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Nearly one-third of PC(USA) churches in New York City ready for Vital Congregations initiative


Executive presbyter says 31 of 103 congregations signed up for the two-year revitalization process is an answer to prayer

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Leaders from churches in the Presbytery of New York City talk during the presbytery’s congregational resources day last weekend. (Photo by Robert Foltz- Morrison)

LOUISVILLE — When more than 50 people representing 31 congregations gathered recently to prepare for the Presbytery of New York City’s launch of the Vital Congregations initiative, the Rev. Robert Foltz-Morrison, the executive presbyter, felt the Spirit moving.

It was the prayer of Foltz-Morrison and an advisory team that one-third of the presbytery’s congregations would participate in the two-year Presbyterian Mission Agency initiative, starting in January 2020.

After speaking two years ago with the Vital Congregations coordinator, Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, he said he felt like the approach denominational leaders took — one of walking with presbytery and leaders of their existing congregations in intentional efforts of revitalization — was the right approach.

“I saw it as something valuable, but the previous readiness wasn’t quite there,” Foltz-Morrison said.

But by January of this year, he said, thanks to God’s readiness, everything began to sync.  Chosen as one of 14 presbyteries to participate in the first wave of the national Vital Congregations launch, Foltz- Morrison and the advisory team began actively telling congregations in the presbytery about the initiative.

They spoke about how the initiative will help congregations build authentic relationships of faith, as they worked together on the initiative’s 7 marks of congregational vitality. Having previously worked in redevelopment ministry, Foltz-Morrison knew how important each of the practices (marks) are in congregational life — and how working on the marks in relational cohort groups that meet monthly would help congregations honestly assess where they are. The work would also help them discern the movement of the Spirit and the new thing Christ is doing in their midst.

“What makes this initiative unique,” he said, “is that we train local facilitators instead of having consultants come in and out. This will help in building relationships of love trust and support.”

When the facilitators received Vital Congregations training in Baltimore in August, Foltz-Morrison noticed how valued and honored they felt. Ready to begin their preparation, they met with the pastors and elders from the 31 congregations in October, introducing themselves to their cohort groups, which will be clustered in four of the city’s five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

“Each of the cohort groups know their neighborhoods and have relationships,” he said. “But at that first meeting, they felt a different kind of support, knowing they all would be working at revitalization together in each of their boroughs over the next two years.”

During its congregational resource day this past weekend, the presbytery hosted a workshop on the 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality. Organizers will kick off the VC initiative during the Dec.  3 presbytery meeting. The 29 congregations and two new worshiping communities — both of which plan to charter in the next two years — will begin their work together. They are listed below, in their respective cohort groups:

Bronx: Beck Memorial, Eastchester, Emmanuel Presbyterian Reformed, Featherbed Lane, Riverdale, St. Augustine, Trinity (NWC)

Brooklyn: Bedford Central, Bethel Presbyterian Reformed, First Brooklyn, First Spanish, Kingslawn, Lafayette Avenue, Siloam

Manhattan: Church of the Covenant, Emmanuel, Church of the Master, Mawuli (NWC), Mt. Morris-Ascension, North, Rendall Memorial, Second Presbyterian, Trinity, West End

Queens: Dunton, Far Rockaway, First Jamaica, Hollis, Korean United, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans

The Office of Vital Congregations is part of the PC(USA)’s Theology, Formation and Evangelism ministry. To download a basic information packet for presbyteries interested in going through the Vital Congregations initiative process, click here.

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