seen creative and inspiring opportunities to celebrate Advent.

With this spirit in mind, you will find several resources with descriptions below. Links to each resource are captured in the italicized name. Feel free to use them in your personal quiet time, with your families or neighbors, in small groups in your congregation, or in worship during this Advent season! Similarly, comment below with your own creative ideas for Advent or interesting ways in which your congregation celebrates this season.

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Advent Season Daily Devotional, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Written by staff and faculty of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Subscribe via email to receive daily lectionary readings and a short devotional to center your spirit each day.

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Storypath, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Connect lectionary scripture readings to children’s stories throughout the Advent season. Lectionary readings are listed chronologically; scroll down to catch up on the First Sunday in Advent and find narratives with reflections through the New Year. This is an excellent Christian Education resource to be used throughout the year!

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Advent Worship resources, The Presbyterian Mission Agency

“The Office of Theology and Worship has provided a collection of worship resources for Advent, including candle-lighting litanies, eucharistic prayers, an order of worship for a service of lessons and carols, a chart with two sets of lectionary readings, and an Advent calendar starter kit.”

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The Text this Week, Jenee Woodard

A treasure trove of online resources for pastors, Christian’s educators and faith leaders. This portion of the site chronicles Advent resources, including Advent candle/wreath liturgies, worship planning, “Blue Christmas/longest night, hanging of the greens liturgies, artwork/music/multimedia resources and devotionals/Advent calendars.

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                The Advent season is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year. As God’s faithful, we prepare, again, in hopeful expectation for the coming of our Lord. May you be encouraged this season to have faith, spread hope and choose love!

Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

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Letters of Compassion

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One of the beautiful parts of working in Church Relations is not just serving as a connecting point for our “connectional church”, but seeing the many ways that congregations are already connecting with others. I see joint worship services and service projects, joint lock-ins and pulpit sharing. On Sunday, Peace Presbyterian Church (Winterville, NC) introduced me to a new connectional opportunity.

“Letters of Compassion” provides a weekly opportunity for members of Peace Presbyterian to pray for individuals on their prayer list and for other congregations within the Presbytery of New Hope. Two letters – one for an individual and one for a congregation – sit on a table outside of the sanctuary. Members are invited to sign each letter before or after worship. The letter is then mailed out and that individual and congregation are made aware not just that Peace Presbyterian is praying for them, but that members of the congregation have intentionally taken a moment to step aside in the midst of activity to say a quick prayer as they sign their name.

As I watched individuals come sign each letter, I began to wonder how common it is that someone is placed on our prayer lists and doesn’t even know it? When I think of times that I know I needed prayer, it was nice to know that someone had said they would pray but it was much more powerful and meaningful to hear that they had already been or are currently spending time praying for me. These brief letters filled with signatures, offer that reminder and moment of reassurance.

This week we move into a time of thanksgiving, but also of gifting. With the model set by Peace Presbyterian, I encourage each of you to take a moment each week to send a note to someone just to let them know you are praying for them! This just might be the gift that keeps their light burning through the shorter, darker, and busier days.

How does your congregation reach out to those on your prayer list?
How does your congregation join together with other congregations, in action and in prayer?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations


As we seek new ways to join together in prayer and praise, you are invited to join Union Presbyterian Seminary in daily devotion during this Advent season! Download your PDF today, or subscribe via email to receive devotions in your inbox each morning. www.upsemdevotions.wordpress.com

Looking Up: How Technology Helps Us See the World Around Us

technology-cartoonTechnology. It is an ever-changing and constant presence in our lives.

I remember the first time that I saw a projection screen in the sanctuary. It was “Youth Sunday” and the high school youth were excitedly flipping through a stack of transparencies and teaching their favorite camp songs to the congregation. As excited as they were, and the other youth, I will always remember the grumbles about how the screen and projector “ruined the worship space” and were a distraction. “Keep camp at the beach” one person said at the close of worship as they lamented the use of this technology. This was just the start of a constant debate in almost every church that continues even today.

Over the years, many churches have reformed their worship services to include the use of the latest technology. First, it was projected song lyrics to accompany the praise band. Then, the bulletin would be placed into a PowerPoint and projected. It wasn’t long before sanctuaries were remodeled and budgets included built in screens and hidden projectors, complete with a matching A/V booth. Today, many pastors can connect their tablet to the network and control the elaborate presentation from the pulpit!

