“Along the Road,” the podcast series by Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly, shared five new episodes in May before beginning a summer planning hiatus.
The last of the season’s 30 episodes was uploaded to podcast services and the Mid Council Ministries section of pcusa.org on the last day of the month, with the series hosts reflecting on the first season of “Encounter” and “Nourish” together. Ruling Elder Martha Miller from Nourish and the Rev. Manuel Silva-Esterrich and Ruling Elder valerie izumi from Encounter discuss “the joy, the things that impacted them, the guests, the purpose.” They also encourage listeners to provide feedback to help with next season’s planning: https://forms.office.com/r/VRWSawwAVd.
After a recap of that last episode, we’ll review the previous May releases.
Nourish: Listening, Laughter, and Looking Back (25 minutes)
A season-ending drum roll welcomes the three hosts, with izumi comparing the journey of the first season to walking along a road through a field of wildflowers, each flower representing a different idea about formation that the podcast team selected for the season’s bouquet. Silva-Esterrich builds on the metaphor, describing the first season as a flowerpot filled with insights from guest conversations.
Silva-Esterrich, who has a background in radio, asks Miller and izumi what prepared them to be such excellent hosts. Miller describes her growth from reluctant host to curious interviewer, and izumi reflects on her years speaking with an array of people through her work with the General Assembly Nominating Committee and Committee on Representation.
Silva-Esterrich shares some personal season highlights, such as speaking to agency colleagues Ruling Elder Kate Trigger-Duffert and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell in one episode and the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II in another. izumi describes some of her own favorite memories, including discussions with the Rev. Dr. Wilfredo Garcia about mid council ministry post-Covid and the Rev. Eric Thomas about the theology of representation. Miller thanks all the Along the Road guests for their willingness to share on the podcast platform — an experiment in programming that the Mid Council Ministries team is already looking forward to continuing after the summer.
The three joke about the missed opportunity of a blooper reel, the great work of podcast sound engineer the Rev. Joshua Park and the graciousness of guests who agreed to re-record sections of poor audio. They share their hopes that Nourish helped ruling elders and deacons feel connected to others throughout the church, and that Encounter brought polity to new life for congregation and mid council leaders.
Nourish: What Does the Scripture Say to You? (19 minutes)
Ruling Elder Shani McIlwain shares with Miller her “inspiring story of connection to the larger church and the gifts of preaching as a church leader.”
One of the things she loves most about being a Presbyterian is “the idea that anyone can question scripture for themself” — and not leave such questions to a pastor or other church official. “I have enjoyed getting to know the Bible for myself.”
She describes her responsibilities as moderator, including attending stated meetings of presbytery, installing associate pastors into their calls — "maybe my favorite part of the job” — and preaching in different settings.
When Miller asks for advice for other ruling elders and deacons, McIlwain urges remembering that “God qualifies the called … If the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do something, do that.”
McIlwain speaks from personal experience about the large impact small efforts can have on your ministry, sharing a memory about how handing out soup on a street corner allowed her to pray with a man who later told her the prayer changed his life. McIlwain says that hearing those words in turn changed her life, reminding her of the power of acting out your call even when you don’t understand everything about its direction.
Nourish: Spiritual Practice of Examen (15 minutes)
Neil Myer, director of Christian education at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Lansing, Michigan, and campus minister with UKirk at Michigan State University, joins Miller to talk about “the ancient spiritual practice of examen” as a means to stay engaged with your ministry purpose. They also discuss how ruling elders and deacons gain from serving with students.
Myer describes some his own spiritual practices, including his walk home from work, when he often goes through his prayer list. He then discusses his approach to the Ignatian-linked examen, which he uses to frame and reflect on the state of his call. He encourages ruling elders and deacons to try his practice of using four words from the ordination questions — “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” — to explore what is most energizing to them, or what depletes their energy … or in what situations they have been creative, or not so creative.
