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The Rev. Jenny Warner, a poet and the pastor of Valley Presbyterian Church in California, shares what it means to curate space for others

We’re being called ‘into a place that is formed by the likeness of Christ,’ she says during ‘Leading Theologically’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jenny Warner

LOUISVILLE — Part of the work the Rev. Jenny Warner does as lead pastor at Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley, California, is curating sacred space. When Warner appeared Wednesday on the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty’s broadcast, “Leading Theologically,” he asked about that work.

“’Curator’ has become a word that’s really important to me, when I think about how I pastor and what happens across the life of the church, particularly on Sunday mornings,” Warner said. In fact, the church hired a curator last year. The idea for a faith community’s curated space comes from a Mary Oliver poem, “Maybe”: “Maybe, after the sermon, after the multitude was fed, one or two of them felt the soul slip forth.”

“I try to curate a space where it’s possible for people’s souls to slip forth,” Warner said during a 30-minute broadcast of “Leading Theologically” that explored “Spiritually Strategic Leaders” and can be viewed here or here. “Beauty is important to me. What is that soul-transforming space where people can see in a new way and hear and make sense of their own call? Making that happen is the Holy Spirit’s work, but we can create space for those soul-transforming experiences.”

“This is discernment work,” said Hinson-Hasty, senior director of Theological Funds Development for the PC(USA)’s Committee on Theological Education and the Presbyterian Foundation. “I know listening is a big part of who you are. A lot of pastors and leaders are thinking about moving the church forward in its mission. Does that start with listening?”

For sure, Warner said, but “it takes a lot of time, and we are all influenced by the stories of big, successful churches.” But most of Valley’s “traction has come through listening.”

“You balance putting up a vision people can reach for and listening deeply to what the Spirit is doing. Moving back and forth between the listening and the naming, that’s been powerful for me,” Warner said.

Valley Presbyterian Church is nestled in California’s Silicon Valley. It’s a church Warner has served for nearly 5½ years and it has five core values:

  • Slowing down, we ask questions and experience the mystery of faith.
  • Seeking the sacred through creativity, playfulness and nature, we nurture our faith.
  • Dropping our masks, we invite each other to be our true selves.
  • Focusing outward, we build partnerships, create opportunities, seek justice and learn from each other.
  • Like the Redwoods, supporting one another through the seasons of life, we become rooted in a trusting, loving community.

Warner described Valley Presbyterian Church as “a destination. People get married there. We are 10 or 15 minutes off the beaten path. It’s a place where people walk a Redwood grove or light a candle and pray in church.” Valley Presbyterian describes itself as a “base camp” that’s “building a more loving world.”

“I love that it starts with slowing down,” Hinson-Hasty said, and Warner replied, “in Silicon Valley, it’s important to have spaces to slow down.”

Warner also serves as board chair of African Road, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “comes alongside changemakers through collaborative project development and strategic funding.”

“It’s an amazing organization,” said Warner, who traveled to East Africa in 2015. “It starts with the same listening and reflecting model. It’s a different development model. It’s what’s possible when communities listen to the answers that are already there embedded in the community. That’s true for churches as well.”

The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

Asked further about her work and her travels — Warner worked during the 1990s in post-Communist Europe training others in cross-cultural learning and adjustment — she said she relishes “getting out of my routine and seeing something new. I’ve always had an adventurous ‘road not taken’ way of being.” Even walking the neighborhood can spark a creative answer to a problem, “and it’s even more true when you’re traveling. As a preacher, I’m always looking for more inspiration, new stories and new ways of communicating.”

Over the past few years, Warner has increasingly focused on preaching a vision because “it matters there are communities walking in the way of Jesus, and that’s what the world needs.” Valley Presbyterian Church “is re-examining what it means to be church right now, to let go of things and see what it means to be faithful in the here and now.” What worked 20 years ago “may not be working moving forward.”

People need encouragement, Hinson-Hasty said, if they’re going “to take the risk to do things differently.” He then asked Warner to offer a benediction. Here’s what she delivered:

“For us as a church, may we listen to the Spirit blowing through us. May we believe that the answers are there, and that God is going with us into the future and leading us into where we are called to be, into a place that is formed in the likeness of Christ. Amen.”

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