Responding to an Exodus

SYNOPSIS OF TRIP TO THE US/MEXICAN BORDER
November 8-10, 2019

About 150 people (including 6 representing our Foothills Presbytery) from across the U.S. joined in this event, “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire”, which was sponsored by the Presbyterian Border Region Outreach (PBRO) and Frontera de Cristo, part of PBRO.

We spent three days in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico, staying just two blocks away from the port of entry to the U.S. Our time there was filled with workshops focusing on legal issues, border art, government responses, the Biblical story of Exodus, personal stories of asylum seekers, and how the faith community is meeting the needs of migrants and asylum seekers. We made a prayer walk along the colorfully painted Mexican side of the wall and planted a cross out in the desert to remember and honor a 31- year-old woman who had died trying to come into our country. There were also wonderful times of worship including Sunday morning communion on the Mexican side of the border wall. We were recipients of wonderful hospitality, both in terms of marvelous meals and assurances that our presence was a source of encouragement to them.

Part of this trip was about the bad news: the heartbreaking experience hearing about and seeing the plight of the migrants, most seeking to escape life-threatening and unbearable conditions in their country of origin. Such conditions include gangs, cartels, killings, kidnappings, rape, and extreme poverty. The migrants’ exodus journey from these conditions includes numerous perils along the way, from the harsh environment to those who would take advantage of them. If they survive the journey and arrive at the border they are confronted by physical and policy walls that stall their request for asylum because of having to wait weeks or even months at the border. A button we were given proclaims, “To migrate is not a crime,” and yet migrants are often treated as criminals by the system and governments involved. Even once allowed inside the United States to request asylum they face weeks, months and even years of a maze of steps before their request may be granted, which may not be.

But part of our trip was definitely also the good news: the joyous celebration of 35 years of work of the Frontera de Cristo ministry, headed by Mark Adams, from Clover, SC and his co-equal Mexican partner, Jocabed Gallegos. This trip also included celebrating 17 years of Café Justo (source of coffee now for many of our churches). We were encouraged by the daily efforts and challenges of so many people and organizations seeking to be God’s presence in the midst of this suffering. Ministries include shelter, safety, food, clothing, counseling, legal assistance, drug prevention and help, a woman’s co-op – and more. We were touched and impressed by the courage and commitment of these workers, who themselves face opposition from the Mexican government and national guard.

We have been and will continue to be deeply touched by this brief but significant experience, both the plight of migrants and the ministry provided by many at the Douglas/Agua Prieta border. We are confident the impact of this trip has not yet run its course in our lives. We thank the Committee on Shared Ministry for encouragement and support in our going and for the invaluable scholarship that made this trip possible for us.

-Richard & Susan Caldwell (Seneca)

Paintbrush on the border wall

Standing beneath the shadow of the (Fourth)border wall with a paintbrush in my hand, ready to help paint a new mural, I was struck by the immense impact of this solid, barbed wire-wrapped structure. Whether it be migrants camping under tarps, waiting for days to petition for asylum, border patrol agents completing their watch, or volunteers venturing into the harsh surrounding desert to leave life-saving water, so many people feel the weight of the separation on a daily basis. As I made contact with my paintbrush on the border wall for the first time, I felt the power of that simple action – a small act of resistance inspired by hope. We spent the next few hours transforming our piece of the wall from something that represents so much pain, division, and fear into something of beauty and hope, highlighting the beautiful differences of those who encounter the wall. This collective experience of creating a mural on the border wall is an experience I’ll never forget.

-Julie Woodson

There is a lot of great work being done already and so much more to be done... It’s an opportunity to help individuals grow, enterprises flourish and, most of all, communities become stronger.

God’s presence is palpable there, as well as the visible positive results when God’s children listen to Him. I have so much more to say about this experience that it’s hard to keep my heart still. Objectivity easily escapes me, and I know visceral reactions come fast to me. So much of this experience is spiritual, way beyond limitations of just one faith group.

