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The mission of Seattle Presbytery is to participate, in word and deed, in God’s transforming work through the Gospel of Jesus Christ: †by strengthening the witness and mission of our congregations and members and by building strong partnerships with each other and the larger Christian community.

Events (Archive)

Filtering by Category: The Spirit

The Spirit 2011 Review Issue Now Available

Seattle Presbytery

The 2011 Review issue of The Spirit is available for download. In this issue: 

  • A look at Sammamish Pres' new member explosion
  • Rev. Eyde Mabangalo on "Neighborhood Exegesis"
  • A celebration of 100 years of ministry at West Side
  • BellPres' The Bible Plain and Simple
  • 5 Q's with Mt. View's newly ordained minister, Tasha Hicks
  • Rev. Kevin Nollette on avoiding the pitfalls of bad copier contracts
  • Rev. Lynell Caudillo on the remarkable peacemaking efforts of women in Kenya
  • A look at Workshop Rotation and Godly Play in action at MIPC, CHP and UPC

Affiliation: A Different Way of Being Together

Seattle Presbytery


By Rev. Scott Lumsden, Executive Presbyter
Affiliation will be one of a number of possibilities for the PC(USA) discussed at Presbyfest. 

When Christians Disagree

It happens from time to time, Christians disagree. Back in the day, Paul, a gifted evangelist and theologian from Antioch, and Barnabas, his friend and fellow pastor, began to plan a return trip to the churches they had helped establish. Yet as they discussed their plan, a disagreement erupted. Paul didn’t trust Mark (Barnabas’ cousin) and refused to allow him to come with them, so they parted ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed east to Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas and journeyed West for Syria. (Acts 15:36-41)

I use this example because it’s becoming increasingly clear to many within the church that there are similar “second leg of the journey” dynamics at work within the PC(USA). We’ve reached a disagreement on how and where to go regarding the next leg of our missionary journey together and it scares us. Though the surface disagreement seems to be about ordination standards, there are other factors that are equally important such as: the changing nature of the church and society; post-denominationalism; decades of mainline decline; and uncertainty about our future. 

There are of course benefits in times of disagreement in that they challenge us to be clear and honest in our communication and help us clarify our positions. Disagreement forces to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions instead of expecting others to think and act on our behalf. Yet to continue in disagreement without recognizing alternative ways of addressing it may have serious ramifications for the mission of the PC(USA). 

Affiliation

There are a number of ideas recently that have been proposed that attempt to deal with these dynamics of disagreement within the PC(USA). Many of these proposals were presented as tiers during the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering in August. However, leaders (and presbyteries) across a wide theological spectrum of the PC(USA) are increasingly drawn toward some variation of what I will describe below as affiliation. (Sometimes affiliation is likened to orders within the Catholic church.) 

The idea in a nutshell goes something like this. For the purpose of providing greater clarity of mission within the PC(USA), congregations through their councils (sessions) may affiliate with a national body approved by the General Assembly. This would be completely elective on the part of a council, but would be an option for those who sought direction and support from a national group within the PC(USA). In other words, if the Fellowship of Presbyterians declared essential tenets of the Reformed faith and a session felt led to adopt them or make them their own, they could formally affiliate with that national body. In addition, if a congregation felt led to affiliate with the Covenant Network or similar body, its council (session) could formally affiliate with that body. Presbyteries would be encouraged to develop ways to honor these affiliations while also maintaining a missional identity of the whole in all its work.

The thought here is that we’ve reached a place in the church where we need to allow congregations to more clearly define the path they’re following within the PC(USA). Our Book of Order empowers councils to this type of discernment and action in G-3.0102: 

Councils of this church have only ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the purpose of serving Jesus Christ and declaring and obeying his will in relation to truth and service, order and discipline. They may frame statements of faith, bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in life, resolve questions of doctrine and discipline, give counsel in matters of conscience, and decide issues properly brought before them under the provisions of this Book of Order. They may authorize the administration of the sacraments in accordance with the Directory for Worship. They have power to establish plans and rules for the worship, mission, government, and discipline of the church and to do those things necessary to the peace, purity, unity, and progress of the church under the will of Christ. They have responsibility for the leadership, guidance, and government of that portion of the church that is under their jurisdiction” (italics mine).

Within such a richly diverse church, what we haven’t yet fully come to terms with is that there can be multiple ways for a council to discern and live out its mission. For a long time in our life together we’ve mostly required the same discernment of mission within our congregations and presbyteries. We’ve done this despite the fact that there are also areas of “sharp disagreement” among us. In practical terms, we admit to and even accept some level of difference within the church, yet at the moment we have no official way to honor this reality.  

To use the example of Paul and Barnabas, one benefit of their decision to part ways was that two missionary journeys began from Antioch that spring rather than one. What if God’s mission in Jesus Christ was furthered and not hindered by more than one missionary journey emerging out of our differences? What if two, three or four major missionary movements arose from within the PC(USA), rather than discord?

Affiliation and Our Future

There is much to be discerned in the months ahead and this is only one idea among many. What is clear is that we are in the throes of yet another reformation of our identity, mission and relationships within the PC(USA). Affiliation addresses the fact that differentiation in some key areas of ministry within the PC(USA) may be a helpful way to maintain unity while allowing for a greater number of missional pathways to emerge within the larger church. The good news in all this for me is that among all these ideas about how to order our lives anew, honoring our relationships as the body of Christ is common to all.

The Unexpected Safety of the Radical Jesus

Seattle Presbytery

By Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the PC(USA) and the founding and former pastor of Mission Bay Church in San Francisco. In January, he will be joining the Seattle Presbytery as the keynote speaker for PresbyFest.

If this is the first time you have ever read my writings, getting you up to speed on my social and theological location might take a little too long. Suffice it to say that I know that my perceptions of what is radical or safe is colored by my experience as, not simply a life-long Presbyterian, but one who deeply embraces the theological and political foundations through which I have been formed.

That said, over the past decade, I have meandered in and out of conversations with and about the postmodern and emergent church, I have helped to found a congregation in hyper-spiritual and anti-religious San Francisco and I have dabbled in the bureaucracy of my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA. So as much as I would like to avoid the notion, when it comes to recent conversations about change that are going on across in the church, I have been around.

