There is a Balm in Chicago

Rebecca Anderson grew up Evangelical, but as a young adult, she didn’t consider herself a religious person.

That didn’t mean she didn’t dip her toes in the waters of different communities of faith.

And then she attended a local church in Boston at the suggestion of a fellow non-religious friend, which changed her life. In fact, she describes the experience as her day of Pentecost.

“It was this big lung full of bright, fresh air,” Rebecca recalls. “I hadn’t heard the gospel in the way that I heard it that day. I could finally understand what they were saying.”

This experience is what drives her ministry today, and it’s what inspired her in 2017 to launch Gilead Church Chicago, a joint congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ, with her co-pastor Vince Amlin, who also pastors Bethany United Church of Christ alongside her.

“I try to create conditions where people who need a particular translation of the gospel can hear it,” Rebecca says. “I see on people’s faces, when the way we do church speaks to them, and I see it when it doesn’t.”

So, who does Gilead Church speak to? It’s with, for, and by people who’ve been told or made to feel that church isn’t for them.

“If these stories, traditions, practices, questions, and the person of Jesus are compelling or in any way meaningful to you, they are yours,” says Rebecca. “I’m not making seats at the table. It’s not my table, it’s yours. If you are drawn to this, God has prepared it for you. My call to ministry is to let people know that and then get out of the way.”

Worshipers at Gilead include members of the LGBTQ+ community, young adults, professional activists, and in Rebecca’s words “a disproportionately large number of women.” Several members of the lay and staff leadership are performers, as one of the faith community’s core practices, which were developed when Rebecca attended Leadership Academy in 2015, is telling true stories that save lives.

One of these stories is about a recent addition to Gilead, who returned to church after a 10-year absence due to severe spiritual trauma. To curtail their fears about and suspicion of Christian institutions, this person researched Gilead online and tentatively attended a worship service. Afterward, they made a list of what they wanted from church, including praise and worship music a la Hillsong and authoritative leadership, the kind that had the answers and knew their answers were right. Gilead didn’t have any of those requirements, so they told themselves they wouldn’t return. But as the week progressed, this person questioned what any item on their list had done but harm them. What they needed in their life was love, and they knew that Gilead had that. Ever since they’ve attended every service.

“It’s a miracle,” beams Rebecca. “They told the story at church this past Sunday and it was heartbreaking, good, and generous.”

One of Gilead’s other practices is making beautiful, creative worship. While its liturgy, order of worship, and communion are traditional, Gilead’s creativity is found in how it chooses to gather with its people. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they met at a bar, where they hung out and filled in story prompts. In the past, they’ve had worship on the subway and now they meet in a gym. Gilead also meets online, which Rebecca admits has been hard for her to do.

“Pre-pandemic, we were deeply analog because we didn’t want anything more on our phones, we were so done with it,” she remembers. “Gilead had always been this kind of doggedly in-person place. People tell personal stories that they consent to tell in a room to a specific group of people.”

COVID-19 also changed the way that the congregation threw parties, another one of their core practices. While throwing parties may seem like an odd practice for a church to embrace, for Gilead it’s about reclaiming a theology of joy, which has been absent from modern Christian tradition. Basing its practice on a Yale study that found joy was a marker of the life of faith in both Jewish and Christian scriptures, Gilead views Jesus as a party goer and God as a party thrower.

“Things are very serious,” Rebecca acknowledges, “but the antidote isn’t somberness, it’s joy.”

To that end, Gilead typically threw four large annual parties. It celebrated Easter with a dance party, complete with a DJ, communion, and a liturgical piñata. Every year, Rebecca’s co-pastor Vince insists that just hitting the pinata works, no one cares about the candy.

“We’ve got this one congregant who said, ‘we should get a pinata shaped like a gravestone,’ Rebecca laughs. “We thought it was so serious and on the nose. Couldn’t we just get a unicorn?”

These all stopped with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, but with creativity at its core, Gilead persevered. For Easter 2020, church leadership got people to contribute to its worship service, including award-winning poet Ada Limón, who kicked it off by reading her poem In the Country of Resurrection to the congregation. The following week, Rebecca and her colleagues purchased doughnuts from a local breakfast sandwich joint, fanned out around the city, and took doughnuts to congregants. Mindful of the health guidelines, staff members flung doughnuts through windows and placed them in containers lowered out of windows. They took communion to as many people as they could in the same way, adding a little table on the side of the street, which was used to do a socially distanced liturgy.

“We found ways to be together,” says Rebecca. “We had worship outside with everybody spread out. Only Vince and I were singing, and while I’m a big extrovert, I felt so exposed.”

This tension, one of curtailing your natural behavior for the safety of others, and what it does for your mental health, was explored in a 2020 sermon series Rebecca called Pity Parties. It featured true stories of the difficult times people were having during the pandemic, instead of glossing over them.

“There was that pandemic narrative where people would start off saying they were fine, continue on to a middle section of how they were really feeling, and then ending with them saying how lucky and privileged they were,” Rebecca explains. “We wanted to provide people with an opportunity to be honest.” 

Of course, honesty and vulnerability come hand in hand, so she is always careful to say that Gilead’s dynamic is about building intimacy from where people are at, appropriate for their context, and true to their DNA. Ultimately, the people of Gilead don’t want church that is sanitized of authentic experiences, even if they’re messy. This commitment to sharing what Rebecca calls “high emotions” is what makes the people of Gilead more than fellow worshipers, it makes them real friends, incidentally the last of the church’s core practices.

“Early on, we received a grant for a project with and for young adults, which in this case was people in their 20s, so we studied how people come into community,” says Rebecca. “We found that making adult friends is notoriously difficult so there’s this loneliness epidemic. As a result of that study, “’making real friends’ became one of our core practices.”

