Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Experiments in Ministry

I just want to share one very intriguing thought that I picked up at Big Tent, the amazing mission event held every second summer. One of the seminars I attended was talked about the power of New Ministries in the mission of the church. Here are three gold nuggets I took away from that seminar:

ONE: Most successful new ministries these days are not about planting a new church in a growing area and watching it grow. Rather they are about a handful of people movenulld by God to take on a particular ministry task for their community. The task might be to build Christian community in their neighborhood, or to address a particular need of compassion in their community-like homelessness or hunger, but it usually begins with two or three people who are passionate about this Christian ministry.

TWO: These ministries are often very different from the traditional "congregation-in-a-building" ministries of previous decades. Rather, they are experiments in new ways to do ministry. Vera White of the 1001 Worshiping Communities Office of the PCUSA has described these new ministries and the Research and Development arm of the church. Often these ministries do not start with ordained leadership, although sometimes their leaders begin studying for ordination, or recruit ordained leaders to join them later; often they do not include a building-they meet in homes, or request permission to meet in an existing church or other building; but they are passionate about their ministry being a true Christian ministry that builds up disciples of Jesus Christ for the purpose of engaging in this specific ministry. Many of these ministries only exist for a short time. Others are growing and maturing as Christian ministries. However, all are successful as Christian Research and Development, because the churches and presbyteries, and the Christian disciples they work with inevitably learn from their efforts. Success is about learning for future Christian witness.

THRnullEE: As these new ministries connect with presbyteries, they tend to inspire new efforts in the more established congregations. As church Immanuel Presbyterian Church in leaders see what others are doing, and pick up on in Anchorage is considering a what others are learning, they are inspired in their Community Garden Ministry for 2014 own efforts. The Presbytery of Pittsburgh reports that nothing has renewed their long-standing churches like the inspiration that came from the new ministries in their midst.

With this in mind, I am wondering what new efforts God is inspiring in the hearts of the faithful in Alaska? What might our presbytery endorse as experiments in mission, today?


Friday, August 16, 2013

Here Come the Millennials

It is no secret in our presbytery that the church is currently facing a huge generation gap. Our churches are increasingly filled with gray-headed worshipers and increasingly fewer from the younger generation.  Truly, we see a generation gap.

I write all of this with a great sense of irony.  It is truly ironic that the Baby-Boomers, my generation, are now largely empowered as the leaders of the institutional church.  Yet, it was our generation that coined the term generation gap back in the 60s and 70s.   We insisted on living for ideals and principles rather than simply conforming to the “establishment" as had, we believed our parents' generation.   Indeed, our generation defined ourselves in terms of movements...civil rights, women’s rights (including women’s ordination), anti-war, environmentalism --all were all major movements of our era,   We Boomers saw it as our place to stand against the status quo and to work for new movements to improve society.

Now, we are the establishment.  We always knew this day would come, but I feel somewhat amazed, anyway.

We Boomers are now the ones who are upholding the institutions of church and society, and we comprise the older generation that the younger generation is rebelling against.  I wonder if our parents are secretly amused.

The generation we are across the gap is the Millennial generation, those people born since 1980.  The Millennials are a huge group of people, with a population twice the size of the Boomer generation.  Yet, though the oldest Millennials are already in their mid-thirties, the Millennial generation has been held back by circumstance and is only now beginning to show its strength.  The longer careers of older workers, combined with the economic crash since 2008, left so many of the Millennials without jobs, without spending power, deep in debt for studies that did not lead to jobs, and frustrated as society (read Boomers) continue to treat them as "kids."  Yet, the time has finally come when Millennials have begun to come into their own.

