What does it mean to be the church in 21st century North American culture? That’s the pressing question facing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its 11,000 congregations. How do we live out the values of the gospel in our common life in ways that are vital and transformative?
Sometimes it’s those aspects of Christian life we take for granted that are the most significant: gathering in community each week with people to whom we are not related, not because we all get along or always agree, but because we have been called together as Christ’s body; sharing the joys and sorrows of our lives in prayer and celebration, risking a vulnerability with one another that is rarely rewarded in our isolated culture; taking time out of a busy week to visit someone in the hospital, or to sit with someone who is grieving; pooling our resources to provide a hot lunch to people in our community who are hungry, welcoming them as persons with dignity and deserving of our respect; joining with others to achieve what measure of justice we can in this life, especially for those who are lost, left-out or forgotten. We do these things, not because of some sort of virtue inherent in us. We do it because this is how we participate in the life of God.
I am proud to stand with Janet Edwards as her nominee for Vice Moderator because I believe that Janet has the capacity to be a bridge-builder—someone who can help us find our unity through a radical faithfulness to the gospel. I am confident that God is yet active among us, calling us to deeper faithfulness, and that this is an unprecedented moment in our history to rediscover what it means to be the church. I am excited to stand with Janet on this journey.
My Journey and Experience
The roots of my call to the ministry were planted when I was 15 years old, during a confirmation class retreat from my middle-class church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to an inner-city church on the south side of Chicago. The church was a hub of their urban community, engaging their neighbors seven days a week, incarnating the gospel in their common life, finding their lives by giving themselves away. I had never experienced church like this before, and I have worked to rediscover that same vital dynamic ever since.
I have now been involved in urban ministry for more than twenty-five years, serving a small, multi-racial congregation on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City, and then in an inner-city church in Wilmington, Delaware, before coming to Church of the Pilgrims in the summer of 2000. Located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Church of the Pilgrims is the former “national church” of the Southern Presbyterians. Led by Randy Taylor, who served as pastor from 1956-1967, at great risk (and even greater consternation) they embraced the civil rights movement, shifting the focus of their ministry away from the South and toward their urban setting.
Today Church of the Pilgrims reflects the diversity of its thriving urban neighborhood, with Embassies, hotels, and high-rises on one side, town houses, apartments, bars and restaurants on the other. During my tenure the congregation has experienced revival in its worship life, renewed engagement with the city through participation in a city-wide church-based community organizing effort (which I serve as co-chair), and invigorated outreach to young adults through programs such as “Theology on Tap,” a weekly Bible study held in the tavern across the street from the church. Practicing radical hospitality, Church of the Pilgrims became a More Light Church in 2002.
I grew up at First Presbyterian in Ann Arbor, and attended McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago (where I interned in that same inner-city church). In 2004, I completed a Doctor of Ministry degree in “Gospel and Culture” at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The focus of my doctoral work was the “missional” calling of the church in contemporary North American culture: in our pluralistic, post-modern, and post-Christian era, the church is called to be a community of alternative values and practices grounded in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth that bears witness to the gospel in its common life. Among the practices that have been central to my ministry are hospitality, community, care for the poor, support for the sick and the dying, peacemaking and the struggle for justice.
I have been married for 30 years. My wife, Cheryl, is an educational consultant who works with school districts around the country in the area of professional development. We have two children, Andrea, 24, and Kelsey, 21. I am currently serving as the Moderator of National Capital Presbytery, having served for three years as chair of the Presbytery Council.