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A few of the PC(USA)’s new worshiping communities gather online to celebrate the program’s 10th birthday

‘Being Matthew 25’ features stories and testimony from across the country

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

New Hope Presbyterian Church in Anaheim, California, was among the 1001 New Worshiping Communities profiled during Thursday’s “Being Matthew 25” broadcast. (Photo courtesy of New Hope Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Representatives from among the PC(USA)’s most diverse and innovative faith gatherings — its 1001 New Worshiping Communities — joined virtually Thursday during the “Being Matthew 25” monthly broadcast to celebrate the 10th year of the initiative. Watch the 42-minute conversation here.

Asked by “Being Matthew 25” host the Rev. DeEtte Decker what makes the organizers of new worshiping communities so special, the Rev. Nikki Collins, 1001 NWC coordinator, had a ready answer: “It’s an incredible loving group of leaders who love God, church, their neighbors and each other.”

The communities they lead are incredibly diverse in a denomination where 9 in 10 members are white: On any given Sunday, Presbyterians pray in at least 14 languages. Of the PC(USA)’s worshiping communities of color, 37% are Hispanic/Latinx, one-third are Asian, 14% are African, 6% are African American and 5% are Middle Eastern.

Thursday’s broadcast featured brief videos about worshiping communities gathering and serving in a variety of contexts. The first stop was New Hope Presbyterian Church in Anaheim, California, where its pastor, the Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, told Decker and Collins that God “worked through people who invited me to dream with them, that an African American church could be established in Orange County, California. Their dream became my dream, and they were dreaming God’s dream.”

In 1967, a white congregation in Compton, California, closed its doors. The church stipulated it wanted the sale of its church building to fund the opening of an African American church in Orange County, and the proceeds sat in an interest-bearing account for decades. Organizers worked for eight years, then called Goodjoin to be their pastor.

“I told God, ‘If you call me from this space, for the rest of my life I will commit to helping people see that they matter,’” Goodjoin said. “It has been the foundation and the authenticity of what we seek to create at New Hope, and it’s the heart of Matthew 25. We want to continue to build a sense of belonging.”

The next stop was the Wild Goose Christian Community in Floyd County, Virginia, where the Rev. Grace Kim — Wild Goose’s “Lead Honker” — said worshipers are typically seated in rocking chairs and call the worship service “The Uprising.”

“If Jesus was a hillbilly, he would have used a Mason jar for the Last Supper,” Kim said.

Rather than hearing a sermon, worshipers listen to Scripture and then “share what voice we heard from the text,” Kim said. “By the time we leave, we know we have heard the message for the week.”

A 94-year-old man at Wild Goose said he’d left his church decades ago. “I was looking at the man standing up front,” this Wild Goose participant told Kim, then added, “I thought, if I have to be like him to be a Christian, I will have none of it.” Now this man, Kim said, sometimes bakes communion bread for Wild Goose participants from his mother’s recipe.

“I see Wild Goose sharing the good news to everyone in a new kind of evangelism, the kind that says, ‘I know you are trying to figure out the path for your life in this confusing and challenging time,’” Kim said. “Me too! Would you like to figure it out together?”

These days, “we are flying out to other churches and sharing our Uprising,” Kim told Decker and Collins. “We call this outing ‘Goose on the Loose.’”

The Rev. Pepa Paniagua talked about kin-dom community, whose mission statement calls it “an intentional, brave space for all people to explore and cultivate spirituality.”

The joy in the work, Paniagua said, is “getting to walk with people of all ages and watch them come alive and step into places they didn’t know were even there for them.”

“I have experienced what can happen when people are given space to love and be fully loved in return,” Paniagua said. “It can be life-changing and life-saving.”

The Rev. Nikki Collins coordinates the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

Decker and Collins then introduced a video describing the work of Church of Amazing Grace International in Anaheim, which doubled worship attendance by offering worship in both English and Swahili, the most widely spoken languages among Kenyans living in Southern California.

The love there “is so expansive,” Collins said, “making room and space so people can come and connect.”

The final guests Thursday included the Rev. Beverly Dempsey, transitional pastor at Highlands United Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida, who formerly served Jan Hus Presbyterian Church, now Avenue Church, in New York City. Dempsey was joined by the Rev. Chris Brown, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Berthoud, Colorado, and an NWC coach.

“It is unreasonable to think I can pop into a different context … and genuinely lead worship if I haven’t taken time to be immersed in their culture,” Dempsey said. “That’s what I experienced at Jan Hus. When your mission expands beyond your community, God unleashes God-sized dreams.”

Worshiping communities “look different in different contexts because God is reaching out to different people in these contexts,” Brown said. An NWC coach “asks questions of [a worshiping community] leader to help them recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing in their place and calling them to do.”

Brown’s “theology of coaching” is this: “God is already at work in the context and in the heart of the person I’m coaching.”

Fortunately, as Paul assured the church at Ephesus, God has placed within us the power “to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

The next edition of “Being Matthew 25” is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, Nov. 17. It’ll be available here. Learn more about the Matthew 25 invitation here.


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