One of the things that I have noticed recently in many interactions regarding the nature of the church is an increased reclamation of what it means to be “radical” for Jesus. Liberal or conservative, there seem to be bubbles of “look how radical I am” forming that are dangerously close to becoming mutual admiration societies based on our collective non-conforming “eff you” mentalities. In an honest attempt to fight what the church has been, many seem to have claimed the position of eye-poker, provocateur and/or contrarian. While I generally agree with the positions taken about church, culture and life, I have wondered – and will no doubt get in trouble for verbalizing this – if those who preach a gospel of radicality are preaching the radical life that Jesus is in fact calling us to live. Yes, I do believe that Jesus calls us to speak truth to power, social and political, but sometimes, I wonder if we can embody this role so much that it becomes all of who we are. With good intentions, the overabundance of one tactic and gospel perspective begins to sound as if Jesus only wants radical transformation for the other… and we are the ones to deign how to do that.

I firmly believe that the radical call of Jesus shifts and changes as our life and circumstances change: day to day, year to year and generation to generation. Might the radical calling on our lives be to embody the complexity of divine expression that Christ holds in harmony… to borrow from Calvin: to be pastoral in our care of others, priestly in our connection to God, prophetic in seeking justice, and poetic in our imagination of what could be? When we allow “radical” to be too comfortable or defined by the current political and/or religious polemics of the day, I believe that we contribute to the ongoing division of the world and we fail to model lives of reconciliation between people, graciousness in the face of oppression and genuine love for our enemy.

Again, I am not challenging the meaningful and important issues that so many are fighting for, what I am pushing on is how we engage in these movements in a way that actually makes an impact. Jesus was certainly a radical, but I do not think he was a fanatic, so when we communicate a strict and narrow view of what Jesus wants and how he wants it accomplished, we lose legitimacy, damage relationships and work against the fruition of lasting change. Left or right, we deny the fullness of God’s expression when we hide in the comfort and security of our self-righteousness, and this clustering holds us back from possibly discovering something new in the ways we work for change.

What I am NOT saying is that we should scrap any sense of what it means to be radical and just “play it safe,” avoid risk-taking or justify spiritual apathy, but rather that we should each ask ourselves how “safe” and “risky” postures manifest themselves in each of our lives. Because I simply do not think being radical will be the same for each person, when we do this we can begin to value the breadth of the radical expressions of Jesus the Christ in the world. Every movement needs a variety of personalities and perspectives in order to be effective, but… when we value ourselves and others with narrow visions of what is faithful or Christ-like we present a weak vision of what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world. A stronger vision, and one that I believe will lead to reconciliation across ideological chasms, is one that includes the prophetic word, the pastoral touch, the priestly heart and the poetic mind… one not held above the other, but held in harmony as individuals and communities of faith.

Now that would be radical.

Pop Music and Fan Faith

Seattle Presbytery

By Rev. Jeff Keuss, Professor of Christian Ministry, SPU
An excerpt from Your Neighbor's Hymnal, published by Cascade Books 

Faith is a tricky term to define and even harder to live out. For some, to have faith is to adhere to certain doctrinal affirmations and creeds. For others, faith is essentially wishful thinking akin to hopefulness where one believes that, as Julian of Norwich mused so long ago, “all manner of things shall be well.” Others see faith as living into the seemingly improbable or impossible, or an exercise in supreme trust as one leaps into the unknown with complete abandon. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is credited with having framed the notion of the “leap of faith” whereby faith is not merely just an intellectual ascent, but a visceral all-or-nothing commitment of body, mind and soul. Is faith ultimately what we have in ourselves? In other people? In God?

Listening to pop music is in itself an act of faith akin to Kierkegaard’s notion of the ‘leap of faith’. For some this leap is provoked by a strong push or awakening that something needs to change often in the form of conviction. To be convicted by something as an act of faith, it is to become in some ways to overcome and overwhelmed, thoroughly convinced, to the point that you are standing at a crossroads and what you now know is incontestable and life as you know it changed forever. An example of such a moment would be a near death experience, falling in love, or even hearing Marvin Gaye or Johnny Cash singing for the first time; one may call it a life-defining event. Theologian James Loder sees such moments as acts of faith for both the secular and sacred come together in such life-defining events. It is in that these “experiences we want eventually to understand in Christian terms are precisely those that reopen the question of reality because the subject of the experience has been convicted by a spiritual presence far greater than the subject him or herself.”1 While Christians may take faith to mean a particular line to a deeper understanding and relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ, faith can start in many places outside the church, including a seemingly simple pop song that stirs within us something greater than ourselves.

As privatized and individualistic as some people deride pop music as being, it is a medium that continues to encourage people to have life-convicting moments that will move them to play and eventually live out the music for all to hear, joining strangers together through the song and to thereby takes the story public in ways that the closed off life of many church goers often does not on a day-to-day basis. My friend Rev. Beth Maynard, an Episcopal priest, faculty member at Gordon Conwell Seminary and author of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog recently spoke at a conference on the music of U2 I was attending on the role that listening to music together in a live show can play in forging a sense of meaning not only for the musician but for the audience members.2 Drawing from the Christian tradition of worship, Maynard sees modern music fans and concert goers enacting a practice deep in the liturgical tradition known as leitourgia.

Leitourgia as Fan Faith

As noted by Maynard, the word leitourgia is a Greek term used in the early Christian communities to mean a public act that expresses the mission of a people, something done in the open and not behind closed doors. Maynard cites David Fagerberg’s study Theologia Prima in looking at how the term grew in usage in the early Christian communities and notes that the term becomes more and more associated with “actions expressing [a] city’s relations to the world of divine powers on which it acknowledged itself to be dependent.”3 In the early centuries of Christianity, leitourgia was a term to denote public rather than private gatherings whose focus and intent was essentially to bring light into darkness and challenge the prevailing social and spiritual assumptions of the time. By public it meant that everyone is invited to participate and find their voice in this reality. As Fagerberg goes on to say, “the early Christians chose the term leitourgia for what they were doing [because] it signaled that they did not think themselves to be doing [a service closed off in meaning from the rest of the world], but they were doing the eschatological work of making Christ’s kingdom present… [embodying] the presence in this world of the Kingdom to come.”4 Faith in this way is that which is so real, so pervasive that it has to be made public and shared, drawing others into the song and challenging the heartbreak and nihilism of an age and offers an alternative reality for all to see and hear.