I am planning on writing a descriptive account of how I saw things. Even suggest groups to take action and make people aware of the situation at the border.

-Christina Kraemer (Eastminister)

Middle School Retreat: Bonclarken 2019

 

By Audrey Burris (First Anderson)
Secretary of Foothills Presbytery Youth Council
Senior TL Hanna High School

This past month over 200 middle school youth from all over the Presbytery came together to worship the Lord at Bonclarken Conference Center in North Carolina. The theme for the weekend was ‘Relationship Status: Loved’. Through this topic we discussed our relationships with God, each other, and ourselves. We sang, worshiped, and in small groups of about 20 youth, we talked about the topics more in depth. This event is led by the Presbyterian Youth Council (PYC), a group of around 20 high school students from our Presbytery.

PYC plans this retreat for months, carefully thinking about and praying for each youth. Our keynote speaker was Neeley Rentz Lane, and she gave us a shoestring to remind us that we are all tied to each other and God.

The weekend spent with our youth in Bonclarken was a beautiful reminder that a church is not a building, but the people, as Neeley had stated in one of her keynotes. Neeley also reminded each youth to always remember that they are children of God, and that they should start seeing themselves the way that the Lord sees them.

Each youth left knowing how to love God, to love others, and to love themselves. It was truly a transformative experience for all those involved. The PYC and Presbytery would love for all churches to prayerfully consider allowing their youth to become apart of this experience.

If you would like to stay updated about retreats and everything PYC please follow @foothills.pyc on Instagram.

Here’s My Heart- Triennium 2019

This past July, I was given the opportunity to go to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University. Going into the week, I had no idea what to expect. The only thing I had heard about Triennium is that it was like Montreat, but it was bigger and better.

Life of Paul Pilgrimmage

by: Laura S. Conrad

This past June a group of disciples from Fort Hill Church walked in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. We traveled from Athens to Corinth, Delphi, the Greek Orthodox monasteries of Meteora, Berea, Philippi, Thessalonica, and onto the island of Crete where Paul’s ship wrecked. Our journey mostly included Paul’s second missionary journey.
The weeks leading up to the trip we devoted ourselves to studying about Paul’s life, building relationships, and preparing ourselves for the pilgrimage. We studied The Life of the Paul for Today by Vander Broek (Westminster John Knox). We asked the pilgrims what they hoped to have happen on this journey. Some were looking to build the bonds of Christian fellowship. Others were hungry for spiritual renewal. And even one said, “I want to be able to like Paul.”

One of the most special experiences for me as a pastor was to see the group practice the words of the Letter to the church at Corinth about sharing gifts in the body of Christ, and the epitome of that practicing the love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. When a couple’s grandson was placed in ICU in Greenville, we were able to lay hands on them and pray over them. Our motor coach became our little chapel. Another day we asked several to share where they had seen God in a special way as we traveled for many hours. The motor coach became our tabernacle on wheels!
Some of the highlights include standing on Mar’s Hill where Paul preached to the Athenians pictured here. And also we shared Sunday communion at the Bema of Berea where Paul was placed on trial. The following day, we reaffirmed our Baptism at the river where Lydia, the first convert in Europe, was baptized by Paul. Additionally, we learned about the Greek Orthodox Church tradition and enjoyed local culture, music, food. On our final night, our Tour Director, Theodore, was properly gifted with a Tiger paw pin and a Clemson t-shirt.
What a gift to see God’s word come to life and to live in the fellowship of the Body of Christ Paul teaches us about in a special way. The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Thanks be to God!

-Laura serves as Pastor at Fort Hill Presbyterian, Clemson SC.

 

We Are Invited

“We are invited to an inclusive meal that remembers…”
By The Rev. Beth Templeton

Jesus was a master at sharing meals. He was willing to break conventions which angered those who protected the conventions. He ate with all kinds of people. Indeed, every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are invited to an inclusive meal that remembers all Jesus did for us, what he taught us, and the love and actions he still calls us to.

