A Time to Give Thanks

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This past Sunday, I had a conversation with excited elementary aged children about what makes a house a home just before our congregation dedicated their pledges in our stewardship campaign, “Let Us Build A House.”

Later that afternoon, I gathered with a family who recently lost their loved one way too soon and although I did not know him, I mourned with them as I read the words of the Psalmist and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

Only moments after settling back at my desk to prepare for youth group, I read of the shooting in Texas and my heart ached as I prayed for the community and wondered what I could do.

Sunday evening, my high school youth gathered for Bible Study and discussed the scriptural phrase “Here I Am” and what it means when we respond to God in the same way as Moses, Samuel, and Mary. We looked at the world where we are, who we are as 20171107_113508individuals, and whose we are in relation to God. At the close of the study, I listened to these high schoolers name problems and heartaches that they see in this world and describe how they will use their talents and passions to respond to them. They were challenged to consider what this response says about their relationship with God and who they believe God to be; to answer the question of whose they are, who they are telling “Here I am.”

 

On Monday, I lay in bed looking out the window at the changing trees and reflected on the day before. It was full of beauty and heartache, excitement and dread. There were moments when I wondered how anyone could question if there is a God, and there were moments that I wondered where God was. In the end, my youth showed me exactly where God is – in each one of them, and in all of us as we try to cry out “Here I am!” with Moses, Samuel, and Mary.

As the holiday season ramps up, a tradition for many is beginning once again. Facebook is being flooded with individuals listing what they are grateful for. In a world that seems so broken, these brief moments of prayer bring a light that is so desperately needed. These prayers of thanksgiving help me to personally find a focus and be able to say “Here I am.”

On Sunday I was painfully reminded that in this season of family gatherings and joyful songs, there are also those who will sit alone singing songs of lament. I pray that as we each find ourselves at different points in this journey, we will continue to find those brief moments of Thanksgiving and carry them forward both with and for one another into the dark winter nights and bright spring mornings.

As I talked with those children on the steps of our sanctuary on Sunday, I told them that the best way to thank God for all we have been given is to help to make our house a home for everyone. We talked about needing love, forgiveness, grace, and family to make this transition. It is through this love and grace shared with those around us that we are able to respond to God, saying “Here I am.”

As the days get shorter and nights get longer, as we watch the news and wonder what we can do – let us join the voices on Facebook as we give thanks. Let us join the voices of those who have gone before us as we tell God, “Here I am” and live with one another in a way that share this thanksgiving and praise, in a way that share God’s love and grace.

How are you responding with “Here I am” in your own life and ministry?
How do you encourage your congregation to join you in this thanksgiving to God?

 Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

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But I Don’t Know HOW to Pray!

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My confirmation students pause to say a prayer at our Nation’s Capital

I have the privilege of teaching and learning with an incredible group of teenagers who are taking part in our confirmation class this year. Some have been coming to church almost weekly since they were infants, others have only been in worship one or two times. Some seem to be fairly confident in their current place in their faith journey while others still aren’t quite sure what “faith journey” means. It is truly an incredible group of young people!

Each week, my students are expected to write in a prayer journal a minimum of three times. We have had a conversation about different ways to pray and the many different forms this journal can take. A few weeks into class, after they had time to begin the journal, I asked one of my students to pray out loud. They quietly responded “but I don’t know how to pray.”

How many of us feel that way? We are fine on our own as we pray silently or in a journal, but when it comes time to pray in front of others it is as if we have no idea what to do. I remember feeling that way several years ago. I remember being frustrated that the prayer before our Thanksgiving dinner was handed to me once I started seminary because, as one relative said, “You know how to pray now!” I was terrified and frustrated, I feared that I would say something wrong or stumble over my words. What if my prayer wasn’t as eloquent as my Grandfather’s prayer was each year?

As my student sat there with a terrified look on their face, I encouraged them to repeat after me as I followed a model of teachers I had a young child. “Dear God, thank you for being with us in Scripture. Please be with us in the rest of class. Amen.” Simple, anything but eloquent, and honest.