One of the defining characteristics of this generation is that they are digitally savvy.  Indeed, for many, "Digital" seems to be their native language, which really does make them, and their world, different from that of older generations.
  • They  form community (friendships, dates, social causes) as readily through social media as in person.  
  • The breadth of their online contacts allows them to network with with a much wider diversity of folk than their elders, and they are better skilled at networking than their elders, too.
  •  As a result, they are looking at a wider range of alternatives to help the world than their elders.  After all, the more voices that network together, the more ideas come available for exploration, and the more creative brains become available to collaborate together.
  • At the same time, the Millennials are also much more opportunistic than their elders—meaning they are ready to jump at some of these new opportunities as soon as they find them. 
The Millennials have much to offer in God’s service of renewing society and church.  It is time for the older generation to celebrate some of the amazing potential that God is raising up among us.

As a baby boomer, myself, I find both great joy and some (normal I think) trepidation in watching the up-and-coming younger generation.  I find their idealism rejuvenating.  

The joy comes from the vibrant ideals the Millennials are capable of pursuing.  They see the huge crises (environmental, financial, energy and political) looming over society, but also see the potential for a different future for he world.  Many boomers lost their zeal such causes in the 80s and 90s, but listening to the Millennials often reawakens those old desires.  If we Boomers can cease worrying about change and embrace it, we could become great allies with the Millenials.

The trepidation comes from a fear that the two generations will fail to see this common ground and form alliances together.  It would be easy for the Boomers to remain afraid of change and fail to reconnect with the idealism that defines them at their deepest level.  It would also be easy for the Millennials to witness the trouble the world is in and fail to realize that the Boomers really do have insights into this complex world that could save a lot of trouble as we build a new future.  Basically, the trepidation I feel has to do with the human tendency not to build trust among one another.

Yet, change must happen.  Our generation cannot simply burn all the world's fossil fuels and leave nothing for he future.  The environmental calamities that our generation is must not be ignored if we care about anyone other than our ourselves.  The world must be a place where people build sustainable economies and societies.  The diversity of human society must not give-in to the temptation to solve everything  through the tyrannical grasping or power that is always looming.

So how do we define the gifts that each generation brings to the table?  How do we free the creativity of the younger generation God is raising up, and how do we harness the wisdom that only comes with experience?  

God knows!

I certainly don’t have answers to all of that.  I am hoping that we can enjoy an ongoing conversation on this topic throughout our presbytery, and throughout the Christian Church.

So…to help start the conversation, I have attached just a few of the slides that Dr. Christine Hong, a Millennial herself, shared with us at the PCUSA-sponsored Big Tent gathering earlier this month. 

Curt Karns

Hope is God’s melody for the future;
Prayer is to listen for it;
Faith is to dance it.  (Rubem Alves)

Curt Karns
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Yukon
616 W 10th Ave
Anchorage, AK  99501
c -907-350-3969
P Please consider the environment before printing this email

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The church's R&D department.

One of the take-aways from the PCUSA Big Tent Event in Louisville last week is the roll of new ministries. New ministries serve as the place where the church experiments with new ideas that include new groups of people. There is great energy in new ministries, because the people involved are participating in a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) that God is doing. That energy, and the successes that come out of that energy, inform and inspire the older congregations in a presbytery. In essence, the new ministry has the potential to renew a whole system of churches, serving as the R&D Department of the Church.

What new ministries are needed within the bounds of the Presbytery of Yukon?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A New Ministry? Learning From Good Samaritans.

What a year for weather! 

After living in Eagle River for five years, Cindee and I thought we knew what to expect.  We had already established the Alaskan EcoEscape Permaculture Learning Center to teach practical skills for living sustainably on this planet, and it was time to schedule some classes.  We were confident, last fall, when we scheduled a class on Clay-Straw Construction for the weekend of June 1-2 that we would have several weeks to prepare.  All we needed was to get the roof up before June, so the clay would stay dry if the weather was wet.  Plenty of time.

Of course this was the year when winter wouldn’t die; it was still snowing on May 18.  Before the roof could go up, we had to prepare the site.  The new construction was going to be a greenhouse and therefore on a south-facing slope.  As it turned out, the slope was not accessible with a tractor, so we had to dig terraces by hand,  Preparing the site for the class turned into a marathon event, digging and wheelbarrowing late into the night, digging house posts into frozen and rocky ground, and finally putting up walls and roof.


