The Young Adult Ministry Has Changed

The Young Adult Ministry has changed, and I promise it’ll make more sense if you read this…

When you said your vows or even welcomed a child into this world, you entered into a covenant with that person(s) and with God, a relationship that says to both, “I promise we will do this together. I will care for you and will seek to live my life in continued relationship with you. Through all the change we face, I will face it with you and I will love you.” At First Presbyterian Church, we have spent much time this past year wondering and dreaming about how we might more faithfully support you in doing just that. This Fall, Covenant Ministry* was born.

Our deepest hope is that through our initiatives, we might continue to be faithfully attuned to the ways God is loving the FPC community by paying specific attention to those in the life stages of engagement, marriage, and the first decade of parenthood. We will look to do so specifically through community, education, and mission opportunities. Much of this will be done in partnership with other departments and committees who continue to serve faithfully as well. We are seeking to provide authentic spaces for you to grow in your relationships with one another as spouses and parents, in a community that provides the safety and support for you to do so.

We hope Covenant Ministry will offer you a place to:

• Belong: You belong here, just as you are (and we really mean that);

• Become: God has called you to something and we want to cheer you on as you discern, discover, and live into what that means for you and your family;

• Believe: Scripture has something to say to all of us and we want to be about the business of learning and believing what that is and the many ways we understand it;

• Together: Especially in these seasons of life, we recognize we don’t do it alone. Join us as we do life together.

 

I am excited to serve as the primary staff person of Covenant Ministry, in partnership with Associate Pastor Josh Rodriguez, and cannot wait to see where we will go together.

 Have questions? Ideas? Suggestions? Thoughts? I can’t wait to hear from you. Let’s do coffee (or a phone conversation if that’s more your style). Email or call me at ahiggins@fpcnashville.org or 919-414-7441.

 See you at church and around town.

Ashley

Pray the Words of Wesley

When I travel I like to call the numbers of the religious billboards on the side of the road that proclaim the good news as “turn or burn.” I’ve never had a particularly good conversation in doing so, but it makes for a more interesting drive. The other day Abbi and I were returning to Nashville from Ohio, traveling south on I-65, and noticed a semi truck with this quote on the side. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. As long as ever you can.” The words were attributed to John Wesley. I had never heard this quote before, which struck me as odd because I went to a Wesleyan undergraduate institution, Indiana Wesleyan University, and it seems like a worthy quote to make common. It is certainly a better message for a drive than a fiery hell “gospel” message.  

Curious to locate the source, I began my google research. Several websites, none all that credible, credit these words to Wesley, but none of them provide a source. If John Wesley said these words, we do not know because of a primary source we can read. The best I found was a quote from a sermon he preached in 1760 on Luke 16:9 titled The Use of Money. Wesley said, “But employ whatever God has entrusted you with in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all men.”

The holiday season is a page turn away on our calendars, for those who still use paper calendars, for others, a thumb swipe away. All of us will make decisions about our time and money that define who we are as people who are striving to faithfully follow the footsteps of Jesus. Perhaps, as we prepare for the holiday season we can pray the words of Wesley, slightly modified, “Lord, may I employ all you have entrusted with me in doing good, all possible good, in every possible kind and degree, to the household of faith, to all people this holiday season. Amen.”

Where Do You Feel God?

I’ve spent the last 18 months working with a local non-profit called Faith & Culture Center. I have led this organization as its executive director since January, 2017, working primarily on bringing together diverse groups of Muslims and non-Muslims (many of whom are Christians) for dialogue and relationship-building.

Why do I do this work? This exhausting, energy-expending, frustrating-as-all-get-out work?

I do this work because I feel God in it.

Let me explain.

This work is hard. It is an uphill battle every day as we attempt to humanize the “other,” all the while having to continuously check ourselves and our own assumptions. While there is incredible and profound meaning in this work, there is no glory in it.

And it’s perhaps for this reason that I feel God’s presence in it so strongly — because I’ve had to come to God repeatedly in prayer to ask for help and guidance, and to understand my role and purpose in it all.

Through this work, God has supported me. God has given me a church home, and relationships with my pastors, that have fortified me and reassured me that I am to keep moving forward. At least for now.

