A Lenten program helped participants deepen their connections to Jesus and with each other
by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service
How do we surrender and seek freedom? How is Jesus both a friend to us and our Lord? How do leaders of worshiping communities tend to their souls while tending to others? How do innovators find spiritual community with companions in ministry?
These were just some of the creative questions explored in the opportunities for spiritual formation sponsored by 1001 New Worshiping Communities during Lent. The seven-week liturgical season has long been marked by the contradictions Jesus navigated in his ministry, especially during his final weeks and days as his message of love became a movement; the faithful presence he gave and inspired in his followers became a ministry; and his abiding connection with God — and as God — demanded he not cling to any of it, especially not to his life.
“Lord, take and receive my life, my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will,” prayed St. Ignatius of Loyola. The line from his prayer known as “The Suscipe” is often used to end a session of daily discernment that he called “The Examen.”
In weekly half-hour sessions on Mondays and in more structured hourlong sessions on Thursdays, the Rev. Jeff Eddings, the spiritual formation and coaching associate for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, engaged “1001 and 1001-adjacent leaders” in Ignatian spirituality as leaders on the frontier of a Reformed faith strengthened both by its tradition and by its dependence on new life.
“I know I need community and spiritual grounding,” said the Rev. Katie Kinnison. “This approach to the examen opened it up and took me deeper than the more general one I have often used alone.” Kinnison, a part-time pastor of Hilliard Presbyterian Church in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, who also leads a new worshiping community that serves sex-trafficked women, participated in the drop-in examen and centering prayer sessions on Mondays through March and April.
“Praying for the others during Lent opened up my world beyond my congregations,” said Kinnison, who noted that the virtual gatherings offered by the national church have helped her find a community of colleagues and a deeper sense of what it means to be a “connectional church” than what is available through the presbytery. In presbyteries where there are not many church planters, 1001 New Worshiping Community leaders sometimes feel isolated or that it’s hard to connect with more ministers and chaplains of more established organizations. Linda Skogrand, who founded Not So Churchy in Moab, Utah, says she relies on these virtual sessions focused on spiritual formation for faith leaders because the nearest PC(USA) church is six hours away.
The Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus, the organizing pastor of The Table in Casper, Wyoming, participated in the “Friendship with Jesus” retreats that gathered on consecutive Thursdays while covering material from the book “The First Spiritual Exercises: Four Guided Retreats.”
She said the format and the Ignatian content were “very helpful containers for devotion, meditation and group reflection.” Tedder Hugus’ community also sponsors another new worshiping community, Red Clay Abbey, led by Ani Wa Jessika Waldron, who also participated in the “Friendship with Jesus” retreats. Over the course of these retreats, Waldron said that she “had many realizations” and that the asynchronous structure and content allowed her “space to move into a deeper relationship.”
Not all who attend the Zoom prayer breaks and retreats are tentmakers. The Rev. Kathryn Lester-Bacon, the director of Religious Life at Duke University Chapel, has been following the 1001 movement since serving on a presbytery subcommittee for new church developments. She saw the announcement in 1001’s e-newsletter and signed on.
Eddings’ next retreat, “All Shall Be Well,” is a two-day asynchronous retreat based on contemporary understandings of Julian of Norwich’s writings. Leaders of 1001 New Worshiping Communities can participate with the aid of a grant, while others can register for a modest fee. Information about this and future retreats and prayer breaks is available through the 1001 New Worshiping Community Facebook and Instagram pages and the “New Church, New Way” e-newsletter.
The Rev. Sabrina Slater, whose community is not affiliated with 1001 but who serves as a solo pastor and is a fan of the 1001 movement, attended the “Friendship with Jesus” retreat throughout Lent. She said Eddings and his colleagues are offering “great content” and hopes they will offer more.
Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, deputy executive director for Vision and Innovation and head of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s forthcoming Office of Innovation, sees the vital role that networks of innovators play in the renewal and evolution of institutions like the PMA and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a whole.
During one of his “Zoomversations” on April 13, Schlosser-Hall presented a model of organizational renewal. “Everything we do — the congregations, ministries, organizations — we are a part of living organisms with life cycles,” said Schlosser-Hall. “When anything has a life cycle, there needs to be attention for ongoing innovation to inject new life, new ways of being, and connecting new people in emerging ministries with those in existing ministries, congregations and institutions. However, sometimes innovators need to step away. If innovators step back, we hope that they might find each other, and we can intentionally plan for ways to connect innovators with each other.”
Schlosser-Hall said he notices that innovators step away particularly when institutions are at a plateau or in decline. In his work with congregations and presbyteries, Schlosser-Hall encourages them to find the “people who are stepping back … because they have new ideas, new energy, and new optimism, and to connect them with each other.”
He identified the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement as a prime example. “Our 1001 ministry does that amazingly. Those who are in between inspiration and incarnation find each other and talk about what they have experimented with, how they have failed, what they have seen as new opportunities. They learn from each other, they grow, connect and are encouraged by each other’s ministries.” In Schlosser-Hall’s model, the feedback that innovators offer to larger institutions depends on innovators forming networks that hopefully evolve into “communities of practices that move together as a team to influence a way of being that eventually influences the larger institution.”
Eddings reports seeing that feedback loop among innovators, revitalizers and sustainers in action at these gatherings and retreats unbound by geography when relationships develop between individuals across presbytery borders.
The Rev. Nikki Collins, the coordinator for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, hopes to nurture more formative relationships and partnerships among leaders of new communities and those of more established ones. Her office is co-sponsoring the national “What’s the Secret Sauce?” conference in Atlanta from April 25–27. The three-day event highlights the wisdom and best practices that church planters in immigrant communities have to share denominational leaders and to testify to the revitalizing spirit when established churches partner with new worshiping communities.
The recipe has been tested enough that in January 2023, the Rev. Shawn Kang and the Rev. Gad Mboyo, regional associates for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, rolled out the 1001 Pathways presbytery initiative to offer greater recognition and support to mid councils interested in “shaping vital ecosystems of established congregations and new expressions of Christian community working together to live the Gospel in our neighborhoods.”
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