“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
This week, Christians throughout the world are celebrating Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was released with fire and wind. It was the fulfillment of the prophet’s promise of a new covenant where God would write the law on hearts and resulted in the reuniting of nations.
In light of this, we are featuring a blog written this week by Father Peter Gyves from A Faith That Does Justice. A Faith That Does Justice is an “interfaith organization based in Boston that raises consciousness about social issues affecting the most vulnerable among us and offers opportunities for people to walk in solidarity with those who our society marginalizes.” You can sign up to directly receive updates from them by completing the simple form at the bottom of the home page of their website.
“Peace be with you … Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
The Church celebrates Pentecost fifty days after Easter to commemorate the empowerment of Jesus’ disciples with the Spirit. It led to their spiritual transformation from a fragile faith in the risen Jesus to peace, joy and the wisdom to proclaim God’s message of forgiveness and salvation to the ends of the earth. Their witness resulted in the birth of the Church.
In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11), Luke describes the descent of the Spirit as a strong driving wind and tongues of fire, an adaptation of Israel’s own Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, that commemorates both the wheat harvest and Yahweh’s giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It also bears witness to Israel’s own birth as a covenant people. In John’s gospel (Jn 20:19-23), the disciples encounter the crucified and risen Jesus in fear and behind closed doors. He offers them his peace and shows them his wounds so they might believe he is truly risen. He then empowers them with the Spirit and sends them in mission to be to the world what he has been to them. While they needed time to assimilate what they had experienced and the demand it placed upon them, eventually they offered their lives in Jesus’ name.
Today, the Spirit of Pentecost’s gifts of wisdom and courage remain available to all people of good will so they might witness to God’s offer of forgiveness and salvation to our fractured world. For Christians, that same Spirit calls us to live as Jesus did, incarnating God’s love, compassion and justice on behalf of all God’s people. Let us pray that the Spirit will transform our own fragile faith into one that, like the disciples, engages society by actively witnessing to God’s enduring love for all of creation and deep desire for a reign of peace that is based in justice and extends from the depths of the oceans to the outer reaches of space.
A Pentecost Prayer for Christians in Greater Boston
God, as Christians in Greater Boston, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Renew our hearts which have grown cold with flames of fire that we might be the church that you desire.
Last year, UniteBoston hosted our second summer worship night in the Boston Common, and we were blown away to hear story after story about how God met people through the public worship. We had around 1,000 people in the audience, and it was inspiring to see many onlookers who wouldn’t normally step into a church building experience the power of God through worship.
UniteBoston is planning to host another worship night on August 17, 2019 at the Parkman Bandstand in the Boston Common. Our goal is to create a unique worship environment for all to come together and experience the love of Jesus. From our diverse backgrounds, we can together witness to a new unified community whereby all human barriers and social problems are eradicated through Christ’s work of reconciliation.
One of the greatest joys of UniteBoston is seeing friendships develop between Christians from various denominational and ethnic backgrounds who join to make all aspects of the UB worship night a reality. We would love to have you involved! We’re currently recruiting for people to join these three teams:
- 1. Development Team
- Do you want to learn about the development and operations side of non-profit management? The development team helps with fundraising and works alongside the creative team on graphic design and branding. This is a great opportunity to see what it takes to plan and operate big concerts!
- 2. Church Connection Team
- Do you enjoy meeting new people? The church connection team works to help connect pastors and ministry leaders to the UB worship night through sponsored tables and endorsements. If you enjoy building bridges and getting to know the beautiful diversity of churches in the area, this team is for you!
- 3. Prayer / Outreach Team
- This team is for people who enjoy praying for God’s work in Boston or sharing about the Christian faith. This team gathers regularly to pray for the preparation of the worship night. They also coordinate prayer and outreach initiatives to minister to people at the worship night.
This volunteer opportunity can also be used as internships to build the necessary skills and experience for your career. There is a 1-4 hour a week commitment, with flexible hours. If you are interested in joining one of the teams, email Kelly Fassett, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for joining into Jesus’ united gospel movement throughout our city!