I have rarely been so exhausted in my life.  But the class was worth it.  In fact the class was so overbooked we had to schedule a second weekend for another group.

Our desire was to offer a class on how to build using alternative building techniques.  We wanted to demonstrate one of the methods that uses less fossil fuels, that designs buildings to last centuries, and that uses materials that do little harm to the environment.[1] Through the Alaskan EcoEscape Permaculture Learning Center, we want to engage people in trying out ideas for living better on the planet.  This means living in right relationships with the planet, with our fellow human beings and with God.

Class learning to lay Clay-straw
Some have accused Cindee and me of being a little too fanatical about living into a future that is different than the present.  Some have expressed a distrust of people like us, who dare to believe that God really will lead us into a different future, the future we need.  And make no mistake, we do need a different future.

Everyone knows, for instance, that our planet cannot support seven (maybe growing to be ten!) billion people much longer, not if we continue living the way we are living now.  Many are praying for a very unlikely technological miracle.  Others fail to believe the looming crisis is real, because it has been developing for decades—what some have begun to call the slow emergency.  Others choose simply to ignore the situation.

Yet, across the world millions of people are taking the situation seriously.  I believe these people are like the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable.  Samaritans did not follow the Bible properly.  Nevertheless, it was two properly religious leaders who passed by an injured man, while this Samaritan was the one who saw his plight and responded from the heart.

At our Clay-Straw Construction people came from across southern Alaska.  All wanted to know about how to build using local building materials.[2]  Some wanted to know about permaculture principles and organic gardening.[3]  Most were also interested in connecting with a community that cared about the shape of our future together.
Terraced Greenhouse, with clay-straw in one wall

Christians need to be engaged at the very front of this movement.  In the South-Central region of our presbytery there is a growing movement to grow local food, to teach permaculture principles (for a sustainable culture), to transition into a low fossil fuel future, and to create intentional living communities that create more community in people’s lives.  Yet, there is no overt witness from people of faith.

The Bible begins with God’s creation of heaven and earth, through six stages (days) of creation, ending with God simply resting in joyful relationship with all that God had created.  Human beings are explicitly called to live in right relationship with the planet, to get their food from it and to care for it (Genesis 2:15).  Psalm 104 speaks of the wonder of creation, and God’s providence for all creation—telling us that God loves and cares for creation for its own sake and not just to benefit humans.  In the New Testament we are told that all creation groans in suffering as it awaits the salvation of our God (Romans 8:22).  And Jesus told us to love our neighbor, to alleviate suffering, and to pray and live for the kingdom (that is, for God’s will on earth).

I believe it is time for a new Christian ministry based on God’s call for right relationships.  It is time for a ministry based on creating a sustainable future.  I currently am employed to work part-time (80%) for the presbytery.  In my 20% personal time, I have been pursuing this idea of forming a Christian witness to God’s call for sustainable living. 

What, I am wondering, shall this Christian witness look like?  Right now I am simply talking to folks to see where the Spirit is moving.  Do you have thoughts on developing a specific Christian Witness to God’s call for sustainability?  If so, here is what you can do:

  1. Contact me, Curt Karns, at exec@pbyukon.org.

  2. Gather some folks from you church and schedule a time to come out to our house. We can show you what we are working on through the Learning Center.  Maybe you can help us add more clay-straw to the house.

[1] As opposed to many accepted construction methods.  For instance, cement manufacture releases greenhouse gasses (so much cement is used worldwide in construction that this represents a major concern); many paints and finishes give off VOC gasses that harm human health, etc.
[2] Lumber is an Alaskan product and does not need to be shipped from some distant land.  The clay we dug up from a source we knew near Healy (though we have since learned of some clay deposits much nearer).  The straw we bought from a farm in the Mat-Su Valley.  The windows were recycled from old buildings.  The clay wicks moisture and therefore maintains humidity, but it also holds heat and radiates it back into the living space.  The straw insulates the walls.  Clay-straw together repels mice and mold.
[3] http://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Becoming the Presbytery Owl

Lately, I have been putting effort into writing vision and job descriptions for the Presbytery Owl…which, it turns out, is one of the roles I have been asked to play for the presbytery.  Writing vision descriptions is necessary, because the presbytery voted in October to reduce my work to 10 months per year.  It has become necessary to define which roles the executive presbyter will play in presbytery leadership, and which he (I) will not.  Since the first of those blocks of time away from the office will be this month, it is high time to decide on what ministry roles the executive presbyter shall fulfill. That is the role of the vision description.  A job description describes the duties included in fulfilling that vision. 

