The Ancient Future Church...in Denver Presbytery

Tom Sheffield, Presbytery Pastor

At the 2014 November Leadership Retreat, Dr. Rodger Nishioka gave ample evidence that the present-day church has striking similarities to the first-century church described in the Book of Acts and increasingly is called to be “the ancient, future church.” As we enter ministry in the Presbytery in this new year, it does seem that there is amazing truth to much of what Dr. Nishioka said.  Let me illustrate some of the opening portions of Acts, therefore, with some of what has taken place. 

“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem … devout from every nation under heaven.” 

The organizing of Iglesia Presbiteriana de Valverde in April marked a major moment in that congregation’s life and in the life of our whole Presbytery as we formed the first Spanish-speaking congregation in decades. Metro Saints Mission Partnership offered scholarships to members of congregations who do not worship in English.  In October the “Roots and Wings” celebration, organized by Council’s Mosaic Diversity Work Group, marked the contributions of Asian and Asian American ministry in the Presbytery.  Supported by the Presbytery, Lemuel Velasco, pastoral leader of Divino Salvador at First Church Aurora, completed his seminary education.  Support continued for the Vietnamese and Myanmar Fellowships. The Partnership of Zimbabwe and Denver Presbyteries Committee continued its decade-long work to recognize the reality of the unity of the church in all parts of the earth.  So far five Denver Presbytery ministers have served in the month-long Short Term Service Program in Zimbabwe.  Amy Mendez offered a Spanish language course for any and all in the Presbytery. At the end of 2014 the Presbytery Council approved the formation of The Gala Task Force which is planning a year of celebrations of Hispanic/Latino culture and contributions in 2015.  And the “embrace of diversity” continued to be a central value of Presbytery ministry.

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”

A perplexed and mocking culture, a society, uninformed and misinformed about the church’s life and message, and people who have been hurt and damaged by that same church surround us and make ministry challenging and enormously stressful. Ministers feel that stress in their hearts and souls.  As a result care is regularly offered by the Pastoral Care Team to those serving in congregations.  In the fall, the Committee on Ministry met with those in validated ministries to discuss and offer deeper ways to support them in their complex ministries.  The Committee on Preparation for Ministry continued to guide candidates and inquirers in their explorations for ministry and also to provide vital scholarships and pastoral care at critical times in their lives. For all leaders in congregations, the Presbytery, through the Leadership Work Group in partnership with Highlands, offered leadership events that sought to encourage new responses in a new time.  The Transitional Ministers Group regularly met for support and a new group for those new to the Presbytery and serving in congregations is being formed.

Congregations, too, experience the stress of finances, ministries, buildings and, even, their threatened survival.  Some, under the presence of that stress, made courageous decisions about their lives.  In each case members of the Presbytery, especially the Committee on Ministry, Stated Clerk Anne Bond and the Presbytery Council, sought to stand with churches and offer ways to work together for a faithful future. After prayerful times of decision-making the Bennett Church voted to seek closure. The Thornton Church received approval to place its building for sale and, as I write this, is considering a serious purchase offer. Following extensive research, discussion and prayer, Korean Central Church sought to place its church building for sale and to determine where it is now being called to minister. The Presbytery’s Long Term Initiatives Work Group made plans for congregations to participate in the New Beginnings assessment and discernment process in the spring of 2015.

Preparing the crowd to hear about the Risen Christ, Peter said:  “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.”

After months of creative work, honest, prayerful discussions, and careful writing in 2014, the Presbytery Council will offer a proposed new vision statement to the Presbytery at its January Assembly. Hopefully, affirming that we will “Journey with God … Together” will lead to our dreaming dreams and creating new ministry in the present and for the future.

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.”     

In 2014 the generosity of congregations was seen in increased mission giving to the Presbytery, Synod and Presbyterian Mission Agency.  Covenant communities and mission partnerships, through which more than eighty percent of Presbytery congregations come “together” in “common” ministry and mission, as well as task forces continued to take on new concerns and also carry on their substantial commitments.  The Mission and Ministry Work Group offered support for these partnerships that seek to reach people “as any had need” both locally and globally.  In addition, the Presbytery Council and its Relations and Communications Work Group, its Communications Task Force and the Presbytery staff, especially, Judy Franconi, sought to increase communication; a sense of community and ways to experience our common ministry with leaders, churches and members with new technology and website. 

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”    

New worshiping communities reveal the need to reach people in our time with new kinds of worship in intimate settings and times that reflect the experience of “breaking bread in their homes.”  The Community of One, Pree ‘n Pree, and the Northwest Missional Community gather in new kinds of worship that emphasize relationship and an openness to personal growth in faith. Although the Bennett Church officially closed, a committed group from the congregation continues to meet in a home for Bible study, prayer and, yes, some sharing of food.  When we all gathered, too, in Assemblies the emphasis on “connecting” was unmistakable through informal conversations, open dialogue and creative worship that truly did praise God. 

