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A design on ministry

Chicago pastor says crucial clergy values are empathy and effectiveness

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Emily McGinley

LOUISVILLE — Asked what’s made her come alive during the pandemic and the Rev. Emily McGinley doesn’t hesitate.

“It’s the creative opportunities that are part of this moment in ministry,” said the executive pastor at Urban Village Church, an inclusive community with four worship locations in Chicago. “We can’t plug and play like before. That’s all out the window. This is an opportunity to experiment, to try new things. I’m really blessed to be able to do that in the company of a curious and experimental team … I think people are more forgiving of mistakes as we try out things.”

“Never waste a good crisis,” she added. “I feel that’s true for me.”

McGinley was the guest Wednesday during a Facebook Live event hosted by the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director for Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation.

Asked by Hinson-Hasty to identify biblical passages that have helped shape her ministry, McGinley first mentioned Jesus’ response in Luke 19:40 to some of the Pharisees who asked Jesus to order his disciples to keep quiet: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

“It is a statement of grace,” McGinley said of Jesus’ response. “There’s nothing we can do to keep God’s gory from being proclaimed. It is embedded in Creation and we get to amplify it.”

Then there’s Psalm 24:1: “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”

“Things don’t depend on me. Ultimately, I just play a part,” she said. “That grounds me with perspective. I matter, but I also don’t matter in the work of the universe and the cosmos.”

McGinley studied design in college and worked in the field for a time before attending seminary. That discipline informs her ministry.

“It’s not step by step. It is a little more organic,” she said about her view of design ministry. During the pandemic, she’s looking at design elements, including work-arounds that pastors and other church leaders are creating to continue doing effective ministry.

“Inherently, humility has to be embedded into everything you’re doing,” she said. She said two of her main values doing design ministry are empathy and effectiveness. Being nimble is important — so long as it’s not taken too far, too fast.

“It’s not like you’re suddenly irrelevant — out with the old, in with the new,” she said. “We need to keep evolving to bring about God’s work of justice and wholeness of life. If it’s not working, we say, ‘Thanks be to God for what has been, and we eagerly await what the Spirit is bringing us.’”

Her work includes “figuring out what I can learn by going out into the world knowing my assumptions will be challenged and reformed. It is exhausting, I’ll say that.” But “being surrounded by a team that can hold that for you is really good.”

One example: the most recent staff meeting, when a timeline for returning to in-person worship using Illinois guidelines was being discussed.

“It is abundantly clear that everything about church is conducive to spreading the virus,” she said, including the passing of the peace, congregational singing and communion.

“Given all this, we probably won’t be worshiping in person for 7 or 8 months,” she said. “How will we effectively meet the spiritual needs of our people? We’ve been doing online worship, but is that going to serve people in the long run?”

What staff realized is that they need to “break apart” the basic elements of church — worship, prayer time and fellowship among them — into “a la carte pieces, and then ask people, ‘What is it you most need at this time?’” McGinley said. “Then we can redesign what we are doing so it’s meaningful, engaging and functional.”

By “pushing back against things like the premature reopening of in-person worship, we are called to care for the least of these,” she said. “I have so much love and empathy for solo pastors out there making it work.” She suggested they “reach out to others to collaborate and try things.”

Asked to end the 30-minute event with a charge to listeners, McGinley reminded them they “are not doing this for your people. You are doing this for Jesus. You are released from judgment and criticism of those around you to serve God with grace for yourself and for what is to come.”

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