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A great crowd talks about how they’re caring for the least of these

Matthew 25 entities are commissioned, hear stories of God at work

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Beach balls at the Presbyterian Mission Agency booth at the 2019 Presbyterian Youth Triennium introduced the youth to the Matthew 25 invitation. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Nearly 400 people gathered virtually Wednesday to share with one another the good things God is doing through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation, which seeks to build congregational vitality, dismantle structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty.

To date, 487 churches and worshiping communities have accepted the invitation, which was extended April 1, 2019. In addition, 12 groups and 39 mid councils — representing 5,904 congregations — have agreed to take on one or more of the invitation’s three focus areas.

Wednesday’s lively Zoom call was the opportunity for a handful of congregations and their leaders to tell how it’s going so far.

“If you’re not a Matthew 25 church, then what are you doing?” asked the Rev. Sue Watkins, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Puyallup in Washington. She said a focus on congregational vitality led the congregation to “stop looking at what we need and start looking at what God is calling us to do.” While worshipers didn’t choose dismantling structural racism, “it has chosen us,” she said. “It seemed so big and we felt ill-equipped, but we can’t and won’t ignore it now.”

ErrolLynne Marsh, a ruling elder at the church, said church members and friends “have always worked hard feeding people. We’ve always done as much as we could to take care of the people around us, but we weren’t paying attention to why they have these problems.” Congregants have begun to study the complex reasons poverty is so rampant, “and our eyes are really being opened. I think we’re ready to make a difference in the community,” which is about 35 miles south of Seattle. “It’s hard, it’s scary and there’s a lot to take on — but we’re excited.”

The Rev. Josh Robinson, senior pastor at Hope Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, said the church he serves answered the invitation at an opportune time: “We were moving out of doing the same thing every week expecting different results into the place of ‘Where is God really calling us?’” he said. “We’ve been pivoting into the neighborhood around us.” Those who have been the most transformed are the ones who have turned their focus outward, he said. “This has nothing to do with me and everything to do with letting Matthew 25 be our guidepost.”

The Rev. Dr. Angela Johnson serves Grace Hope Presbyterian Church, the oldest historically black church in Louisville, Kentucky. The church is in one of the poorest ZIP Codes in the United States. “As we became a Matthew 25 congregation, it was confirmation we were on the right track,” she said, “doing what Jesus did in the local community.”

She suggested congregations not attempt the difficult work of eradicating systemic poverty alone. “If there is a justice ministry in your area, consider partnering with them,” she said. “It’s given us an interfaith relationship with other churches. One church can’t do it alone. It’s benevolence and justice working hand in hand.”

When the Rev. Holly Clark-Porter and her wife, the Rev. Kaci Clark-Porter, accepted the call last year to serve Grace Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas, “we were already a little surprised a church in an 80% Hispanic community would call two lesbian white girls to their church,” Holly Clark-Porter said.

Their first Sunday was days after the Aug. 3, 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart store in which a gunman killed 23 people and injured 23 others. Authorities are investigating whether to charge the gunman with a hate crime.

“This town does not deal with racism, and our church didn’t quite understand how to have those conversations,” she said. “We are brand new to Matthew 25, but we’ve seen the congregation come together … We have seen people push aside race to serve refugees.”

Despite being muted, participants managed to become commissioned by participating in a litany written for the occasion.

“Our understanding of how God changes the world,” said the Rev. Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings and the host of Wednesday’s event, “is through reciprocal relationships, ministries of service — and ultimately sacrifice. That is the Christ model, and that was the dream of this invitation. We will reform and we will be transformed.”

“Collectively we can do ministry together in a way we cannot do it apart,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “We have to begin by talking about how to reform and reshape in the name of Jesus.”

“Who’d have thought we’d have a vision that’s so appropriate (to today’s challenges), making sure every person is treated with dignity and respect, that they are acknowledged and seen,” she said. “As a Matthew 25 Church, we want to align ourselves with Jesus, and that means we have work to do.”

“It takes a moment to accept Christ and a lifetime to become a Christian,” she said. “I believe the Holy Spirit went before us to give us this vision.”

Moffett said national staff will be in contact with those churches, entities and mid councils who have accepted the Matthew 25 invitation “so we can partner to live into this vision,” she said. In return, she asked that those who have already said yes to the Matthew 25 invitation extend it to “a colleague or a congregation who inspires you.”


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