Through this work, God has blessed me. God has transformed me through the relationships that I’ve developed with others who do not share my faith. These relationships have allowed me to truly live out what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to love Him by loving others. Every day, I get to experience the beauty of these incredible souls that God has brought into my life as they love and stretch me.

These relationships are not perfect. We falter, make mistakes, and misunderstand each other. But God’s presence pushes us forward towards understanding and reconciliation.

The process is hard and it’s painful. Especially as I’ve had to look inward and call out my own prejudices and shortcomings. But it has transformed me into a stronger Christian, and one, who, though she fails repeatedly, has become certain of God’s presence in her life.

Where do you feel God?

MIssion Statement, Motto & Values of YA!

In January the young adult department had a consultant come in and survey the ministry. He asked what our mission statement was as a department. We told him we didn’t have one. He asked what was the motto of our ministry. We told him we had never named one. He asked what our values were, and we admitted, we had not named those either.  Well, that was January, and now it is September, and we have created a mission statement, motto, and values of our ministry! 

 Mission Statement

The young adult ministry of FPC exists to invite young adults into a place where they are reminded that they belong to God and one another, where they are inspired to become the person the Spirit is forming them to be through worship, mission, and education, and where they are called to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Everything we do, we do together.

 Motto

Belong. Become. Believe. Together.

 Values 

Hope — We believe that God is at work in this world and we choose to look for ways to participate in God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven

Acceptance — We strive to be a ministry marked by respect, unity, honesty and openness toward everyone’s whole self

 Joy — We enjoy celebrating life together

 Worship — The Holy Spirit gathers us regularly to remember God’s commitment to the redemption and reconciliation of creation and our commitment to be grateful for that work

 Vulnerability — We embrace a way of life that welcomes authenticity, truth, and brokenness in the name of growth, both personally and collectively

 Mission — We are committed to joining God’s ministry of reconciliation in the world

 In August we had a visioning retreat with about 30 members of the young adult community. We took the time to gather, dream, and name the work that God is up to at First Presbyterian Church and our community specifically. After we gathered, a small “renovation team” that was formed after our consultation, got together and further flushed out the sentiment and words of our time together. Then Ashley and I sat down and spent more time crafting each of these documents. Lastly, I put the final touches on each of these. I am grateful for everyone who participated in this process. It was filled with laughter, brilliance, and a few tears. Because of these efforts, we are better equipped to more faithfully follow Jesus, together. If you have any questions or comments on this process, please do not hesitate to reach out! See you at church and around town. 

 Blessings,

 Josh 

A Note from Kat (Davies) Bair – August 2017 Newsletter

“Hasta la Victoria siempre!”

Until the Eternal Victory. It was a famous quotation of Che Guevara, a reference to a Marxist communist utopia and victory over capitalist forces, and it was plastered on every billboard, cement wall, and government project we passed driving through the Cuban countryside. It was a rallying cry for Latin American communists to continue the work of creating the world that they envisioned with the faith that someday, their utopia would be complete, eternal, perfect and at peace.

I was lucky enough to get to spend 9 days traveling through Cuba with a group of young adults from First Pres. We were partnered with a group of Cuban Christians, most of who were in their early 20’s, and got to see seminaries, mission sites, churches, Christian camps, and the vibrant, inclusive Cuban faith through their eyes.

Our theme for the week was “eyes to see, ears to hear,” and what we saw was a community radically committed to reaching those on the margins, being present in unlikely places, and constantly reinventing what it meant to be the church. What we heard were the testimonies of dozens of Cubans of every age, color, and ability as to how God was at work in their lives and how they were working for justice, equality, and grace, building the kingdom of God, “En la tierra como en el cielo,” on Earth as is in Heaven.

I was inspired by what I saw and heard from that community of faith, and we spent many van rides and late nights talking over what it would look like to carry the fire and pragmatism of the Cuban church back home with us to Nashville. The divine spark we saw at work in that community lit all of us as well, and gave us new hope as to what the future of the church, of God’s work in the world, could be.

Cuban Christians take seriously the call to act as the hands and feet of Jesus and build a more just world around them. There is brokenness in their world, their church, their government, just as there is here. There are intractable social issues, systemic injustices, and economic realities that make their world fall short of what it could be. But their faith was not crippled by that brokenness but instead oriented around the truth that God is building a kingdom here on earth, and that, as long as we are here, we are the ones who are meant to do it, however imperfectly, until our world is made new.