This practice comes from the close relationship that she and her co-pastor Vince share. They met in grad school and kept in touch over the years, communicating via text and getting together once a year. On a trip to St. Augustine, FL, they asked what it would look like if they started a church together. Not only did she and Vince share the same affinities and commitments, but Rebecca also didn’t think a solitary leadership model was ideal. They started talking about it then and soon they were texting every day. Rebecca shared what she learned at Leadership Academy about mission, vision, and values and they decided that Gilead would be a church for two pastors. Rebecca quit her job and that same week, she and Vince learned that Bethany was searching for one full-time pastor. They pitched their idea of splitting the job and co-pastoring not only Bethany, but Gilead too.

“This was a big risk for Bethany,” reveals Rebecca, “but thanks to some good DNA and interim work, they took a chance and hired us.”

The church had a small number of worshipers when Rebecca and Vince arrived, so they approached their new positions as leaders of a revitalization project. While Bethany was a 125-year-old neighborhood church, it was progressive and had a young membership. Now Bethany is vibrant and growing its numbers. 

Rebecca and Vince can juggle both positions because Gilead holds its worship services in the evenings. Each week, they’re both in leadership at one of the congregations, but one of them preaches and takes the lead on liturgy and the service. The following week, they switch positions and churches. Student pastors fill in their positions at their other congregation.

“I already know that working with Vince has been and will be one of the great and abiding joys of my entire life,” Rebecca reveals. “I’m just grateful.”

She’s also appreciative of the generous support from both the UCC and the Disciples of Christ, including the New Church/Ministries team of the Illinois-Wisconsin region, which has provided funding and just as importantly, encouragement.

“There’s mutual trust, so they’re not suspicious of our translation of the gospel and I’m not scared to ask anybody in the region anything,” says Rebecca. 

Rebecca and Vince also try to be available to folks who would find their experiences and knowledge useful, especially new church leaders. At its core, Gilead is viewed by its co-pastors as a ministry of their respective denominations.

“I’m doing this work to serve God and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which is the denomination where God found me,” Rebecca concludes. “I used to feel sheepish because I fell into this church, but it doesn’t matter. It is the place where God found me outside the empty tomb.”

To support emerging congregations like Gilead, make a gift to the Pentecost Offering, received in most congregations on June 5. 

Finding faith and community in the margins with Comunidad Limen

“Have you seen the movie Luca?”

Rev. Pedro Ramos Goycolea

Rev. Pedro Ramos Goycolea, the pastor of Comunidad Limen Christian Church, was trying to find the right words that would describe the ministry of his emerging community of faith. As the organizer of the first official Latinx, Spanish-speaking, open and affirming congregation in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he’s often felt compelled to “justify” his theology in the past. And as a father of two young boys, he’s also compelled to watch various animated films. 

“Luca is a young merman who can turn into a human. His parents are concerned about him entering the human world because they believe humans will reject their son and fail to understand who he is,” Rev. Pedro continues. “It turns out that his grandmother has been sneaking around and doing this all of her life.”

Without going into too many spoilers, Luca’s grandma assuages his parents’ fear by saying that some humans will accept him, and some won’t, but either way, Luca will just have to live with that reality.

While that’s not your typical source material for organizing a new church, Rev. Pedro describes watching the film as an ah-ha moment. 

I was just blown away when I watched it,” he recalls. “I’m choosing to work with the reality that our younger generations are building, accepting, and creating.”

This reality is one of affirming the identity of young LGBTQ Latinos. Instead of spending his time trying to explain what his faith community is doing for these individuals and their families, he has decided to work with the two or three generations that are waiting for these communities to happen.

“Younger generations are deconstructed already. TikTok has done the job for us,” laughs Rev. Pedro. “There’s just so much information out there, folks can just listen to Martin Luther King instead of me!”

For this Tucson, AZ place of worship, creating a safe space is a piece of deconstruction. While this term, which essentially refers to the process of re-evaluating and interrogating Christian practices, history, and institutions, has recently been mired in controversy, Rev. Pedro views it not as a reductive vision of Christianity, but an amplifying one.

“It’s about understanding different dimensions to faith through deconstructing the limits that place it in boxes,” he goes on to say, “as opposed to open roads to it.”

The roads in his own spiritual journey took Rev. Pedro from Mexico to the United States in 2006, where he launched a Hispanic church in Arizona, then received his M.Div from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. After working in New Mexico, Rev. Pedro returned to Arizona, 10 years after he had left.

“I went to a very progressive seminary so when I came back, I was all fired up,” remembers Rev. Pedro, “not knowing what had been happening with those families that were at the first church I started.”

One of those families had two daughters that were eight and 10-years-old when he went away for school. Now as teenagers, they are navigating all that comes with young adulthood – including their sexual orientations. While Rev. Pedro acknowledges that he is a cis-gender, heterosexual man, he can empathize with the experiences of rejection that many queer youths face in religious spaces.

“When my parents separated, I basically became the son of a single mom, and we didn’t contribute much financially to the church,” he reveals. “Because I was so passionate about church, I tried to bring my talents and gifts, but it didn’t matter to the leadership, they still rejected me. I was deeply hurt. I don’t want people to connect with God in that way because God is the total opposite of that.”

That’s why Rev. Pedro thinks of Comunidad Limen CC as a movement, and not as an institutionalized spirituality. According to him, it’s not a church for everybody: the good news that’s going to come out of that space is going to be good news for those who need to hear it. He’s aware that a lot of folks are just going to stick to existing structures – Comunidad Limen needs to be a movement that’s accessible outside of those structures. 

Comunidad Limen’s first meeting

So in January 2020, Rev. Pedro and his core team had their first official meeting, determined to start this movement. And like so many faith communities at that time, they had to stop their in-person meetings the following month. Yet they were unfazed – the movement would simply take place online. They soon reached out to the Arizona region, which enthusiastically welcomed Comunidad Limen and connected it with New Church Ministry, a general ministry that has provided Rev. Pedro with educational opportunities such as Leadership Academy.