I have seen these new and varied resources used in both wonderful and not-so-advanced ways as I travel around to different churches. I have longed for the physical hymnal that has been replaced by the colorful and void of music PowerPoint. I have understood sermons in a new way as I reflect with others on the pictures that the pastor projects.

This past Sunday, I saw a wonderful balance in the way that technology was used in worship at Topsail Presbyterian Church. Monitors are placed, not only at the front and back of the sanctuary, but also on the pulpit so that the pastor can look down and know what is being projected as they lead worship. Hymns are displayed with words and music, but the hymn number is made available for those who wish to use the hymnals in the pew rack. Images included in the PowerPoint add to the beauty of worship and each person is able to follow-along with the scripture reading without feeling as if it will take to too long to look it up. The use of a security camera even allows for the sermons to be recorded and shared with ease and at little expense! The use of technology never eliminated the physical bulletin and hymnal, however it did help each person to be able to look up and see who they were worshiping with rather than always having to look down and even invites others outside of the worship hour to join from home.

There is a change in worship when we see who we are with. Papers and books can be just as much of a distraction as a screen at the front of the worship space if we have to spend time flipping and finding, rather than looking up and around. More often than not, I personally find that I find a comfortable bubble- my hymnal, Bible, and myself- during worship. If our heads are up, we see who is front of us, we can see who is beside us. Faces are placed with prayers and smiles encourage us into our challenges.

The struggle of how to use technology in worship, if at all, continues in many churches. Topsail Presbyterian is a wonderful example of technology done right, complete with the ability to keep experimenting and changing the way the monitors are used. The monitors do not add distraction or take away from the worship time and space, but instead bring the congregation together in thanksgiving and praise, looking up at God’s creation rather than down at a piece of paper.

How does your congregation use technology in worship?
If you do not use technology, what are your reasons?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

A Ploy or A Promise?

20161106_081945This past Sunday, I visited Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Greensboro, NC. As I pulled up, I noticed their sign right away. “Inclusive, Open Minded, and Home For Your Soul: A Progressive Community.” Having gone to college only two blocks away, I smiled and figured that had to grab the attention of the students walking past on their way to and from campus. I also worried, wondering if this was just another ploy to reach out the students but didn’t actually match the congregation at all. I am so pleased to tell you that this is no ploy– this IS Church of the Covenant!

PCOC is a very unique and beautiful community of individuals of all backgrounds coming together over the course of two gatherings on Sunday mornings. This description of “Gatherings” has been intentionally chosen, recognizing that not everyone has come for worship but at the most simple level, all have come to be with one another.

The first gathering, while taking place within the sanctuary of PCOC, is not a religious one (although it is made clear that this is still a Christian Church). Individuals who come together identify as everything from Presbyterian to Atheist. Local musicians are invited to share their gifts with the community for ten minutes at the opening and close of the gathering (this week, I left with “One Love” by Bob Marley stuck in my head!). One individual serves as “Host” and welcomes the community to this time and space– “I hope everyone has had a great week and has been doing things that are good for you.”  The Pastor, Rev. Mark Sandlin, then offers a reflection on a topic that is important to the community in this moment in time (this week he spoke about forgiveness and compassion) and the reflection is followed by a period of silent reflection. This past week, this portion of time also included communion– explained as a time when each of us expresses full compassion toward one another, serving each other as a unified community around a table of fellowship. Finally, a safe and open space is made available for anyone to ask questions or share their own thoughts on the theme of the day. This week, some of these reflections pointed toward a forgiving God while others reflected on the ways that they have seen forgiveness and compassion in their own lives and relationships- one person even sharing that after many years, this discussion helped him to finally understand why he has had a negative relationship with Christianity.

The second gathering follows a similar model, however this is the religious gathering complete with scripture, prayer, and communion at the Lord’s Table. A time of both silent and communal reflection is offered, once again allowing every voice to be heard as each person desires.

“Inclusive, Open Minded, and Home For Your Soul: A Progressive Community.”

Unique, powerful, life-shaping, and discerning. These are the words that I would love to add to the sign.

In a time when it seems that our communities are divided and broken in every way possible, I celebrate that Greensboro has this safe and open space for individuals to come to reflect with one another and to grow together.

