GA to celebrate New Worshipping Communities and Young Adult Volunteers

When the General Assembly convenes Saturday in Detroit, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be celebrating at least two accomplishments – a constellation of more than 235 new worshipping communities and the 20th anniversary of the Young Adult Volunteer program.

One new worshipping community is The Journey, an outreach to college students in Charleston, S.C. which meets in part at local coffee shops.
One new worshipping community is The Journey, an outreach to college students in Charleston, S.C. which meets in part at local coffee shops.

New Worshipping Communities. So far, the denomination’s 1,001 New Worshipping Communities initiative is moving faster than expected – with at least 238 new worshipping communities established or added to the list so far. “We’re talking 10 a month – that’s two or three a week,” Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, said in a recent interview. “So clearly this is gaining momentum.”

The 2012 General Assembly approved a goal of creating 1,001 new worshipping communities within 10 years. After 23 months, “we’re a quarter of the way there in less than two years,” Valentine said.

Those communities take on a distinct local flavor – in sites as diverse as coffee shops and gyms, working with college students and immigrants, incorporating bluegrass music and the arts. Some have started since the 2012 assembly; others launched earlier, but are being included in the count. About half involve racial ethnic ministry and a quarter young adults, Valentine said – many of them, she said, people who would not be involved in a traditional Presbyterian church.

One example: Valentine spoke recently with leaders of a Presbyterian church from Atlanta who plan to start a new worshipping community in a nearby town. “They’re not taking people from the congregation and moving them up there, which is sort of the old way of replicating yourself,” Valentine said. “They’re going to start in a different area, from scratch, because they want to reach people who they know would never come into their traditional congregation.”

The PC(USA) also provides support through coaching, grants, and by supporting 19 seminary interns who themselves are learning what’s involved in church planting and entrepreneurship.

Commissioners to the 2014 General Assembly, in their first plenary session June 14, will pick a winner in the “What’s Your Story?” video contest – with 35 new worshipping communities submitting entries in recent months, and with the contenders having already been winnowed down to five finalists. The prize: $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $2,500 for third, to be used to support the community’s work.

The denomination is working on ways to quantify how many people are involved in these new worshipping communities – and also in immigrant fellowships which may not have been formally counted at all. “If we don’t count them,” Valentine said, “what does it mean about whether they count?”

She said one person involved with racial ethnic ministries told her: “We’re working with all these people, and we’re not counting them, as if ‘I don’t recognize you.’ How do we account? It’s not just about bolstering numbers,” but about communicating that “I recognize you as part of our church,” and working to make sure those voices are heard as the church makes decisions.

“We may be looking at who were are and what we’re composed of in some different ways,” Valentine said.

Young Adult Volunteers. The assembly also will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program, through which young adults age 19 through 30 serve in mission projects both in the United States and overseas – places such as South Korea, Thailand and Zambia, or working with immigrants along the U.S-Mexican border; or building relationships in an agricultural community in Montana or in urban ministry in Chicago.

There’s also an active network of Young Adult Volunteer alumni – about a third of whom have gone to seminary, Valentine said.

The Young Adult Volunteer program’s slogan: “A year of service for a lifetime of change.”