“It all changed when I felt God. It wasn’t anymore just to be at church to be at church. It was be at church because you wanted to be there, to be around people who talk about and love God… I want to be baptized because it’s being part of a greater thing than just life. It’s filling yourself with love and hope and faith. It’s just wonderful.”-Sage Kerstetter
Rebekah Kerstetter is one of our UniteBoston Neighborhood Dinner Coordinators in the Medford area. At our neighborhood dinner this past week, she shared about her daughter Sage choosing to be baptized at Highrock Covenant Church this past Easter. Watch the video below to hear about the transformation that happened in Sage’s life as she committed to follow God. Let’s continue to pray for the next generation of youth in our churches and communities to have life-changing encounters with Jesus!
See more stories from HighRock Arlington here.
“In UniteBoston, the collaboration of Christian identities exists not only between one church and another, but also between one neighbor and another, and one friend to another, on a much broader scale. Moreover, this growing and adaptive community engagement arguably aligns with the original mission of the church: to engage the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.“Peter Seremetis
This week, Peter Seremetis is the guest blogger on UniteBoston. Peter is a second year student at the Boston University School of Theology. Coming from a Greek Orthodox background, he interviewed leaders in UniteBoston for his “Practicing Faith: Leadership in Ministry” course. Peter is a native of New Jersey who received his BA in Journalism from American University in Washington DC. Prior to coming to Boston, Peter had interned at the Washington National Cathedral and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. In his blog below, he describes how UniteBoston is incorporating “adaptive leadership” in its programming and foundation as they align Christians of all backgrounds on God’s mission together.
When I first heard about UniteBoston, I was deeply inspired by its mission to unite Christians. Embedded in the organization’s foundation is the concept of “adaptive work” articulated in Ronald A. Heifetz’ book “Leadership Without Easy Answers.” A leader or organization that exercises adaptive work, according to Heifetz, examines the reality of a situation, and assesses what values, beliefs, or behaviors need to be changed in order to properly address the challenges of that situation (Heifetz, 22).
One of the primary challenges that UniteBoston faces as an organization, according to Kelly Fassett, UniteBoston’s co-founder and Executive Director, lies in its very mission of “nurturing Christian unity through relational connections” between different churches and Christian denominations in the Boston area. As Kelly pointed out, the maintenance of differences can become deeply embedded in a congregation’s sense of identity. “People think that in order to be a church, you need to have a tight understanding of who you are, and your identity as a Christian,” Kelly said. “Because of this, often denominations or local congregations see their identity as against the ‘other’. People think, ‘I’m Catholic; I’m not a Protestant,’ or, ‘I’m conservative, not like those liberals over there.’” Following Heifetz’ logic, to address this challenge would require a deep analysis of the values and beliefs that lead to this kind of identity formation, as well as the subtle changes that need to take place in order to, as Kelly put it, “help people see that the people on the other side are actually, potentially, a part of the same Christian family.”
UniteBoston’s emphasis on the inclusion of different denominational representations within every layer of its organization–through its Board of Directors, dinner coordinators, volunteers, and musicians, functions as a primary tool for addressing this challenge in an adaptive way. This can be seen in an anecdote cited by Chloe Gaydos, UniteBoston’s Event Coordinator and Band Manager, in which a group of volunteer musicians were putting together the music for the organization’s upcoming annual Summer Worship Night. In this circumstance, disagreements in music style and theological beliefs surfaced, including practices and beliefs in receiving communion, styles of worship, and prayer. Chloe explained that while these disagreements occurred, maintaining openness and “providing opportunities to create something together” enabled the members to see each other as “more than theological beliefs.” Over time, they began to ask each other questions about those differences. Chloe described, “You don’t really know and have a well-rounded perspective of what you believe until you have to share with somebody who believes otherwise.”