In a place where it can seem that there is no answer for “the dying church” (read more of my thoughts on this in this previous blog) , I wonder if we can learn from these gatherings at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant?

As I reflected on this first gathering, I kept thinking “What is Church without all of the fancy language?” In my mind, church without fancy language is people gathering and loving, sharing and reflecting, serving and supporting. I saw more love and support in that hour than I see in some religious worship services. Stories were shared that I would never expect to come up without prompting on a Sunday morning, especially when there are guests– strangers– in the room, and each was greeted with an affirming and non-judgmental response.

One shared reflection sums up this unique and incredible gathering beautifully. Sharing from the book “The Shack” (Wm. Paul Young), one individual quoted from when Jesus was speaking with the main character, “I will walk any path to meet you.”

ANY path- traditional or contemporary, dark or well lit, religious or not… never alone, but always gathered together with one another; and whether we see it or not, know it or not, or believe it or not– always gathered with God. No fancy language needed.

Thank you, Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, for this beautiful reminder of how we can ALL gather with one another in a dark and divided time!

How do you gather with those who might not believe the same as you?
What space is opened for reflection and conversation in your congregation?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

we are ONE.

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This week, we are taking a brief break from our regular congregational features to share some information about a very big and important way you can be involved with and help to support Union Presbyterian Seminary!

Last night, family and friends of Union Presbyterian Seminary gathered on “The Quad” at our Richmond Campus to help us kick off our capital campaign, “we are ONE. Strength Through Union.”

This campaign has actually been taking place for several years now, and we are now very excited to invite each of you to take part! To date, we have raised  almost $47 of $53 million during the quiet phase that went to launch Nine New Programs at the seminary.

One of the most noticeable outcomes of this campaign is the renovation of Richmond Hall. This building was last renovated in the 1960s and desperately needed an update! When it is completed in only a matter of MONTHS, Richmond Hall will be home for many of our students who will study and form life-long friendships within the suites that will fill the top two floors. The Jim Holderness Dining Room will play host to daily meals and valuable conversations between colleagues. The Barbara Lemmon Community Center will offer our students a place to relax and step away from their books to enjoy some fellowship time. The Syngman Rhee Global Mission Center for Christian Education will serve as a constant reminder of the many people and places around the world that have shaped Union Presbyterian Seminary, and the many open doors that await our current and future students. Learn more here.

Other Opportunities to give to Union Presbyterian Seminary include, but are not limited to-

Communities of Learning: This program assists incoming students in the pre-matriculation process as they meet other students, alums, and professors from all three campuses- Richmond, Charlotte, and Extended Campus- online for several weeks, and finally face-to-face at the end of the summer.

Evangelism program: Currently led by Rev. Dr. John Vest, visiting professor of evangelism, this program works within our curriculum as it guides our students in discerning what the Gospel means for them and their ministry and how to best share that in their individual settings.

Christian Education chairs: The Sara Little chair and the Bannerman/Gephardt chair will honor Christian Education legacies while providing space for new Christian Education opportunities in the 21st century through the hiring of two new Christian Education professors, each with a unique focus that will encourage our students to think about Christian Education in a new way.

 


As a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary, I was incredibly lucky to study with the best of the best at very little expense. Individuals, just like you, had given money to the seminary to help fund my education. I received a 100% tuition grant + the Promise for Parish Ministry grant. While I do still have loans that I am paying, I am not paying nearly as much as I could be. As a thank you to the seminary, and to those who helped pay for my education, I now give to the seminary every month in hopes that it might help make ministry possible for another student in the future.

These different initiatives that make up the entire “we are ONE” campaign will shape the education and ministry of all who are a part of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Your gift might help to provide a warm and safe place for our students to rest and study, or fund a professor to challenge those students and take their ministry to a new level. Your gift might help expand our library so that congregational leaders all over the country might benefit from the resources that Union has to offer, or help a new student have an easier transition into seminary.

As a proud alum of Union Presbyterian Seminary, I ask that you do take time to learn more about our “we are ONE” campaign and give as you are able so that we might continue to train students and connect with congregations around the world– because Union Presbyterian Seminary IS “For the Church in the World”!

Please visit our website to learn more about the campaign
and the many ways you can support Union Presbyterian Seminary!

http://www.upsem.edu/Onecampaign/

 

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations