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. 

Pentecost Offering

May 16, 2021 @ 8:00 am 5:00 pm EDT

Be the New Church

For the past thirteen months, many Disciples have been struggling with social isolation. They’ve stayed away from their various places of worship to protect the health and safety of themselves and others. It has been difficult.

How have new church leaders responded? By launching communities of faith in creative and innovative ways.

It’s looked like spreading the word about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada through Door Dash food deliveries, meeting with folks every week on Zoom to discuss anxiety, and making sure that the spiritual needs of those transitioning out of correctional facilities are met.

From hospital and prison chaplains to tri-vocational pastors, courageous new church leaders have answered the call to be the new church.

To support them and their efforts to continue the new church movement, please contribute to the 2021 Pentecost Offering, collected in most congregations on Sundays, May 16 and May 23. Each year, half of the gifts made go to your own Region to support local new church development. The other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies new church leaders. Through programs such as Leadership Academy, New Church Hacks, and Water the Plants, your gifts make a difference across the life of the Church. By participating in this Special Day Offering, you ensure the viability, vitality and sustainability of unique new church plants in your area and in states, provinces, and territories far away.

Please consider giving generously. Let’s all be the new church, together.

To access additional Pentecost Offering resources, including printable PDFs, videos, and graphics, visit the Disciples Mission Fund website.

incarceration

What a congregation for those impacted by incarceration can teach the church about welcoming all

Rev. Dr. Louis Threatt never thought he’d be a pastor.  

But that changed when he became a prison chaplain in North Carolina, where he noticed a disconnect between church and prison.

In a recent video call with New Church Ministry, Rev. Dr. Louis tells us that there’s both a lack of prison ministries and congregations doing prison ministry well.

incarceration
Rev. Dr. Louis Threatt

“In Matthew 25, Jesus asks ‘did you visit me?’ Churches will use that text to check this box off, even if they do little more than stop by,” Rev. Louis says. “Others will come into the prison and preach fire and brimstone.”

Attitudes toward those who have been incarcerated are not much better after they’re released.

According to Rev. Louis, when someone is released from prison and enters into a church, a simple introduction can be very uncomfortable, as some struggle between revealing that they’ve been incarcerated and having their past exposed or waiting until somebody finds out and then being treated differently. 

So he asked himself, why not have a place of worship that welcomes everybody? 

In February 2020, after several discussions with God and confirmation through friends, Rev. Louis and others pressed forward with planting a faith community for those impacted by incarceration, including those that served time, are currently serving time, and their families, as well as those that work inside these institutions. The pastor counts himself as a part of this community, as one of his best friends and several of his immediate family members have been incarcerated. For example, his sister spent 17 years behind bars, but is out now and doing very well. 

“I know what it’s like writing to somebody who’s locked up, visiting them, talking to someone through a glass window, wondering when you can see them on the outside,” he says, “and I know what it is like beholding the joy when they’re released.” 

Rev. Louis’s prison coworkers would say that he was doing time just like the inmates, but he knew the difference was that he could leave when he wanted to. 

“I can never fully understand the experience of somebody who has been incarcerated,” he clarifies.

Being on the other side though hasn’t exactly been easy for Rev. Louis. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and it’s continuing to rise. The rates for African American males have gone from one in 12, to one in eight, to one in three.

“Seeing that increase, and witnessing the vast number of persons of color inside, especially as an African American man, has been challenging,” he admits. “So have the conversations with people that have served their time, have been released, and returned. Some of them informed me that they recommitted just to get back in for a peace of mind and less responsibility. Unfortunately, this is a challenge for many who do not receive the support that is needed, especially the kind that can come from the church.”

So in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rev. Louis and others started developing a community of faith focused on incarceration. He knew that he could wait until he had more funds and more planning, but that this need was too great and urgent. So in June 2020, Cities of Refuge Christian Church (DOC) was launched. 

“I have pastored other congregations and I’m not big on starting a church just for starting a church,” says Rev. Louis. “I feel called to this particular ministry, and in this particular fashion. Our mission is to share Jesus Christ’s goodness, words, and teachings. We are open to and for those that are left out, abandoned, and forgotten.”

When we inquire about his involvement with New Church Ministry, he gives high praise to Pastor Terrell L McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies.

“Pastor Terrell has helped extend some of this vision that God has put on me,” remarks Rev. Louis, “and been able to help formulate some of my radical ideas.”