For a while, congregants worshiped together on Zoom, but these meetings became unreliable due to a combination of factors, zoom exhaustion, poor connection speeds and/or lack of access to a laptop. So Comunidad Limen started uploading content to different social media platforms (YouTubeTikTokFacebookInstagram), where viewers could watch videos or review posts on their own time. The Comunidad Limen podcast has been one of its most successful ventures. With the easing of pandemic restrictions, Comunidad Limen began meeting in person again, but it doesn’t occupy a permanent building. Instead, it uses the facilities of local church communities at different times on different days.

“When we talk about essential workers, that’s the Latino community – folks that don’t stop working, no matter if there is a pandemic. We are the ones who don’t stop cleaning, cooking food, and making deliveries because society needs to keep going,” says Rev. Pedro. “So when you ask folks to come and meet you at a time and place, it’s a burden for them.”

After all, Comunidad Limen was started out of a need from the bilingual Latino community to connect during the pandemic because its members were isolated in their homes. They no longer had access to the spaces where Spanish language Bible studies were held, that taught theologies that spoke to them. In fact, Comunidad Limen’s name refers to the fact that it always stays in liminal space, in what Rev. Pedro calls the “in between-ness of being.”

“What if the in between-ness is actually the place where you need to be?” Rev. Pedro asks. “We’re always experiencing faith and culture in this in between-ness, in this liminal space. So we’re going to claim that as the place where you experience God’s presence. There are hundreds of Biblical references of God meeting people in the in between-ness of life. Peter was literally walking on water when Jesus grabbed his hand. Liminality can’t be more real than that.”

Comunidad Limen was also created to provide safe spaces of affirmation and welcoming for a community that is oftentimes marginalized – progressive Christian Latinos. 

“There’s a desire for a graceful faith that welcomes all the diversity within the community. When I asked my core group of leaders to join me in starting this church, they responded, ‘we thought you would never ask,’” Rev. Pedro says, “because people love to gather in community, to celebrate it, and to worship a God that gives you freedom, that liberates you.”

Despite this, he has found that when many LGBTQ families in the Latino community attend worship, they hear something judgmental about people that they love, such as their children, grandchildren, and even themselves. Comunidad Limen is a place where they are safe from experiencing any of that and can hear about a God of love, a God of welcome.

That is certainly true for the families that attended Rev. Pedro’s Sahuarita congregation 15 years ago, who are the same families that are attending his Tucson one. It’s true for folks in Mexico or in California who are now having intimate conversations about their faith, or for the grandparents who tearfully told Rev. Pedro that Comunidad Limen was the first church they’d heard about where everyone’s identity is valid.

Multiple generations take part in coloring praying mandalas, where each color represents a different prayer need. 



“That’s why we wanted to create a community that wasn’t bound by geographical location,” he shares, “but rather, a community that attends to the needs of people where they are.”

To that end, Comunidad Limen’s leadership is working with Alliance Q to expand its Familias Incluyentes ministry, where LGBTQ families share their stories with one another online, across the U.S.

“We found that a lot of the families in our community have never had a safe space to share their struggles and joys,” Rev. Pedro discloses, “without someone like a family member or friend judging.”

But even though many of the interactions among Comunidad Limen’s members are virtual, the church does conduct its ministry right on the Arizona-Mexico border and Rev. Pedro is keenly aware of what that means for his community, many members of which are immigrants.

“Our bodies never leave this space of liminality. Our faith doesn’t either. Our last names are hyphenated, our identity as Mexican-Americans is always hyphenated,” he muses. “The same thing happens in our faith journeys.”

While he describes this latest destination on his own journey as “practicing bold faith,” Rev. Pedro is also simply providing something that has been denied to so many queer Latino families – a place of worship where they and their children are welcomed with open arms, where their faith and orientations aren’t viewed as incongruous, and where they can feel liberated and loved.

“Creating a community based on love and grace takes longer, but it’s harder to break apart,” finishes Rev. Pedro. “And that’s what we’re experiencing here.”

To support congregations like Comunidad Limen, contribute to the Pentecost Offering, which is received in most congregations on May 29 and June 5. Half of the gifts made go to regional new church development and the other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies emerging faith communities and their leaders. 

Your Pentecost Offering Gifts Boost Ministry to Folks in Springfield, MO

The Connecting Grounds (TCG) has always been a Disciples congregation, it just didn’t know it.

That’s what Christie Love’s good friend, a Disciples of Christ pastor, told her when she called in the middle of June 2020. TCG’s landlord had just informed the new Springfield, MO, congregation that it must move or end its ministry doing outreach for unhoused people.

TCG provided food, clothing, and public restrooms from the strip mall location they rented. But as the Covid-19 pandemic began, the ministry to 200-plus people moved to the sidewalk in front for safety.

“My team didn’t feel like the church — the whole church— could shelter in place,” during the heightened need created by the pandemic, recalls Christie. “Yes, there were safety issues. But the call of the gospel doesn’t have a caveat for health conditions.”

When shoppers objected to “those people” being so near their grocery store, Christie called her Disciples pastor friend in frustration. As he listened, Rev. Phil Snider recognized in this independent, interdenominational worshiping community qualities that matched the Disciples ethos. He knew that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada could support his friend’s community of faith. (Through the annual Pentecost OfferingDisciples Mission Fund supports local new church development as well as New Church Ministry (NCM), which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies emerging places of worship and their leaders.) Would TCG consider joining the denomination? 

An Increasing Discomfort with Church

Christie had launched TCG nearly two years earlier out of profound discomfort with what she saw as inappropriate coziness between American faith communities and middle-class values.

“A lot of people living at or below the poverty line don’t feel welcome in American churches,” Christie says. She heard from lower-income people an awkwardness and even “shame in their inability to afford participation.”

So, Christie and her team had researched socio-economic trends within the local church context. They learned that financial status did factor heavily in membership. When they explored the lives of those who were not included in church, they found their ministry calling. Those facing decreased income, housing instability, or with their children in foster care, often had experienced significant trauma that had created those conditions. Further, many others had felt the sting of exclusion from communities of faith.