Since that morning, I have been wondering the best way to help my students feel comfortable with their prayers – however short or long, simple or eloquent they might be. While on a trip to Washington D.C. this past weekend, I had each student pray for a variety things. They prayed before meals, they prayed before travel, they even prayed at a variety of sites (including at our Capital building and the White House) and for a variety of people ranging from those experiencing homelessness to our government leaders. Some struggled, asking how they can pray for someone they don’t agree with or understand. Some excitedly raised their hands to pray for things they were finding an understanding for.

As I reflect on the prayers I have heard all weekend and the prayers that I imagine were said silently, I wonder how we can encourage our parishioners to continue to pray? How can we encourage them to pray if they “don’t know how”? How can we help them pray when they don’t want to, because they disagree or do not understand? A confirmation class provides a beautiful and sensible situation to learn to pray, however not everyone is in a class which caters to this type of thing.

I encourage each of you to take a moment with those you are with during meetings, in worship, or even in the car and encourage someone to say a prayer. Maybe the prayer will be an echo prayer as someone prays out loud for the first time or maybe just a simple, “Lord, be with them.” Maybe the prayers will be eloquent or lengthy.

I am a firm believer that communal, audible prayer offers something unlike anything else. To hear another person’s plea and to add our own voices brings us together in unity of the Spirit, in a way that nothing can break. As I tell my kids each time I see or hear hesitation, “No prayer is wrong, just say what is on your heart.”

In a time of division and frustration, I pray through shouts on the mountaintop that we might one day join all of our voices in a prayer heard around the world and that can easily begin with a simple, “Thank you, God”.

How do you teach and encourage your congregation to pray?
How do you empower individuals to pray on behalf of the community?

 

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Finding Our Genuine Voice

GenuineI recently helped lead a series of discussions as members of my presbytery gathered to read the book “Waking up White” (Debby Irving). I by no means felt qualified to lead these discussions on my own and am eternally grateful for those who walked this path with me. I feared how I would be received as a leader of these discussions as we discussed our presbyteries current and hoped for response to racial inequalities in our area. As discussions progressed, I began to notice that I was not alone in my self-conscious fear. I did my best to make the space safe to share stories and prayers, however I know that did not always succeed and I struggled a great deal with that.

As I continue to think about these discussions and many others, I begin to wonder what has happened in our society? It seems there is a widespread fear, or at least hesitance, to speak what we believe to be our real truth. We live in a world of constant likes and dislikes as we receive the immediate critiques of almost every person we encounter. We sit wondering what certain individuals might say or do in response to what we say and do. Our genuine selves are buried as we both amp up and tone down our responses based on our desired and feared responses from others.

I have struggled with this in my own life as I discern the best way to respond to events in our world and in my community. Should I write a Facebook post, or not post at all? Should I address it directly or indirectly in my lessons and sermons? Should I say anything at all or just keep quiet and listen? Surrounded by many loved ones and friends who I both agree and disagree with, I know that my choice or response is typically based on who I know will or will not see or hear my response.

As I think about my own life and as I read the varied responses that fill my social media feeds by colleagues in ministry, I am left with one very simple and very complicated question –

Are we, as congregational leaders, being our genuine selves and modeling that for our parishioners?

Do we allow our context to control our words, or do we allow the Spirit to guide our words?

Do we open space for others to be genuine, or do we close doors to protect each person’s ego?

What I fear today, almost more than anything else, is that our loss of genuine conversation and compassion for others as they show their own genuine selves, is building more walls than any person or group in the world can begin to propose. The façade that is created when we both amp up our response to grab the attention of others and when we silence ourselves out of fear of others just might be one of the most dangerous things of all.

If I have learned anything in ministry is that we are each seeking permission to be genuine – we are seeking affirmation that our uniquely imperfect selves truly are created in God’s beautiful image; we are seeking affirmation that our shaking voice is valued in the choruses of both praise and lament hear around the world. As a leader, I sought permission to share my story, the good and the bad, and I sought forgiveness as I mis-stepped along the way.