In addition, he is grateful for the spiritual guidance through others such as his pastor, Bishop William J. Barber II and NC Regional Minister Bishop Valerie Melvin. (Watch Cities of Refuge Church’s video that was shown at the recent Regional assembly.)

A virtual worship service

Participants gather on Zoom and there are plans to explore sites in the area between Durham and Hillsborough once COVID-19 restrictions ease. As for the name, Rev. Louis turned to the Old Testament, when the Israelites were crossing over the Jordan River. In Joshua 20, God tells Joshua to set up cities of refuge. Those that have committed a crime can flee to one of these cities and be received without judgement, and protected and loved.

“There’s a lot of cities of refuge that focus on refugees, those that have been pushed to the margins, those in the LGBTQ+ community,” Rev. Louis says. “But you rarely see any that particularly serve who the scripture talks about.”

People tend to point out that these cities of refuge are for those who have committed a crime unknowingly. Rev. Louis counters this argument with Matthew 5. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” He goes on to say, “My father rains on the just and the unjust,” and to greet everybody even the least of these. Rev. Louis then presents the case of Barabbas, who was serving a life sentence for murder until he was released by Jesus.

“How can we pick and choose who we invite into the church?” Rev. Louis questions. “I don’t believe that’s the God we serve. That’s not Jesus. In fact, many forget that Jesus was an inmate.”

Rev. Dr. Louis and a volunteer

So Cities of Refuge Church’s congregants include people who have been incarcerated, those who have been impacted by incarceration, and others who are passionate about the work that is happening. Their worship services are like any other services – they have music, invocation, prayer, and scripture reading. Every Sunday, Rev. Louis intentionally sets time aside for testimony to hear celebrations. In our ministry’s interview with him, he offers two examples. One is of a worshiper who sang in a prison choir, was released, and now continues his passion for music with Cities of Refuge. He shared with the church that he was able to get his ankle bracelet removed and is no longer on curfew. Another is of a member who was serving a life sentence and was released after 29 years. This individual shared the joy of receiving his driver’s license and insurance.

“These brothers are putting everything on the table, keeping us on track with what they are doing,” explains Rev. Louis. “So we stopped and put our hands together to celebrate these wonderful accomplishments. Getting a driver’s license might seem like a small achievement to a lot of people, but this is huge for him and us.”

Rev. Louis tells us that for his brothers and sisters at Cities of Refuge (COR) and elsewhere across the country, finding somebody after they get out—other than a judge or a probation officer—to hold them accountable, to check on their spirit and peace of mind, and see how things are going and offer support, is essential. That’s why he and his associate ministers and other members build relationships with individuals before and when they come out. Rev. Louis believes that strong support systems, like families and religious groups such as his, will decrease the recidivism rate.

In addition to worship, COR visits homeless shelters and transitional homes at least four times a year, but supports them on a monthly basis. Rev. Louis shares with us an experience of a trip to one such transitional home that he and others at COR had previously been to. On their second visit, an employee there informed them that a neighbor was shot and killed the night before, so he and his staff were hesitant about letting COR return. In the end, they let them visit and serve.

incarceration
COR visits a transitional home

“I’m glad that they did,” divulges Rev. Louis. “We were setting up to do a fish fry and community give away, when a woman approached us and said that people living nearby were sad and heartbroken over the killing of the young man, but our congregation’s presence was bringing them life. So we prayed, gave out food, and blasted music. It was a great joy to help this transitional home and the neighborhood in the midst of pain.”

He and his colleagues anticipate making more consistent visits this year as well as providing educational and partnership opportunities to those who have been impacted by incarceration. Additionally, the congregation has a faith team with the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham and Rev. Louis is one of the facilitators that helps mitigate sentencing and reduce recidivism.

incarceration
COR visits another transitional home.

He hopes that COR can lead by example and change the narrative when it comes to the church supporting those impacted by incarceration. Helping them to reintegrate back into society without feeling ashamed, nor scrutinized but supported in every way. If other congregations can see that returning citizens and those who have been convicted of a crime have done their time, guilty or not, can further help strengthen the church as part of the body, then maybe they’ll consider forming a prison ministry, reevaluate the one that they have, and/or how they’re currently doing ministry as a whole.

“These people coming out are not just inmates,” he emphasizes, “they’re our brothers and sisters.”

To support churches like COR, make a gift to the Pentecost Offering, collected in most congregations on May 16 and 23. This Special Day Offering is divided between New Church Ministry and local Regions.

