ATLANTA – On Wednesday morning, following full days of worship, workshops, presentations and fellowship, participants at the NEXT Church national gathering were sent out after an energetic worship service.
Meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta Feb. 22-24, about 600 leaders from Presbyterian churches across the country have spent time considering the role of the church and its leadership during a “crossroads” time for many in mainline denominations. Theresa Latini, associate dean and professor at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan, spoke about nonviolent communication. Allan Boesak, former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches now serving on the faculty of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, called those gathered to fight injustice by being “real, radical and revolutionary.” And sermons, such as the one from Aisha Brooks-Lytle of Wayne Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, called the church to confront racism and classicism.
Short 7-minute “Ignite” presentations provided opportunities to hear practical stories from ministries and churches activity engaging their communities. These included:
- Farm Church, a community in North Carolina that helps feed others.
- A unique partnership between Trinity Presbyterian Church and Herndon Elementary School in Virginia, where the church has become active in the lives of students at a neighborhood school.
- Serious JuJu, a skate ministry reaching kids in Montana.
On the final day of the conference, three leaders of Balitmoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) shared the process they are taking to revitalize Baltimore to meet the needs of all of its citizens – primarily through improved safety and increased job opportunities. Andrew Foster Connors, pastor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, explained how they started: “We did what we often do when we don’t know what to do next – we went out and listened” to the people of the community. They heard that they were “desperate for work,” wanted good schools and a city that is safe. BUILD’s pastoral leadership has worked to increase job opportunities, support schools and improve safety in the city.
The conference ended with closing worship featuring African drummers, the choir of Atlanta’s First Afrikan Presbyterian Church, communion and a sermon from T. Denise Anderson, pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland, and who is currently standing for co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Anderson spoke encouragement directly to church leaders who were feeling tired and discouraged. “You’ve got this,” she promised, “because God’s got you.” She acknowledged that the work of church leaders is often difficult and lonely, but “if there’s any good news in suffering, it’s that we don’t do it alone.” The beauty of NEXT Church, she said, is that “we’re not by ourselves.” Anderson sent participants out to “go home … with your holy calling,” knowing that even when change is afoot, God present.
“NEXT Church,” she said in her benediction, “We have had church. Now go and be church.”