In many ways this ancient notion of leitourgia is the faith of the pop music fan as well. This desire to take something so core to who we are and continue to seek expression regardless of what others may think of us is seen the moment someone becomes so taken with a song and an artist that they play it on repeat for days on end, wear the concert T-Shirt, follow the bands Twitter feed and Facebook updates, and have to tell people about this song and artist as a way of keeping the world on alert. This is when people forgo the norms set by the culture around them, throw care to the wind, and run fully into expressing something bigger than themselves.  A classic example of this is seen in the movement from day-to-day life and then attending a rock concert. I recently attended a U2 show with a number of academics (imagine that crowd for a second!). Many of these people were accomplished professors who had written in areas of literary theory, economics, history, sociology and theology. However, once we stepped into the arena for the rock show and the boys from Dublin took the stage, what had been reserved and mediated discourse became a full-bodied fanfest—PhDs jumping up and down, pumping their fists in the air, dancing in the aisles and singing along with the thousands of fans gathered under the full harvest moon of November. Amidst the music and flashing stadium lights, people forgot themselves in all the right ways and joined together in chorus after chorus after chorus. Basically, people found faith in something other than themselves and gave themselves over to it even if it was only for a moment. Alexander Schmemann, writing from the Russian Orthodox tradition states that for the early Christian community leitourgia was a public expression that was the end “of the ‘sacred’ religious act isolated from and opposed to the ‘profane’ life of the community.”5 No longer do we keep we are passionate about separated from how we organize and live out our lives in the public sphere. To have fan faith in the spirit of leitourgia is to ‘out’ yourself as a fan and by doing so is to have that shape how and why you live in the world. Your priorities change, the people you gather with and for change and this is not kept locked up but expressed through one’s life for the entire world to see. As Schmemann makes clear in reference to the very public expressions of faith in the public sphere for the early Christians, “the pseudo-Christian opposition of the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘material,’ the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane,’ the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular,” is denounced, abolished, and revealed as a monstrous lie about God and man and the world.”6 It doesn’t take a rock show to see this full-bodied faith take hold with a pop song. Just look at the car next to you at the stop light when you hear the thumping of the subwoofer pounding your windows—heads bobbing to the beat like a scene from Wayne’s World, lip-syncing along to the song and belting it out with all the passion of an American Idol finalist. Watch the commuters on the bus with their white iPod earbuds. Their eyes are closed, but they’re fully alive in ways they won’t be during their workday. True, there is pop music fandom that draws people into the trivial and mundane just as there are some Christian worship services that celebrate the consumer culture more than critique it or provide an alternative. But the drive to find something larger than ourselves and make it public is a starting point – even a shallow faith is better than no faith at all. And in this we are to celebrate rather than to too quickly denounce the fan faith that permeates the culture around us. As I mention in my book, rather than work so hard to convert people to Christian subculture, perhaps we should spend some time in “our neighbor’s hymnal” – the music that means so much to them already – as see if perhaps our hymnals need to be put side by side rather than replacing what God is doing already. I believe the church will find that “our neighbor’s hymnal” is filled with songs that are sowing the seeds of faith and pushing for a form of life that is larger than the mundane and points to a transcendence worth paying attention to. People continue to come to pop music as a demonstration of faith in something more than what we often see and do in the so-called real world. Perhaps we as the church would do well to journey into such a faith for a season and see what God has for us there.

_________

1 Loder, The Convictional Moment, 7.
2 Rev. Beth Maynard, “U2 Live: Where Leitourgia Has No Name” presented at the U2: The Hype and the Feedback conference North Carolina State University, October 4, 2009. My thanks to Rev. Maynard for sharing her insights from her paper with me and providing resources and valuable insights for this notion of leitourgia.
3 Fagerberg, Theologia Prima: What Is Liturgical Theology?, 11.
4 Fagerberg, 83.
5 Schmemann, For The Life of the World. 26.
6 Schmemann, 76.

'The Spirit' November Issue is Available

Seattle Presbytery

  • Rev. Lynell Caudillo's trip to the Tumekutana conference in Kenya.
  • Celebrating 100 years at Woodland Park Presbyterian
  • Get to know the newly ordained and installed pastor of Mt. View
  • EP Scott Lumsden on the Affiliation Model of church governance
  • Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow on 'The Unexpected Safety of the Radical Jesus'
  • Rev. Jeff Keuss finds the gospel in pop music
  • SE Asia Ministry Team report from Dr. Binh Nguyen
  • Photos and more!

Tumekutana

Seattle Presbytery

By Rev. Lynell Caudillo, Marcus Whitman Pres.

It was an intriguing invitation. It became a life-changing experience.

The invitation was to participate in Tumekutana 2011 in Kigali, Rwanda. Tumekutana (“we come together” in Kiswahili) is the vision of Caryl Weinberg, a former PC(USA) missionary and current Director of Missions on the staff of First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois.

Throughout Central Africa, Caryl, a Registered Nurse, served as an AIDS educator starting in the late 1990s. In her work she met women who were leading significant ministries in churches, often under challenging circumstances. It was her dream to bring these women together and introduce them to each other. The first Tumekutana conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 was such a success, that a planning committee was formed and began immediately to plan a second conference. Rwanda was chosen as the location, and the theme “Women as Agents of Peace, Healing, and Reconciliation” was selected, to take place October 16-20, 2011 in the capital city of Kigali.

I was pleased to accept Caryl’s invitation and began the necessary preparations: immunizations for typhoid, yellow fever, anti-malaria prescriptions, etc. I had already been praying for the conference, having been the US prayer coordinator for the first Tumekutana. However, I was unprepared for the impact this event would have on my life.

The US Team included Caryl, Sonia Bodi and Gwen Ruckers from First Presbyterian Church Evanston, Susan Skoglund , a representative from Presbyterian Women, a pastor from South Carolina, Helen Harrison-Coker, Rev. Debbie Braaksma from Louisville (coordinator of mission in Africa for the PC(USA)), and myself. Once in Kigali, we were joined by Dr. Amy McAuley from Zambia (chair of the Presbyterian Medical Benevolence Fund), Rev. Debbie Blane (from Seattle, currently serving in South Sudan), and Rev. Janet Guyer (serving in South Africa). 

Arriving a few days in advance of the official beginning of the conference, the US team helped prepare registration materials, and shared responsibilities with the Rwandan Host committee. Invitation letters, visas, and travel arrangements were worked on until the last minute as communications and internet access vary greatly from country to country. Fifty-five women from 18 different African countries—professors, pastors, and leaders of Presbyterian and Reformed women—converged on Kigali!

