New Castle Presbytery is the 30th mid council to say yes to the Matthew 25 invitation
March 16, 2020
The presbytery, which includes 51 churches in Delaware and Maryland, is the 30th mid council in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to accept the Matthew 25 invitation, with the goal being for 20 percent of churches within each mid council to embrace the invitation. More than 300 churches have said yes since the invitation was issued in April.
The Rev. Dr. Tracy Keenan, the presbytery’s missional presbyter, credits the presbytery’s recent restructuring as the impetus for churches within the presbytery to embrace the three focuses of the Matthew 25 invitation: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.
“We are no longer consumed with preservation of the institution,” she said. “We are urging all of us to be open to what God is calling us into beyond ourselves.”
“Instead of worrying about the usual things,” she added, “we are asking, ‘How can we be really good neighbors to our neighbors? How can we be a presence so the community says, “We are so much better because they are here.’”
The presbytery dedicated its annual Beach Retreat, held March 6–7, to growing as a Matthew 25 mid council. Speakers for the “Jesus, when did we see you?” retreat included the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, coordinator of the Office of Public Witness; Amanda Craft, manager for advocacy in the Office of Immigration Issues; and Katherine Pringle, an attorney and board member with Bread for the World.
“When I first heard the Matthew 25 presentation, I was really delighted it was not just about charitable giving,” Keenan said. “When we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, people might say we are the do-gooders and they are the recipients. What I love about Matthew 25 is it has us partnering with our world in order to address the root causes of some of these things.”
When the entire denomination interprets the invitation, “it is powerfully effective,” she said. “It addresses the root causes” of both structural racism and systemic poverty, she said. “And we realize that revitalizing congregations is what happens when you open yourself to bringing God’s love to the world in a tangible way and being a partner in that.”
The presbytery’s Matthew Action Committee (MAC) predates the Matthew 25 invitation, she said. “They also have been invested in addressing the root causes of poverty and systemic racism,” she said. Following the presbytery’s restructuring, grants were made available to churches “who would partner with the community with those same basic criteria. It is very much the same as Matthew 25 values.”
“The Matthew 25 invitation was perfect for us,” Keenan said. “It allows us to be able to respond well to the nudge from the MAC and find ways we can be sure we would be speaking to a wide range of people in churches.”
One congregation within New Castle Presbytery that’s been doing Matthew 25 work for many years is the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, Maryland, where the Rev. Caitlan Quinn Gartland is associate pastor and acting head of staff.
The church turns 35 this year, “and mission has always been at the forefront,” she said. “We embody the Matthew 25 invitation through heavy involvement in our community. It’s a rural town with a lot of need.”
Most of the organizations that help meet those needs “were started by Presbyterians or are run by them,” she said. “If we (as a church) are supporting things, it’s because we have a hands-on connection.”
That includes a 15-year involvement with the Matiki Presbyterian Church in Malawi.
“The pastor there and I text back and forth regularly, and we pray for each other,” she said. Members of the Chestertown church have visited Malawi, and Malawians have made the journey to the United States. “It’s an amazing relationship we really cherish here,” she said.
“In our town, we don’t just give money. We are heavily involved in their work,” she said. “We talk about time, talent and energy, and our people do all of it. It’s a full-bodied commitment.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Matthew 25 Invitation
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
God of our lives, thank you for the commitment of the people created in your image who aim to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with you. Amen.