Navigating death, intimacy, and the palpable nature of online church with Rev. Orlando Scott

New Church Ministry’s interview with Rev. Orlando Scott started later than expected.

As a chaplain at Northside Hospital in Lawrenceville and Duluth, Ga., he had just spent time in comfort care with a dying patient and her boyfriend, who had been brought down from another floor. Rev. Orlando is busy turning on lamps in his office to improve the dull clinical lighting and apologizing for his tardiness when he joins our video call.

Even though we ask if he wants to reschedule, Rev. Orlando replies that it isn’t a problem, this is everyday life for him and his colleagues, including the intern who pops into the room to confirm his patient’s death.

As we get to know Rev. Orlando better throughout the afternoon, our ministry comes to understand that what he says rings true: journeying with people as God meets them where they are is part of his day-to-day life, whether it’s virtually gathering on Wednesday nights with members of his new congregation, Amplify Christian Church (DOC), or urging legislators at the Georgia state Senate to love the homeless as much as they love the homeowner, or even handing out food to local residents.

Before the pandemic, Rev. Orlando officiated the marriage of one of his co-workers.

“I just want to be a helping hand, a listening ear, a compassionate heart,” he tells us. “That’s the way I approach pastoral ministry.”

Before he launched Amplify Christian Church last year, Rev. Orlando was on the team to create mental health awareness and advocacy programming for pastoral leadership in his region as part of its mental health initiative. As a hospital chaplain, he regularly interacts with folks experiencing mental illness, so he went from asking himself, “how do I become aware?” to “how do I become a partner?”

This way of thinking has served him well, especially since he planted his faith community right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, he had several conversations with the former Regional Director of New Church & Church Development, Rev. Richard Williams, about the different sites that the Christian Church in Georgia was looking at developing, including Snellville, a city not 10 minutes away from where Rev. Orlando lives. He asked to look at the building and if anyone occupied it. It turns out no one was, so Rev. Orlando began to develop a ministry there. He brought relatives and others that live in or near the community to the site, and asked them what they envisioned for it. The plan was to open in March of 2020, which, for obvious reasons, did not go through. But what did end up happening was numerous calls with friends who were anxious about the state of the world. Rev. Orlando initially responded by organizing an online Bible study about anxiety, that has now moved on to studies about mutually supportive relationships. On Zoom meetings, he and his friends have explored the Book of Ruth, and how the three women in the story sustained each other over time through their crisis. Rev. Orlando has found that creating vital relationships during the past 13 months has been essential as people still need ways to communicate with each other. This last quarter, the topic of his weekly conversations has been how to love and grow in community, even in the midst of continued isolation.

The number of congregants has grown too, from six to 11, as family members and friends join. Rev. Orlando also welcomes those from different faith traditions and even those without a faith tradition.

“On a day-to-day basis, I meet people in all types of circumstances and spiritual or religious traditions,” he shares. “These exchanges undergird how I envision what church or a pastor should or could be.”

And yet, he’s wary of adding additional participants to his meetings at this time, as he doesn’t want to lose the dynamic he’s built with his fellow worshipers. Many of the people Rev. Orlando’s met through Amplify have experienced church trauma, but find his space one of fellowship, healing, and development – one where they can become the person they were called to be. As he discusses his faith community, it seems that the environment he’s cultivated is due to the way he does ministry.

“You’re the expert on who you are, and your spirituality,” says Rev. Orlando. “I’m not going to force you into some type of ideology. I don’t know your experience. In chaplaincy it’s called being an intimate stranger – we walk in this intimate space together, but I’m still a stranger.”

While he views his work at Amplify as meeting needs the way that most other churches are, Rev. Orlando describes his approach as non-traditional, something he picked up as the secretary of the National Benevolent Association (NBA)’s Board of Trustees. Seeing all of the NBA’s different health and social ministries across the United States helped him think outside the box.

Historically, the Church has wanted numbers, to open up the doors and find a way to get people in,” Rev. Orlando says. “For me, it’s about learning to build trust, so that people can feel that we are investing in them, not just extracting. As I invest, I want people to do the same, so that we have this mutual exchange.”

On that note, we ask the pastor/chaplain/church planter what it means to him for Disciples to contribute to the Pentecost Offering. Half of the gifts made to this Special Day Offering go to New Church Ministry to train, equip, assist and multiply leaders through programs like Leadership Academy, coachingNew Church Hacks, and Water the Plants. The other half stays in regions across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada to support local new church development.