On Sunday October 16th, we were divided into six groups. Each group was hosted by a different congregation in the Kigali area for worship and lunch. I was invited to preach at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Kigali, where there are 3 services, one in English, one in French and one in Kinyarwandan. The two hour (plus!) service was lively, with three different music groups leading the congregation in song and dance. Far from the “frozen chosen,” Rwandan worship is aerobic! I was thankful for the warm hospitality of Rev. Therese Makamakuza who translated my sermon into French, and welcomed me and the other Tumekutana delegates so graciously.

The conference began “officially” Sunday afternoon at the Ikigio Isano Conference Center as the delegates, wearing their brightly colored national dress, lined up to process into the Opening Ceremony which featured introductions of honored dignitaries and guests. Two choirs from local Presbyterian churches provided stirring vocal and dance performances. The opening address by the Rev. Dr. Nyambura Njoroge, broke open the conference theme: Women as Agents of Peace, Healing and Reconciliation from both Old and New Testament perspectives in the African context—a very auspicious beginning.

Through daily worship, plenary sessions, small group discussions, shared meals and personal conversations, the depth of faith and passion for peace that these women possess was clearly revealed. Lasting friendships formed as women studied and prayed together, discovering common cultural issues and discussing strategies for change. Topics addressed included: the education and economic empowerment of women, the impact of political conflict and violence on women, including the role of women in ensuring gender-justice in the church and community, among many others.

No doubt, the most profound experience was the day the group visited the Kigali Memorial Centre, which provides a dignified burial location for over 250,000 remains of those who died in the 1994 Genocide, as well as tasteful exhibits which document and educate about genocidal violence in Rwanda and elsewhere. This was a highly charged emotional afternoon, not only for our Rwandan hosts, but for many of the women who live with the daily reality of civil unrest and the threat of armed conflict in their own countries. That evening we heard from a pastor and a dozen members of his congregation—female survivors and male perpetrators of the Genocide—about the life-changing work of Christ that has brought about healing and true reconciliation among them.

This transformative love of Christ compels the women of Tumekutana to be agents of change in their homes, churches and communities. Here, peacemaking is not just a good idea—it is a personal reality. For these women, a personal relationship with Christ is the locus for all peacemaking efforts. 

There is not time or space to tell the stories of Samuel, a young Ugandan man with whom I shared the 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Kigali, or of Ariet from Ethiopia, Anisi from Rwanda, Milcah from South Sudan, and so many others whose journeys touched me deeply. Because of this experience I have gained a new perspective on my own church and culture, as well as God’s call to be peacemakers in Jesus’ name!

If you would like to hear more, I am available to share in greater detail with your study group, class or congregation. You can contact me at

BellPres' The Bible Plain and Simple

Seattle Presbytery

Rev. Tom Brewer, keeping it plain and simple in the web-based media player.

By Rev. Sandy Hackett, Pastor, Lake City Pres.

Anybody else looking for great Adult Ed resources? I found one! There is an online video series called The Bible Plain and Simple that is being produced by the good folks at First Pres. Bellevue. They’ve posted a play list for the first two years of a four year series on their site.

The class is taught live at FPCB on Wednesday nights, and also streams live on the web for people who want to watch from home and not brave the weeknight commute. BellPres then archives those as podcasts for folks who want to watch on their own schedules. New classes go up every week during each teaching quarter.

The first time I’d heard about this great resource was driving home from the Whitworth Institute for Ministry with Scott Mann, FPCB’s pastor for Christian Growth. They are kind of quiet over in Bellevue about the great work they are doing, so I asked if I could tell some more folks about it. 

All of our churches are welcome to participate in this course, drawing on the excellent resources these good teachers have available to them. The video is professionally produced, and a pleasure to watch. The content is substantial, well researched, and engagingly presented. You can play each week’s class on any schedule that works for your congregation. Monthly circles? Weekday Bible studies? Small groups? Sunday School? Even just alerting your folks to the possibility of watching on their own is giving them a great tool for developing biblical literacy.

Thanks, Scott Mann! Always glad to find a new way to encourage my congregation!

Workshop Rotation + Godly Play

Seattle Presbytery

By Aaron Willett, SeaPres Communications 

One Sunday morning, I witnessed a magic trick cast as a complex children’s sermon whereby a coin passing through an apparently impenetrable barrier created a metaphor for our own passage into heaven. As I sat there, befuddled by the theological implications and confused by the analogy, I realized that I wasn’t the only one—the children clearly shared my lack of comprehension. I asked myself, “Isn’t there a better way?” 

Turns out that there is: story and repetition. 

Two Sunday school curriculum models have emerged that meet these essential criteria. While they are distinct in their approaches, both Godly Play and Workshop Rotation teach from the story first. They are tactile—relying on sight and touch as much as the spoken word—and offer a number of ways for children to find their own place in the story. Both of these models are now being used in a number of churches across our presbytery. 

Godly Play

Based on the Montessori movement, Godly Play is fluid and tactile. According to Jennifer Reeve-Parker, Director of Ministries to Children & Families at Mercer Island Pres., “It really allows time for kids to see the story in this really playful way. The wording is very specific and Godly play has this amazing routine to it.” Each Sunday, as the children enter the room, they become connected by ritual. Jennifer recalls the specific wording used to prepare the group, “This is a special place, and in this place we have all the time that we need. We can walk more slowly and talk more quietly because we know that we are with God and listening to God.”

Dani Forbess, University Presbyterian’s Faith Formation Lead, describes the opportunity found in the fluidity and freedom, “One of the most appealing things about the Godly Play rhythm is the freedom that it affords to the children. This can feel unsettling at times, especially as both children and teacher are adjusting to the new rhythm. But as it develops, it allows active boys to do the very thing they need to do – be active with the story! It also allows for more reflective children to get lost in the story, if they so choose. Whereas, the ones who prefer a more social approach can engage with a small group of children and work together on one story. The opportunity to engage the story in a way unique to oneself abounds.” 

Part of the routine embraced in Godly Play is the liturgical calendar. Using a felt calendar, the children of MIPC (from four years old through second grade) mark the passage of time in liturgical colors. The colors provide another touchstone to connect the story of the Bible to their lives. Jennifer says, “They love getting-ready season, which is Advent… It’s really fun, and it’s a great way of teaching our church story.”