“We asked, ‘How do we create a church space that isn’t classist, that is open, especially cost-wise? How do we create one that is trauma-informed? How do we be aware of the imprint that the church has on people who’ve been the victims of weaponized and misused religion?’ These questions helped to shape our identity,” remembers Christie.

TCG’s planters had also noticed another trend: wealthier, progressive congregations on the south side of town had planted smaller congregations on the north side, focused on addiction recovery and re-entry after prison.

“It’s all good work, but there wasn’t an entry point for people that didn’t have preexisting issues,” says Christie. “It seemed like people who struggled with drugs, alcohol, or an addictive behavior were sent to (those churches). It didn’t feel like a space existed for people who were trying to understand who Jesus was.”

Building Church Around Community Need

In a neighborhood with a poverty rate of 30 percent (twice the state’s average), TCG launched a no-barrier food pantry and a clothing closet designed for low-income and unsheltered people. TCG didn’t require IDs or proof of address for participation, making access easier for visitors.

They also started Family Connection, a program developed in partnership with the county’s Children’s Division to provide space for children in foster care to visit their biological families.

“A big part of our heart from day one was to wrap around and support the reunification efforts of separated families,” Christie says, “and to do that in a loving and trauma-informed space.”

When the landlord called to challenge their operation in her building, Christie knew the congregation was not going to abandon the call they felt to welcome people unconditionally. She called Rev. Phil to pray with her. He prayed. But he also introduced her to Disciples who could help.

New Partners

Christie learned the Disciples of Christ Mid-America region owned an empty property in her community, so she met with Regional Minister Rev. Ron Routledge, who then connected her with former Regional Minister Rev. Christine Chenoweth. In her meetings with Rev. Christine, Christie discovered not just help for the faith community, but for herself as well.

“She pastorally cared for me as a faith leader in ways that I’ve never experienced,” says Christie. “So often pastors love on people. There aren’t a lot of people loving back. She recognized we were going through a traumatic situation – grieving the loss of our location. She connected us to the wider church (including NCM) and introduced us to Disciples pastors in the area.”

In short order, TCG became affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and accepted an early termination of its lease. Then it relocated to a small house and empty church building the region provided.

The house became the Family Connection center, providing a homelike environment for parents visiting their children in foster care. Interior walls were removed to open the floor plan, a kitchenette and a dining room table were added, and family-friendly board games were brought in.

Not Navigating Alone

But the new location presents its own challenges. The facility can shelter only 15 individuals each night in the church building – a far cry from the hundreds it used to house and shelter. Furthermore, the new location is on a very busy state road without any sidewalks. Even public transportation proves problematic, as there is a lack of bus stops nearby. 

However, as they navigate these new challenges, the people of TCG aren’t doing so on their own. NCM and local DoC churches have stepped up. 

Through Leadership Academy, which is the ministry’s annual educational opportunity for pastors and core teams of both established and newly planted churches, Christie has been able to share her knowledge about trauma-informed ministry. Through relationships with local pastors, she has found peer support.

Today, Christie and her team plan to create phase one of a US $12 million transitional supportive shelter called Roots of Community, which will provide affordable housing through an apartment complex with a community and daycare center on-site. Already, they have petitioned the city council for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and started fund-raising efforts.

The TCG team also bought a small respite house this year to support people receiving chemotherapy or hospice care, as there are few places in Springfield for them to go to. 

“As we’re building relationships with people, we’re including them in community, and making them feel welcome,” says Christie.

With NCM and other Disciples partners sharing the load, TCG will continue to look for innovative ways to fill gaps the church has historically missed in Springfield. For Christie, an evolving ministry is what innovative theology is all about.

“We never say, ‘Okay, we accomplished this,’ because love, justice, and mercy are the things that we’re called to, there’s always going to be a call to something deeper and higher.”

You Can Help

Gifts made to the Pentecost Offering support New Church Ministry and innovative new church development, like The Connecting Grounds. This Special Day Offering will be received in most congregations on May 29 and June 5. For additional information and resources that you can share with church members, visit pentecost-offering.com

How the church can respond to sexual assault

A condensed version of this post appeared in the April issue of the New Church Know-It-All.

“Every 68 seconds an American is Sexually Assaulted,” according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that sexual assault occurs at a rate of 22 incidents per 1,000 people aged 15 and older. Friends, April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. I imagine you have never heard these statistics on sexual assaults before. They are staggering and eye-opening. I believe there are five main reasons why we never discuss statistics like this.

  1. Fear, we are afraid of speaking out about things we cannot see, especially if they are subversive and taboo. If we don’t talk about them, then they don’t exist.
  2. Shame, we feel as though we could shame abusers or the abused if we speak about the pain that lurks in the shadows.
  3. Disbelief, we are comforted by our inability to see the trauma and pain that some folks are holding in the silence in our own communities.
  4. Normativity, we are lulled into the media narrative that abuse is a part of our normative social landscape.
  5. Responsibility Shifting, we believe this is not a ministry we are called to, that someone else is doing this work and that is enough. The sexual assault that occurs every 68 seconds is not the fault of the victims, it is ours. We must all do this work, because abuse is thriving in the shadows and we have the light!

You might be asking “How can we impact child abuse prevention?” Here are a few ways: 

  • know what child abuse is, report it, educate yourself and others, teach children their rights, invest in kids and volunteer.
  • Consider creating space for education and healing in your sanctuary. I created a space called the Sanc Tea Ary, where I have curated abuse recovery books, journals, art supplies, tea and local resources for individuals who are trying to navigate toxic situations. 

Maybe you haven’t felt equipped to start a “Movement for Wholeness” in your community. If so, please take a look at these resources for education and support:

I want to assure you that speaking out, preaching, and teaching on these topics offers folks the strength and space to shed shame and feel seen.

