Does the pandemic represent an interruption or a disruption?

The answer, Rodger Nishioka says, can be found in just how transformed we want to be

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka

LOUISVILLE — For congregations across the denomination, is the pandemic an interruption or a disruption?

During a Facebook Live appearance Wednesday, the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka said it’s the latter, because “disruption changes us, and it’s our job to say we are going to be different people. We will be transformed.” He encourages the people with whom he serves and ministers to at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, to “think less about when we get back to” life’s former rhythms once the pandemic  has ended and “more about when we get to the other side.”

Nishioka was the guest Wednesday of the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director for Theological Education Funds Development for the Committee on Theological Education and the Presbyterian Foundation.

For the last three years, Nishioka, a former middle school teacher and seminary professor, has served the over 5,000 members of Village Presbyterian Church as senior associate and director of adult educational ministries. If there’s one thing he stresses with his colleagues in ministry, it’s this: We don’t start where people are supposed to be. We start with where they are.

“You’ve got to get to know people to start with where they are right now,” he told Hinson-Hasty, a task that social distancing makes more difficult because we pick up about 70 percent of what someone is communicating to us through nonverbal clues. Those clues are much more apparent in face-to-face conversation.

A colleague at Village Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Hallie Hottle, who’s pastor to young adults, is big on having members attending worship online set up a sacred space in their home for worship. “If this is a disruption,” Nishioka said, “on the other side (of the pandemic) we will encourage those worship spaces in homes because that’s how the disruption has changed us.”

In his ministry educating adults, Nishioka said he’s encountered three kinds of students.

“I have classes that don’t care what we are studying or who is presenting,” he said. “They are there because they love the people in the class.”

“I have another class that doesn’t care about who’s in the class,” Nishioka said. “They are there because they are intrigued by the topic.”

Then there are the Tawneyites, he said, referring to Village people devoted the church’s beloved former administrative pastor, the Rev. Dwight Tawney. “When Dwight teaches, they will show up in droves,” Nishioka said.

Knowing there are at least three types of learners, Nishioka and others at the church are planning fall online classes for each of the three groups, paying careful attention to providing logistical support for students taking an online class only because their friends and loved ones are planning to take the class as well.

“To those groups that are tight, we’ve said, ‘Give me a timeframe and we will provide a class for you,’” he said. “They leapt at the opportunity because they miss each other so much.”

A summertime sermon series he’s worked on has explored how Paul’s view of the church as expressed in his second letter to the church at Corinth, including as a treasure in clay jars and a new creation. When colleagues ask Nishioka if he worries about the church, he shakes his head.

“It’s not our church,” he tells them. “We are the church of Jesus Christ … At times I am anxious, but I’m not worried. As long as God decides we will be the church, God will not abandon us, I trust, until Christ comes again.”

Hinson-Hasty’s Facebook Live event returns at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on August 19, when his guest will be the Rev. Dr. Marcia Riggs, the J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary. The two will discuss Christian womanist ethics.

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