And so here is your permission. I urge and implore each of you, congregational leaders and lay-people alike, church-goers and church avoiders – lift up your beautifully unique and genuine voice and don’t forget to listen to those around you. Hear God’s love and grace lifted up as it drowns out the hatred and tears down the walls. Speak up and speak out in a way that grants permission for others to join the song that so desperately needs to be heard around the world, made beautiful by both the harmony and the dissonance. Speak in a way that offers forgiveness and grace as others find their own genuine voice.

Our voice doesn’t have to be the loudest, it doesn’t have to be silent; our words don’t have to be completely accurate, they don’t have to be eloquent. Our voices do need to be genuine though, filled with the unique imperfection that God has so beautifully woven in and through each and every one of us.

Do not amp up, do not tone down. Do not bury or push to the front. Instead speak the genuine, seek the genuine, hear the genuine, BE GENUINE.  It is through our genuine selves that God’s grace and love will continue to pour out and reach corner of creation.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

Fight Club?

what-is-silent-birth-lips-2160x1200“Money is like fight club, we don’t talk about it.”

This was a statement made by a colleague during a stewardship seminar at Union Presbyterian Seminary this past spring. With my thoughts on the upcoming stewardship season, this thought rings loud and true in my memory.

If someone had asked me what my thoughts were about money and the Church four years ago, I likely would have proudly stated that individuals will give as they feel called, but we shouldn’t put our focus on money and instead focus on volunteers and other gifts within our congregations. After working as part of a rather large capital campaign for three years, however, I have a bit of a different outlook.

In the South, generally speaking, it is not proper to speak of money. We don’t talk about how much we make or how much we spend (unless it was a great sale at Belk!) and we definitely don’t talk about how much we give to our churches. That type of thing is between us and God, right?

What if we do talk about it though? What if we explain our spending and investing to our children so that they better understand why they can’t have that toy or the family can’t go on that vacation? What if we talk about money in a way that prepares our children for real life, for when they have to make a life changing financial decision? What if we explained why we give what we do to the church and other organizations and taught out children to think critically about their future investments in similar organizations?

Thinking outside of our front door, what if we share more about why we give to certain organizations?  Or why we don’t give? What if we post about our excitement to invest in an organization as much as we post about our displeasure in current events?

More than numbers, I believe people are interested in stories. More than ‘yes’ and `no`, our children need explanations. We avoid money talk and favor time and talents; we avoid money talk in search for easy answers.

This isn’t to say that we should only focus on money, but we shouldn’t make it out to be an evil which we can function without.

I wish our time and talents could completely repair the broken HVac or feed the crowded fellowship hall. I wish our prayers could fill the food pantry and repair the church van. The fact of the matter though is that we do need money to function, even if it is to simply buy materials so that time and talents can be put to work.

This stewardship season, don’t be afraid to talk about money directly. Church is not fight club. Share why you give, encourage parents to talk about it with their children. Hear stories and seek to answer questions. Take in all time and talents cards that you can, but don’t gloss over the fact that more is needed.

Very few people will give if they are not asked. I don’t know many who will give if they have no reason to. Where we invest our money is important and sets an example for others, the problem is that one cannot understand the example until it is explained.

We claim that money is personal, yet we show it in so many ways – how we dress, where we eat, what we drive, and even the phones we talk on. Isn’t it about time that we speak openly so that we can both  learn from and encourage others in the ways that we invest our money?

How do you encourage your congregation to speak openly about their financial investments in the Church?

How do you teach and encourage these open discussions in your home?

Rev. Jordan B. davis, ’14

Transitional Associate Pastor

Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

What Are You Offering?

21433257_10103276376781711_3289283414941878623_nEarlier this summer, my husband and I took the crazy and bold jump to adopt a second cat, Jasmine. It has been an incredible adventure as we introduce her to our older cat, Cali, and learn what life is with a kitten (something I experienced with Cali, however my husband missed). In addition to the headaches, the hissing, and the cuddles, I have also learned some interesting lessons from this new life.