“For me, to be able to receive those gifts… it’s doing the ministry of Jesus Christ, creating opportunities to meet particular needs of folks around us,” muses Rev. Orlando. “And to be able to share the love and compassion of Christ in a tangible way.”

Brother Stan, a member of the church, handles boxes for Amplify’s food distribution program

While “tangible” may not be the best way to describe a virtual faith community, Amplify has done some work on the ground. Since June of last year, it has partnered with the county once a month to give away 200 boxes of produce. It has a similar collaboration with a local high school, which lets students and families know that boxes of food are available to be picked up.

“Two people started out giving produce, then it grew to three, five people,” he recalls. “It doesn’t take much, just an idea that you want to give of yourself and provide a space to help others.”

Rev. Orlando sees food sustainability and serenity as future goals for Amplify. He hopes that through a community garden, he and others can provide organic food to their neighbors, helping people reorient the ways that they consume and produce food, as well as relate to the land around them. Along that vein, Rev. Orlando also looks forward to offering horticultural therapy to the community as a way of cultivating spirituality along with emotional wellness. Others in his circle may have other plans.

“People are still wanting to gather and meet each other, but we’re not going to do that,” he laughs. “We have talked about doing a retreat in 2022 for us to all get together, probably in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it’s not going to happen right now.”

As our hour together comes to a close, we ask Rev. Orlando for any parting words.

“In our worldview, we sometimes have a scarcity mentality, but each of us have talents and abilities,” he opines. “If we use that for mutual growth and development, there is no lack.”

You can support new faith communities like Rev. Orlando’s by making a gift to the Pentecost Offering, collected in most churches on May 16 and May 23. 

Water the Plants Prayer Summit

Water the Plants hears from new church movement supporters at inaugural Prayer Summit

The Water the Plants initiative was born out of New Church Ministry’s vision to support new church plants within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Because our ministry seeks to train, equip, assist, and multiply emerging and affiliating congregations and leaders, we understand that supporting them is essential. So, in July of last year, our team started Water the Plants. Based on 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I have planted, Apollo’s watered, but God gave the increase,” this initiative calls together 1,000 intercessors to pray for new worship expressions.

“Connecting with God and others that have the same passion for new churches,” says Bernice Rivera, Oregon and Southwest Idaho’s New Church Ministry Associate, “is a source of energy for me.” 

Every Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM EST and Thursday evening at 9:00 PM EST, participants gather on the phone.

“I have been so grateful during these past months to be able to be on the prayer line,” shares Rev. Dr. Joanne Bynum, the Associate Regional Minister in the Pacific Southwest Region.

But with only 11 minutes to pray for general and regional ministers, as well as new faith communities and their leaders, there’s little time for chitchat.

Recognizing a need for fellowship, Rev. Dr. Joi Robinson (Associate Minister of New Church Strategies and Water the Plants Coordinator) organized and hosted the first-ever virtual Water the Plants Prayer Summit on March 6th. Attendees included prayer intercessors, prayer call leaders, regional new church chairpersons, congregants across the United States and Canada, coaches, and others.

The event kicked off with introductions, where attendees displayed their prayerphenalia, including keychains and wristbands, over Zoom. “Panelist mode” came next, where a husband-and-wife team told the group how prayer influenced the development of their new church.

“Through prayer we can say that Gold helped us to prepare a place of worship,” testify Soriliz Rodriguez and Francisco Ramos (pastors of Iglesia Cristiana Casa de Refugio). “Through prayer our ministry flourished.”

After viewing a presentation on Soriliz and Francisco’s new congregation, various members of the wider church prayed for those affected by COVID-19, clear mission, vision and values, and strong resources, stewardship and finances.

The second half of the Summit followed a similar structure with prayers and testimony, in addition to a live musical performance. It also gave witness to how powerful and prevalent prayer is for both church planters and New Church Ministry itself.

“I knew clearly what God was telling me to do, but I wasn’t sure. I went to Leadership Academy seeking confirmation,” remarks Rev. D. Marie Tribble, who launched Restoration Community Christian Church. “After our week together, it was in that closing prayer that God began to affirm the work that had already begun.”

Pastor Terrell L McTyer (Minister of New Church Strategies) closed out the event, thanking those present and calling on them to join the next Water the Plants Prayer Summit, scheduled for Saturday, June 5th at 1:00 PM EST. 

