At this year’s General Assembly in Pittsburgh there was quite a buzz around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s “1001 New Worshiping Communities” movement — from t-shirt giveaways to video presentations and, of course, consideration by committee on 1001 related business sent to the Assembly floor.
It’s all part of an effort to foster the creation of 1001 new worshiping communities in the PC(USA) in the next 10 years.
Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission with the Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly the General Assembly Mission Council), admits that in can be easy to wonder, “Now what?” after all the hype has passed.
“We all know that there can be many areas where there is a big vision promoted but then, when it comes down to it, that goes nowhere,” said Dermody during a break of the first “1001 – Get in the Game” gathering hosted by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church here.
Dermody hopes that these regional gatherings might connect those individuals, churches and presbyteries who want to get involved and help them explore some of the “what do you do next” type questions.
“We want to help people connect with one another within their territory and region and to learn from each other — to share resources with each other and to connect with our regional coaches so that we can walk this journey with them,” said Dermody.
This journeying together is an essential part of what the mission agency can do ― as it says in its mission statement ― to inspire, equip and connect the local church for its mission in the world. The denomination can provide the tools and the coaching, Dermody said, but knowing that the lens through which the mission is accomplished is the local church.
Craig Williams, associate for church development in Church Growth and Transformation ministries of the mission agency, is one of those regional coaches.
“The purpose of these events is to stimulate the imagination of established churches so that they can begin to imagine new ways of reaching people in their communities,” said Williams. The key is not to make it a top down agenda, but to catalyze a movement that will grow from the grassroots.
“To catalyze a movement you have to introduce people to each other and to these ideas, so that they can see what is being tried and what is working. If you get enough of these sparks together, it’s going to create some heat,” Williams continued.
“We know that there are works going on all over the country but those stories are not always being heard — we need to them to be shared,” said Williams.
Both Dermody and Williams are quick to point out that “1001” is often new territory, with few models for what these new worshiping communities are to become.
“There is no prescribed way of doing the work. Each context will dictate what we do in that particular context,” said Williams. “If all we were to do was to listen to our context and befriend people, we’d know what our next moves are.”
The Saturday gathering was one such opportunity to hear what is going on in the West. In addition to presentations by Dermody and Williams about the broad goals of the movement, participants heard from five very different examples of these new worshipping communities taking shape — from Northeast of the Well, an outreach to former drug addicts and prostitutes coming through the county parole system, to a handful of friends coming together weekly to wonder how they might be the church for those who would never step in the doors of one of its buildings.
One of the participants, the Rev. Steve Wright, organizing pastor for Village Presbyterian Church in nearby Ladera Ranch, brought two members of his leadership team to the event so that they might continue this process of listening together.
“This gathering made the choice very clear — we can either sit around and complain about what is not happening, or we can activate our imaginations inspired by the Holy Spirit and begin to dream about new possibilities,” said Wright.
Having the time for table discussion after each presentation was part of the listening built into the day.
“Hearing the stories of a variety of projects right here in our area was absolutely inspiring,” continued Wright. “The conversations with others around the table helped us to think in new and creative ways in relation to what God is calling our community of faith to be.”
The Rev. Clark Cowden, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of San Diego said, “It is so encouraging to see our denomination cultivating a conversation on a new way to start worshiping and witnessing communities.
Cowden said his presbytery has been trying some experiments, but creating new worshiping communities is harder than it looks. “Not every church can see beyond its own survival and control needs to allow a new missional experiment to begin and flourish. In many places, it takes a culture change to move towards being a permission giving and risk taking church. Yet, I think this is absolutely essential to learning new ways of being a gospel witness to the post-modern world around us. There is so much we can learn from the stories of our missional explorers."
The Rev. Jason Ko, pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of La Mirada came to the gathering wanting to see what God might be up to in the PC(USA). “The group from our church walked away inspired as well as challenged to step out of our typical church routine and step into God’s work to redeem and renew our world in fresh ways,” said Ko.
“1001” is a movement that seems to be gaining momentum. But it’s also a movement that is far larger than the PCUSA, as both Williams and Dermody were quick to point out.
“I didn’t come to Louisville [from a southern California pastorate to the national staff] saying ‘Let’s start something called a 1001 movement.’ It is totally a God thing,” said Dermody.
Williams put it this way: “This is a movement far beyond our church — it is a worldwide movement — we want to be a part of that.”
The Rev. Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.