Let’s Go to the Big Tent!

When I first began service as pastor of an urban church in Baltimore, I sought opportunities to increase my capacities for transformation of the congregation which had been declining in membership for 30 years. Situated in a neighborhood that had experienced rapid demographic change, the church had lost many members to the suburbs.  Seeking ideas about how to attract new people from the neighborhood, I attended conferences, read books, and interviewed pastors who were leading growing congregations.  Returning from conferences and conversations full of creative ideas to try with my congregation, I enthusiastically related them to the Session.  The Session members would nod and smile and say something like, “Great ideas.  You go right ahead and do those things, Pastor.”  So, I would start trying to raise interest and implement new ideas.  My enthusiasm waned.  If the initial attempt at a program of outreach was not successful, the congregation willingness to engage in new efforts met with greatly diminished. Throughout the life of the church I encountered a decided default to “the way we’d always done it.” I felt alone and discouraged.

This cycle repeated every time I would return from a meaningful continuing education experience and from inspiring Presbytery and General Assembly events. Then I became a member of the planning team for the first national Multicultural Conference sponsored by the PCUSA.   I invited a church member to attend the multicultural church conference, and secured some funding for her attendance from the church Session and the Presbytery.  The General Assembly in an effort to encourage a diversity in people attending the conference, gave her a grant. This church member had such a wonderful time that the next year we had two additional people attend. Then things at the church began to change. The Session agreed to engage in a mission study, nurtured the development of a mission statement and plan for change that was adopted by the congregation.  Attending conferences and learning events together became an important aspect of leadership training.

God transformed the congregation into a vibrant multiracial, multicultural congregation, and I learned an important lesson.  “Don’t go alone!  Bring people with you!”  Since this experience, I’ve been convinced that pastors and church leaders learning together is key to congregational transformation. For this reason, pastors along with leaders from their churches were encouraged to attend the recent events sponsored by Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors need to get away for retreats and study leave opportunities that refresh their spirits and assist them in developing capacities for their ministries. AND also, we welcome God’s transforming Spirit moving us toward transformation as we learn together.

Today I registered for The Big Tent.  Who wants to go too?


Report to Presbytery – April 16, 2015

Recently I’ve been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark.  I met her years ago when she was the lone woman preacher among several men at an event for pastors.  Dr. Brown Taylor’s writing is lyrical and profound, at once available and deep.  Emerging from her intermittent sojourns in darkness, she makes a case for its necessity in life, and most certainly, in the Christian journey of faith.

We have emerged from the dark nights of winter into the glory of spring in the last few weeks, from the period of reflection on the temptation, betrayal, torture and death of Jesus to the glorious resurrection which is echoed in the beauty of budding flowers and greening trees.  All of life God creates has seasons and moments of dark and light, of sorrow and joy, of despair and hope, of death and resurrection.

Last week I spent two days with a cohort of presbytery leaders, all of us serving in presbyteries with large urban centers.  Many of our churches face the challenge of aging buildings and shrinking membership.  This gathering in Washington D.C. exposed us to a few models for unconventional ministries being nurtured in older spaces.  One church has a jazz ministry that reaches a neighborhood transitioning to be racially diverse . The neighborhood gathers once a week to share food and listen to concerts featuring professional jazz and blues musicians.  Another congregation of about 30 members is selling  its building which will be torn down and replaced by badly needed affordable housing. The new building  will include dedicated gathering space for the church.  Congregations all across the country are “learning to walk in the dark” as we seek ways to repurpose, transform, reclaim, tear down, rebuild, and in some cases move away from real estate that just doesn’t fit God’s call to new ministry.

Eleven of us from Giddings-Lovejoy attended the NEXT Church conference in Chicago a month ago.  Preachers and musicians, artists and work shop leaders encouraged us to ponder where God is leading us in this time of great emergence, this time during which we struggle to be relevant to our current  context.  NEXT Church invites us to rise above the “ways we’ve always done it” to see what new things God is up to in our neighborhoods and churches.  We don’t know where we are going. We are learning again to walk in the dark, trusting God’s guidance, because we know that God is already in the future, and though we do not always know where we are going, we trust in the Spirit who walks before us and beside us and guards us from behind.

The Leadership Team, building on the vision of dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations, has established some goals and strategies.  We have some ideas about where we believe God is leading us, some plans on how we might travel together.

As I visit with pastors, church leaders and members, common threads weave their way through conversations– dwindling resources and numbers of participants, struggles with factions in congregations, changing demographics, people who are tired of carrying the mission, doing the same activities they’ve always done with fewer resources. Long time members are puzzled that the same deeply meaningful practices of church they have found rewarding are dissed or ignored by younger folk.  And young people despair of the older generation ever letting go of “the way we’ve always done it.”

As I child my family traveled long distances across the desert to visit beautiful places.  I was fascinated by what appeared to be lakes of water on the road ahead that interrupted the otherwise endless vistas of dirt and sagebrush.  To my dismay, we would never arrive at the water.  My scientist father explained the “optical illusion” of a mirage. The desert can be a dangerously thirsty place.  We are reminded of the people of Israel complaining to Moses, afraid they would die for want of water. God’s people have been on the move since Abraham set forth to journey to a new place, and perhaps before Abraham there were other faithful ones whose stories were not preserved in writings for us to decipher. We are traveling toward our vision of dynamic leaders and vibrant congregations, living into what God is creating, leaving the old behind, pressing on toward the goal, what the Apostle Paul described as, “the upward call of Christ.”