We have the ability and responsibility to shift the normative comfortability with abuse in our lifetime. Clergy colleagues, we belong to one of the largest institutions with offices (sanctuaries) all over our countries. We are poised to “Set the captives free” as clarified in Luke 4:18. We are the denomination that lives into the promise that we are a “Movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” No one is more fragmented than a victim of abuse. As always, I recommend that you increase your understanding of complex abuse dynamics before offering counseling. It is easy to say the wrong thing. You can find my clergy training offering here.


Courtney Armento
Rev. Courtney Armento, Co-Author of GA1928

Courtney Armento is driven to inspire the power of community to create systemic change, in that vein, she co-authored resolution GA-1928, A Call to See and Respond to the Crisis of Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence. This resolution is a call to action for the whole church around education, support and reduction of violence at every level of the church and community. Currently, due to the subversive nature of abuse, leaders do not believe that abuse is happening in their communities. Courtney is intentionally Un*Unsilencing Domestic Violence with her clergy and community training curriculum. You can find out more about her work and resources at Tethered1.org. Check out her social media for more on Instagram and Facebook.

Jose Martinez announced as transitional NCM leader

Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF), which oversees New Church Ministry (NCM) on behalf of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), announces a transitional leader for the NCM Team.

Jose Martinez

Jose Martinez, Associate Minister of New Church Strategies, will join outgoing Minister of New Church Strategies Terrell McTyer in overlapping leadership until the end of January, when McTyer begins a new position with a global, ecumenical ministry and Martinez takes transitional leadership of NCM.

Martinez has planted churches, launched innovative ministries, and served in hospital and military chaplaincy. He joined the New Church Ministry Team in 2019.

“Jose brings a wealth of experience, an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep commitment to both NCM and DCEF,” said Belinda King, DCEF President. “His grasp of the mission and vision of New Church Ministry provides the kind of continuity we need as we discern next steps with our church-wide partners.”

Martinez co-planted Multi Nation Christian Church, the largest and only Haitian Ministry in the Midwest for the Disciples of Christ. He also founded MissioKC, a micro-church based in Kansas City, Mo., focused on “helping make the world around us a spiritually healthier place.” 

Martinez sees the interim as a time to “ensure that the next Minister of New Church Strategies has a strong foundation to help Disciples live more fully into our identity as a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”

“The watch word for this season is ‘continuity,’” he said. “We will double down on nurturing our churchwide partnerships, even as we continue the work of training new leaders, equipping the church, assisting regions, and multiplying disciples.”

Disciples Church Extension Fund inspires and empowers congregations to create Holy Places where people connect with God, each other, and the community.

NCM leader accepts new post; interim to serve transition

Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF), which oversees New Church Ministry (NCM) on behalf of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), announces the leader of NCM will step down at the end of January.

Terrell McTyer

Terrell L. McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies, has accepted a position as Executive Director of Global Marketing and Innovation at The Upper Room, an ecumenical ministry dedicated to supporting the spiritual life of Christians around the world.

“I am excited about the future,” Terrell said, “but it’s bittersweet to accept a new post, given my passion for this work. I’m going to miss this calling very much.”

Terrell began his work with New Church Ministry in August 2016, as the church was already successfully nearing the 2020 Vision goal to form 1,000 new Disciples congregations. NCM continued the momentum of this achievement by convening the New Church Summit, which set new aspirations for the movement to “make one million new disciples by 2030.”

Pastor Terrell leaves the ministry “in a sustainable position precisely because it is not dependent on a small, centralized group of leaders,” he said. “It truly is the work of the whole church.”

Under his leadership, the New Church Leadership Cooperative was established to bring together the dedicated leaders and teams of regional new church work to share in the strengthening practices of emerging congregations.

“This ministry would not be what it is if it were not for the team making it happen – not just the folks on New Church staff, but the whole DCEF staff,” Terrell added. “All the regional and general leaders across the church have played a critical role in its success. This is what gives me confidence that this vision will continue and rise to a new level with new leadership. Plus, just consider how many people continue to pray for this work to prosper!”

With an emphasis on the spiritual grounding of the movement, Terrell oversaw the launch of Water the Plants — a weekly prayer initiative that has hosted multiple prayer summits.

“It’s no surprise Terrell has been called to yet another ministry that values his innovative spirit,” Rick Reisinger, DCEF President, said. “Disciples have certainly benefited from his many gifts.”

Belinda R. King, who assumes leadership as President of DCEF on January 1, 2022, understands the impact this opening has on the entire Church.

“I will ensure that an interim is named before Terrell’s departure, so that NCM stays consistent in serving congregations and the wider Church,” she stated. “We will work faithfully with our churchwide partners to plan steps for the long term.”

Leadership Academy 2021

Leadership Academy expands its reach but keeps God’s work as its focus

150 registrants. 16 workshop leaders. 15 vendors. Seven denominations. All coming together for three days!

Despite being held online for a second year running, this didn’t stop church planters, regional representatives, and lay leaders from taking part in New Church Ministry’s Leadership Academy. In fact, registration was almost double what it was in 2020, with attendees reflecting age and racial diversity.

Moreover, with the Multiply Track session—a new addition for 2021—program staff, boards, and clergy of established congregations were able to learn alongside their peers, too. This cohort, facilitated by Pastor Terrell L McTyer (Minister of New Church Strategies) and Christie Love (pastor and church planter of The Connecting Grounds in Springfield, MO), was the largest track with 60 registrants who explored vision and problem statements, as well as growth and fixed mindsets.

But what keeps past participants returning year after year? Not only is it other tracks for core teams at the same stage of the church launch process, but it’s also thought-provoking plenaries, interactive practical workshops, and dedicated time for fellowship.

Learning in their own contexts

During the Start Track, core teams who had not yet planted their communities of faith joined from as far away as Maryland and California. Led by New Church Ministry Associate Minister Rev. Dr. Jose Martinez and New Church Ministry coach Pastor Jorge “Joey” Cotto, core teams of emerging faith communities explored how church planting has changed since the pandemic and how tools such as a spiritual gifts inventory can help leaders identify their skills and talents.

