‘Being Matthew 25’ premieres with a look at one church’s efforts to minister in the midst of misery

The first episode also features a candid discussion with the PMA’s president and executive director, Diane Moffett

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — “Being Matthew 25,” a monthly interactive livestream series designed to inspire congregations, mid councils and groups to help care for the least of these, debuted Thursday with a look at the work of Central Presbyterian Church in Princeton, Kentucky, a church that’s been a blessing for people dealing with the December 2021 tornadoes that struck Western Kentucky, killing 77 people.

Watch the 35-minute “Being Matthew 25” premiere by clicking here for the YouTube version and here for the Facebook version.

The Rev. DeEtte Decker, social media strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, hosted the first episode. Her guest was the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director.

As Presbyterians and hundreds of millions of others prepare to enter a third year of the pandemic, “It’s safe to say there really is no return to the way things used to be,” Decker said while launching Thursday’s livestream. Some people are calling the opportunity a “liminal space, the time between what was and what’s next,” Decker said. “We are moving from life as we knew it to what will be. Some say it’s here where possibility lies.”

“I think of it in terms of giving birth. Something new is being birthed,” Moffett said, citing Isaiah 43:19: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” The PMA has spent 18 months on a strategic planning process, “discerning and praying … to intuit what the Spirit is doing and to be able to let go so we could give birth to it,” Moffett said. “Matthew 25 has really taken root despite — maybe because of — the pandemic.” As in-person worship may indeed be once again scaling back, “we are rethinking our call to bearing witness to Christ.”

That birthing process “doesn’t come without bumps and bruises” nor “without struggle and pain,” Decker said. “Our nation is perhaps more politically divided than we have ever been. Many of us are tired of living in this liminal space,” Decker said, citing a December 2021 article in the Washington Post on the number of clergy who’ve left the ministry in recent months, many citing overwhelming pandemic pressures. Decker wondered: What do you say to those pastors? How can congregations support church leaders “if they know they are feeling burned out?”

The Rev. DeEtte Decker, at left, social media strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, interviewed the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, during the first “Being Matthew 25” livestream on Thursday. (Screenshot)

“A shoutout to pastors, mission co-workers and their partners who are doing heavy lifting on the ground,” Moffett replied, noting that in Psalm 23 David keeps on walking through the darkest valley, not stopping to pitch his tent there, and Jesus asks God to “remove this cup from me” while praying on the Mount of Olives.

“Everyone needs to find something that restores them, that brings them delight and gets the endorphins moving,” Moffett said. “Before we were called to do ministry, we were beloved by God. We don’t get a pass” on suffering, pain and grieving, Moffett said. Jesus suffered all those and more. “When we say we have been called to lead a people or be part of a community, we have to be part of that call.” Maybe, she said, Mordecai’s words to Esther also apply to the people who serve modern congregations and worshiping communities: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this?”

“We must allow our spiritual curriculum to tutor us,” Moffett said, turning to a quote by Dr. John C. Maxwell: “A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted.”

“I have a lot of empathy for people who have to create something online,” Moffett said, adding it takes special skills to put together effective hybrid worship, forming “a sacred space in both locations. This is what the age requires.”

Moffett suggested viewers check out the Matthew 25 website or contact Decker “so we can come and talk with you about how you might talk to the greater body.” She called the Matthew 25 invitation “biblically, ecclesially and practically relevant to congregations. It’s about who we are,” offering up this quote from the Reformer John Calvin: We are “saved to serve.”

Some Presbyterians use the term “kin-dom” rather than “kingdom” to signify “a table that’s open to whoever comes,” Moffett said. “Kin-dom principles say that everyone is precious” and we’re “free to use the gifts and talents God has deposited in us to change the world.”

“We don’t want to say at the end of the day, ‘I wish we had done this.’ Go for it!” Moffett said. “When we do this work, we stand with the ‘the least of these.’ We might be thrown in jail. We might find ourselves running, in need of a safe place. When we are doing this work, we encounter Jesus.”

An online questioner wanted to know: What difference will it make?

“It’s a biblical mandate … We are doing the work God is calling us to do,” Moffett replied. “We have been anointed. The touch of God is upon our lives so we might change the world.” To do that, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus, she said, and it won’t be easy. “People will lie, cheat and steal to stay in power.”

When we find ourselves persecuted doing this work, “blessed are you,” Moffett said, echoing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Join because it’s biblical, and because we are the church together.” She called the Matthew 25 invitation “clarity about what we seek to do as we go out into the world making disciples.”

Nearly half of the nation’s presbyteries and 77% of synods have said yes to the Matthew 25 invitation. “We want to make a difference in the world because Jesus makes a difference in our lives,” Moffett said.

The next “Being Matthew 25” livestream is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 17. The scheduled guests are the Rev. Dr. Flo Watkins-Barbee, transitional general presbyter for the Presbytery of Detroit; the Rev. Shannan Vance- Ocampo, general presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England and the chair-elect of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board; and representatives from Seattle Presbytery. Watch the livestream on the PC(USA) Facebook page or on the denomination’s YouTube site.

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