Emerge, an NCW in Florida, restarts in-person worship
July 27, 2022
Co-leaders Jeremy and Charlie Russo had been musicians at a Presbyterian church at a satellite campus that was no longer sustainable. But a foundation had been laid for Emerge through relationships the Russos had formed in their larger community.
“It would take a book to share how God brought us together in so many different spaces and places,” said Jeremy. “But the thread of these relationship connection stories is spiritual trauma.”
Both Jeremy and Charlie have been deeply hurt by churches. Growing up as a fundamentalist Baptist, Jeremy finally left a church they were serving after it sent them to “counseling,” which turned out to be conversion therapy.
While growing up in a megachurch, Charlie attended numerous counseling and prayer sessions to correct their “unnatural desires” — and was then outed in the church.
Married, Jeremy and Charlie are relatively new to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But as they’ve worked through leadership transitions at Emerge, they’ve become better connected.
One of the connections that the Rev. Nikki Collins, 1001 NWC national director, helped them make is with the Rev. Dr. David Shelor at First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin, Florida. Shelor planted a church 20 years ago in the Tampa Bay area and is now acting as presbytery liaison for Emerge.
We’re delighted they’ve found a home in the PC(USA),” Shelor said. “I’m excited to be an advocate for them.”
Wanting to know more about Emerge and the support they’re receiving from churches and local clergy, Presbyterian News Service asked the Russos to respond to a few questions (Charlie responded to the last question only).
PNS: What does it mean to you to have David Shelor as your Presbyterian liaison?
Jeremy: David willingly held space for our leadership to ask questions about how we live true to our calling. He helped us brainstorm about creative ways of being “the church” in our local community that is devastated by homophobia, xenophobia, poverty, racism and substantial economic inequality and inequity. He shares with us knowledge from previous and current ministries, telling us how he was one of the last church planters in the PC(USA) to follow the “build the church, put a sign out and they will come” model. Because that model was no longer working, he has an open mind about the flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness needed to run a ministry like Emerge. Also, the Rev. Lissa Bradford from Church on the Bayou [in Tarpon Springs, Florida] has helped our leaders by relentlessly encouraging us and pouring life into us in times of discouragement.
How did God bring together a new worshiping community for those who have been spiritually traumatized?
Emerge was organically born and we knew from the Spirit that we needed to keep nurturing this environment so that others could come, feel loved and heal. The common thread that brings us together is that we are trauma survivors seeking to love each other more than the day before and effect tangible and lasting change in our families and communities around us. Everyone is welcomed. Each of our experiences brings a unique and valuable perspective to our beliefs in God.
How did your spiritual/faith background shape your sense of call to Emerge?
Jeremy: The God I knew growing up was authoritarian, racist, homophobic and condemning. Months after I left the church that had sent me to “counseling” for conversion therapy, I met Charlie at an open and affirming church in South Carolina. Both of us felt called into planting communities that accepted all without discrimination for any reason.
Charlie: It was at that small church that I began to feel free and loved. I wanted to do to everything I could to help others that faced similar hurt and rejection from the church to find our place of belonging. As I became involved in a local PFLAG chapter I found myself working to repair the damage done to others in the name of God and church. This is what brought me to Emerge. My desire is to help others know God’s love and learn how to be more like Jesus.
Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Mission Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Emerge, a new worshiping community
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Deborah Bernard, Executive Assistant to the President, Board of Pensions
Mary Jo Besspiata, Administrative Assistant II, Executive Director’s Office, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
Gracious God, we plant and water the seeds, but you alone give the growth to our mission and outreach projects. Keep us faithful in our work in your vineyard that our labors may bear fruit and we may help others grow in the knowledge of your love and grace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.