Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

2/20 2014

No More Monologues

 

The Art of Spiritual Conversation:

We do ourselves a great disservice in the church when we do not teach the art of spiritual conversation. Talking about spiritual things cannot be something that is relegated to pastors. The language of Christianity cannot be something that is merely sung in worship songs and uttered in ancient liturgical sayings.

When people’s primary experience in the church is that of being passive recipients, then we have not prepared them to take Jesus seriously. When individuals are told to sit down and shut up or only use other people’s words to articulate what they believe, then we do not actually invite them into a place of authentic wrestling with what they believe. If the invitation into the messiness of the Christian journey is not extended at church, the necessary skills are not taught and celebrated, then it is no wonder that the people of God who are searching and seeking meaning and substance will walk away from the church finding it to be a dull and dry vessel with very little good news to share.

I am not advocating that we throw out the past by doing away with things like the Confessions and the Hymns. What I am saying is that they in themselves are not the end all. It is not enough to say and sing the “right” words. The words of those who have come before us and the words of pastors today preaching and teaching the Biblical text are not untouchable. They provide us with an opportunity to do what Christians have been doing for centuries now…

To figure out what in fact we do believe. They invite us to articulate our faith not in the words of others but in our own words. They invite us to be a part of a living faith right now in 21st Century America. Spiritual conversation refuses to settle for wrote memorization. Spiritual conversations move from consumerism to engagement. Spiritual conversations move us away from being isolated spiritual beings and force us into frustratingly human relationship. They require humility and vulnerability as we share our questions and our ideas.

By Simeon Harrar ’14, Director of Student Ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, PA

Read more about Simeon at his website: http://www.simeonharrar.com/

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1/23 2014

Questions are the answer?

Questions are the saving grace of our Wednesday night youth group at Homestead United Presbyterian Church.

To provide a bit of context, our group meets at 6:00 p.m., we share a meal prepared by a gracious church member, we play an ice breaker game, and then we have an hour-long Bible study! I give a short 10-15 minute presentation on the passage chosen for the week, after which the remaining 45 minutes is just a traditional Bible study. This includes ages ranging from 6th grade to the youth group adult helpers whose age I prefer to leave unannounced.

The Bible study, (rightly so) has become the climax of our night. It is truly a magnificent experience and has helped all who are present grow in our knowledge of scripture and our relationship with God. Often times I wonder how this is possible. Yes of course through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but how does this Bible study with such a wide range of ages not become another lecture from the older generation to the younger? The answer for our group is found in an inquisitive teenage girl who is unashamed to ask the “tough” question and is unwilling to settle for any answer that is theologically and philosophically flawed and void of truth. (My own interpretation but I think it fits.)

When I started my internship at HUPC, I was warned about this inquisitive girl. The members groaned with pains of agony when her, and her brother, who has moved on to college, were mentioned. Sudden circumstances left the church without a youth pastor – forcing the members to pick up the burden. So, in their defense they were not trained, nor had they even considered some of the deep questions that were asked.

As someone who studied religion in undergrad and now on my way out of seminary, I was excited for the challenge and was not disappointed. To paint a picture, this young lady is home schooled, loves to read especially – Harry Potter – and carries an authentic vibe with everything she does. She has not been corrupted by the awkward social standards found in the school halls, and she is not burdeedn with the concern of other people’s opinion. It really is a blessing to the whole group. Were it not for her, our group would not be a Bible study, just a lecture.

Nonetheless, the greatest blessing in her questions is the fact that she really searches for the truth without the critical tone I’ve come to expect from my fellow classmates. She simple wants to grow in her faith; and the result, she is the one who has grown the most in my short time with the group. She is the brightest apprentice of the group, and has pushed me, the youth workers, and the other students to think deeper about everything we confess. This young lady brings to life the words of Jesus, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matt. 7:7),” not only for herself, but for our entire group and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Written by Damian Berry, M.A. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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12/18 2013

Benediction for the Waiting Ones

An Advent litany from the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer reads,

God of the watching ones,
give us Your benediction.

God of the waiting ones,
give us Your good word for our souls.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,
give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest.

God of the watching ones,
the waiting ones,
the slow and suffering ones,

and of the angels in heaven,

and of the child in the womb,

give us Your benediction,
Your good word for our souls,
that we might rest and rise
in the kindness of Your company.

I love a good benediction:
the brief, yet powerful truths,
and the charge to get busy serving and loving out in the world.

The benediction both nourishes and commissions.

My affinity for a good benediction grew during my college years when a pastor of mine offered this simple blessing, delivered with warm hands on my nervous face, “Jesus loves you, Lance, he always has, and he always will.”

I sigh now when I think about that blessing. I want to hear it again. I don’t want to merely read it. I yearn to hear, to feel that blessing. I want to know the peace and joy that come with such affection and hope. But I have to wait.

During this Advent season we practice waiting and hoping. We want to hear the Lord’s benediction, those good words for our souls. But for now, we are the waiting ones, the watching ones. Some of us might be the slow and suffering ones of the litany above. But if God’s coming is anything like it was last time, the slow and suffering will be in good company.

Written by Lance Hershberger, senior MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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