The richness of Godly Play is felt in more than ritual—each week the story is told not just in words, but with “manipulatives”: wooden figures and miniature props. Using the desert sand box, Jennifer showed me how the story of Abram and Sarai would be enacted, moving the figures across the sand, “…And then you go to the next place and you see their footprints in the sand all the way along. There’s always something to watch when you’re hearing a Godly Play story.” Dani describes children as young as three using the manipulatives to engage in a way that is personal and unique. She shares that the freedom this creates “is both challenging and powerful.”

Workshop Rotation Model

The Workshop Rotation Model gives children the opportunity to learn one Bible story over a period of several weeks across a number of different workshops. Each workshop has a theme around which the activity is centered. Possible workshops include art, music, science, cooking, drama, story, computers, movies, and games.

At MIPC, where both models are used, Jennifer and her crew of teachers first introduce the Bible story, then encourage the children to interact with it and “try it on. Whether it’s through an art project, watching a movie, or acting it out—[they] interact with it and then talk about it in small groups and figure out how it applies.”

Workshop Rotation allows a great deal of customization in each church community. Many curriculum resources are shared freely at rotation.org, and more are available for purchase. As Jennifer says, “You can really choose and make it your own.”

Tonia Davidson, Capitol Hill Presbyterian’s Children and Family Ministries Director, spoke of their own process of figuring out how the model “fit uniquely for our church.” Eventually they arrived at B.A.S.E. (Biblical And Spiritual Equipping) Camp and based their workshop titles around that theme. Their workshops include Rock Solid Productions (drama), the Story Telling Tent, Map it Out, Creation Station, Zion Flicks, the Table (cooking) and the Apostle’s Workout (gross motor).

Each workshop room is decorated to fit its theme. CHP’s Story Tent is draped floor to ceiling with flowing fabric and pillows. MIPC’s movie theater room is just like a small theater with tiered seating and low lighting. The time invested in these rooms pays dividends measured in excitement and attention span.

One of the advantages seen by Tonia at CHP is a greater involvement of men in leading workshops, “especially when I’m needing to recruit around specific talents.” She shared about men being involved as actors, artists, teaching science lessons and even one man who “did a workshop on baking that tied into the [Lord’s] prayer.” 

Engaging Both Children & Teachers

Dani, Jennifer and Tonia all spoke of how the depth of the biblical story in both Godly Play and Workshop Rotation feeds student and teacher alike. They related times when parents have been surprised by how well their kids know the biblical narrative. Jennifer talked about how the children are more attuned to the liturgical colors in the sanctuary than many of the adults in worship. 

Workshop Rotation and Godly Play are designed to pull children into the Bible’s story, helping them to find their own place within its pages.

FURTHER READING

To learn more, visit www.rotation.org and www.godlyplay.org

Neighborhood Exegesis: How About You?

Seattle Presbytery

By Rev. Eyde Mabanglo, North Point Church Parish Associate

"The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." -John 1:14, The Message 

About twenty years ago, a pastor friend of mine left his preaching position in order to open a small chain of coffee shops on the Kitsap Peninsula. He said that he had more meaningful conversations with people about spiritual matters in his coffee shops than he ever did as a pastor in a church. Just a few years ago, another pastor friend of mine did the same thing; several Bible study groups now make his coffee shop their weekly home. He just opened his second coffee shop (“The Global Bean”) in the new, neighborhood YMCA. These pastors both left the pulpit, but they didn’t leave their call or their passion there.

How about you? Are you a pastor with a call and a passion to initiate a missional community in our Presbytery? We want to help…

In 2000, Central Kitsap Presbyterian Church’s session worked with the Seattle Presbytery to create a satellite campus in Poulsbo, a 15-minute drive from the CKPC ‘main campus’. This missional community (granted we didn’t call it that back then) based its approach on focusing on the neighbors—their life’s dreams, family needs, real fears, and spiritual questions. We learned to listen…to the neighborhood. “North Point” eventually walked through the New Church Development (NCD) process and chartered in 2005. We began worshipping in our new sanctuary this summer which is located within a rural block of the neighborhood’s elementary school, junior high, and high school.

How about you? Is your session prayerfully considering a missional community within or beyond your local congregation? We want to help…

The Catalyzing Missional Communities Committee (CMC) can help to guide, resource, and encourage many different kinds of initiatives. Some of those exciting developments involve ethnic groups becoming better grounded in their neighborhoods with welcomed attention to language barriers, family traditions, and worship practices. Some of these fellowships are strategically made up of mixed cultures as well.

How about you? Do you or your church see a multi-cultural opportunity in your neighborhood? We want to help...

Rev. Craig Williamson, the associate for the western office of PC(USA)’s church development, challenged the CMC to consider “neighborhood exegesis.” More and more church leaders are successfully engaging in neighborhood exegesis and watching for God’s movement in their communities. This situational awareness, humility, and adaptability are important tools in the missional leader’s tool belt. Twelve delegates from our Presbytery attended the NCD conference in Florida and received more practical tools to help us move forward in ministry at all levels here in Seattle. For example, in Detroit, a Presbytery is strategizing with local congregations to merge two churches in order to be one stronger missional presence in their community.

How about you? Do you have a missional story or strategy that you’d like to share with your fellow presbyters? We want to hear it!

To share or ask questions, please contact the Catalyzing Missional Communities Committee by:

Download the September issue of The Spirit

Seattle Presbytery

The September issue of The Spirit is available for download. In this issue: 

  • Rev. Eyde Mabangalo on "Neighborhood Exegesis"
  • BellPres' The Bible Plain and Simple
  • David Brenner reports on the August Gathering of the Fellowship of Presbyterians
  • Rev. Kevin Nollette on avoiding the pitfalls of bad copier contracts
  • A look at Workshop Rotation and Godly Play in action at MIPC, CHP and UPC.
  • An excerpt from Lynne M. Baab's latest book, Friending
  • Marcus Whitman Pres. turns 50 and more!

The August Gathering of the Presbyterian Fellowship

Seattle Presbytery

 
A report by Elder David Brenner, UPC

I went to the Fellowship “Gathering” on August 25-25 in Minneapolis as a member of the Session at University Presbyterian Church and informed by 19 years as legal counsel for the Presbytery.  I went primed to debate the fine points of the three P’s (Policy, Property, and Pension) that are the practical “glue” of denominational unity.   But the program I encountered was quite different from a dry discussion of the mechanics of potential division.  Here is a short report on the distinctives of this Gathering.  

