In the midst of the controversial laden agenda for the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the overture to encourage and support the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative was received with great joy and enthusiasm when the Committee on Congregational Vitality convened on Monday.
With a few modifications to language and an updating of facts and figures, the Committee on Congregational Vitality voted to advance an overture that encourages further involvement by local congregations and presbyteries in the 1001 Worshiping Communities initiative that was introduced at the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh.
The committee concurred with the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s four recommendations for the future:
- Encourage each mid-council to sponsor a training or awareness event on 1001 New Worshiping Communities in cooperation with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
- Encourage each session to pray for the fulfillment of the 1001 movement by daily praying at 10:02 a.m. the Scripture passage Luke 10:2 that asks God to send more workers into the harvest field. (“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”)
- Recommend each presbytery to view a new 1001 video at presbytery meetings and discuss, “How can we engage in ministry outside the walls of the church in our own context?”
- Encourage each presbytery to start at least one new worshiping community within the next two years.
Vera White, associate for the 1001 New Worshipping Communities initiative, was given the task of defining a new worshiping community. In defining the word “new” White reiterated that the initiative stresses the creation of new disciples – not simply drawing participants from other churches. Instead, it is an attempt to engage individuals new to the church in new forms of community. These communities will gather to “encounter Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament. While this might not be the case initially, it is an expectation that the Holy Spirit will send workers to participate in the transformation of the world,” explained White. Initially, these communities may meet in a variety of locations – in a bar or restaurant for example, but there is also an expectation the new worshiping communities will be connected to the body of believers through a church, presbytery or synod.
Jeff Richey, associate director missions at Presbyterian Outreach Foundation, articulated the need to join what the Holy Spirit is doing throughout the world as churches are being multiplied. “When we join in what God is doing, we join in the joy of Christians around the world and the joy of first century Christians,” said Richey.
The newly branded Presbyinnovate will aid the formation of these new worshiping communities through assessment, coaching, training and internship. These activities will identify potential leaders and then embrace and equip them for ministry in a new setting. Seed grants are available to stimulate innovation and other grants are available to partially defray costs such as health care benefits.
Commissioners asked the presenters to define the criteria for being counted as a new worshiping community. Vera White answered, “there is an expectation that they will be connected to a larger body, but they are also contextual and outside the traditional expectations of either existing congregations or new church development. There needs to be a little bit of fuzziness around the edges as we explore new opportunities. There also needs to be recognition that sustainability is a challenge to these communities of faith. Those who push through will experience growth and maturity, but some will fail.”
Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), told commissioners that “these communities are truly the work of God’s spirit and come with a sense of God’s movement, but there isn’t a pre-scripted plan. Some presbyteries are greeting them with resistance while some are celebrating. Young adults are excited but disappointed that the efforts are shut down in parts of the country.”
To foster these communities, a new type of leadership needs to be identified and nurtured. “They will need to have a vision and training,” stressed White. “We also need to remember that we will need new measurements of success. The old rubric of ‘butts in the pew and bucks in the offering plate’ won’t work.” Currently there are three regional sites with one to open in July and two additional sites in the formative stage.
Sommer Bower of the Coastal Carolina Presbytery remarked that there needs to be more flexibility in the ordination process. She spoke out of a need to obtain qualified leaders for six Hispanic Ministries – only one of which is currently chartered due to lack of approved leadership.
White explained that the changes will take some time. “We have had 500 years to develop our current ecclesiology and only about 10 years of wrestling with the new concept. It would be great to say ‘just do it’ but it will take some time. “ In the United Kingdom, about 40 percent of the leadership in similar worship communities are ordained.
As of today, there are 248 new worshipping communities located in 107 presbyteries. Seeds grants for 132 initiatives have been granted with approximately 50 percent awarded to racial ethnic groups. The goal is to have at least one new worshipping community in each of the 172 presbyteries.
When committee members wanted to increase the proposed number of New Worshiping Communities from one to two, White said the rationale for encouraging just one is that we just “want people to get in the game. Once you are in, you will be hooked.”
See how a new worshiping community in Philadelphia is using art and creativity to help people build relationships transcending barriers in their post-industrial socially fractured neighborhood.