Category

Being an Urban Church

July 12, 2016

Chef Nick gets hugsReading everything that’s been done and said about last week’s events has been hard. Everywhere I’ve looked, people were discussing the hard topics of racial inequality, police violence, and hate-filled retaliation.

Being a member of a now multi-racial family, I struggled with my own assessment of these topics, mixed along with the idea of white privilege and how it relates to my life. All of this led me to also assess my effectiveness in being a good witness through my presence with and feeding of our BELL campers, who are here to keep learning throughout the summer. How, I wondered, was I perceived by these children?

Needless to say, by Friday afternoon these thoughts left me a little deflated, a little drained, as serious thought tends to do.

Then something happened that filled me back up.

While I was standing at the front desk having a conversation about finances with a coworker, one of our campers walked by to go to the restroom. She walked right up to me and spontaneously hugged my leg. This reminded me that our actions truly do have an impact when they are motivated with love.  We need to fill each other up with love in these difficult times.

We need more hugs.

– Nick Kepp

P.S. A high-five (see below) isn’t a bad option, either.

Chef Nick gets high 5

July 11, 2016

The apostle Paul asks, “what then are we to say about these things?” (Romans 8:31)

The truth is that sometimes I am not sure what to say about these things.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Brent Thompson.

Patrick Zamarripa.

Michael Krol.

Michael Smith.

Lorne Ahrens.

It’s not just that I fail to understand our addiction to violence that makes taking a life too easy, or that I fail to understand unbridled hate (in the case of the five Dallas law enforcement officials who lost their lives to a man filled with rage).

What this latest chapter in our country’s unfolding series of tragic events has taught me is that as a white man in a “white collar” job in America, I will never understand what it feels like to be black or to wear blue.

That may sound obvious, but I think the events of this week may, finally, begin to disabuse many of us of our need to understand and explain away these kinds of tragedies.

For too long, people (like me) have heard, discussed, commented, debated, and—in many cases—judged these compounding American tragedies as if we had the perspective to offer wisdom.  People—like me—who will never know what it is to teach our children how the color of their skin might impact the way they are viewed by the police, or what it is like for a law enforcement officer to see every encounter as a potential for danger.

What we were really doing is exposing our privilege.

Maybe instead of feeling the need to say something about these things we might try to listen.

If we are white, maybe we might ask a friend who is a person of color what these things are like for them.  Or ask a police officer how these things impact their oath to protect and serve.

And then we might remember that Paul’s question isn’t really an invitation for us to fill the space with our feeble words.  For it is God who speaks the answers to the questions that arise from things like these.  And that answer is found in the person of Jesus, who knows what it is to suffer, and to love.

– Pen Peery

 

July 1, 2016

“You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world…in the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

BELL 2016 little sisterIf you want to see what church looks like when we are really being church, come to the campus of First Presbyterian the first six weeks of the summer.

We are about halfway through hosting the BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) program – a tutoring initiative that provides experiences in the classroom and the uptown community for 60 students from the K-8th grade Westerly Hills Academy, with whom our church has a partnership.

These six weeks our campus is buzzing: in the courtyard at drop-off, in the Wood Fellowship Hall for breakfast, on the third floor for classes, and through the hallways as children make this church their home.

Additionally, in the summer our church also makes a commitment to send children to Camp Grier for a total of 65 camper weeks.

Our summer program is one of the finest examples of where our faith and our stewardship become salt and light in our community. These programs make an impact. Reading scores go up. Parents are more plugged in. Children grow in confidence. And God is glorified.

We’re about halfway through the summer and our fundraising for BELL and Camp Grier (total of $60,000) is about halfway finished, too. Whether you are a member of First Presbyterian or a fan, I encourage you to help us make a difference in the lives of dozens of children by supporting this vital ministry of the church.

– Pen Peery

June 9, 2016

welcome matWhat do most folks do these days when they visit New York City? Try to get their hands on tickets to the musical Hamilton.

What does a group from First Pres do? Go to church, of course. Specifically Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Last week, as a part of our strategic planning process, Kathryn Justis, Ward Davis and I met with Fifth Avenue Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor, Dr. Scott Black Johnston. Kathryn and Ward are co-chairs of the “Balcony Group” (the group of members who are guiding this process of taking a big-picture look into our future as an urban church). If you missed the story about this initiative in last week’s FirstNews, you can read it online.

Fifth Avenue was the first stop on a journey to five different large, growing, vibrant, and urban churches where we will ask questions of their leadership around mission and vision to understand what strategic choices they made to proclaim Christ in the middle of the city.

Home for the Roosevelts and a host of other dignitaries, Fifth Avenue is a grand church with a grand history: excellence in worship and preaching, innovative education (the idea of Sunday School, or “Sabbath School,” originated from a member of the church, Joanna Bethune, in 1816), and advocacy for the homeless. We learned a lot and gleaned a number of good ideas around our questions, yet what struck me in our visit was the importance the church placed on being invitational.

Being an invitational church was the first plank on Fifth Avenue Presbyterian’s strategic plan.

Fifth Avenue differentiates “welcome” from “invitation.” Being a welcoming church is wonderful – but it is also passive. Being welcoming doesn’t call for the congregation to move beyond the walls of the church to reach the city around them.

Being an invitational church calls for members of the church to engage: at work, at school, at the little league field in the stands.

There are lots of reasons why Fifth Avenue is a church of 2,500 members – with growing numbers and diversity and budgets and vision. Clearly, the Holy Spirit is at work.  But one particular reason why Fifth Avenue is so vibrant is that they take seriously their mission to tell the people in their neighborhood the good news of the gospel. They don’t wait for people to come in the doors and figure it out…they invite them to come in!

– Pen Peery