“God in this place, stir us, agitate us, make us uncomfortable.”  Dylan Rooke, Ruling Elder and building manager from Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh prayed to open a jointly sponsored Big Tent on Friday afternoon (Aug. 2).  “Then comfort us.”

With that the Evangelism & Church Growth, Healthy Ministries, and National Elders Conferences luncheon began.

“We wanted to get these three groups together,” said Philip Lotspeich, coordinator of Church Growth for Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), “to see if we could better understand how existing congregations, presbyteries, and committees on ministry (COMs), and preparation for ministry (CPMs) can nurture the 1001 New Worshiping Communities (NWC) movement.”

Lotspeich moderated a new worshiping communities  panel discussion with Rooke, PMA’s 1001 worshiping communities associate Vera White and Steve Yamaguchi, executive presbyter of Los Ranchos Presbytery.

“We face a crisis of imagination,” Yamaguchi said. “Resources could be tapped for this movement, but we’re unwilling to free them for use.”

“Yet the best way to revitalize existing churches is to start a NWC,” said White. “There is very little room for experimentation in established churches, just ask pastors who try to move the baptismal font.”

Rooke said Hot Metal bridged the gap between their new community and existing churches by inviting them to participate in a mission serving a twice-a-week meal program with them in their neighborhood.  “It helped all of us see the connectional nature of our denomination,” he said.

Hot Metal Bridge began with two pastors who hadn’t gone to seminary, weren’t Presbyterian, had no core group of people or money, but felt God’s call to start something new.

White remembers Pittsburgh Presbytery saying, “we will support your vision, but you have to contact 200 non churched people a week. Now there are more than 400 in worship on a weekly basis.” 

Her point: a NWC needs a high level of both “permission giving” and “accountability.”

Phil Lotspeich

Phil Lotspeich, the PC(USA)'s coordinator for church growth. —Danny Bolin

“CPM’s job is to create space for innovators, prophets, evangelists and apostles,” she said,” who want to do this incredibly difficult, relational work.”

“Flexibility and freedom were key in getting us started,” Rooke said. “They all walked with us, but they didn’t push or control us. Yet we had healthy accountability, wisdom of experience to draw from.”

In Los Ranchos Presbytery, Yamaguchi has groups of people form existing churches to prayer with and supervise NWC leaders.

He also works with the presbytery’s stated clerk to help churches think theologically about polity to help determine the mission of the church.

“I want a clerk who knows our rules so well to give us freedom to do what we need to do,” Yamaguchi said, using the analogy of his daughters learning how to dance.  “Once they knew the rules well we never had fear that they would jump off the stage.  We want our NWC’s to dance on the whole stage.”

Yamaguchi added: “NWC’s remind us what we’re about about.”

Recently Los Ranchos Presbytery engaged in an inspiring conversation when they examined NWC leader Tamara John to be an evangelist, for RV Park ministry.

“She stood up, told us how lost she was in the corporate world, then she met Jesus who changed her life,” Yamaguchi recalled. “Now she is reaching people for Christ.  People left in awe of the power of God.”

Big Tent, Aug. 1-3, is a celebration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.” It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.