Hasta la victoria siempre, indeed. –Kat

A Note From Ashley – July 2017 Newsletter

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this YouTube clip before (if not, watch it before reading further). It’s Allen Iverson in a press conference. He’s just been asked about missing a basketball practice and his response is hilarious. Iverson responds at one point, “We’re talking about practice? How silly is that?… When you come in the arena and you see my play, you see me play, don’t you?”

Here’s the thing. Iverson wants to talk about showing up for the game without talking about how much more important the practice is. As followers of Jesus, we might easily fall into the same trap (or am I the only one?). We want to just be Christians without practicing being Christians. Have you ever caught yourself thinking or saying outloud something to the effect of, “I’m just not feeling Jesus these days,” or  “I don’t really know if this Christian thing is it for me.” Our feelings are important and we should pay close attention to them. BUT. Your feelings won’t sustain your relationship with Jesus. Practice will, practice that looks like:

  • spending time in scripture;
  • spending time with the “great cloud of witnesses” in your life and in the life of this church who have experienced God in a long list of ways (especially those in a different age demographic than yours);
  • worshiping together;
  • playing together;
  • looking for the things in this world that do not look like God’s kingdom come and putting our hands, feet, and voices to work to bring that kingdom.

This is what practice looks like. The mountain top highs will not sustain you or me in our faith. “Feeling” like being a Christian will not sustain you or me in our faith. Going it alone will not sustain you or me in our faith. At the very end of the clip, Iverson responds to a question,

“How in the world can I make my teammates better by practicing?” That’s the whole point! Show up. Practice your faith. It matters for others and it matters for you that you do this faith thing in community.

Don’t just wait until you feel like it to show up for the game. And don’t try to play it alone, either.

Practice? We’re talking about practice? Yes. We are.

What’s your practice this week, next week, next month that will sustain and grow your relationship with Jesus?

See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – June 2017 Newsletter

God is under no obligation to make sense to you. Do you believe that? I don’t know if I do, but I had the thought after reading the opening line in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. He wrote, “The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” I replaced the word, “universe” for “God” and found the statement thought provoking. I would never have claimed to be entitled, despite my status as a millennial, for God to make sense to me, but I have certainly spent my time, money, and resources, in pursuit of becoming a Presbyterian minister, and, in part, attempting to make sense of God. My path may be unique but my efforts are not. I meet with people who are attempting to make sense of God on a regular basis. In death, life, marriage, politics, so on and so forth, people are trying to make sense of God’s presence, or absence, in their life, this world, and beyond. Occasionally, I decide God needs to reveal more to me, as if what has been given thus far, is simply not enough. I am not alone. I know people in their 20’s and 30’s are longing to know God. That is noble. But perhaps we can take a step back and ask the question, “Do I believe God is obligated to make sense to me?” If we answer the question, “yes.” On what basis would we stake our claim? If we are willing to say, “no, God doesn’t have to make sense to me.” How will we live in the tension? What questions are we willing to let go of, or take up, in the pursuit of faith in a God that is more dynamic and complex than our comprehension? Can we consider what God might be calling us to in the midst of these questions? Certainly God does not need our comprehension in order to work in this world, not that God would require our ignorance either. Are you looking to make sense of God? Do you need to let go of a question or two? Are you slightly interested in Astrophysics? If so, let’s start a conversation over coffee. See you at church and around town. ~Josh

 

A Note from Ashley – May 2017 Newsletter

Reflection on a Sermon: The Company We Keep

The day after Jesus’ crucifixion, two friends find themselves on their way to Emmaus. “Angry and anxious,” they make their way to a city of escape, a place where one might “throw up one’s hands because, well, it makes no difference anyway.” Jesus is dead, they killed our Lord, and we might be next. What does the mission even matter? These were the words of Professor Jonathan Lee Walton, Minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, who preached at the morning worship services yesterday.

Professor Walton wondered with each of us who we might be in the story. He called out the angry among us: angry at the ways the world has perverted the gospel, angry at the ways our country continues to treat some as more worthy of care and dignity and concern than others, angry at injustice and inequality. He also called out the anxious among us: anxious that perhaps the Church’s faith doesn’t look like it should, anxious that the world is changing too quickly, anxious that “my gospel looks differently.”