Earlier this week, I set about picking up toys that Jasmine had brought upstairs overnight. This is a habit we laugh about regularly as we take notice of repeat toys, and ones that should have been difficult to bring. We take note of their locations – her favorite toys are in the bed, right between my husband and me, while the socks, elastics, and other toys cover the distance from our room to the stairs.

As I chuckled at the choices Jasmine had made that particular night, I began to think about why she chooses what she does and how she determines where to drop them (because why wouldn’t she think this through, as well?).  Researchers say that cats offer toys (and animals) as gifts; it might be the one self-less thing they do! Jasmine has made a practice of offering us gifts of her most prized toys. It seems she wants to share the best with us, but also doesn’t want to limit what she offers (including the plastic tab from the milk jug, always one of my favorites and one that makes me laugh through the entire day!).  It is her way of expressing love and joy.  It is her way of inviting us into the fun!

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Now, this isn’t just about my cats. This is about us – congregational leaders and parishioners alike. Can we learn something from the way that our pets offer their toys and lives to us? The offering of gifts from cats and the unconditional love of dogs – these are things that we might do best to take notice of.

What if we were to offer our very best to God, not just on Sunday but day-in and day-out?  What if we didn’t just bring our best, but also everything else that we have? Offering not just our money on Sunday, but offering our gifts of love, of grace, of mercy for one another every day to the one who has shown us the greatest love, grace, and mercy there is – isn’t that what it is all about, anyway?

I think about Abraham offering Isaac; I think of the offering of the first fruits; I think of the woman offering her single coin; I think of Christ offering his life; I think of God offering God’s Son. Offering their best, their only. Taking their greatest gift, and their least, to the one who gives so much more.

We are quickly approaching the common time for stewardship campaigns. Some will talk about planting seeds or 20/20 vision. Others will come up with other creative ways to help congregations think about giving money (oh, and time and talents, right?).  However you approach it, I encourage every congregation to think not just about our best gifts, but also those socks and hair ties, the plastic milk jug rings pulled from the trash, that are left at the top of the stairs. Not quite good enough to bring to the bed, but still worth offering.

What are you offering to God today?
What are you leaving behind that might delight God even more than your favorite toy?

                                            Rev. Jordan B. Davis ‘14
Associate Pastor, Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian
Cary, NC

Fools for Christ

20729360_10103215401132401_5071522755037179583_nIt was unlike anything I ever experienced as a pastor. Wide open spaces, the breeze coming off of the ocean, a sticky sweat quickly taking over my whole body, a loud speaker next to me, and silence…

I saw the faces gathered in front of me, but I could not hear their voices.

I heard the recording of the choir over the speaker, but I could not hear the congregation.

I prayed for Charlottesville and pondered the role of Jesus on the mountain as the disciples sat fearful in a boat being beaten by the winds, and I found myself alone on that mountain hearing nothing but the wind and the waves.

It was an odd feeling, knowing that there were hundreds in front of me. I am so used to hearing every rustle of the bulletin and whisper of the small child, hearing only myself and nature was unsettling.

Was I saying the right thing? Had I crossed the line? Had they all managed to fall asleep? Was it really that bad?

I had no choice but keep going, silently praying on my own that I wasn’t completely screwing up.

foolAs I reflected on the experience of leading the beach service at Shallotte Presbyterian Church with Union alum, Joyce Winkler, she told me that many times that experience reminds her of the idea of being a “fool for Christ”.

“Fools for Christ”…  What a beautiful image in such a broken time, on a day following so much hatred and hurt in Charlottesville?  Standing up, completely unsure if anyone is listening or even cares, yet shouting from the mountaintop the love and grace of God, striving to live a life modeled by our Lord and Savior.

“Fools for Christ”… Crying out against injustice and persecution when so many, it seems, shrink back from exhaustion and fear.