You never know what’s going to happen with Kesh ‘Oved Faith Ministries

What makes a new church unique? How can Disciples do church the new way?

The answers are as diverse as the congregations in formation across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

But one thing is common: launching a new place of worship is difficult. It’s especially difficult in the middle of a global health crisis, when gathering in an intimate space with fellow congregants is made next to impossible. So why would someone take this leap of faith?

As a military spouse who’s been previously stationed overseas, Pastor Jennifer Moreno has a personal understanding of life away from one’s faith community. She started Kesh ‘Oved Faith Ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic to not only provide worship services for families like hers, but to help other congregations connect with one another through technology, such as pre-recorded videos and Facebook Live. Pastor Jenn hopes that her emerging collective will be an example to others of how to keep in touch with members located out of town, out of state, or even across the world. 

“It’s building-less and borderless,” she says in a recent video call with New Church Ministry, “because we need that right now even more than ever.”

Pastor Jennifer Moreno and her Associate Pastor

Kesh ‘Oved Faith Ministries also strives to create a sense of belonging for those who have become socially isolated during the past year. After an interruption from the household’s pet parrot Yoshi, whom Pastor Jenn refers to as her associate pastor, she stresses that we have to recognize mental illness and how COVID-19 has exacerbated it, particularly through the restriction of outdoor hobbies and pastimes that would contribute to better mental health.

“It’s really important that we check in on each other,” Pastor Jenn says. “And make sure that we’re all okay.”

The people of Kesh ‘Oved, which is Hebrew for ‘lost sheep,’ do just that in Zoom meetings called BYOBB (Bring Your Own Bible and Beverage), where they drink coffee and talk about what’s going on, whether they’re joining from South Korea, Japan, or Germany. If they do happen to be in Pastor Jenn’s town of Riverview, Florida, and it’s safe to do so, members will eat a meal with each other.

“We all connect,” she emphasizes, “and ensure that we have relationship with one another.” 

Pastor Jenn hasn’t been with her own parents, who live in Amarillo, Texas, because they are elderly, homebound, and she doesn’t want them, nor her, to get sick.

While Kesh ‘Oved is a virtual church plant, she makes sure that local residents become familiar with it, too. Pastor Jenn’s car is adorned with a chalice and as a Door Dash driver, she puts her business card in with every meal that she delivers, every load of groceries that she does through Walmart.

“I do that because I want people to know we’re here,” Kesh ‘Oved’s minister shares, “and that we give of ourselves, time, and talents to help those that can’t get out right now.”

For Pastor Jenn, her work in ministry is about more than just bringing together Riverview’s Disciples. It’s about promoting the denomination’s mission and vision of being a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. After all, she sees the Church as a safe space for her – the region provided her support during the launch process and New Church Ministry provided her educational opportunities through Leadership Academy.

“When everything’s falling apart and it doesn’t look like it’s going right, New Church Ministry’s there,” Pastor Jenn says. “Knowing that we have such a good foundation, it’s the perfect time for everybody to try to plant something new.”

And she doesn’t just mean new churches. Pastor Jenn believes that throughout our lives, we’ve all been given seeds of wisdom, love, grace, and mercy. When somebody took us to church as a child, the seed of prayer was planted, helping us grow and mature into who we are today. To her, everyone has the chance to spread the seeds we’ve received through the people that we come in contact with every day, even complete strangers. If someone’s struggling, we can plant a seed of compassion by giving them a smile or expressing our gratitude for their service. The Holy Spirit will water that seed throughout the day, which will germinate, and grow into something fresh. But there’s a difference between a positive seed like that, and a negative one, and we have a choice to make between which one we scatter. Pastor Jenn makes the case for treating workers in the service industry with more care, say if they got a customer’s order incorrect or delivered it to the wrong address.

“We need positivity,” she says. “We need to know that we’re all in this together.”

Member Deborah Heffern holds a hand-delivered Lamby.

Throughout our call with Pastor Jenn, she spoke with calm self-assurance, even when the doorbell was ringing in the background or her dog barked. When we asked her where this confidence comes from, Pastor Jenn said it was due to her work as a pastor at another congregation in Winter Haven, Florida, and the experience she gained as a leader for Family Readiness groups within the army. She also credits the support she’s received from friends, one of whom serves on Pastor Jenn’s team as the Music and Worship Director, and the owner of Ms. T’s Soaps N Such, who was inspired to make different colored bars of soap for Kesh ‘Oved, all in the shape of sheep. (Kesh ‘Oved’s catchphrase is “Finding lost sheep everywhere!”)  