Meanwhile, in the Sustain Track, Sandy Harvey (long-time Leadership Academy track facilitator and President and CEO of Exodus Consulting Group), Carla Leon (New Initiatives Manager for the United Church of Canada’s EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development), and Rev. Selena Reyes (chair of the Florida region’s New Church Ministry Commission and the event’s Spanish translator) discussed money and marketing/branding with core teams that had recently launched their places of worship.

“As a founder, you are your brand,” shared Carla, who has previously teamed up with New Church Ministry on an episode of New Church Hacks and the Hopeful Economics UnConference

Sharing wisdom and experiences

Leadership Academy’s plenaries, or DOCTalks, are joint sessions led by a thought leader who addresses missional transformation. This year, the thought leaders were first-timer Rev. Dr. Eun Strawser (co-vocational church planter and physician), who spoke about disciple-making; returning guest Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija (Founding Director of TryTank), who spoke about innovation; and Rev. Dr. Delesslyn Kennebrew (Minister for New and Transforming Churches in the Greater Kansas City region), who led the event’s Commissioning Service.

“Discipleship is meant for everyone and not just some,” Rev. Dr. Eun told those present. “It’s meant to imitate Jesus and to have concrete models around us in order to imitate Jesus.”

Learn.Explore.Actuate.Discover.Laboratories

Leadership Academy’s workshops, or LEADLabs, are designed to help leaders imagine, innovate, and implement sustainable concepts. While the workshop leaders, called Spiritual Scientists and Subject Matter Experts, discussed topics ranging from building management to financial independence, the topic of rest was a common one that resonated with participants.

“Leadership Academy saved me from overworking myself and reminded me to lead with God first,” recalled Queen of New Eyes Village Church in Fort Collins, CO, a Leadership Academy participant.

Building connections

Participants had time to get to know one another during Wednesday morning’s Breakout & Breakfast session, a staple of the last couple years that has proven to be popular with those in attendance.

“The Leadership Academy is empowering me to align myself with God’s call, knowing that I’m not alone,” wrote Rev. Kristin Aardema Faigh, a Leadership Academy participant, in her feedback for the event, “and that what I am called to do is important, and possible.”

Breakout rooms were also used during tracks to enable participants to collaborate in small groups.

The future of Leadership Academy

What enabled this potentially unwieldy undertaking to take place? The hard work and dedication of Project Coordinator Wesley King, who organized speakers, facilitated registration, and helped attendees navigate the event’s digital platforms such as Zoom, Teachable, and Whova, the latter of which was also a 2021 addition.

“This was my first Leadership Academy,” explained Wesley, “and it was amazing to see the way that God is moving and working in the lives and ministries of folks all over the United States and Canada!”

And next year? Well, next year, Leadership Academy will continue to be an exclusively digital gathering, and the Church can only imagine the various opportunities that God will provide us to see the Spirit moving.

Understanding God and the church at the Water the Plants Prayer Summit

In her teaching on the spiritual discipline of prayer at the recent Water the Plants Prayer Summit, Rev. Dr. Martha Brown, a member of the Board of Directors for Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF), recounted the story of Jacob to both returning and first-time attendees of the Water the Plants initiative’s prayer-focused virtual event. As Rev. Dr. Martha told it, after stealing his brother’s birthright, this patriarch of the Israelites fled for the land of his mother’s brother, where he married and had children. For years, Jacob worked for his uncle, accumulating wealth and servants. Eventually, he decided to return home, sending his family, maids, and animals ahead of him. Along the way, Jacob found himself alone on the banks of the Jabbok, a tributary of the river Jordan. There he wrestled with a man until daybreak, when Jacob asked for a blessing, asked God for His name. This, Rev. Dr. Martha reminded those in attendance, was a moment of prayer.

“What we pray for shapes and expresses our understanding of who God is,” she explained. 

And it also reflects how the church sees itself and what it wants to be.

At the June Prayer Summit, a virtual event that convened supporters of emerging and affiliating congregations and their leaders, they prayed for the Office of the General Minister and President, general and regional ministries, church planters, and all the faithful connections across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. At the surface level, these were simple prayers for leadership. But in them, coaches, prayer call leaders, chaplains, and others acknowledged the sin of racism, the calls for reparations, and the hope that building the beloved community brings. More than one participant viewed new places of worship as fresh expressions of this beloved community.

Pastor John Powell

“We pray Lord that you will help us understand that you didn’t come to Earth and walk this planet for those days to rebuild a past temple,” said Pastor John Powell, a member of DCEF’s Board of Directors, “but you came to make something new.” 

Alongside the passion for new church were calls for older congregations to follow the example being set by their younger counterparts, who, in the eyes of more than one regional new church team member at the gathering, are often creative and innovative in their approaches to serving their neighborhoods.

“Christians need fires lit underneath them,” enthused Ramona Crawford, a lay member of University Christian Church in San Diego, CA. “New church is the fire that Jesus is lighting under the established church.”

Rev. Dr. Joi Robinson

The summer Summit was the second such online event for New Church Ministry’s church-wide initiative, bringing together Disciples from Kansas, Washington, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Minnesota. Like the inaugural event that took place on March 6, this Summit was hosted by Rev. Dr. Joi Robinson, Associate Minister of New Church Strategies, and included prayers for resources and relationships, testimony on the impact that prayer had on the development of a church plant, and a scripture shower. Unlike its predecessor, this event introduced a spoken word piece performed by Rev. Yvonne Gilmore, Interim Associate General Minister & Administrative Secretary of the National Convocation, called “Dangerously Reliable Tide.” In it, she echoed the feelings of those present, lamenting the limits of the church that she knows, but finding comfort and solace in prayer.