In our contemporary world, we strive to be inclusive at the Lord’s table as well. We invite all who worship to share the meal that has been prepared for them. Unfortunately, not everyone can share the meal. People with gluten sensitivities or intolerance cannot eat the bread. People with alcohol addictions cannot share the cup when it is filled with wine.

Congregations have addressed the alcohol addiction issue by choosing to serve juice so all can partake. However, many churches have not dealt with gluten intolerance so that every member can eat the bread. This means that people are forced to either forego sharing in the sacrament altogether or at least not eat the bread.

The solutions to this are relatively simple. A congregation can choose to serve only gluten-free bread. Therefore, no one needs worry about gluten contamination. Or a congregation may place a small tartlet pan with gluten free bread in the middle of each bread tray —an appreciated act. Just having a gluten-free option available on the communion table is awkward for those with gluten issues who want to partake without bringing attention to themselves.

Even if no member of a congregation has gluten issues, family members or guests who visit the church may have dietary issues and not be able to join in with the family of faith.
We can imitate the love of Christ for all by providing a way for all to join together in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Beth is the Founder and CEO of Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. is a public speaker, Presbyterian Church USA minister, and writer. For many years, she was with United Ministries, a non-profit in Greenville, South Carolina. Beth works with congregations, schools, universities, medical facilities, civic groups, and businesses in Greenville and around the country.

To learn more about Beth http://oewo.org/about-me/

A Review of “Flawed Church, Faithful God”

A review of Flawed Church, Faithful God: A Reformed Ecclesiology for the Real World by Joseph D. Small (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018)
by Allen McSween

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Small is exactly the right person to write a much needed Reformed ecclesiology for our time. He is a consummate churchman, having served as a pastor, theological educator, ecumenical delegate, and for many years Director of the PC (USA) Office of Theology and Worship. In this book he offers the whole church a deeper understanding of its essential identity. Small insists that the church is not merely a human construct or an idealized abstraction. The church is a communion of flawed human beings that is called into being by the Triune God who guides and sustains it through its often stumbling journey through history and who alone can fulfill its promise “in the fullness of time, when all walls will fall, all who are scattered are gathered, and the multitude will live together.” (219)

What is most commendable in this challenging and compelling book is the way in which Small combines a clear-eyed realism as to the flaws and failings of the church with a profound biblical/theological understanding of how the risen, reigning Christ is fully present and powerfully at work in all aspects of its life through Word and Sacrament in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Small opens his Preface with an intriguing quote from John Updike: “A company of believers is like a prisonful of criminals: their intimacy and solidarity are based on what about themselves they can least justify.” (xiii) In similar fashion, Small says, “the church is a communion of intimacy and solidarity because of what it cannot justify about itself coupled with recognition that its justification lies in the grace of God. Only as the church knows that its life is not self-generated and maintained can it witness faithfully to the God who generates and maintains it.” (xiv) That theme of the radical dependence of the church on the covenant faithfulness of God runs throughout the book.
Small has no illusions about the church. He knows well the church’s captivity to the consumerist ideology that seeks to manage and market the church as if we were in control of its faith and life. He writes, “As purveyors of religious goods and services in a consumer-driven market economy, churches are susceptible to the short leaps from the commodification of the church to the commodification of faith to the commodification of God,” (21) which is precisely the idolatry of which the church is always tempted, especially in our American context.

But even more importantly, Small knows and explicates clearly the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” that continues to form and reform the church as the living (wounded) body of Christ in and for the world. “The call of the Christus praesens comes to the church: turn around, reorient your life, trust the good news and follow me…. The church’s all-too-evident reality of division, accommodation, exclusion, and forgetfulness is judged, but it is only known fully in light of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose call to repentance is his invitation to hope that does not lie in human capacity but in the capacity and purpose of God.” (199-200)

