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the church of the 21
By Kay Carney
rom the tall-steeple church to the two-step dance hall, the face of
the church is changing as congregations are redefined, redis-
covered, and reenergized in nontraditional ways. Recent
studies by the Presbyterian Church (USA) reveal
that the “traditional” church continues to be challenged with
shrinking congregations, financial stresses, and the realization
that “going to church” means different things to different people.
As change becomes increasingly visible throughout the church, the
face of ministry is evolving to meet these challenges, and nontradi-
tional forms of outreach are appearing in places where one would least
expect to see them.
The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, current moderator of the PC(USA) General
Assembly, shared his insights during a recent visit to his alma mater, San
Francisco Theological Seminary. According to Presa, the church as we’ve
known it for centuries is experiencing rapid-fire change.
“This is a strategic time and a kairos time,” he said. “To be of
service to the church and to speak to the church in a prophetic
and powerful way, the church itself should be supporting and
nurturing and engaging a present and future generation of
change agents. Agents of reconciliation. Agents of transforma-
tion. Women and men who are living in a complex, globalized
world. How can both theological education and the church heed
that call for service or the human family?”
SFTS president the Rev. Dr. James McDonald responds, “Seminaries
serve as incubators to train future faith leaders.” He acknowledges that
seminaries must be positioned to make bold changes to address the
changing needs of the church while maintaining the core aca-
demic foundation of traditional theological teachings.
“Sociologists tell us about the fast-growing group of
‘nones,’” McDonald says. “These men and women have no
religious affiliation but are deeply spiritual. They are eager to
explore the deeper meaning in life, but they’re extremely wary of
organized religion. For seminaries, it’s our challenge, but it’s also our
greatest opportunity. We must adapt to the seismic shifts in our world and
its cultures. It involves rethinking, reimagining, recreating, and reinventing
theological education.”
At SFTS, many alumni and current students have taken bold steps to
develop new and innovative channels of ministry. These include café, curb-
side, and online ministries. Brewery, theater, and shelter ministries. Nature,
Multiple generations finding
God in unexpected places
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