Monday, April 20, 2015

Where are They Now - Jessica Tate and What's NEXT for the Church

Jessica Tate and What’s NEXT for the Church?
Jessica Tate served as a Young Adult Intern in the Office of Public Witness in 2002-2003 and now is the director of NEXT Church ( The NEXT Church National Gathering recently took place at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL, March 16-18, 2015.

NEXT Church is a network of leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are trying to figure out what it means to be God’s faithful church in the 21st century. We live in a time when the church no longer holds the culturally-sanctioned position in our society to which we have grown accustomed and the institutional models of church that once served us are not serving us as well as they once did. You can easily see that on Sunday morning when you find more people on soccer fields and grocery stores than in worship. Moreover, our denomination no longer occupies its old place in the public consciousness that once knew Presbyterians were the ones who built schools and hospitals. Now, if we are known at all, Presbyterians are known for controversies. Rather than seeing this as a tragedy, however, those of us involved in NEXT Church believe that God’s Spirit is moving us into something new. The leaders who participate in NEXT Church would like to help discover what is next for the church.

The ongoing conversation and discernment of NEXT Church about where God is calling us has evolved into an annual national gathering that energizes leaders who attend and those who watch online; a series of regional gatherings at which leaders receive training, encouragement and the chance to build relationships; and an online presence that delivers dynamic content right to people’s desktops and smart phones and invites them to connect virtually in monthly Church Leaders’ Roundtables.

I am honored to be the director of this national movement and grateful for the systemic ways of thinking that I was exposed to in the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness thirteen years ago! From the Office of Public Witness, I went on to Union Presbyterian Seminary, where I received a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Education. The grounding in reformed theology, biblical interpretation, leadership, facilitation, and understanding congregations as systems that I received at Union are helping to shape NEXT Church and the leaders who participate.

My first call was to Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia, where I served as the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation. It was (and is!) a wonderful congregation, deeply committed to each other and the community. While there, I was profoundly shaped by my work in and through VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement), a community organization that works in and across congregations to develop power in the community to help shape it into a vision of God’s justice. Through VOICE, our congregation worked alongside community members (in and outside of the church) to create more affordable housing, provide  access to dental care, and demand that banks reinvest in the neighborhoods devastated by the foreclosure crisis.

As I think back to the threads that weave through the tapestry of my life and vocational moves thus far, I can see the ways in which I have been shaped by people and institutions that gave me eyes to see God’s vision of a new heaven and new earth – my dad’s work as a pastor and community leader and the commitment to education and non-profit leadership that my mom and sister have always championed; the campus ministers who encouraged my questions and encouraged my leadership; the professors who pushed me to think more deeply about issues in our world; the colleagues who challenge me daily by their own efforts to make that vision of God’s justice incarnate; and my husband, who works tirelessly as a public servant and with deep theological insight. It is these people and these places who continue to give me hope that God is not done with the church, for the world still needs the good news of Jesus Christ – words of grace, reconciliation, justice and abundant life.