Friday, September 13, 2013

What is the NEXT Church?

European church buildings provide fascinating insight into the communities that nourished them and I like visiting them. Sadly, quantum shifts, as one popular book puts it, are putting a lot of pressure on Christianity. Many of the European churches house very few worshipers on Sundays and we've been seeing that trend here in the States too. At the same time, alternative forms of worship and communities using traditional and post modern liturgies (e.g. the monastic and international communities of Taizé) and service projects have been emerging. NEXT Church is one such American movement. They will be here in the OC next week.

A bit of an aside here: This is a picture of First Pres. Church in Anaheim taken earlier this spring. I found it just as I found this forgotten post on NEXT, written a while ago, when I was cleaning my computer folders. I decided to post both since the NEXT Church presentation is part of the Open Space at the next Gathering of Los Ranchos Presbytery. The Presbytery office is located in this church but the Open Space/Gathering will be at Trinity United, details below. Back to NEXT Church now.

I watched one of the videos introducing NEXT from the NEXT Church gathering earlier this month.

NEXT Church is a relatively new movement within the PC(USA) - "a conversation," as Shannon Kershner pithily said in the introduction, to foster relationships, "sparking imaginations, connecting congregations and offering a distinctively Presbyterian witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ." It is a conversation about change and friendship growing out of the question, how can we be a witness to Jesus in this particular time and place? There is no one way to being the church but we can be friends and colleagues to each other in ministry. Friendship has not been a PC(USA) strength, she said; and, by this she means friendship that is not just fellowship but actually mission demonstrating love to one another in our congregations and nearby churches. The ability to befriend and empathize with the poor and suffering in another country but not in our own neighborhoods or even our own church communities has been a failing that I've consistently noticed in American churches in my own perambulations across the American continent. Apparently, the sickness is denomination-wide. How appropriate that the theme of their gathering was "Born-Again" I thought. We all need to be born-again, continuously re-discovering and re-shaping, co-creating our identity and churches in Jesus Christ, with God our Father and the Holy Spirit actively leading.

According to David Are, on the video, NEXT had three modest goals last year: 1) start a website, 2) hold regional gatherings, 3) hire a director. Well, they did all three; their website is up here, they had 6 regional gatherings, and God raised up Rev. Jessica Tate as Director.

Two other things I heard are: The gift of the church is not doctrine but relationships: How we love each other. NEXT is a space where we can rediscover our relationships and connectionalism together, and where we allow God's Spirit to lead us. I've been sort of wondering about spiritual friendships and how friendship with God affects our human friendships. This summer, for the first time in a long while, I've been visiting some of my friends who are part of other churches and its been an eventful learning journey. I am looking forward to learning more about NEXT Church too.

Related Resources:

MaryAnn McKibben Dana. National Gathering Blog Roundup (about the NEXT 2013 Conference held March 4-5)

Shannon Kershner and Tom Are introduce NEXT church, 20 min. video:

The Gathering, Los Ranchos Presbytery. The Gathering and Open Space I of which NEXT Church will be a part is at Trinity United on Thursday, 19th September from 2:00 - 3: 15 pm.

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