Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
Last week I was at the Fellowship Community/ECO conference in Dallas, TX. The Fellowship Community (formed recently from the Fellowship of Presbyterians and Presbyterians for Renewal) is a ministry of and to conservative churches within the PC(USA); ECO is the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, composed of conservative churches who have left the PC(USA) to begin this new denomination.
Although the conference had churches and individuals from both denominations, most of the meeting was the same program because the two have the same commitments to the creation of thriving, missional churches. The conference is among a number of efforts within the PC(USA) and other similar denominations to challenge and nurture churches to join God’s mission to transform the world, rather than primarily existing to serve their own members. The Presbyterian Mission Agency (where I serve) brought an initiative to help congregations and individuals to live missionally to the most recent General Assembly, where it was unanimously adopted. The Next Church, a ministry largely of and to progressive churches within the PC(USA), is also striving to help the denomination to become more outward focused.
The conference this week was filled with very engaging speakers and workshops dedicated to helping churches become more missional. In fact, I joked to someone that the speakers seemed to be in a competition to show who could put the most original twist on the shared purpose of helping conferees gain a vision for churches who benefit the communities in which they live, rather than being largely a club for their own members.
The conference also had large-scale worship services, filled with long periods of dedicated prayer. One strength of the prayer times at the worship services was that they was focused on God helping us to become more missional—giving us the courage, strength, and discernment to overcome the obstacles, whether those be structural or individual. We long for the Holy Spirit to empower us in this way, and I’m certain that if I had been leading prayers at a similar event, I would have led the prayers in a similar vein.
I got a different perspective of missional prayer as I watched the news Wednesday morning while packing. The reporting was very heavy. For instance, a journalist had just been beheaded by ISIS/ISIL, and Ferguson, MO, continued to boil. One bright spot in the coverage of Ferguson was the mention of faithful clergy there working to bring reconciliation and justice and shalom to that town. It was then that I was struck that praying missionally, at its best, does not simply ask God to strengthen us to live out our faith in the world, but also thanks God for already being at work all around us and asks the Spirit to blow even more powerfully in places where the abundant life that Jesus wants for us seems so far away.
I hope that I will keep praying for ourselves, that the Spirit will equip the church (and every denomination) to join God’s mission to transform the world. Our participation in this ministry is crucial if we are to be faithful Christians. But I also hope that I will remember to pray for the world, that the Spirit will bring God’s mission to fruition (whether we ever join in or not).
Last week I was part of a panel discussion on theology and theological education at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s National MultiCultural Conference in Fort Worth, TX. At such a diverse conference, where being white was an exception and not a rule, I spent some time thinking about my own background and my ability to speak with meaning in such a context.
In the last few years, FPC Garland has seen an unflux of Christians from Cameroon, to the point where now the congregation is between 15 and 20% Cameroonian. One woman from that country began to worship there, and then some of her friends came, and then some of their friends came, and now it’s too the point where on Easter, the new members class of around ten people had one white woman (the interim pastor’s wife) and nine men and women from Cameroon!
Seminarians all over the world learn a new language when they go away to study theology: the words used by the academic community to wrestle with the matters of faith, such as hermeneutics, soteriology, pericope, and ontology.* This new language must then be shed in order to communicate effectively with the people in the pews, only a few of which might be interested in mastering this esoteric vocabulary. (The concepts behind the technical words, of course, are often valuable for ministry.)
The students at the Protestant Institute of the Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS), the seminary which Presbyterian Rwandans attend, takes this challenge a step further.
Some of you have asked for a copy of the paper I presented at the Scientific Week of the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences in Butare, Rwanda, on Saturday. It is entitled, "Grace, Gratitude, and Forgiveness," and it uses the Reformed theological framework of grace and gratitude to understand why we forgive, and explores several scriptures for practical steps which can lead to forgiveness. (Word to the wise: it's about 25 pages long.)