With spring approaching, recent “Along the Road” podcasts look at ways ruling elders, deacons and mid council leaders can renew themselves and their faith communities through exercising individual passions, advocating for the rights of marginalized communities and “living into” updated church policies.
Listen to the episodes directly from the Mid Council Ministries section of pcusa.org or from podcast providers.
Nourish: Spiritual Practice of Hiking (16 minutes)
The Rev. Stephen Park Choi, pastor of Stewartsville Presbyterian Church in Stewartsville, New Jersey, talks with “Nourish” host and Ruling Elder Martha Miller about making time to hike and enjoy God’s Creation, both alone and in the community of others.
Choi, who grew up in Chicago, didn’t start hiking until the pandemic. But since a family trip to Acadia National Park in Maine he has become something of a hiking zealot.
“For me it’s self-care,” Choi says. “I need it to renew myself.”
Choi uses the All Trails app to plan and track hikes of different difficulties. When alone, he uses his time outdoors to think and pray.
“Hiking is a good way to be with others while exercising, as opposed to so much socializing that is sedentary … When you’re hiking outdoors the conversations are different. There are stretches where we talk and stretches where we can be silent.”
Choi combines his hiking with photography, which lets him share the outdoors with people from his church who have difficulty getting to the woods. After Choi completes a rigorous hike, he feels more confident about undertaking future tasks, including those at church.
For ruling elders and deacons who don’t have a passion for hiking, Miller and Choi urge looking for other renewing pastimes, and spending time on those.
“What is your passion?” Choi asks. “And how can you tie that into glorifying God and your neighbors?”
Nourish: Speaking Up & Speaking Out in Faith (21 minutes)
Amanda Craft, manager of Immigration Advocacy in the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), talks with Miller about the importance of sharing your faith with others and doing so on behalf of others.
Craft defines advocacy as “the opportunity to engage in creating right relationships and righting wrongs … Presbyterians have always been called to engage the public space.”
Much of Craft’s work involves advocating for governmental policies that assist immigrants. Last summer’s General Assembly declared the PC(USA) a “Sanctuary and Accompaniment Church" — continuing a tradition of helping migrants at all levels of the denomination. In a recent article about Louisville’s Second Presbyterian Church, Craft talked about models of congregational accompaniment for refugees and asylees and other ways Presbyterians can advocate for migrants.
During “Nourish,” Craft calls on Presbyterians to speak up for the marginalized, “even when you don’t feel you have the perfect words.” Speak to others through your faith, she adds, including government officials at national and state levels.
Craft says that part of faith can be “engaging spaces that we’re uncomfortable in.” All groups engage with people through systems. A part of faith can be evaluating the rightness of those systems and your relation to them.
Understanding how others are affected by systems such as immigration policy “enriches the way we understand Creation.”
Miller asks for advice for ruling elders and deacons looking to engage in advocacy.
“Be able to listen to what’s happening to people in your community,” Craft says. “We can make significant decisions about how we care for each other in the congregation and in the community. Those are important for church leaders to embrace.”
Encounter: Polities, Policies and Property (oh my!), and How to Start Those Conversations (56 minutes)
Just as the “Encounter” episode title hints, there are a plethora of considerations when it comes to assessing and updating church legal policies. And many require outside guidance.
“Encounter” host Manuel Silva-Esterrich’s three guests bring legal eagle advice to the discussion, with Flor Vélez-Díaz from OGA and April Davenport and Mike Kirk (A Corp) talking about the important tasks mid councils and church sessions face each year as corporations with fiduciary and legal responsibilities.
Kirk gives practical advice on managing vendor contracts, revisiting employee policies and training employees, urging listeners to add contract review to yearly schedules. Later he identifies other annual reviews, including employee reviews, employee handbooks and insurance coverage.
Davenport talks about ways the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation can advise PC(USA) congregations and mid councils on legal questions, but urges groups to find their own local legal counsel. Tax exemptions at the state level are another area where local contexts and regulations need to be considered.
Vélez-Díaz connects policy review and other legal questions to the Book of Order, and discusses the range of policies and judicial processes spelled out in the PC(USA) constitution. She mentions the amendments to the Book of Order presbyteries are currently voting on and talks about their possible impacts on mid council and congregation policies, including those related to sexual misconduct.
Mid councils can provide guides or sample policies that church sessions can use to start policy conversations, Vélez-Díaz says. But all policy documents “are meant to be changed for their times and contexts.” Kirk agrees, recommending that church groups “use policies you can live into.”
The three Encounter guests discuss how policy conversations and decisions are important not just because they help churches navigate secular and corporate requirements amid their ecclesial work. As Kirk says, “Policies are also good for mission.” They show the care a church group places on its responsibilities to the entire community.
“It’s important to remember that all of these structures we’ve discussed exist to uplift and uphold our ministry in our particular contexts,” Davenport says. She and Kirk urge sessions and mid councils looking to discuss policy renewal to begin by visiting the following agency links:
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation resources —
- Creating Safe Ministries webpage —
- Avoiding financial fraud —
- Business continuity checklist —
Upcoming Encounter episodes
In March and April, valerie izumi, a ruling elder and Assistant Stated Clerk and Manager of General Assembly Nominations, will guest host “Encounter” episodes focusing on particular sections in the Book of Order. izumi is a member of the Along the Road podcast team.
In the first March episode izumi will discuss “Full Participation: Belonging Together in a Covenantal Community of Faith” with the Rev. Jihyun Oh from OGA, taking what izumi called “a deep-dive into [Book of Order section] F-1.0403 as we learn together how we can complexify the story of full participation.”
The second March episode will feature conversation with Anna Kendig and Eric Thomas, Co-Moderators of the General Assembly Committee on Representation, about “The Theology of Representation and the Distinctiveness of Representation.”