Each day opened and closed with a one-plus hour worship program featuring music and liturgy.  In between these worship sessions, plenary and breakout sessions explored a continuum of options for coming together in ministry while differentiating from the denomination.  Each participant was assigned to one of 200 table groups scattered through the hotel that received audio/video feed on particular options from the main stage and then discussed those options.  Larger break-out sessions more fully defined the options.  

Unlike the current rancorous dialogue of our nation’s political leaders, the Gathering presented a refreshing effort to avoid anger.  “We’re not mad” is a major distinguishing value for the leadership of the Fellowship, the pastors of large PC(USA) churches who have taken to referring to themselves as the “Seven Dwarfs”.   At the Gathering, “not being mad” took the form of using respectful language toward the liberal (“progressive” was the term most often used) wing and the inclusion in the program of both PC(USA) Stated Clerk Grady Parsons and Moderator Cynthia Bolbach.  It was also illustrated by downplaying the gay ordination and marriage issues raised by 10(a) in favor of a discussion of essential theological tenets that form common ground for ministry.  The Gathering sought to highlight what the Fellowship affirms more than what it is against, and to defer discussion of the mechanics of separation in favor of building blocks for common ministry among the church leaders at the meeting and (perhaps) the congregations they lead.   

No longer trying to reform the denomination is a second distinctive value that sets this as yet loose-knit association of pastors and elders apart from other movements.  The Fellowship is grounded on the premise that Gen X and Millennials who are the future of the church care little or none at all about denominational affiliation, and that denominational discord impedes ministry.  As a result, the forward-looking options discussed at the gathering are a continuum of means by which individual congregations can come together in ministry while distancing themselves from the denomination. 

Briefly, the continuum ranges from:

  • Staying within the denomination and developing a strong missional focus in ministry, aided by affiliation with other “Fellowship” churches.
  • Staying but differentiating from the denomination in various possible ways under the Fellowship “brand.” These could include a) allowing churches to separate into overlay presbyteries; b) allowing churches within divided presbyteries to eliminate friction by associating as needed through separate COM’s, CPM’s and essential tenets for ordination (potentially positive for any group of churches in the minority, whether conservative or liberal); or c) using a non-geographic “Two Synod” model for collecting whole undivided presbyteries or associations within presbyteries for common governance and ministry.
  • For churches that feel they must leave entirely, separating to a New Reformed Body (an administratively minimalist “denomination”) that will seek recognition by the PC(USA) as eligible to receive individual congregations.  Released churches that become full members of this New Reformed Body would pursue common missional ministry across a porous boundary with “affiliate” member churches that choose to remain with the PC(USA).

Some of these options would require overtures to the General Assembly while others could be accomplished under nFOG within presbyteries.  The announced next steps for the Fellowship are the continued development of options by regional meetings and in dialogue with PC(USA) leadership and the “Committees of Correspondence” that have sprung up around the country, and a “constitutional convention” to form the “New Reformed Body” in January 2012 in Orlando.

As a member of UPC’s Session, I want to explore these options thoughtfully in a dialogue with our congregation that emphasizes how UPC can best pursue its already “missional” oriented ministry with like-minded churches in our Presbytery and nationally, while avoiding unnecessary disunity and remaining supportive of Christ’s broader church.  As counsel for the Presbytery, I aim to provide solid, unbiased legal advice to our leaders in line with the Presbytery’s commitment to mediating disputes adopted by the Presbytery three years ago.  Executive Presbyter Scott Lumsden’s excellent recent article in the Spirit lays the groundwork for a good dialogue across our Presbytery.  If the respectful tone and attitude we have largely had to date in our Presbytery and saw in the Fellowship’s “Gathering” can be maintained, it will be a vital step toward achieving both of these goals.

Introduction to Areté Again

Seattle Presbytery

Continued from the main page...

I have recently written a book called Areté Again: Missional Adventures in Theology and Life. Areté means excellence in character and life. It is the move from the community of the Trinity to a life of virtue, to a life well lived. It is the culmination of virtue in one’s life. I wrote this book for three reasons. Part One detail’s my descent into chronic pain and addiction and my ascent to character and virtue—areté again. It was important for me to remember and honor so many people and places that leaned into one another through the joy and tears of life and ministry. My motivation was to encourage honest conversation in community that can lead to freedom, truth, light, grace and a life that flourishes. In order to do this Part Two plunges us into a fresh understanding of the Trinity as a social God in perichoretic movement. John of Damascus first introduced this word into theological discourse in the seventh century and its etymology comes from two words: peri, meaning around, and choresis meaning dance or chorus line. This word literally means a circle dance. Jürgen Moltmann popularized this word for our day through his work The Trinity and the Kingdom of God. In order to move from where I was to where I desired to be, I needed a God that was bigger than my stuff. I needed to rediscover, with a second naïveté, a God that is actually beyond all measure. Similarly, we need to rediscover the infinite Trinity in our midst today as people, pastors, and presbyters. It is an attempt at a way of thinking beyond the polarizations and the political stalemates of right or left ideology—to catapult us into a broad and open third way that gives us the space to become human again. So I share with you an excerpt from my book:

Theology matters. Our God images are important. We all have them. Constructions in our minds of who, how and what God is like. We are all theologians, whether or not we think in those categories. These images form us, shape us, mold us, and even have the power to transform us, diminish us or constrict us. These physical and emotional abstractions drive our character and our character plays themselves out in the way we do life, in the way we do ministry, and in the way we live out our vocatio, our calling. They impinge on the way we raise our children, compete on the field, and spend our money; what websites we click on in our offices late at night; who we lay next to in bed; who we copulate with; and what we ingest into our bodies. It all matters, immensely so, these God or no-God images. These images of the holy or not-so-holy drive and fuel our virtue, and our virtue is what is seen as we live our lives in the politic public.

I suggest that our views of God have very real and practical implications in our everyday lives. They trespass in the way we discipline our children, in the way we care for ourselves, in the way we talk to other people, and in the way we care for creation. All too often, our God images are un-holy Trinities  that are really no god at all. These images are made more in our own likeness than in the image. Our God is too small. Too white, too blond-haired and too blue-eyed. Too American, too powerful, too domesticated, too progressive, too conservative, too religious, too wealthy, too nice, too mainstream, too hip, too popular, too anything we desire, too misogynistic paternal, too emasculated feminine, too heterosexual, too homosexual, too much like Santa Claus, too cozy, too congenial, too perfect, too Hallmark sentimental, too friendly, too awful, too much of our own preferences, too modern, too static, too confined, too managed, too geometric, too vengeful, too anything goes, too stoic, too human, too much of a customer service representative for the way we think the world ought to be, too spiritual, too boring, too rule-oriented, too driven by four spiritual laws, too dualistic, too free, too narcissistic, too, too, too, too. I think that you are starting to get the idea. 

