For Church Leaders: An unsolicited endorsement: a way to strengthen faith

During most of my pastoral ministry — since 1973, in fact — I have consistently used one outstanding resource to prepare worship bulletins, calls to worship and prayers and liturgies to be used for weekly services, funerals, weddings. It has also been of great help in my own spiritual growth.

Alive Now! is a publication of Upper Room Ministries in Nashville, edited by Beth A. Richardson. According to its website its purpose is “to nourish people who are hungry for a sacred way of living.” It speaks to the opportunities and challenges of following Christ in the modern world. Scripture and prayer are two foundational cornerstones of content.

The magazine is well-illustrated with color photographs, drawings and illustrations and concentrates on one theme for each bimonthly issue. The July-August 2011 edition, for example, focuses on “Finding Time,” with readings from resource books, Scripture verses, prayers by church lay leaders and pastors, poems and spiritual directions. As Richardson writes in her opening remarks, “I must sink my roots deep into God’s Spirit every day. When I take time for God, it makes a difference in how I function in the day, in the choices I make, in my attitude, in my interactions with others.”

The journal offers several innovative means by which the spiritual life may be strengthened. Its Web page includes daily reflections, Visual Psalmists (currently featuring photos by Lanecia A. Rouse), and AudioLecto. The last feature is a way to hear and pray the Scriptures out loud. Each Bible passage is heard three times, preceded by different comments to guide meditation and reflection. The Web site also has a prayer center to which readers may send requests that will be included in the staff’s daily prayer session.

Those who have kept back issues (as I have) or can find them in churches or libraries will be glad to know that John Roschen has developed comprehensive downloadable computer indices on Acrobat back to 1971, one on issues and articles that connect with specific Scripture passages, and one that refers to various themes or contents. They are searchable and personalized lists can be saved for further reference.

Particularly useful in leading discussions, teaching courses in churches, presenting opening readings at meetings, finding new hymns or preparing services of worship are some of the issues published for Advent and Lent. Other editions were devoted to major social themes, apartheid , racism, women’s rights, specified ministry, concerns for the handicapped and poor, etc. These resources are useful to introduce readers to some of the best contemporary theologians, liturgists, hymn writers and poets.

Some of the upcoming themes which will be found in future issues in 2012 include “Our Earth” (humanity, creatures, and the earth), “Wilderness” (the wilderness of spiritual emptiness), “The Call” ( finding meaning in our vocation), “Rest” (how does God call you to rest?), “Transitions” (facing change and transitions), and “Light” (Advent issue). According to one of the editors, Alive Now! is willing to accept freelance theme-based writing and strives to represent the widest possible diversity (theological, geographical, denominational, racial, cultural) among its authors.

* In a later column the excellent resource published by the PC(USA), These Days, will also be reviewed.