Taken at an individual level, leaders within UniteBoston each apply their own spiritual practices to help themselves, and the organization, address this challenge up front–inadvertently following Heifetz’ principle of “mobilizing members and attendees to face, rather than avoid, the realities and challenges” between church communities (Heifetz, 23). For Kelly Fassett, for instance, it is a practice of “taking it back to prayer” by dedicating “quiet time” every day to “stay centered in Christ,” which helps her to make sure that her decisions as a leader, as well as UniteBoston’s decisions as a whole organization, are in line with the most important aspects of their underlying mission. For Rev. David Wright, one of the members of UniteBoston’s Board of Directors, it is a practice of communicating that the differences between church communities are something to “honor,” while remaining focused on the bigger picture that as Christians, “we are one.” To illustrate this, Rev. Wright gave the example of how he utilizes a devotional practice at the beginning of each Board meeting, in which a different board member offers a devotion from his or her tradition, so that all members can appreciate and understand the perspectives and and gifts within each tradition. He described, “We have our differences: let’s honor those, let’s support those, let’s celebrate those, but in the greater thing–which is we are all in the service of Jesus Christ, let’s focus on that.”
What adds to the efficacy of UniteBoston’s “adaptive work” is the fact that UniteBoston brings this cross-cultural community engagement to people. By hosting its Neighborhood Dinners in hosts’ homes within the neighborhoods of Boston, in having its Worship Night in public spaces like the Boston Common, and even having its Annual Fundraiser in a different church each year, such as Bethel AME Church and Congregation Lion of Judah, UniteBoston brings the questions about what it means to be united in Christ into people’s immediate vicinities. This approach gives its mission the feel of addressing an immediate issue—not one that exists outside of one’s life or one that a person has to travel far to in order to experience. In UniteBoston, the collaboration of Christian identities, one could then see, exists not only between one church and another, but also between one neighbor and another, and one friend to another, on a much broader scale. Moreover, this growing and adaptive community engagement arguably aligns with the original mission of the church: to engage the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. After further reflection on UniteBoston’s mission, I came to see UniteBoston not just as an organization bringing together various church congregations, but rather, as an organization that is about people existing as the embodiment of the church together.
The Emmanuel Gospel Center is a great friend and ministry partner of UniteBoston’s. Many people in Boston and around the country have benefited from their research about churches in Boston and their systems ministry approach. Their Executive Director, Jeff Bass, joined the staff at EGC in 1991 and is a member of River of Life Church in Jamaica Plain. In the article below, Jeff Bass offers insight for Christians for engaging well in the work in our neighborhoods.
Many people have read the book, When Helping Hurts, (or a similar book to this), and I am often asked if EGC has any materials that could help people move from helping that hurts to helping that helps. In response, EGC has developed a 4-part class, based on our Living System Ministry approach, that we have taught recently at both Grace Chapel and Trinitarian Congregational Church in Wayland. It’s been interesting taking material that we use with our staff and ministry partners and teach in seminary, and trying to effectively contextualize it for four hours of adult Sunday School. But it has been a worthwhile challenge, and it has helped me boil down some of the things EGC has been working on for years, to essential concepts that apply in every setting – missions, ministry, home and work.
So how can we be helpful helpers? It starts with accepting that even our well-intentioned helping often does hurt, or in EGC terms, that what we do can be counterproductive. Much has been written on this, and it’s very well documented (1). So we need to be careful.
The first step in being careful is “embracing your own poverty.” We each need to come from a place of humility, not superiority. It’s an eminently Biblical concept (2) that causes us to recognize our material wealth is not what defines us, and we are just like the people we seek to serve (and they are just like us), having both significant assets and deep needs that require help.
The second step in being careful is taking the time to learn. Reality is complicated. It takes time to get to know the people, organizations, or communities we hope to help. Nothing fights hurting like real understanding and trusting relationships. Working this way always takes more time, but it is always worth it in the long run.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Phil. 2:3-4
Finally, as we move from humble learning to more active engagement, the best simple principle to follow is, “Empower Others.” Do things with people, not for people. Give help that helps them do or be or solve or lead or move forward. Make them the heroes of the story.
One final note. This is not easy. Effective ministry is not “plug and play.” It takes real work, making mistakes, repentance, wrestling, stubborn grit. Embracing your own poverty, taking time to learn, and choosing to empower others need to happen over and over again. That’s OK. We serve a God of grace who walks with us and clearly calls us to keep trying.
If you or your church would like to learn more about Helping that Helps, please contact Jeff Bass, executive director, at email@example.com. For further information on the Emmanuel Gospel Center visit egc.org.
2 See for example Phil 2:3-11, Phil 3:3-11, and Rev. 3:15-19