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‘Dipping Deeper’ into the why and how of forming lifelong disciples

Online training shares wide variety of PC(USA) resources for church educators while focusing on the importance of relationships

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — During the final day of the virtual workshop “Dipping Deeper Into the Well of PC(USA) Ministries,” more than 50 Christian educators, pastors and other Presbyterian leaders heard panel discussions and wrestled with questions on how to form lifelong disciples who are grounded in the Reformed tradition and equipped for peacemaking, witnessing and working for justice and equity for all God’s people.

The three-day training, hosted by the South Central Region of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (SCRAPCE) and coordinated by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, meets PC(USA) Educator Certification Council requirements for Presbyterian Program and Mission.

In Wednesday morning’s session, the Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program; Ellen Sherby, coordinator for World Mission’s Equipping for Mission Involvement office; and the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, focused on the why and how of the formation of disciples who are equipped to work for peace in the world.

The Rev. Carl Horton is coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. (Screen shot)

Horton said Presbyterians work at peacemaking because it is biblical, confessional and necessary. Noting that the word “peace” is mentioned more than 400 times in the King James Bible and is woven into the creeds and statements of the PC(USA) Book of Confessions, Horton, who works in the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministry, pointed out that throughout history — in times of oppression and evidence of injustice — peacemaking has always been part of the Presbyterian identity of witnessing to the word.

“It’s part of our identity,” he said. “Peacemaking engages both our heart — our compassion —and our hands and feet, doing justice.”

Another part of the church’s identity as peacemakers, Horton said, is that Presbyterians engage in the world in nonviolent ways to address conflict that brings resolution.  Describing it as “a way of being in the world,” Horton said it is important to address this question in the formation of those who work for peace: “How do we engage in peacemaking that addresses key systemic issues without fracturing community?”

Sherby, of World Mission, said her main interest in thinking about peacemaking is how to form disciples as it relates to the mission of the church and the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 vision. As the church engages in work on poverty, justice and anti-racism, she said it is important to teach congregations how to be critical thinkers.

“We have to think about both the ‘why’ and ‘how’ we’re doing mission,” she said. “If we don’t, we can do so much harm.”

Ellen Sherby coordinates World Mission’s Equipping for Mission Involvement office.

Sherby referenced the World Mission resource “Called as Partners, Serving Together in God’s Mission,” which paraphrases a policy statement adopted by the 215th General Assembly (2003). She said the statement best describes the spirit in which Presbyterians do mission — in partnership, sharing a common vision and submitting to a common goal of mutual giving and receiving.

“It can be really hard to step into that if we think we have the resources, expertise and money,” Sherby said. “But it’s really about relationship.”

Sherby, whose thinking about how to form disciples in the mission of the church has also been influenced by reading “Parable of the Talents” by Octavia E. Butler, envisions mission and partnership like a table set for everyone to have a seat at.

“Everyone can bring food to it and share,” she said. “No one is sitting underneath the table waiting for crumbs to drop.”

Johnson, who is also convener for the Educate a Child Round Table, shared how important it is for the church to address twin problems with public education in the U.S. — racism and poverty. The Round Table grew out of the Educate a Child, Transform the World initiative launched by the 221st General Assembly (2014) in Detroit.

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson coordinates the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.

Johnson said the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner once told him, “If we’re not going to take care of our young people through education, then we shouldn’t do baptisms.” That left an impression on Johnson, who grew up poor in New Jersey. When he was 15, a friend invited him to a Presbyterian church where a pastor noticed something in him, telling him God was going to equip him to do something powerful. He also learned from that pastor and mentor that education was meant to enrich others as the key to working for justice.

If not for education, Johnson said he wouldn’t be in the Presbyterian church. “When COVID-19 is over, how will the church play a role in the lives of kids left behind because of nontraditional learning due to COVID-19?” he asked. “Education is an important issue to connect to justice and peace.”

Like Johnson, Wednesday’s afternoon session, panelists — Lee Catoe, managing editor of Unbound, which speaks at the intersection of faith and justice; Destini Hodges, interim coordinator for Young Adult Volunteers, and Amy Mendez, associate director for Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, emphasized the importance of relationship in forming disciples, including with young adults who are working in numerous movements for justice and equality for all God’s people.

Catoe, who is also a young adult voice for justice issues for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, said that in many ways, people walking with him on his journey of faith through turbulent times have saved him.

Lee Catoe is the co-host of “Just Talk Live.”

“When I was coming out in college, they kept me on the path of you can serve God in this way you are feeling called,” he said. “Young people who are going through so much right now crave churches who are willing to risk, by making themselves known, whether we’re talking about gender, sexuality or racism.”

Along with Hodges, Catoe co-hosts a weekly talk show “Just Talk Live” on Tuesday evenings on the Justice Unbound Facebook page. Hodges said young adults on the show talk about how they have always been at the forefront of pushing justice and equality work by creating great movements.

Because Hodges was taking the offering at her church when she was five; reading the call to worship when she was 10; a liturgist at 15 and a ruling elder at 21, she wanted to come back to church and stay connected. As churches form intergenerational relationships, Hodges said it’s important for them to be thoughtful in how they invite young adults to the table.

Hodges invited workshop participants and the churches they represent to come alongside young adults in the work they are doing with movements for justice and equality.

“Because young adults are going to do it, with or without the church,” she said.


Amy Mendez is associate director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries.

As the PC(USA) continues to seek to be an equitable, diverse church, Mendez said the word “affirmation” is key for people of color and immigrants who are a big part of the denomination through its 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement.  With 40 different languages being spoken in worshiping communities, COVID-19 resources are being translated into Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin.

Because the conversation in church and culture is so often about “Black and white,” Mendez said it’s important for the church to take that extra step and include everyone, African, Korean, Hispanic  — and all who are represented in the diverse number of languages being spoken in our communities of faith.

“The love of Jesus Christ is for all people in the church,” she said. “All of us count.”

Below are Presbyterian Mission Agency resources that were shared related to the conversations on forming disciples for peacemaking and witnessing and working for justice and equality for all God’s people.

 Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): A bold vision and invitation

Compassion, Peace and Justice

 Self-Development of People

 Educate a Child, Transform the World

 Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

 Office of Public Witness

 Presbyterian Hunger Program

 World Mission

 Additional Resources from CPJ

 Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries

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