Rev. Yvonne Gilmore

“When you find yourself behind enemy lines

When trust is running away

When cumulus clouds look thirsty against the backdrop of a blues people

Water the plants

Access the portal within beyond the edge of yourself

Make dust speak

Post a help wanted sign in the window of your heart

Water outside the building

Saturate the soil

Practice talking to dry bones

Notice the budding before you

Delight in dialogue

Water the depths, pray without ceasing, you are inviting a dangerously reliable tide.”

Wesley King

How fitting then, that the Summit ended with the Lord’s Prayer (sung by Wesley King, New Church Ministry’s Program Coordinator), another reminder of the Christian faith’s humble origins, and of a yearning to connect with something larger than ourselves – and of our church.     

Register for New Church Ministry’s next Water the Plants Prayer Summit, which will take place on October 2 from 1:00 to 3:00 PM EST.

The image is a screenshot of nine participants in a Zoom meeting on providing communal care for deaf people. Five of them are making the American Sign Language sign for the phrase 'I love you.'

“We’ve got some work to do.” Increasing accessibility through ASL

For the past few years, New Church Ministry has worked hard to make its services accessible to Disciples across the United States and Canada.

It has provided Pentecost Offering resources in different languages, including Korean, Spanish, and French.

The ministry has recorded all of its New Church Hacks episodes so that people who can’t be present at the time can view the webinars at a later date.

Despite these developments, New Church Ministry hasn’t provided accommodations for those with hearing impairments or hearing loss.

“This year of social isolation has reminded me that there are people who feel isolated because they can’t hear the conversation that’s happening in the room,” shared Pastor Terrell L McTyer (Minister of New Church Strategies). “And we need to be more inclusive.”

That’s why he organized The New Wave Pentecost Series: Exploring American Sign Language (ASL) in Communal Care with My SupaNatural Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to making (w)holistic spiritual care accessible to those that need it the most, including those living with chronic conditions and their support systems. The virtual event featured art, videos, signing lessons, and interviews with panellists, who were all accompanied by an ASL interpreter on screen.

The image is a screenshot of nine participants in a Zoom meeting on providing communal care for deaf people. Five of them are making the American Sign Language sign for the word 'love.'
Pastor Terrell notes the similarities between the sign for the word ‘love’ and the symbol of “Wakanda forever” from the movie The Black Panther.

“600,000 people in the United States are deaf, and more than half are 65 years of age or older. Six million people in America report having a lot of trouble hearing,” reported Rev. YaNi Davis, My SupaNatural Life’s founder and someone who experiences hearing loss herself. “It felt timely to expand our education.”

There are 357,000 culturally Deaf Canadians and 3.21 million hard of hearing Canadians. ASL is the primary sign language used in Canada.

Participants of the event even learned how to sign the chorus from Kool and the Gang’s song “Celebration” from health educator Dr. Ashia James Ph.D.

Most importantly, the webinar provided an opportunity for people who use ASL or are deaf to share their experiences.

“It was powerful to hear the stories of those who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Wesley King, Program Coordinator. “These experiences gave you insight into their lives and compels you to find ways that you can be more empathetic and understanding.”

Gaining insight into deaf lives

The first time I saw Ashley, she walked into a party and started screaming,” remembers panelist Alyssa Lucchesi, a recent graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)’s ASL program. “I was ready to go to bed, so I thought, ‘who is this girl with all this sound right now?’ because deaf spaces are very loud. The music’s bumping because deaf people love to feel that bass.” 

Alyssa met her friend and fellow panellist Ashley M, who is deaf, in her first year at RIT. While they both worked as leaders at a camp for deaf youth called EYF (Explore Your Future), Ashley doesn’t consider herself a guide.

“When we’re talking about teamwork, I see myself as a peer,” clarifies Ashley. “It’s very important to be actively listening and actively watching.”

Panellist Sharon Meek was also exposed to ASL in an educational setting when she became a P.E. teacher at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf. Her students’ experiences with hearing loss or deafness were emblematic of the ones shared by more than one panellist.

“There were kids that we taught that were deaf from birth or that had some sort of illness that caused them to lose their hearing,” recalls Sharon. “It went all the way down the continuum to those who were hard of hearing who could not function in a typical classroom.” 

Things we need to do next

Over the hour spent together, attendees from as far away as Arizona, Indiana, Virginia, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and Michigan were taught how to expand accessibility and care for deaf and hard-of-hearing folks in their communities.

  • Always include folks who are hard of hearing or deaf. Welcome them into the discussion.
  • Be mindful when making videos. Think about who’s around you and in your environment. When you’re posting it to social media, ask yourself, how can I make it more visual using captions or other tools? You can turn on closed captions for YouTube videos. Zoom also recently introduced a closed captioning feature, but if it cannot generate captions, there are third parties that can do so. Make sure that the letters are large enough for people to read.
  • Don’t be afraid or self-conscious about not knowing how to communicate with deaf people. Even waving, saying hello, or making eye contact are big things.
  • If you’re interested in becoming an ASL interpreter, meet some deaf people, become involved, and learn the language. See if it’s for you before you register for a tech program and make a career out of it. If you want to get certified, you need a four-year degree (RIT, the University of Arizona, and Tarrant County College are good places to start). Still, you don’t need a degree if you want to interpret. Please be aware that this can pose problems for deaf people as they are the ones that suffer from unqualified interpreters. Know the spaces you’re in.
  • If you really want to support the deaf community, learn about some deaf history. Meet some deaf friends and socialize. Pick up the language that way.

If you registered for our ASL event, then you’ve been automatically registered for future installments of The New Wave Pentecost Series, including our neurodiversity webinar on July 24 at 2:00 PM PST and our English as a Second Language webinar on October 23 at 2:00 PM PST. If you haven’t already signed up, you can do so here.

Stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available!

Ekklesia

Finding a path to God with Ekklesia Global

Michelle Beech lives and works in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In her words, that’s not where she’s from, but that’s where God has her now.

Due to her father’s career as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), she’s lived all over the United States. So it’s fitting that her new community of faith, Ekklesia Global, has people joining their video calls from across the country and across the world. 

