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Broad Street Presbyterian Church’s longtime pastor loves serving a congregation full of explorers

The Rev. Amy Miracle is the most recent guest on 1001 New Worshiping Communities’ ‘New Way’ podcast

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Amy Miracle

LOUISVILLE — The pastor of Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, has for the past 15 years led a church “with a collection of folks who share a commitment to serve the city and figure out together what it means to follow Jesus in this particular time and place. My favorite part of Broad Street are the people who find their way there. They’re just a remarkable collection of people who are willing to share their energy, their commitment, and put all of who they are in service to being in community and figuring out what it means to follow Jesus.”

The Rev. Amy Miracle is the most recent guest on the 1001 New Worshiping Communities’ New Way podcast. The first half of Miracle’s conversation with the Rev. Sara Hayden can be heard here. The second half drops on Thursday.

For the faithful at Broad Street, the pandemic “accelerated this idea that we in this community of faith. We’re not experts on how to live a life of faith, but rather we’re explorers trying to figure it out together,” Miracle said. An explorer “tries things, fails. An explorer is energized by new challenges. And that, for us, has been a helpful way of thinking about our life together as a church — one that’s shaped by flexibility, creativity, generosity, rather than certainly about this [uncertain] moment that we’re in, let alone what the future holds.”

Like other churches that had to weather the pandemic, Broad Street Presbyterian Church discovered that “we can actually change,” Miracle said. “We have that in our DNA now, and I love that.”

“We don’t have to have it all figured out,” Miracle told Hayden. “We can have some confidence in our ability to move forward and confidence in God’s Spirit leading us.”

As a congregation grows, it can become “easy for us to focus on the things that maybe aren’t the most important,” Miracle said. “We’ve been challenged to let go of things that are no longer life-giving. Anytime any organization or institution [is] shaped by actual flesh-and-blood humans, it always gets a little bogged down and a little slow to change … I get both very impatient with that, and I also cherish that” because “congregations continue to be places where multiple generations exist, and there’s always a diversity of people that’s really so challenging and at the same time so beautiful … That’s part of the reason why we can be slow to change. We can get a little bogged down.”

Asked by Hayden what can help churches unleash “that spirit of adventure,” Miracle first mentioned trust, “trust among all components of a church: the pastors, the staff, the lay leadership, the community. Trust is fragile and easily broken, and without it, it’s difficult to do anything as a community … I keep coming back to the word ‘curiosity’ — curiosity about the present moment, curiosity about the future, people in congregations that are lifelong learners who see in any situation, and particularly any challenge, an opportunity to learn, focusing on connecting people to God and one another over institutional survival. My own hunch is that people who come into a community can intuit that.”

Miracle noted the “immense challenges facing congregations right now around changing attendance patterns, changing patterns of volunteering and commitment, all sorts of challenges.”

“You have practiced these things and this candor,” Hayden told Miracle, “this acknowledgement of the realistic challenges that might face a community when they endeavor to do bold things, and it’s paid off.”

Broad Street Presbyterian Church has tried new things “fairly often,” Miracle said, “and a lot of the things we try fail … Part of what it means to be a thriving community these days is accepting the fact that there’s no roadmap.”

“This is much more of a ‘Let’s figure out what the next right thing is to do and let’s lean into that. Let’s be pretty meticulous in assessing anything we do, whether it worked or it didn’t work, and then keep moving forward.’”

The Rev. Sara Hayden

Asked by Hayden for an example of what’s flopped at Broad Street, Miracle mentioned one that’s “flopped repeatedly” — small groups.

“In general, I have found that we are a community that loves service, that loves tangible hands-on things done to support others in their life in the world,” Miracle said. “And even though we have folks who will regularly ask for activities that focus more on our spiritual life and Bible study, when these things are actually offered, there’s not much actual participation — with some exceptions, of course.”

Instead, “what we do is kind of stealth spiritual formation, which is spiritual formation that’s connected to activity,” Miracle said. For example: Each year at the congregational meeting, Broad Street engages its members in Bible study. “That may not be what most churches do at their annual meeting,” Miracle said, “but we do it because it’s a great opportunity and it’s then connected to the work of the church.”

“I love that,” Hayden said.

New Way podcasts, which are produced by the Rev. Marthame Sanders, are found here.

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