What follows is my application essay for a PCUSA New Church Development Discernment Conference this October, answering the simple question “Why do you want to attend this event?” Since it marks some major changes (or clarification) in my thinking, and tracks some things I’ve been involved with recently, I thought it might be good to post here:
Three months ago, I embarked on a project to gather together Presbyterians in the virtual reality world of Second Life, and with them form a community of people who pray together, fellowship together, support and encourage one another, and reach out to others in the name of Christ. What initially drew me into this project was my ongoing commitment to explore the intersection between new technologies and the church, my commitment to exploring what it means to be a Presbyterian in a post-modern culture, and my desire to follow God’s universal call to evangelism in all places. Honestly, I was also a bit surprised to find that my particular “faith tribe” (the PCUSA) was one of the only major denominations not already organized and taking advantage of the opportunities to do all of the above in a global community with over 1.3 million participants, many or most of whom are what would be considered “unchurched” in either virtual or actual reality.
Despite the somewhat bizzare and otherworldly, high-tech nature of Second Life, as I began to encounter people there (Presbyterian and otherwise), have conversations with them about God, faith, and the church, and as our community began to meet regularly for conversation and prayer, I noticed that the skills I was drawing upon most were not my “high tech” ones, nor even my sense of “cultural relevancy.” Rather, it was my experiences in a real-world New Church Development for several years, and snippets of advice I had gleaned from various New Church Development and Evangelism conferences (that I had often scorned or considered outmoded at the time) that I now found myself straining to remember, and, when implemented, met with the greatest success. I am beginning to learn that the shared wisdom and experiences of those who have gone before me and worked hard to plant worshipping communities — however different they may initially appear from my own context — are of great value, and that solid principles of organization and leadership often transcend age, location, and context.
There are two reasons I would like to attend this NCD Discernment event. The first is short term: It is the hope that by spending a few days with those who have done what I am attempting to do, I can listen attentively and glean some useful guidance about church planting, about myself, and about following God’s call into difficult places. In this, I hope that I can bring some benefit to the virtual-reality community where I feel God is currently calling me to lead. The second reason is a more long-term one: While I have always felt called to evangelism, mission, and community building, I have generally expected to do this work independently, “outside” of denominational structures. I have felt that while I may have something to offer my denomination, my denomination would likely not have much to offer me. My experiences in the past few months have led me to question this position, and to be more open to the idea that I, and any community I might someday lead — no matter how “different” or “outside the box” — would stand to benefit greatly from the collective wisdom and experience of those who have done NCD work in the PCUSA. Now, with ears that are more “ready to hear,” I hope that this event can help me better discern the nature of my calling in relation to my denomination, and whether NCD work in the PCUSA is where God is leading me upon my graduation from seminary.