“We are all looking for comfort and security,” she says. “I started Kesh ‘Oved so that anybody could reach me at any time and know that they’re not alone.” 

Pastor Jenn then asks her daughter, who had just recently returned from school, to get her a “Lamby.” When she returns, Pastor Jenn holds up a rainbow lamb. On the bottom of the soap it says, “God loves ewe, no matter what.” People who have become regulars of the church receive a “Lamby” from her that has been prayed over. This way they know that they are loved, they are thought of, they’re missed.

“No matter how dirty we are,” says Pastor Jenn. “Jesus Christ cleans us and has made us clean for God.”

And she wants Disciples to know that they can be supporters of the new church movement too. Money is an important issue in church planting. Often, church leaders initially operate with little to no funds. All of the startup costs that Pastor Jenn has spent so far have come out of her own personal finances, despite her husband’s misgivings, because she felt the need to do so.

“Give cheerfully, because when you do so, you’re not just touching the general church or region,” Pastor Jenn says. “You’re touching all of those new churches.” 

As we wrap up our conversation, we ask what the future holds for Kesh ‘Oved.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” laughs Pastor Jenn. “Whether it’s the bird landing on my head, the dog barking, or my kid running through.”

On a serious note, a nearby Colombian café has offered her the use of their facilities for Bible studies and different kinds of worship services. Pastor Jenn looks forward to that, and to watching her baby, as she calls Kesh ‘Oved, flourish.

“If you take that leap of faith and do what God is calling you to do,” she concludes, “the blessings will overflow.”

You can support new faith communities like Pastor Jenn’s by making a gift to the Pentecost Offering, collected in most congregations on May 16 and May 23. Half of the gifts go to New Church Ministry to train, equip, assist and multiply leaders, and the other half stays in regional ministries to support local new church development.

The Children and Youth Ministry’s Wii party and BBQ.

Throwing out the agenda at the Hopeful Economics UnConference

With over a year of remote working experience, many homebound workers are wary of signing up for yet another online event due to “Zoom fatigue.” Passively sitting in front of a screen while a stranger shares information or fumbles with a poor Internet connection leads many of us to multi-task, largely ignoring what’s taking place in front of us. With that in mind, New Church Ministry and EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development organized their recent virtual gathering, the Hopeful Economics UnConference, so that both participants and featured guests could actively inform and lead the topics of discussion.

Using Whova, an event management software, attendees explored trends in the nonprofit sector, systemic change issues, and the relationship between faith and social enterprise. As they grappled with “hopeful economics,” or making the world’s assets and abundance work for everyone, Pastor Terrell L McTyer, Minister of New Church Strategies, kept up the energy as the Master of Ceremonies.

Getting into the right mindset

To prepare registrants for an agenda filled with deep discussions and challenging sessions, the first day was structured as a pre-conference. After an introduction from Pastor Terrell and Rev. Michael Blair, Executive Secretary of the United Church of Canada, speakers presented two different streams for folks in communities of faith and others in social purpose organizations. Those in the faith stream learned some social justice history and discussed economics, from conversations on the global economy as “God’s Economy” to the economic impact of churches. They also heard from Darnell Fennell of the National Benevolent Association, who shared what social enterprise has to do with faith, and Presbyterian Church USA, which shared some tips and tricks on creating partnerships.

Social purpose organizations focused on social enterprises and pitching for partnerships as well, with additional conversations on place-based innovation in rural settings and making equitable financial decisions that particularly affect BIPOC.

As participants waited for the second day of the UnConference, they were encouraged to visit the exhibitor booths online and engage with one another over discussion boards. According to Whova, the UnConference had more interactions than the average event on its website.

Creating new connections

The second day was full of opportunities for attendees to change their perspective on collaboration.

The two morning sessions were described as fishbowls, designed to bring people of faith and those in the social sector together to discuss the meaning of “hopeful economics.”

The afternoon session saw attendees play an interactive thinking game. Split into breakout rooms and given hypothetical resources, they were asked to address “attitudes to mental health.” The various groups found creative ways to make the “mission possible.”