Here we gather.  We share our stories of the journey, our dreams of the promised new life, and support and encourage one another along the way with our stories of faith and hope and God’s love, sometimes stumbling together in the dark, but trusting that God is out ahead of us… lighting the way.

I am deeply grateful to God and honored that we are companions together in this journey.

What’s Next!

Last week hundreds traveled to Chicago for the NEXT Church event, a gathering of mostly younger people looking forward to how the Spirit is reshaping the PCUSA.  On Tuesday evening a person in the balcony interrupted Dr. Diana Butler Bass’s presentation to announce that amendment 14F had received the requisite number of presbytery concurrences for approval.  Many stood and cheered while others sat somberly reflecting.  Giddings-Lovejoy will vote on this amendment at our April 16 meeting.

The following is an excerpt regarding the amendment from a letter issued by the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the General Assembly: Presbyteries have been engaged in conversation, discernment, and prayer concerning the recommendations from the 221st General Assembly (2014) in the nine months since Detroit, Michigan. Today, Amendment 14F (On Amending W-4.9000 Marriage) received the required majority from the presbyteries. The approved amendment to the Book of Order lifts up the sanctity of marriage and the commitment of loving couples within the church. It also allows teaching elders to exercise their pastoral discretion in officiating weddings and in doing so “… the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.”

After this thoughtful pause, Dr. Bass continued, providing a romp through history, noting repeated patterns, echoing the thoughts of other Christian thinkers of our time, like Phyllis Trible, trying to make sense of the epoch in which we live.  “Are we in a Fourth Great Awakening?” Butler-Bass asked.  Our era calls for “bridge-builders and prophets” as we are transformed by God and live into “a new way of being.”

Moving forward into an unknown future, Butler Bass reminds us that previous human beings experienced dramatic shifts not unlike the one we are living through.  She encourages us to say thank you to our parents in the faith, to honor our ancestors at the same time we experiment, centering through prayer, practicing hospitality, being the Body of Christ in the world.

To date I have worshiped with 31 congregations in the Presbytery—some small and struggling, others large and bustling, most somewhere in between—glimmers of vibrancy everywhere! Sixteen of our 81 congregations saw membership gains last year, while the Presbytery as a whole sustained a net loss of 251 members. (The PCUSA declined by 89,296 members in 2013!  2014 PCUSA statistics are not yet available.)

In the face of these rather dismal statistics, the NEXT Conference burst with energy and enthusiasm. “Behold! I am doing a new thing.  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:19)  Diana Butler Bass encouraged us to wonder about what God is up to in our midst.  The other day I took a walk up my street toward the park.  Springing from a neighbor’s lawn were crocus, bright purple and yellow against the brown dormant grass.  Only a few days before I had walked this same sidewalk and the crocus had not been there. Yet their small bulbs had been readying a burst of splendor on the warm second day of Spring. What treasures of new life are hovering beneath the surface in our faith communities?  What needs to be encouraged with some pushing away of the old?  Who needs some kindly attention, the warmth of God’s love?  Attending the NEXT Church event were eleven teaching elders from Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.  I wonder… as the Spirit moves us toward the next “BEHOLD!”


The Rev. Dr. Anita Hendrix, Presbytery Leader

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Opportunity and Challenge

The Opportunity

Your Congregation–Growing in Christ and Blessing Your Neighborhood

Many of the people who will help you build your congregation in faithfulness to Christ and mission with your community and the world are not sitting in your pews on Sunday mornings. Rather, they are spending Sunday mornings at the neighborhood coffee shop or park. Reading the Gospels and the Book of Acts, we discover that churches began to grow as people shared food on grassy hills and listened to stories in market places, as disciples took companionable walks together and were welcomed into peoples’ homes.

Join with brothers and sisters in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery as we learn together. Facilitator, the Rev. Dr. Eric Law will lead us in developing imagination and capacity for mission with our neighbors.

The Rev. Dr. Eric Law will introduce us to Respectful Listing and Mutual Invitation on  Thursday, April 16, 10:00 a.m. prior to the Presbytery Gathering at Dardenne Presbyterian Church.

Pastors and church leaders also will gather for learning on Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18.  Choose one of two locations:

Friday, April 17, 3:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Westminster Presbyterian Church , Belleville, IL


Saturday, April 18, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Dardenne Presbyterian church, Dardenne Prairie, MO 

Bring a team from your church—pastors and church leaders learning together.

Pay for three and get one free! Bring as many as are willing to come!

Please register with the Presbytery Office.

And there is more!!  Watch the video clip below!


Your Church God’s Blessings

Less than six weeks after my arrival in Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery to begin ministry as the Presbytery Leader, Michael Brown was shot and killed, unleashing reactions and responses.  As young adults reacted with protest, pastors, churches, ecumenical and interfaith organizations mobilized, and the eyes of the world focused on our city.  The ecumenical and interfaith connections forged over decades uniquely positioned St. Louis to address Brown’s tragic death.