What about a God who is mysterious and wonderful and ferocious for me, you, us, and the world? What about a God who is social, passionate, communal, missional, one in three and three in one, dancing, delightful, extravagant, on the margins, from the streets? What if? 

Part Three explores what it means to edit, rescript and reconstruct our lives in a way that allows us to flourish in areté again. It is an exposé on the vices we so love and the virtues that we are called to live. The classic seven deadly sins are given contemporary names and I offer a trinity of virtues as the antidote for each of these vices. I offer compelling and honest stories from life in ministry, from the traumatic to the hilarious to the inspiring, in such a way that we are guided into areté again. I pull from theologians, philosophers and artists of our past and present to weave a narrative that strikes a balance between social justice and steadfast faith. I offer candid observations and reverently irreverent insights that will make you think differently about the Trinity, about salvation, about life, ministry and about grace.

We are all perfectly imperfect—this is why we need Jesus. It is why I need Jesus in my life. Christus Victor! It is my prayer that we would be honest with ourselves in all manner of theology, life and praxis. It is my prayer that we would be open to conversation, growth and dialogue about the vexations before us in a complex social situation. It is my prayer that we would sit with our internal angst holding loosely our position long enough to listen to people. Perhaps we may grow comfortable being uncomfortable and allow our current reformation to bring light from shadows. The Protestant reformation did not resolve itself over night and neither will we but we can commit to a journey together that moves beyond polarizations and sentimentalities. I am confident that after the shadows there is light. That is Good Friday to Easter Sunday, which is our faith, which is our hope, which is our story, which is our future!! God help us all!

At this point I could offer endorsements from good folks around the country who have read my book, but I will spare you the self-promotion. If you would like more information you can visit my website at tobinwilson.com. My website features a two minute book trailer video clip, a link to a KOMO 4 Television news interview that I did with Mary Nam and other printed and radio interviews. I would love to speak at any venue you might deem appropriate and of course would love for you to pick up a copy of my book. You can find the book on my website, Amazon, or any local bookseller can order a copy for you. 

Post Tenebrae Lux !!!

Tobin Wilson

Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church

A Message of Thanks from Rev. Mark Frame

Seattle Presbytery

Mark Frame was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament on June 11th, 2011, at Mercer Island Presbyterian Church. He sent the following message to Seattle Presbytery:

Mark Frame and SeaPres Vice-Moderator Bruce Manger.

As I pack up and look toward a few weeks from now when I will take over as pastor of Olive Presbyterian & Academy United Church of Christ in Platte, South Dakota I cannot help but reflect and be humbled by the warm reception I received on the floor of presbytery—but not just that. My journey to ordination over these past nine years has had many twists and turns. While God has been lighting my path I know and have felt your love and support as I sought the direction to which God has been calling me. You all will be in my heart and prayers as I begin the ministry God has for me in South Dakota! Please don’t be strangers.

By God’s Grace,

Rev. Mark Frame 

Pastor - Olive Presbyterian & United Church of Christ
501 East 1st Street & 26868 360th Avenue
Platte, South Dakota 57369

North Point Dedicates Its New Digs

Seattle Presbytery

The session was blessed with helpful guidance during the planning phrase. Elder Bill Johnson, a renowned landscape architect led us in thinking about the use of our land and the impact of construction on the environment, our neighbors and community. Then, architect Charlie Wenzlau translated our mission priorities and financial limitations into a beautiful and efficient design.

With a plan in hand, we launched a capital campaign, New Horizons, with the assistance of the Generis stewardship ministry. The congregation was pleased with the vision and the response exceeded our hopes. With over $1,000,000 pledged, we felt we could move forward.

The planning phase went very well. The congregation followed through on their pledges and we were finally issued a building permit. But two challenges to our faith immediately followed. Our general contractor, Mike Stimac was diagnosed with a serious melanoma cancer, and the banking crisis hit—no banks were making construction loans! It seemed as if God were telling us, “Not now.” But, within the year Mike was given a clean bill of health and a newly chartered local bank with money to lend told us they were interested in our project. However, with two years left on the capital pledge period, they asked for more money up front. So we raised an additional $500,000 by selling debentures (promissory notes) with a better than average rate of interest. The bank was pleased and construction began in the Spring of 2010.

During this past year the congregation has been faithful in prayer, giving, and leadership. We deepened our life together and grew in ministry even as we watched the construction progress. When the project was completed, we rejoiced that it had been finished ahead of schedule and under budget!

We had been hearing from the community that many were interested in attending North Point when our building was completed, but it was hard to know whether this was polite conversation or genuine interest. Yet we sensed that God was doing something special. On our grand opening Sunday, we saw it—over 340 people were present. Every seat was taken, the nursery full to overflowing, and the children’s ministry classrooms were packed. 

We are so grateful to God for what He is doing, and deeply desire to be faithful to what he is entrusting to us. From the beginning, when North Point was an idea in our hearts, we have said that we believe that the Church exists for others and not just for ourselves. We have pledged to one another that we will use what God enables us to build as a platform for serving the people he loves, both locally and beyond. To that end, we are stepping up our commitment to service.

Locally, we provide lunches for high school students during the fall and spring. We prepare great lunches on designated weeks for students to enjoy as a way of telling them that they matter to us. On a typical “Jesus Food” Monday, about 250 students walk across the street for food and conversation. Starting this fall, we are becoming a job site for the Life Skills class of special needs kids at the High School. We are also the distribution center for weekend lunches, school supplies and Christmas gifts for low income 

families through our partnership with our local food bank. We also put together an annual “Big Band Christmas” concert and dance as a fundraiser for the food bank. Most recently, we began a ministry for homeless women who live in cars, providing comforters and personal hygiene items.

 

Internationally, we have committed support to Oasis India an organization which ministers to women and child victims of sexual trafficking in Bangalore. We visit Oasis every other year for on-site evaluation and encouragement, and raise funds through art auctions and personal gifts in support of their work. Currently, we are establishing a sister church covenant with two South African congregations for mutual support and encouragement. We hope to contribute to the post-apartheid efforts at racial reconciliation and support the ministry of these two dynamic churches and their outreach to the poor, children, and victims of HIV/Aids. The pastors of these congregations visited us this summer, and we signed a formal covenant of mutual support on Sunday, July 10th. 