Closing out the UnConference

As in the previous day, the final day of the Hopeful Economics UnConference ran morning and afternoon sessions, but this time, participants set the tone. Three breakout rooms were made available for them to join, each with their own specific discussion topic. Attendees were encouraged to drop into whichever group that appealed to them and move among groups as they wished. In total, 12 topics had been covered and attendees truly adhered to the UnConference ethos, keeping open minds and adapting to a sudden change in schedule.

Keeping the hopeful spirit alive

For three days, our ministry, together with EDGE, witnessed people across the United States and Canada form meaningful bonds and demonstrate thoughtful approaches to small discussion groups. We heard from incredible panelists and were uplifted by the enthusiasm of participants from various denominations. As many of us move into several more months of working from home, we continue to be inspired by those increasing their impact and addressing community needs.

From Ghana to Kentucky: How One Pastor Learned to Abide in Christ

On a Sunday afternoon in early December, Rev. Foster Frimpong, the founder of Co-Heirs with Christ Missions in Lexington, KY, was ordained while participants looked on over Zoom.

This would be an unorthodox way of conducting such a process in any other year, but for 2020, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary and still marked a milestone for the Ghanaian pastor.

Immigrating in 2009, Rev. Foster was initially unsure of what to do with his life. His eagerness to carry out God’s work was not shared by the company he kept at the time, so-called “prosperity preachers” who exploited their congregants. Even when Rev. Foster brought attention to this, he became, in his words, “like the only pebble on the beach,” unable to see any good in the Gospel of prosperity. This led him to doubt himself.

“However, as I sought the Lord’s guidance in prayers, the Holy Spirit used this Psalm to instruct me,” recalls Rev. Foster. “I followed and settled down.”

Psalm 32:8-9
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
  I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
  whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
  else it will not stay near you.

And God was silent for a while.

Over the next few years, Rev. Foster felt a strong calling to join the Seventh Day Adventist church but was eventually drawn to the Disciples.

“I immediately wanted to be a part of [the church] because it fits with what I grew up believing,” he says.

And it supported him in turn.

In 2014, the Kentucky region brought Co-Heirs with Christ under care as a church in formation. Rev. Foster also enrolled at Lexington Theological Seminary.

“I have been led to meeting wonderful and humbled leaders who are true shepherds—serving the church,” says Rev. Foster. “And I have learned to simply abide in Christ.”

inaugural Water the Plants Prayer Summit

Inaugural Water the Plants Prayer Summit

March 6, 2021 @ 1:00 pm 3:00 pm EST

Since last summer, Disciples from across the life of the church have been praying for the new church movement.

New Church Ministry’s (NCM) church-wide Water the Plants (WtP) initiative has faithfully gathered together prayer intercessors every Tuesday morning and Thursday evening on the phone to prioritize the spiritual discipline of prayer and ask God to care for new congregations, as well as congregational, regional, and general ministers of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. We are grateful for this dedicated team that supports new worship expressions.


Become a prayer intercessor with Water the Plants


NCM is excited to introduce our inaugural prayer-focused virtual event, the Water the Plants Prayer Summit, on Saturday, March 6th from 1 pm to 3 pm EST

Attendees will pray for restoration, strength, transformation, creativity, rejuvenation, and connections. The gathering will include scripture, musical and spoken word performances, and much more. Participants will experience testimony from various church planters on how prayer has influenced their emerging collectives’ development.

With NCM Associate Minister and WtP coordinator, Joi Robinson hosting the event, our first ever Prayer Summit is a unique opportunity not to be missed. It is our hope that participants will leave feeling closer to their faith and one another, inspired to clarify their vision and mission, and with a renewed passion for experiencing a meaningful prayer life.

Schedule and guest list

5:00          Summit Introduction – Joi Robinson

30:00        Fellowship/Testimony – Nerleb Likisap, Francisco Ramos, Soriliz Rodriguez

5:00 Prayer – Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), OGMP, General Ministries – Lori Tapia

5:00          Prayer – Regions – Bill Rose Heim

5:00          Prayer – Leadership, Vision, Mission, Values – Syvoskia Bray Pope

5:00          Prayer – Resources, Finances, Stewardship – Rosario Ibarra

—–

5:00          Scripture Shower – Adria L. Patterson

5:00          Prayer – Creativity, Innovation, Training – Joey Ctto

5:00          Prayer – Coaching, Connections, and Relationships – Judy Cummings

5:00          Song – Dean Phelps 

20:00        Fellowship and Testimony – Luis Threat

5:00          Outro – Joi Robinson

Free