The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study has just been published, but what exactly is this resource and how do you use it?
There is no one answer — and that flexibility is part of what has made the book such a valuable resource for 120 years.
The book contains 365 entries, one for each day of the year. Each page holds a story from a presbytery, synod, church or mission partner. There is also a daily prayer, a list of people to remember in prayer, and daily lectionary readings. Sunday entries also feature hymns.
From there, says yearbook editor Billie Healy, it is up to the individual what they do with each day’s entry.
“You can make it as much of a production as you want,” she says. “Some days are just so busy for me that I just keep it open on my desk and when I’ve got two seconds to pray, I’ll just put my hand on the book and pray. When I’ve got time I’ll read the story and when I’ve got a lot of time I’ll go and read the lectionary verses and pray specifically for people.
“Some folks have expressed that they feel overwhelmed, that there is so much opportunity to do things on each page and they don’t do everything, but I think that’s one thing that’s key,” she says. “None of this is a ‘have-to.’ It is an opportunity to engage in mission in whatever way and in whatever time you have. God can abundantly multiply whatever you are able to give.”
As for the stories, Healy looks at the book as a sort of family album, where folks can keep up with what the rest of the church family is up to. It’s also a great resource for people to learn about the many ways PC(USA) congregations of all sizes are involved in mission.
“The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study is an invaluable tool for me,” says the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly. “I rely on it to know what is happening across the church worldwide.”
Sometimes congregations use it as inspiration to get ideas for new projects and programs. One message Healy hopes people get from the stories is that mission is accessible to everyone, not just large churches.
She notes the story of members of St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., who noticed unpicked fruit on trees. They found the owners, who let them pick the spare fruit and give it to local food banks.
“It’s a small thing but it meant a huge deal,” says Healy. “This is people who said, ‘This is something we can do something about. We can use what’s there to make it better.’”
There are several stories about churches like First Presbyterian Church of Nanticoke in Pennsylvania and First Presbyterian Church of Winchester in Indiana, on the verge of closure with just a few remaining members, who found new life by getting out into their communities and serving others in whatever ways they could.
The stories touch on many subjects, from history to churches working with the unchurched and outcast to the struggles with resources and oppression faced by international mission partners.
St. James Presbyterian Church in LaPorte, Texas, gave 200 unchurched bikers support and a place to grieve after the loss of a club member. The Rainbow Sewing Center, a longtime ministry of the Church of Bangladesh, teaches women of all faiths to sew in the city of Dhaka, providing them with a way to support their families. Goodwill Presbyterian Church in Mayesville, S.C., started when 100 former slaves left the nearby white church after the Civil War and continues to thrive today, producing through the years at least 18 PC(USA) ministers as well as judges, teachers and other community organizers.
“Each of the 365 pages shares one of these stories told in a unique voice; yet the common threads of the faithfulness of God and the creativity of God’s people are consistent throughout,” Healy says.
Some congregations, such as First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Ill., place copies of the books in their pews. But there are many ways for people to experience the Mission Yearbook, Healy says.
The most direct is to buy the book. It is available for $14.95 per copy plus shipping with discounts available for quantity purchases. (Call (800) 728-7228, x5689 or visit the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study website.) There are also podcasts available of the minutes for mission, daily e-mails, RSS and Twitter feeds and online reading.
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.