“Fools for Christ”… Trying something new, knowing it could fail, just because what could be is so glorious.

“Fools for Christ”…  Breaking-out of our comfort zones to find a new way to relate to one another, to relate to Christ, because that relationship is so much more important than that possible rejection or embarrassment.

I think I first really experienced this “fools for Christ” idea as a college student standing in front of a bunch of middle-school youth, seeking a way to get them engaged and excited for a week of work. The 6am wake-ups followed by singing “Rise and Shine” to wake them up, eating baby food in a game to break the tension, dancing and singing in the middle of the field… things I likely would not do with my friends, but if it meant getting those kids excited to be the hands of Christ, I would do anything.

As I embark on a new call, I wonder how I will be a “fool for Christ”. How will I break out of my own comfort zone and carefully placed walls so that others might encounter God in a new way?  How will I find endurance in the continuous stream of new introductions when my introverted self is ready to shut-down for the day?

It was an eerie feeling, standing there and seeing hundreds of faces while hearing nothing.   It is an eerie feeling to stand up when others are sitting down.  It is eerie and uncomfortable, but no one ever said following Christ would be easy!

Every day, we are challenged to be a “fool for Christ”…  The question is, will we allow ourselves to take that risk for what could be an incredibly beautiful reward?

I acted like a fool for those middle schoolers and they began to light up, embracing the work ahead of them.  As I reconnect with some of them, 10 years later, I learn that my foolishness empowered them to make big life changes and some have even found themselves in their own ministry.

I felt like a fool, standing in the midst of noisy wind and waves but also perceived silence and loneliness, but was bombarded by conversation following worship … They really were there, they really were listening.

We don’t always know how God is working, but we can always open the space for the work to happen. And sometimes, in what I am learning are some of the best times, it just might mean that we “act a fool”.

How will you be a “fool for Christ” today?

                                                                                                               Rev. Jordan B. Davis, ‘14
Transitional Associate Pastor, Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church
Cary, North Carolina

Lessons in Transition: A Reflection on Church Relations

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At this point, many if not most of you have heard that our Church Relations program at Union Presbyterian Seminary is changing shape over the next period of time. It is a bittersweet time for me personally as I have said goodbye to my colleague, Rev. Nicole Ball, who also wrote for this blog and now as I say goodbye to my many congregations. As I wrap up my loose ends, I wanted to write a special blog about what I have learned during these three years, my first years of ordained ministry.

I can go on for hours about what I have seen and heard. If you are just finding “Congregational Corner”, I invite you to read some of our previous blogs highlighting the ministries we have found and experienced. I pray that these reflections have helped you in your own ministries, personally and professionally.  I have recently spent a great deal of time trying to summarize all of this into only a few lessons:

 

Every congregation has a story that needs to be shared. This is exactly why this blog began, actually. Early on in my time as church relations officer, I shared these stories only with my supervisor and others at the seminary who might benefit from them. It didn’t take long for us to realize that more people needed to hear what was going on in our local congregations! I have shared many of the stories here and have greatly enjoyed your feedback to the questions at the close of most of the blogs. These responses only support this idea further as one unique story spurs on the sharing of others. I have written about this idea a few times, and encourage each congregation to continue to find ways to share your story with the world — on a sign, in pictures, on bulletin boards, through relationships. These stories shape our communities and they bring life to God’s Word in unique and beautiful ways! Celebrate your stories, no matter how insignificant they might seem. Every shared story has a chance to change your ministry and someone’s life, while every forgotten story only limits our opportunities!

We are a connectional church and need to find more ways to celebrate and practice this. I have yet to find a congregation thriving because they worked in a silo. God’s Word can only be shared through relationships and collaborations. The Presbyterian Church (USA) celebrates the connectivity within the denomination and between denominations. I have spent the past three years focusing on the connection between one of our many fine institutions and our congregations.  In my writing, I have tried to celebrate these connections which I find in your congregations, whether they are mission based, worship based, or fellowship based. The blog itself has been an effort to continue to strengthen the connectivity not just with the seminary, but between congregations. It has been my hope that through learning about the work of other congregations, each leader might find inspiration and even ministry partners who they might work with in the future.