Throughout his career Joe Small has been involved in ecumenical conversations, and throughout this book we hear his passionate call for the church to be the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” God intends it to be. Over against our too easy acceptance of our myriad divisions, Small insists that “Christ’s call to unity among the various congregations, denominations, and world communions into which the church is divided is clear and audible. Nowhere in Scripture is there a hint of satisfaction with the disunity of the people of God.” (200) That is an important word for those of us who are all too comfortable in our cozy ecclesiastical cocoons.
Of particular importance are Small’s chapters on “People of God” and “In our Time” in which he explores the relationship between Israel and the church and contemporary Jewish-Christian relations. Small rejects any Christian supersessionism, insisting that, “If the New Testament is read in ways that denigrate Israel and the Jewish people, Christian understanding of who God is and how God acts in the world is diminished.” (144) We both and together are the People of God.

Flawed Church, Faithful God is by no means a quick and easy read. Throughout the book there are sentences that jump off the page and demand to be pondered at length. On every page there are remarkable insights into the history and theology of the church that shed light on a wide range of contemporary issues. (The Bibliography itself is eight pages!) It has rightly been suggested that this book is the summa of Small’s long and distinguished career in the church. As such, it could serve well to carry on his service to the church if this book were required reading in all our seminaries and if it was strongly commended, as I hope this review has done, to all who serve as pastors and educators in the clearly Flawed Church that nevertheless is upheld and empowered by the ever Faithful God. Tolle lege!

Open Hearts, Open Doors

Here is a big question: What is “the church?”

As hard as it is to admit, sometimes we fall into the trap of reducing “the church” to the buildings where people gather on Sunday mornings.But let’s move past that idea of buildings, of structures. Of walls. “The church” is the people—it is you and me.

The church’s makeup may be determined by opening its doors and welcoming people in, but the church’s identity is defined by opening its doors and joining with the most vulnerable of God’s children in the world. In Isaiah 58, God issues a call and a challenge—to open our doors and share what we have with those in need. The church’s identity reflects the call of Isaiah to become repairers of the breach.

One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) is our direct response to the ways in which God has called us to share, to repair, to bring hope. It is the single, largest way Presbyterians come together to become the church with all the people we see.

Through OGHS, we open our doors to join those dependent on outsiders for food, those who now receive seeds and silos to sustain a future for their children and communities; to partner with those whose land and livelihoods are threatened and who now receive legal aid and protection for the land that is rightfully theirs; and to work alongside those whose homes and loved ones have been lost to a catastrophic event, offering hands to help rebuild and prayers to help restore.Let us open our doors, again and again, to see the vulnerable we’ve been called to stand with and to serve, to share through this offering the love of Christ by ministries of justice, compassion, and joy, and to become, not THIS church on THIS corner, but CHRIST’S church in the whole world.

Join us for One Great Hour of Sharing.  Find resources here.

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Text SHARING to 56512 to receive a link to resources to learn more about how your gift to One Great Hour of Sharing makes a difference, or visit www.pcusa.org/oghs.

Christian Ethics for a Digital Society

Book Review
by Rev. TJ Remaley (Associate Pastor St. Giles) 

At first glance, there seem to be two competing narratives about the prevalence of digital technologies in our society. One perspective holds that the incredible advances and benefits offered by modern technologies are evidence that such products are inherently “good” for humanity. The other perspective, citing troubling statistics of increased isolation and adverse health risks, render such technologies as “bad.”

The reality, as with virtually everything else in postmodern society, falls somewhere between the either/or binary these two perspectives would suggest. Suffice it to say that modern technologies – like all technological innovations that have come before – can be used both for the wellbeing of society and for evil, destructive purposes. (For just one example, the same social media product that helped to fuel a democratic uprising in several oppressed nations also provided the platform for outside forces to influence democratic elections in our own nation!).

In what ways have digital technologies improved the health and wellbeing of society? How has the power of technology been used to foster the peace and justice of God’s Kingdom? In what ways have digital technologies led to toxic habits and forces individually and societally? How have we as technological consumers been complicit – perhaps even unknowingly – in those forces? For the Christian community, most studies of the use of technologies to this point have arisen from one of the two aforementioned binary perspectives; the literary landscape is ripe for a more thoughtful, nuanced approach. To adequately navigate the complexities of the modern world, we must first be aware of, and have a basic understanding of, the broader ethical questions that arise from them. Naturally, this can only be accomplished through obtaining a working knowledge of the subject.