Miller likes how that approach keeps ordination commitments fresh in the thoughts of ruling elders and deacons. Myer encourages listeners to use words or their own choosing if those work better for them.
Myer talks about all he learns from students, and how his creativity and energy levels are boosted by their presence. Students can help to form and reform their own church leaders, he says.
Miller ends the episode thanking Myer for talking with her and Nourish listeners, and for his ongoing community engagement. In the past year that has included serving as part of the healing ministry at Michigan State following a February mass shooting.
Encounter: Faith Journeys and the Book of Order! (55 minutes)
Three guests join izumi for a discussion of how the Book of Order has deepened their Christian faith and their connection to Presbyterian polity and formation.
The Rev. Dr. Tim Cargal (Associate Director, Ministry Leadership Development, Office of the General Assembly) and the Rev. Fran Lane-Lawrence (Executive Presbyter|Stated Clerk with the Presbytery of Lake Michigan and Stated Clerk with Synod of the Covenant) describe becoming Presbyterians as adults; the Rev. John Kim (Senior Translator, Korean Language, Office of Global Language Resources, Administrative Service Group) grew up with the Presbyterian tradition in Korea, but came to feel a deeper connection to it through his recent work translating the Book of Order. Each guest describes the importance of the Book of Order in their faith journeys.
Lane-Lawrence talks about being moved to tears after reading it for the first time as an adult. Kim echoes izumi’s earlier remark that “The Book of Order has so much love language in it,” saying “the Book of Order is sometimes like a love letter from God.”
Cargal describes how his faith and scholarly journeys combined to bring him into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with his dissertation studies familiarizing him with the Reformed tradition and its “community connection with God.” He shares his appreciation for the Book of Order and Book of Confessions, which he says shows the long history of revision and reformation Presbyterians have practiced living in community. He likes how the texts encourage the holding of convictions “firmly but with humility.”
Lane-Lawrence says that she loves how the Book of Order gives her something more to do with all her biblical learning. “It’s not just for me,” she says. “God is calling us into community.”
In response to izumi’s question about how people might experience the Book of Order differently, Cargal recommends reading entire sections instead of single paragraphs. izumi says she likes to read the Book of Order with the care and sense of wonder she brings to poetry. Kim encourages attention to the book’s careful structure and tone. “Even the Book of Discipline sends a message of love,” he says.
izumi speaks with Rev. Dr. Rebecca Davis, Professor of Christian Education and Director of the Masters of Arts in Christian Education Program at Union Presbyterian Seminary | Richmond & Charlotte, to “explore the Directory for Worship and its importance as a theological and polity foundation that it essential for ecclesial formation and thinking theologically.”
izumi asks Davis for some ways the Directory of Worship is more than an instruction manual for worship services. Davis says that for her the Directory of Worship and the overall Book of Order is “not just a rule book … but a theological text.” She says it sets forth the theological reasons for Presbyterian practice in worship and other aspects of sustaining Presbyterian faith communities.
“Because we think of it as a rule book, we go to it when we have a question … But the Book of Order shouldn’t just be read for information, but for formation,” Davis says. She adds that engaging deeply with the text helps Presbyterians keep sight of their identity. The Directory of Worship helps her remember that worship “is about God … then about we … and thirdly about me — thee, we, me.”
izumi asks for ways to involve the entire congregation with the Directory of Worship. Davis says that incorporating parts of it into resources for adults and children (a group it is especially difficult to teach about worship) is one approach she likes. Bringing the Directory of Worship to the entire body is important because “worship is the heart and soul of the congregation,” she says. “Worship is the font of everything else.”
Davis and izumi talk about worship’s participatory nature, and how the Directory of Worship delineates different roles for pastors, ruling elders and deacons and other members. Myers says that understanding the reasoning behind worship and other church practices is another aspect of Presbyterian identity. She and izumi agree that delving more deeply into the “loving language” of the Book or Order is a good way for Presbyterians to understand the contemporary relevance and beauty of their singular Reformed tradition.