According to the Presbytery Leadership Team the executive presbyter is called to play two roles within the life of the presbytery.

First, the executive presbyter is to serve as pastor to the presbytery.  This means that the executive presbytery is to serve
·      as pastor-to pastors,
·      as first responder, along with the stated clerk, to crises and problems as they arise in the presbytery.
·      as the “face” of the presbytery, showing up in each region and helping interpret the mission of the presbytery,
·      spending two weeks out of eight on-site in the villages pursuing specific goals.
·      and as holder of the presbytery vision when staffing committees.

It is when we talk about the second role the executive presbyter plays that we find ourselves describing the Owl to the Presbytery.  The executive presbyter is not caught up in one congregation or community, or even just in our presbytery.  The executive is to rise up and look at the big picture, as if from an altitude, and asked to challenge the presbytery to not lose its own perspective on what God is doing. 

Some scholars [like Ron Heifetz] call this “leading from balcony space.”  However, the Joint Parish members commented in February that “balcony space” was truly not descriptive in a land with almost no balconies; they wanted a better definition for this role than that.  As that conversation progressed, one person finally spoke up and said this is more like the owl.  It hovers over the tundra with sharp eyes and sees with wisdom.

Since then, different groups have thought about the executive presbytery filling the role of Owl to the Presbytery and have shared some creative thought on how this image helps the presbytery.  I want to share some of that creative thinking. \

Before I do, though, let me share one personal thought:

I have never really liked the title executive presbyter.  I always have to explain what it means, and the explanation is not very exciting.  However, given the two roles the Leadership Team has asked me to play, I have been toying with the title Pastor and Owl to the Presbytery.  Now that is a fun title!  Anyone want to add it to our personnel list?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Living the Solutions

Living the Solutions
Garden Ministry at Immanuel
Immanuel Presbyterian Church of Anchorage recently met to discuss putting legs on their vision statement for ministry.  One ministry they have decided to design is some form of Church Garden ministry.

Nationally, garden ministry has been gaining attention as it allows the church to reach out in ministry to people beyond the local church, especially low income people who do not own land.  Some of the benefits of garden ministry include these:
  • Garden ministry increases family independence by allowing people to grow their own food;
  • garden ministry helps congregations to connect with low income people an form better relationships in life and ministry;
  • and garden ministry increases helps congregations to learn and teach about the environmental value of growing food locally (no CO2 emissions for transportation), as well as methods for growing things in more environmentally friendly ways than what happens in most commercial farming.
Immanuel Presbyterian Church has only just decided to begin designing their own Garden Ministry approach.  This year, they hope to continue developing the plan, and to make the preparations needed to be ready for next year's growing season.    

Building with Local Materials--Clay Straw-build at Bioshelter
Experiments on living into sustainable life can sometimes result in a more efficient and comfortable life, as well.  That is the hope of Cindee and Curt Karns at the Alaskan EcoEscape Bioshelter and Permaculture Center.  This summer they are offering classes on building with locally harvested clay and straw.

The classes will offer a "hands-on" learning experience at the Bioshelter near Eagle River.  Participants will learn about the breathability, thermal mass value, and ecological benefits of clay construction. They will then practice, first by making the clay slip and adding the components necessary for proper construction, and then by acutally constructing a wall in a new, clay-straw greenhouse.