The beauty of Christianity, and all major religions for that matter, is that it was not created by one sole individual. These faith traditions would not have taken off and become so important in our lives if individuals and communities had not gathered together and moved together, making things happen and standing together for their shared beliefs. On that point, I believe that we won’t be able to continue to move forward and thrive if we try to do this alone rather than working with one another at the congregational level and also connecting congregations to institutions (like Union) and our governing councils.

The Church is not dying. If you have been reading this blog for any span of time, you have likely gathered that this is my strong belief. The Church is NOT dying, it is changing. Congregational life is shifting and people’s approaches and needs are changing. This does NOT mean the Church is dying. I honestly do not care what the statistics say. Numbers are not HEARTS. Numbers are not PEOPLE. Yes, congregations are shutting their doors all over. I am painfully aware of this and mourn the loss of many congregations I have come to love. That being said, I am also seeing doors open and I am seeing new and even more people coming through them.

I wrote about this about a year into my tenure at Union and received a wide variety of feedback. The best way I can summarize my strong belief that the Church is not dying but is instead changing is simply this — Jesus Christ was hung on a cross and died. He was buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.  Jesus DIED. Jesus ROSE AGAIN. We cannot get to Easter Sunday if we don’t go through Good Friday.

The Church is needed. More than anything else, the Church is needed. This is probably the most important lesson I have learned. This is a lesson that I had hoped to be true and have now experienced in so many beautiful, painful, and celebratory ways in my time with your congregations. God’s children are seeking. We are hurting. We are longing. We are crying out. We need a place to go, to belong, to be loved-on just as we are challenged. We need to know that it is ok to be angry with God, we need to know that someone is there to hear us out when we are. I saw this most recently when strangers opened up to me on vacation. I have heard it when parishioners found me in your offices before worship and shared their personal stories with me, simply because I was perceived to be a safe and a listening ear. I see it in the eyes of those walking through the doors. I hear it in the “Amens” during sermons; in the frustration of the session meetings and the pure joy of the fellowship events. I hear it and read it in conversations with friends who do not have a church home and long for one, not sure where to begin or if they will be welcomed. I read it on the signs and in the eyes of those on street corners. All of it, every last bit shows that the Church is needed. We just need to rediscover what church is today, for our people in our neighborhoods. Church may not be 11 am worship anymore. Maybe it is in a coffee shop or a bar, maybe it is on a farm or on a bike.

Wherever, whenever, whoever… the Church is needed and as long as we remember that and strive to make it available, God’s Word will never die.

 

I came into this position only months out of seminary, and still several months away from ordination. I wasn’t completely sure of my own pastoral identity and my knowledge of ministry was limited to what I had learned in seminary and through my internships. This real life, on the ground, getting my hands dirty ministry was terrifying and exciting. Mix into that the fact that I would not be with any ONE congregation, but with almost one hundred by the end of my time, and I was more unsure. That being said, I couldn’t have asked for a better first call! I have learned so much and treasure these experiences.

My joy in this transition is that these reflections will not come to an end. They might shift in focus at times, however I will still strive to focus mainly on congregational ministry as I experience it as a congregational pastor and as I hear about it from others who I work with in different capacities.  These lessons will guide my own ministry and future reflections, and I pray that they will guide yours as well!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for responding. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your love, support, and individual ministries! I look forward to sharing my reflections from my own congregational ministry very soon!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

 


Postscript:  The Advancement and Alumni Offices of Union Presbyterian Seminary remain deeply grateful to the Rev. Jordan Davis and to the Rev. Nicole Ball for the tireless service they have offered to the seminary and to our congregations as Church Relations Officers over the past three years!  Our prayers remain with both Jordan and Nicole as they continue their ministries for the Church in the World!  God be with you!

Clay Macaulay
Director of Alumni Development