Angry or anxious. Are you one of the two? If so, in what ways has that caused you to throw up your hands and retreat to your Emmaus? Professor Walton asked yesterday, “At times you may be angry. At times you may be anxious. But who is walking with you?”

It’s Jesus. The answer is always Jesus. There’s no time for throwing up your hands, retreating to your Emmaus, whatever that may be. Get back on the road. Choose to recognize the Jesus walking right.beside.you. Professor Walton challenged the congregation that “anger and anxiousness can blind us to the potential” of what God is up to, to Jesus ever and always walking along side us. If you don’t recognize Jesus, perhaps it’s because we have allowed the Jesus who calls us to embrace one another to become unrecognizable, tainted by our so often polarizing, politicized, cultural Christianity.

Don’t be fooled friends. “Jesus didn’t build walls, he built bridges.” May we be a people who recognize this Jesus, Jesus who is not at all dead but very alive, and choose to get back on the road, finding ways to join in God’s work here and now to be agents of not just concern but “active concern” for the least of these.

Otherwise, all we will know are strangers (Jesus and otherwise) on the way. See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – April 2017 Newsletter

In 2006 I graduated high school and I believed it was a sin to smoke a cigarette. I believed it was a sin to drink alcohol. I believed the Bible was best understood as a history book. I believed that I needed to try harder every day to be less sinful, and that one day, I would indeed be completely sinless, most likely by the time I was 21. I believed dating was not a Christian thing to do. I believed men were better fit to be pastors. I believed that cursing was a sin, and that if you cursed and died before getting the chance to repent, and confess this sin, than your eternal destiny was hell. I believed that anyone who did not share my views on sexuality couldn’t possibly be a “real” Christian. I believed that the Theory of Evolution was incompatible with the Christian belief of creation, as written in the book of Genesis. I believed that baptism was completely unnecessary and quite meaningless to a Christian’s life. I believed that in order to be saved one must pray a prayer that follows this formula: acknowledge every sin one can recall, ask God for forgiveness and for Jesus to enter into one’s heart, and profess faith in Jesus as savior. In this moment I believed one was justified before God. If this prayer was done correctly, then one could be sure of their salvation, unless one sinned again, in which case the prayer would need to be repeated. The same formula must be used each time. I believed that faithful Christians only listened to Christian music, explicitly Christian music too, it couldn’t be sort of Christian, or else those people simply were not serious enough about their faith. I believed that God would eventually punish me in this lifetime for all of the sins I had committed. I believed that God could not possibly have much in store for my life, because of all of my past sins. I believed everything in the Christian faith was black and white, right and wrong, sin and holiness.

Eleven years later, I think differently about everything I used to believe. Even if I believe something similar, I don’t think about it the same way anymore. I don’t think about God, the Christian faith, or life the way I used to. In every way, who I believe God to be is significantly more complex. After a lot of schooling and a few years in ministry, I still believe in Jesus Christ, but my faith looks a lot different than it used to. If you find yourself questioning, wandering, or believing something completely new, that is okay. You are not alone.

My hope and prayer for each of you is that you will be open to changing your mind, believing something different, and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance in this next season of life. My hope is that you participate in what God is up to and learn to faithfully follow after Jesus in wonderfully new ways.

I wrote this letter for the graduating seniors. After I finished, I thought, “This could be good to share in the newsletter too.” I hope you enjoy. If you are curious about any of this, I’d love to get coffee with you.

See you at Church and around town.

A Note from Ashley – March 2017 Newsletter

Oh, Lent. Isn’t it strange what our culture has done with the season of Lent? It is the season of feeling guilty about something you do too much of, vowing to give up that practice or habit for 40 days (likely for no good spiritual reason), and then feeling like a failure for not actually giving up that practice or habit at all. What a strange season in the life of the Church. Rather than trying to convince you of the real meaning of Lent or adding more guilt to your life, I’d like to offer the following. Ted Loder’s Guerillas of Grace is one of my favorite books of all time. I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Perhaps rather than giving up something this Lenten season, pray this prayer every day and see where it takes you. You just might meet Jesus on the journey.

Catch Me in My Scurrying
Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of the street people,
in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghett0-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence:
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.
–Ted Loder

 

Happy Lent, y’all. See you at church and around town. -Ashley

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