Michelle Beech (back row) visits a waterfall with members of her faith community.

Ekklesia launched in 2019, after Michelle had taken a break from church. Over the years she had filled almost every single position one could at a Disciples congregation and needed some time away. 

“I felt the Lord leading me to do something new,” Michelle says in a recent interview with New Church Ministry. “Was that digital church? But how do we use technology to create something beautiful, instead of trying to force what we know works in a building to fit the medium?”

So in March of that year, she hosted a listening retreat to hear what her friends’ spiritual needs were. It turns out that many of them had left church 30 to 40 years ago and others, five to ten years ago. Still others hadn’t found a place of worship that was right for them since moving to the area.

“Some people left church when they were young. They walked away from God and they haven’t been involved since,” Michelle tells us. “To some degree, they’re unchurched because they have that one early experience with their inherited faith, instead of their chosen faith.”

She led them through what she was thinking she wanted to do – to create an outreach ministry serving the new mission field of our own backyards – primarily for those who have left traditional church. After receiving feedback, Michelle came away with some helpful information. She then invited people interested in what she was doing to an Easter sunrise worship service, which was Ekklesia’s first official meeting. After that, they got together periodically and talked about God, read books, and learned about sacred dance. Because they didn’t have a fixed space, it freed them up to locate venues that would fit the particular service.

“We didn’t look at what we could do within the confines of four walls,” Michelle shares. “We are a church without walls.”

This structure made the transition to online gatherings easier for Ekklesia after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Participants meet on Zoom every week, where they bring the best of their own faith journeys. And yet Ekklesia is more than just a series of virtual gatherings. It’s an inclusive faith community, encouraging all to keep moving forward on their own path to God. Michelle believes that real spiritual growth happens in intimate settings, so Ekklesia is being developed as a collective of small groups.

“Some people like going into a new church that’s big, because they can disappear until they’re comfortable,” she says. “So this might be a little intimidating.”

Creating a safe space of radical hospitality has thus become an important aspect of Ekklesia for Michelle. She avoids using vocabulary that would alienate the de-churched and eschews membership. 

“We don’t teach a particular theology,” she adds. “We inspire people to keep exploring and discovering by exposing them to different theologies.”

To that end, Ekklesia features guest speakers such as the Rev. Hannah Fitch, a member of its theology team, who introduced participants to ecofeminist theology, and Rev. Ronnie C. Lister, a founder of The International Center for Labor, Social and Spiritual Activism, who discussed Black liberation theology the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day.

For Michelle, Ekklesia is about getting people to the Table.

“I’m not looking to convert anybody, but if I had a Muslim friend come be part of these conversations around faith, he could hear why Jesus works for me, and I could hear why his faith has led him down this path and kept him close to God,” she emphasizes. “Without the conversation, neither of us ever get there.”

Michelle adds that she’s under care of the North Carolina region and working toward being commissioned. Ordination may come down the road, but that’s not where she feels she’s being led. Michelle refers to herself as a shepherd, one who makes sure Ekklesia’s conversations stick to its tenets of loving unconditionally, celebrating differences, seeking joy, and being a catalyst for positive change.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t take her leadership role seriously. Last year, Michelle and her team attended Leadership Academy, an annual event hosted by New Church Ministry that empowers leaders, regardless of their denominational affiliation.

When we ask her what to expect at an Ekklesia meeting, she holds up a neon green notebook. Michelle explains that every new participant receives one, even if journaling isn’t their thing, because she wants to at least provide them with a resource, a holding place for their thoughts and feelings that they can turn to at another time. As she describes it, journaling can be a way to meditate – after all, the simple act of writing something with a pen and paper requires time and attention. 

“If nothing else, you’ll see it,” Michelle chuckles, “and be reminded of the circle of people who love you.”

Other than a brightly colored notebook, participants in an Ekklesia meeting can also anticipate thought-provoking discussions shaped and formed by other attendees. After her friend and chairman of the board, who left the Catholic Church when he was 13 years old, came to her asking about her thoughts on original sin, she decided to do a series on “big God questions.” Michelle admits that she began to interrogate what she was taught, where her beliefs came from, and if she still held them today. 

“I really started thinking harder about my answers,” she recalls. “And in doing that, I was then excited to share the Bible with the group because it’s been a wonderful source of inspiration, hope, and wisdom that I put on a pedestal.”

Michelle is careful to point out that she doesn’t bring in the Bible to teach others her way of practicing her faith, but to inform their own personal faith journeys. She knows that others have different interpretations of Scripture and all she can do is share what works for her and why.

“So they get a ton of my Jesus stories,” Michelle laughs, “and a ton of my Holy Spirit stories!”

Over the past couple years, she says that she’s learned to step back and be more sensitive and unassuming as she’s gotten Ekklesia off of the ground. Michelle advises other church planters to trust the spirit and allow themselves to be open so that God can work through them.

“Let me tell you, if I had done what I thought needed to be done,” she jokes, “I probably would have pushed some of these people away!”

While 80% to 90% of Ekklesia’s participants identify as Christian, others see themselves as spiritual instead. It’s not that they’ve abandoned Jesus Christ’s teachings, Michelle clarifies, they just got frustrated with the people and the politics and decided to walk away from organized religion.

“They still love God and believe in Jesus,” she says. “They think we could easily build the kingdom on earth, if we would all just do our part.”

When we ask Michelle how Disciples can do their part to support new faith communities like Ekklesia, she encourages them to contribute to the Pentecost Offering, which divides gifts between the Regions and New Church Ministry. New Church Ministry uses gifts from this Special Day Offering to develop and maintain programs such as coaching and New Church Hacks

“New Church Ministry’s resources and training help Disciples develop new ideas on how to do church,” she summarizes. “The biggest leap I made was the day I realized that just because I wasn’t specifically teaching a certain way, didn’t mean that I wasn’t doing important work to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples.”

The Pentecost Offering is collected in most congregations on May 16 and May 23.