You may have more ways the Presbytery’s life and work have reflected the first church.  And I am certain that your congregation and ministry also show those same signs.  I would love to hear about them.  Feel free to send them to me.

              NOW … don’t stop reading this message yet.

Look ahead at these continuing celebrations and opportunities for you!

Celebrating Ordinations takes place for seven ministers of the Presbytery in January.  Give thanks for these colleagues as they remember the beginnings of their ministries:

John Wright   Ordained on January 14, 1970    
Celebrating the forty-fifth Anniversary of his Ordination

Darryll Young  Ordained on January 7, 1990    
Celebrating the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of his Ordination

Stan Jewell   Ordained on January 12, 1975     
Celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of his Ordination

David Peters   Ordained on January 12, 1975   
Celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of his Ordination

John Smidt   Ordained on January 14, 1970     
elebrating the Forty-fifth Anniversary of his Ordination

Betsy Muldrow   Ordained on January 26, 1975  
Celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of her Ordination

William Davis   Ordained on January 30, 2010    
Celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of his Ordination

For their service to Christ and for the Church we give glory to God!

The Next Presbytery Assembly on January 27, 2015 will be held at Calvary Church.  It will be a full and important Assembly that will include:  the installation of our new moderator, Ruling Elder Diane Ritzdorf, and our new vice-moderator, The Rev. Mark Vickstrom; the recognition of the ministry of our current moderator, The Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper; a report from the Interim Stated Clerk Search Committee; a recognition of our relationship with The Colorado Trust; updates on Committee on Preparation for Ministry policy redevelopment; debate and vote on changes to the Book of Order; information about allocations for mission partnerships and covenant communities; the election of synod commissioners; a presentation of and vote on a new Vision Statement for the Presbytery; and recognition of the service of Stated Clerk Anne Bond.  The pre-assembly time will focus on the proposed changes to the Book of Order with particular emphasis on the proposed changes to the definition of marriage.

A Retreat to Explore Your Relationship with God and How You Can Grow is being sponsored by the Presbytery of Wyoming, January 30- 31.  Led by Dr. George Goodrich, Co-Executive Presbyter in Yellowstone Presbytery, it will be held in Casper, Wyoming.  The cost is $50 for registration and three meals.  Nearby lodging is available. Contact Steve Shive at the Presbytery of Wyoming, 118 East 9th Street, Casper, WY 82601 to register by Sunday, January 25.

Be Inspired!  Inspirar!  Be Uplifted!  Motivar!  Be There!   Lo Esperamos!   You will be inspired and uplifted at the first Latino Film Festival, sponsored by Denver Presbytery’s Gala Task Force.  View the startling Salt of the Earth, the only blacklisted film, and the heart-wrenching and spirit-lifting, A Class Apart.    Both put a courageous spotlight on the life of Mexican Americans in the United States.   It all takes place on Saturday, February 7, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. at Wellshire Presbyterian Church.  It is free but we ask that you RSVP and learn more about these films at www.denpres.org/eventsThe Gala Task Force is celebrating Latino culture, art and history throughout 2015.  Lo Esperamos!

Being Leaders:  Living into Your Call is a special event for teaching elders, ruling elders and deacons, sponsored by the Council’s Leadership Work Group.   It will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Brighton, on February 28, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  The Rev. James Gale, Coordinator of Theocademy, a discipleship and leadership training series for Presbyterians, will be the leader and there will be opportunity for exploration and dialogue about the challenge, opportunity and possibilities of being a leader in our congregations.  You can now register on-line for this event at www.highlandscamp.org

The 2015 Summer Pastors’ School, sponsored by the Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation, will be held June 7 – 13 at Hasting College in Hastings, NE.  This outstanding event offers renowned leaders and incomparable hospitality all at minimal cost.  For more information go to opsf@opsf-omaha.org or call, 1-888-244-6714. 

The Untamed Mind of Christ is an experiential wilderness immersion designed to help Christian men encounter, explore and embody the four facets of our innate human wholeness, the image of God, and the Christ nature in our journey to becoming fully human.  To be held August 14 – 16 at Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge in Grand Lake, its cost is $520, which includes guide fees, lodging and meals for three days and two nights.  The guides are Dr. Brian Stafford and Associate Pastor at Grace Church, the Rev. Matt Syrdal.  You can obtain more information by calling 303-548-0823, going to the website www.Eco-Psyche-Artistry.com or speaking with Matt Syrdal.