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Acting like Jesus in the world

A Wisconsin pastor uses new worshiping community videos and the Matthew 25 invitation to illustrate what being Presbyterian looks like

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE At First Presbyterian Church of Baraboo, Wisconsin, a small town near Madison, longtime church members wanted to know what it means to be Presbyterian.

Hearing this, their pastor, the Rev. Lisa Newberry, began working on a sermon series for 2022 around the We Believe Presbyterian confirmation curriculum.

“I really wanted to go back to the basics while looking at the needs in our community and how the church should step in,” she said.

The Rev. Lisa Newberry (Contributed photo)

With the pandemic shutdown, along with other longer-term changes in regular church attendance, Newberry wanted to both teach and celebrate what it means to be Presbyterian. She called Presbyterian News Service last week with a request: with her series starting on Jan. 16, she needed permission to play New Worshiping Community videos during worship — which is broadcast on a local television station.

“The videos are so well put together, I can’t help but be excited,” she said. “They show us how we can have basic beliefs while acting like Jesus by being active in the world.”

First Presbyterian Church hosted a daily summer meal for six weeks during which volunteers gave away more than 1,000 meals. (Photo by the Rev. Lisa Newberry)

Each week Newberry plans to show a worshiping community video that highlights how that community is living out a basic Presbyterian belief.  For example: After her message on Sunday about how our mark of baptism gives us an identity in God, she played this video showcasing the mission of The Porch at Faith Chapel.

Newberry will also introduce the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 vision during her sermon series, inviting members to see how they’ve already begun the Matthew 25 work of  building congregation vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

Except for six weeks during the summer, the local school district provides school lunches for its children year-round. This year First Presbyterian Church hosted a daily community meal during those six weeks, with civic and church groups providing the food.

“We expected a lot of kids to come but were surprised at how many senior citizens on fixed budgets also came,” Newberry said. “We served over 1,000 meals.”

Children from First Presbyterian Church and the community had fun together at the local pool in Baraboo, Wisconsin. (Photo by the Rev. Lisa Newberry)

To address vitality in the congregation and community, the church rented out the local pool for three hours with a break for music and worship.  Newberry says it was safe place for community and church children to be safe while getting to know each other.

“It provided a much higher sense of diversity than we get doing to church,” she said.

The efforts to address diversity in the predominately white town began after a prom photo of boys from Baraboo high school doing the Nazi salute went viral in the fall of 2018. Several members at First Presbyterian Church attended a couple of presentations and book groups on racism. The congregation also did a book study together on Debby Irving’s book, “Waking Up White.”


“The church plays an important role in these smaller towns,” said Newberry, who also serves a part-time pastorate at First Presbyterian Church in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. “I’m proud of the group of people in Baraboo that have taken up the work to educate us about racism here.”

First Presbyterian Church in Baraboo, Wisconsin. (Contributed photo)

This Sunday, Newberry plans to talk about governance in the PC(USA) — and about doing things decently and in order.  After her message she’ll show this Missing Peace video to illustrate how you can have orderly worship anywhere in the community.

“As Missing Peace has worshiped in various places around their community, those spaces have become holy to them,” she said. “So, let’s go into the world and be effective beyond the walls of our church.”

“There’s so much amazing work being done throughout our denomination,” she added. “I want people to leave church excited and proud of what the PC(USA) is doing, and to see where the Holy Spirit might be leading us to reach beyond ourselves — and to begin new mission initiatives.”

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