The first class will be June 1 and 2.  The instructor will be the well-known clay-straw builder, Lasse Holmes of Homer.  Classes with Lasse Holmes cost $250 for the weekend.  There are still two slots open

A number of participants indicated they could not come on that date.  Therefore, a second class will be held on June 8-9.  Cindee Karns will be the instructor, following Lasse Holmes' teaching.  Classes with Cindee Karns cost $50 for the weekend.

For information on the classes, email: alaskanecoescape@yahoo.com

For a meditation on how the Karnses see this as a response of faith, see Curt's Blog From the Bioshelter, reflecting on the Lord's Prayer and Philippians 4:8.


Earthcare Concern
NOAA--400 ppm CO2 -- May 9 marked the first time in millions for so much greenhouse gas
One of the most important faith issues of our day: how will humanity respond to the catastrophic impact humanity's current lifestyle is having on life today, and will have for future generations.  In Alaska Kivalina, Nowtok and Koyukuk already stand as poster-children for the impact it is having in our own state.  But the projected impact on all life in the lifetimes of young people alive today, and for their children, is hard to believe.


Since Earthcare is the most urgent global concern for people of our generation, this blog would love to hear what disciples of Jesus Christ are doing to live into a different, life-sustaining way of life.

Possibilities for the Future
The Economics of Happiness is an informative video exploring economics that do not exploit or overconsume land or people.  The video has become available on a pay-per-view basis through VIMEO

Although The Economics of Happiness is not from an explicitly Christian source, it is a thought provoking video.  The video can be used by groups interested in exploring the signs of the times we are in, and interesting possibilities for the future.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Changing Things Up

This week marked a major change for the Presbytery of Yukon.  April 30 was Jan Burger’s last day as administrative assistant, and May 2 marked the first day for Melissa O’Malley to be the new voice and the face that greets you from the presbytery office.  To be sure, Melissa actually began on April 12, and Jan has been training her since.  Still, April 30 felt like the true boundary moment—a true changing of the guard. 

The Personnel Committee and office staff held a retirement party for Jan on her last day.  Thirty people gathered in the Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage to celebrate Jan’s nine years of service in the presbytery office.  There was lunch and prayer and symbolic gifts and stories, as we celebrated Jan’s graceful presence in the office, and her faithful work that helped the ministry in so many ways.

One turn of events added an ironic twist to the whole event.  The Personnel Committee arranged for a piece of walrus ivory artwork to come from the village of Gambell as a gift for Jan.  The gift did not make it by party day!  Somehow, this seemed rather humorous, given how many times Jan has made arrangements for many of us, or for our supplies, to travel only to discover that the weather preempted her best scheduling.  Such is life and travel in the Presbytery of Yukon.

Melissa comes to us from Eagle River.  She is Southern Baptist, so she is scrambling to learn what Presbyterians mean when they talk about Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, and other such jargon.  However, Melissa wanted a part-time job that would allow her to serve God through God’s church and to be home with her kindergarten-age child for a good part of the day.  The Presbytery of Yukon administrative assistant position makes a good fit.

However, Melissa was not hired to do exactly the same job Jan has been doing.  The Presbytery voted in October to change the job from a 20 hour per week job to 12 hours per week.  With this in mind, Melissa’s main roll in the presbytery office will be to facilitate communication through appropriate technologies, and to serve as travel hound dog for the presbytery—that’s my term, not the personnel committee’s J.

Cutting the Administrative Assistant’s hours will mean a number of changes.  Probably what will be most noticeable at first will be that Melissa only works three days per week: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  For those who travel to presbytery, you will also notice that Melissa will not normally be present at face-to-face meetings of presbytery. 

All of this will require some adjustment from all of us. For instance, you can still call the presbytery office on Mondays and Wednesdays and leave a message.  Sharon or Mary or I will check for messages regularly, so that we can reply to your needs as promptly as we can.  However, we ask that you bear with us as we all begin to learn new patterns for working together.

If you get a chance, please send Melissa a call or email to welcome her into this work through the Presbytery office.   Her email address is the same one Jan has been using: office@pbyukon.org.

Curt Karns