In addition to our South African and Indian missions, we support a member of our congregation, Beth Roadarmel, who is doing geriatric medical missionary work in Thailand.

In conclusion, we need to say that we are aware that North Point has prospered because God wanted it to happen. We give Him the glory, and commit ourselves to do the hard work of love and service that constitute something of what Jesus means when he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

Observations & Reflections from Big Tent

Seattle Presbytery

By Diane Lee, Elder, Kent First Pres., Images courtesy of Danny Bolin, PC(USA) 

  • My Peace Making offering doesn’t just provide “wells for water,” but supports advocates at the United Nations and Washington D.C. that speak to social injustice from a Christian perspective.
  • Rev. Mark Labberton asked us “Is all this just a work of fiction or is it about the evidence of the life of Jesus Christ? If I showed up at your church would I find people like Jesus?
  • Storytelling allows us to share memories in community. Stories help us realize we have value. When telling your story think about the place—what does it look like, what are the sounds, how does it feel, what does it smell like? Step into the story; imagine yourself there. When telling your faith story what is the most important thing you want to convey about the story?
  • Elders: Being an Elder is a calling for life in the ministry of Christ. Teaching Elders (Pastors) need Ruling Elders (current session members) to monitor, to keep focused and hold the Teaching Elder to their calling. Elders need to bring community/congregation concerns to the Teaching Elder. Who holds Elders accountable? We need to hold each other accountable. Elders need to be open to letting go and take hold of what God needs us to be. We are more than committee members. Elders should also be spiritual leaders.
  • Stewardship is not about the budget, but our commitment to Christ—a response to grace received. We need to ask donors what they see as a benefit. What are the congregation’s values? What unites them? Are we funding needs or are we funding value? Are we a blessing to God? How do we return the blessing received?
  • “God can do anything but fail!” -Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II
  • During some free time I went to the Eiteljorg Museum that was across the street from the hotel. There is a wonderful display of American Indian artifacts. At one vignette a couple quotes caught my attention from Truman Lowe, a tribal leader of the Ho–Chuck Indians: “One thing that I have learned about traditions is that in order to survive it has to change. That’s one of the constants of tradition.” “How people live forms their traditions. When the environment changes, they must adapt to the new.” Are we not at this point? Are we adapting the way Christ would want? 

Download the July issue of The Spirit

Seattle Presbytery

The second issue of The Spirit is available for download. In this issue: 

  • North Point celebrates the opening of its new building
  • Recapping Big Tent
  • A look at Sammamish Presbyterian's new member explosion
  • Q&A with Thinh Duong, Vietnamese Presbyterian's new pastor
  • Changes? What Changes? - A look at changes in the PC(USA)
  • Rev. Tobin Wilson introduces his new book, Areté Again
  • ... and more!

Be(coming) the Church

Seattle Presbytery

A Look at Sammamish Presbyterian’s New Member Explosion

By Aaron Willett, SeaPres Communications

Signing on to be the body...

Earlier this year, the whole congregation of Sammamish Presbyterian Church spent four weeks gathering for worship and a new members class—simultaneously. Senior Pastor Rev. Jeff Lincicome hatched an innovative plan with the staff to offer a new member’s class as a sermon series. The result? 78 new members joined the church in a culminating ceremony where all members, new and old, were asked to re-up their commitment to Be the Church. Along the way their pastoral staff, elders and deacons were all called upon to carry the banner, reaching out to these new members with open arms.

Inventive Beginnings

Rev. Chris Griggs, Associate Pastor of Adult Discipleship, recalls, “Jeff came up with the idea of taking the content of a new membership class and building a sermon series around it. He called the sermon series Be the Church and asked what does it mean for us to be people of faith, to be connected to followers of Jesus Christ throughout time and all over the world? What does it mean for us to live that out in a particular congregation? What does it mean for us to use our gifts in ministry, and what does it mean to make a commitment to do that together in a body? We gave everyone in the congregation a chance to say, ‘I’m in. God has called me to be a part of the body of Christ in this time and this place, and I’m committing to live my life as part of this body of Christ.’”

The impetus was a simple desire to remind the whole congregation what it means to be church together. Senior Pastor Rev. Jeff Lincicome saw the potential to merge that with their new members class. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we do something different? Why don’t we [take] what we teach in new member’s classes and turn it into a sermon series?’” The idea met two crucial and often ignored needs: To refresh long-time members, and appeal to the busy schedules of regular attenders who struggle to find time for a new member’s class. According to Jeff, “The reality is that we have people who have been here for twenty years [without] a new members class. It would give them a chance to review and maybe even re-up their commitment—to say ‘Hey, you know what? I joined this church a long time ago, but I’m going to re-join this church.’” On the other side of that coin are those who have struggled to find the time: “We have some folks who we’ve been sending letters about new members classes every year for six years, and they just can’t do it. It just doesn’t work for them.” 

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Experimenting with Church in South Lake Union

Seattle Presbytery

IMG_9091-2 -Cropped.jpeg

By Aaron Willett, SeaPres Communications Coordinator

On my way to Union Church, I noticed the Tesla dealership next door. As I marveled at the all-electric sports cars, the South Lake Union Streetcar rolled past. This neighborhood is full of both new ideas and fresh takes on things tried and true. Like the sports cars opposite its front door, Union Church has something a little different under the hood—there is no grimy combustion engine to be found here. Union is shiny and new, but not without strong roots. Like the streetcar, Union is looking backward for inspiration to move forward. It is an experiment in authenticity, probing for a vision of what church can be in the 21st Century.

I recently had the pleasure of joining Rev. James B. Notkin for a cup of coffee and a bite of fine, dark chocolate at Union’s newly opened café, kakáo. We discussed the impetus behind Union, how they are responding in new ways to their Kingdom calling, and how an entrepreneurial spirit informs this “Caleb” congregation.

An Urban Laboratory

Union, an extended congregation of UPC, was designed from the ground up to be different. James B. recalls, “We thought, OK, we’re going to have to put money into a building one way or another to make it a worship space. So, if we really believe that we are to be externally focused [and] be a part of the community that we are in, are we going to build it in such a way that screams church, or are we going to build it in such a way that says, ‘Hey, we want to be an asset to the community?’”

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