I just finished attending the Next Church regional gathering in Southern California. I perused the Next Church website before attending (nextchurch.net) and honestly didn’t find it compelling. The tagline to the website, after the initial “Welcome to NEXT Church,” says, “sparking imaginations, connecting congregations, offering a distinctively Presbyterian witness to Jesus Christ.” The things that Next Church is doing (primarily connecting people with a presbyterian background) didn’t really interest me, but having attended this regional conference, I whole-heartedly recommend Next Church to anyone who desires to be a part of the expression of Christ’s body that is uniquely presbyterian (particularly PCUSA).
On Friday night, Jessica Tate gave an overview of Next Church after dinner. Then we heard from Chineta Goodjoin, Organizing Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church (www.mynewhopepres.org). She shared some of the things that make New Hope unique, like the important message that “you matter.” They have taken this message to heart and make it central to everything they do. They do “spiritual drivebys” reminding folks that they matter and send out “you matter” cards to 3-4 people weekly. Finally, Chineta shared that they weren’t interested in getting people to worship the way they do (a euro-centric style), but allowing people to worship in a way comfortable to them, yet acceptable for the staunch presbyterian too.
On Saturday morning, we first heard from Erin Dunigan, a freelance photographer and writer who also is ordained in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos (www.losranchos.org) as an evangelist. She shared about the community she “evangelizes” called Not Church (not-church.org) which was largely formed by the desires of the north Baja California community. Their meetings, which happen to meet on Sundays at 11am, attracts Athiest, Jewish, Catholic, Presbyterian, and other religious expressions. While Not Church doesn’t claim to be a church, it is an expression of Christ’s body that is showing positive signs of meeting people where they are. I took two things away from Erin’s presentation: 1) the combination of quotes from Peter Neilson, who said, “What if we were to go out to where the people are and actually stayed there” and Brian McLaren, who said, “God is already at work in the world…” The combination of these two quotes seemingly informed Erin’s focus and mission, and spoke to me. 2) Erin’s ministry took a plethora of things to happen at just the right time, and they all did. The situation was ripe for Erin. One might call this coincidence, but we are free to identify it for what it is: providence.
Later during Saturday morning, Kirk Winslow, pastor of Canvas (ipcfe.wordpress.com), shared how he wrestled with his calling to ministry and how Canvas was born. He pointed out a number of interesting nuggets including: there are two things needed for one to be happy, 1) being genuinely loved, and 2) doing meaningful work. He communicated three questions which were helpful for him in determining a direction in life: 1) What are you naturally good at? 2) What do you actually care about? 3) Where can you make the biggest contribution to the kingdom? After stating these three questions, he said that where the answers to these three questions overlap is where mission and calling happen. Another nugget from his presentation was a question I’d like to ask in my own congregation in regards to programs and especially worship: Is anyone loving what we’re doing? Finally, he mentioned that Canvas, or any church really, should operate as a base camp, a place where people get together to meet and encourage each other before “hitting the mountain” or going out into the world. Good Stuff!
After lunch, David Derus (davidderus.squarespace.com) talked about a community that formed on Facebook called Youth PCUSA Leaders (http://www.facebook.com/groups/YoungPCUSALeaders), which is a safe place for PCUSA affiliated leaders (Clergy or Lay, leader is very loosely defined) in their 20s and 30s to celebrate, collaborate, and commiserate. He talked about how this community was formed and continues to exist and grow. It is not unlike another facebook group called Things they didn’t teach us in Seminary (http://www.facebook.com/groups/110049045697089/) but it is limited to millenials or almost millenials who are a part of the PCUSA. One memorable nugget was encouragement for older leaders to ask younger leaders these two questions: 1) Am I making your ministry harder? 2) How can I help your ministry succeed? If all leaders asked other leaders these two questions, wouldn’t this world be a better place?
Overall this regional gathering was a great event. I feel energized to explore new expressions of the body of Christ even in my current employment which is itself one expression of that body. My only regret is that so few people locally (approx. 50 people total) took advantage of this event. Hopefully others will join in next time.