Top Threes

I love all the End-of-the-Year and End-of-the-Decade Top Ten lists, “best of the year” lists, and What’s In/What’s Out lists.  Making up my own lists is both indulgent and  a good way to organize my personal memories for the sake of looking back with gratitude.  And for the sake of time and space, I’m focusing only on the Top Threes:

Top Three Genius Discoveries of the 2010s:

  1. Ta Nehisi Coates
  2. Colson Whitehead
  3. Robin DiAngelo

Three Most Impactful Church Moves in the 2010s:

  1. Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA razed it’s building, partnered with a housing developer, and built two towers of affordable housing over its new church space.  Thanking God for all the churches who took risks to serve their neighbors in the 2010s.
  2. Friendship Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL – a congregation created when two congregations successfully merged –  whose pastors both left and whose buildings were both sold to start something totally new – called Shawna Bowman to be their pastor. Great example of smart merging and resisting the temptation to call Pulpit Candy (i.e. a man who looks like he should be the pastor according to old norms: good hair, radio voice, wife who bakes while looking like a fashion model.)  Thanking God for all the churches who did not call Pulpit Candy in the 2010s.
  3. The Grove Church in Charlotte, NC lost two thirds of its membership on its way to becoming a church that addresses what breaks God’s heart in the neighborhood in the name of Jesus.  Their pastor Kate Murphy was given a wide berth by the Presbytery in terms of restructuring the leadership to ensure that the right people were on the team.  Today it’s clear that every aspect of their identity has been broadened:  who’s there, who’s served, who’s loved.  Thanking God for all the churches who realized in the 2010s that church is not a social club.

Top Three Personal Life-Changing Moments of the 2010s:

  1. August 29, 2011 – I found myself working in a city I’d never visited before moving there doing ministry I’d never done before going there.  It was a gift.
  2. June 19, 2016 – Denise Anderson and I pitched to a room full of Presbyterians that we were up for talking about difficult things like systemic racism in the Church.  It also happened to be a week after the Pulse Nightclub murders, a year after the Mother Emmanuel murders and – of course – Juneteenth.  We had no choice.
  3. February 10, 2018 – God called me to my dream ministry in the state of my birth and after being away for almost 40 years I returned to the Promised Land.

BONUS LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT: There was a secret-ish moment in October 2017 when I carried out the last wish of a friend in Wittenburg, Germany for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  One of the best days of my life but I will miss her forever.

Three Beautiful Moments That Happened in 2019:

  1. Floretta Barbee-Watkins led the congregation in Let’s Stay Together during Amantha Barbee’s installation as the new Senior Pastor of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, GA in March 2019.
  2. Jess Cook was approved for ordination on June 18, 2019 by the Presbytery of the James in Richmond, VA. They became the first openly nonbinary person to be ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA on June 29, 2019.
  3. Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, ID – led by Marci Glass – wiped out the medical debt of 549 Idahoans in November 2019.

In spite of the deep divides in the world, I trust that the 2020s will be full of genius, impact, change, and beauty.  Thanks be to God.

Image of the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany where Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses marking the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.