Enter Kate Ott’s new book, Christian Ethics for a Digital Society. As a theological ethicist and seminary professor, Ott has spent much of her career focused on matters of human sexuality. Through her newest scholarly work on technology, however, she argues that for Christians to utilize technologies in an ethical, life-giving manner, they must first become digitally literate. Ott practices what she preaches here, beginning the text with an acknowledgement of her own limited understandings before demonstrating her efforts to become more digitally literate alongside her research of some of the most compelling ethical questions of our time.

The text examines several important topics, each through her cogent ethical voice: the use of algorithms and predictive analytics, the creation of a digital identity, the rise of ethical hacking, the presence of archives as limitless memory, and technology’s often unseen impacts on ecological and social issues. Her detailed review of these topics – each paired with appropriate theological and biblical perspectives, and coupled with a “ripped from the headlines” excursus –  offer a wonderful contribution to the field of Christian Ethics. Each of these topics includes plenty of fodder that would serve as a foundation to delve even deeper. Fortunately, to encourage such study, Ott offers extensive bibliographical endnotes.

It will be no secret to most readers of this review that I am thought of as being digitally literate and technologically aware. My thorough engagement with technology has undoubtedly become a part of my identity: from my childhood using the earliest full-color Macs, to my time as a technology educator, to my current pastoral ministry that includes a passion for the creative use of digital technologies in furthering the mission of the church. I am also a self-proclaimed news junkie, particularly around topics of modern technologies and their impacts on the world. I nevertheless encountered numerous theo-ethical considerations in Ott’s research to which I had never given any real thought. That is to say: technological power-users and digital novices alike will be challenged by this text, and readers of all levels of technological knowledge and ability will discover plenty of food for thought. Christian Ethics for a Digital Society is a timely contribution to the field of Christian Ethics, and a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to more deeply examine the ethical ramifications of their technological life.

 

Ott, Kate M. Christian Ethics for a Digital Society. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.

Stretching our Faith in Westminster

By: Reverend Audrey Reese

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” ~Job 33:4


On January 7th, 2019, a diverse group of women gathered in Gossett Hall. These women ranged in age and ability, political ideology and faith formation. Among us were almost 18 year olds and nearly 80 year olds. One woman came in and said, “I can get down, but you’re going to have to get me back up.”

What type of church gathering would require someone to make such a statement? Holy Yoga. Lead by young Clara, a newly certified Yoga instructor and a child of Westminster Presbyterian (Westminster,) this group of diverse women began a spiritual and physical journey of stretching our faith.

Clara began our weekly gatherings with Scripture, and after some stretching and strength training, she gave us a minute to catch our breath (literally) and read more Scripture. The first week, Clara took it easy on us, and focused on stretching and breathing. She found various Scriptures about breath, including the Scripture above from the book of Job, and asked us to think on that—what does it mean that God’s breath is the breath of life?

As our joints snapped, crackled, and popped, we couldn’t help but let out a grunt or a giggle. In most studios, many of us inexperienced yogis might have been reprimanded, or at the very least given a hard stare. But Clara embraced the noises coming from those of us a little less flexible. In the first session, a very devout woman who takes all things seriously leaned over as she was attempting to get into “Downward Facing Dog,” and said to me, “Where’s the floor?” I couldn’t help but let out a loud guffaw. Soon all of us were giggling.

And yet, as we met each week, we got a little more serious, were able to stretch a little further, and embraced something new. At our last Session, Clara, who has become quite the preacher, read from 2 Corinthians 12: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Clara began our final session with a statement on how society teaches us to “fix” our perceived weaknesses, but God calls on us to rely on God’s grace to sustain us and make us stronger. She even went so far as to say that we are made perfectly in God’s image, just the way we are. As someone who is currently dieting and trying to lose a little weight, I felt like I had just heard a three minute sermon. It was a powerful and humble moment to hear a child of God, one raised in my church, proclaim such a powerful word and bear witness to God’s grace, love, and mercy.

But here’s what stands out to me about this small,but mighty in Spirit church: A thriving church will try new things, and not be afraid to embrace something that may seem “secular” or “different.” We had some folks drop off throughout the month, mostly because of physical limitations, but that nearly 80 year old who couldn’t find the floor found a chair, and learned how to use the chair to achieve a modified downward facing dog. It was beautiful to me to watch these women gather weekly and share silence, breath, and meditation with one another. We were studying God’s Word but we didn’t have to talk. (That was a big bonus for one woman, who is a licensed therapist and spends most of her day talking.) We were stretching ourselves physically and exploring new aspects of our faith. We laughed and giggled when a pose was uncomfortable or we found ourselves flopping to the ground during the “chaturanga” thing that lead us to a lower plank and back onto the ground.

And as we ended our final session in the prayer pose with a “Namaste,” I couldn’t help but give thanks to God for this special church that is so willing to be organic in how we do ministry.

Reflections Bonclarken 2018

I am Lucas, and this is my second year on the Presbytery Youth Council. I have been to Bonclarken five times. The first three with my church, and the other two as a PYC leader. On our planning retreat, we talked about issues that we dealt with when we were in middle school and eventually came up with the theme, “Perfectly Imperfect.” Our keynoter shared her vision for the keynotes talking about how we are all made imperfectly for our own purpose by God. This year [due to Hurricane Florence] we really didn’t have a lot of planning time. We had one meeting where every team had to get all their planning done. I was placed on the Recreation team, and we wanted to design a small group rec event with a variety of games which gave everyone opportunities to get involved and have fun. We also tried to pick games that require teamwork. I think the keynotes were very relevant to many people and connected with them. What was the most powerful thing, to me, was the worship service on Sunday morning.

Every church group had their youth group involved in one aspect of leading worship. I believe this allowed a lot of the youth to really think about, and reflect on, the things they heard throughout the weekend. They wrote some amazing Prayers, a Call to Worship, Call to our Offering, etc. It really showed that they were hearing, and what the PYC was hoping they would hear. Thank you all who support PYC: All our churches, ministers, and youth leaders are appreciated because none of our work is possible without their support.

Lucas Conti
Senior at Ft. Inn Presbyterian


My name is Ella Casto-Waters, and I’m an active member of First Presbyterian Church Greer. I’m also serving my first term on the Presbyterian Youth Council. I’ve attended the Foothills Presbytery Middle School Retreat at Bonclarken three times: twice as a youth and once as a PYC leader. Each time I’ve been to Bonclarken I’ve had a great experience that has helped me grow in my faith. The PYC started planning this retreat back in August at our leadership retreat. We gathered and discussed our middle school experiences and what themes represent those experiences. Together, we decided on “Perfectly Imperfect.”Lauren Slingerland was the keynoter for the weekend, and we were fortunate enough to have her at our planning meeting. Lauren thoughtfully contributed to our discussions and brilliantly turned our ideas into worship services. At our last meeting, Lauren worked with us to make props and visual aids for the different keynotes. Everything came together beautiful. Every aspect of the retreat was well thought-out and put together. The small group manual was extremely well-written and included activities that were directly related to the scriptures of the weekend. I was impressed by how natural the connection between keynote, small group, and recreation seemed. My favorite part of the retreat was watching the youth lead worship on Sunday morning. It was such a joy to listen to the kids’ interpretations of the theme and what they were taking away from the weekend. Retreats like this past one at Bonclarken are made possible because of the support from Foothills Presbytery. So, thank you. To the churches and individuals that support the ministry of the Presbyterian Youth Council: thank you. Your commitment to our organization means so much to us and to the youth of this Presbytery.

Ella is a Sophomore at Greer High school