Questions of the Week:
Toby Weismiller, Ruling Elder, Colesville Presbyterian Church, Silver Spring, MD
Will our church get vandalized if we put up a Black Lives Matter sign?
Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call
Questions of the Week:
Toby Weismiller, Ruling Elder, Colesville Presbyterian Church, Silver Spring, MD
Will our church get vandalized if we put up a Black Lives Matter sign?
Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call
00:03 – Simon Doong
Hello, and welcome to a matter of faith of presby podcast, the podcast where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question. Because if it matters to you, it matters to us. And it just might be a matter of faith.
00:21 – Lee Catoe
Whether it be faith in God, faith and others or faith in yourself. We are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unfound, the interactive journal on Christian social justice for the Presbyterian Church USA. I am your host, Lee Catoe.
00:38 - Simon Doong
And I'm your host Simon doon.
00:40 - Lee Catoe
Without further ado, let's dive into today's questions.
00:45 - Simon Doong
Hey, Lee, how are you doing today?
00:50 – Lee Catoe
I'm good, Simon. We don't normally do this.
00:52 – Simon Doong
I know. You know, I'm just feeling today. I'm feeling so energized. You know what I'm saying?
00:57 – Lee Catoe
Kinda, I kind of know what you're saying. I am not as energized. I feel in my spirit. But I can tell that you are energized today.
01:09 – Simon Doong
Yep, well you know, I'm feeling so energized because we have some great questions read it in from our audience like this first one, which reads, “So I attended a Presbyterian youth conference for the first time a few years back, and we did these activities called energizers. I'm still not quite sure what they are. What are they? Exactly? And what purpose do they serve?” What are your thoughts? Lee? What are your thoughts on energizers?
01:37 - Lee Catoe
I have so many thoughts,
01:38 - Simon Doong
And what are they?
01:40 – Lee Catoe
I, so as we were preparing for this podcast, I was telling Simon, you know, like I didn't I was raised Presbyterian, but I didn't really get involved in the Presbyterian Church until I was a little older. But I was introduced to energizers at camp because apparently that is just it just kind of infiltrates this church. And that's one of the reasons why we want to talk about it. And so I remember being asked to lead them, but really, not really enjoying it at all. And watch and wondering what exactly like, like wondering just why. And if you don't know what an energizer is, the Energizer is basically a choreographed dance to a certain song to probably the same songs. And there's probably still using the same ones now, and so and conferences and things like that to kind of break the ice and kind of loosen people up. And if and if you're a little, you know, uncomfortable, this could make you really more uncomfortable, actually. But to kind of break the ice, they do these dances called energizers to get the energy up, I guess. And I remember being asked to do this in college, and then realizing I just really didn't like it. And then a few years later, I brought some people into a conference that didn't normally attend a Presbyterian conference before. And, and this was at a conference for adults, and they wanted to do energizers. Usually, this is like a youth thing. But there were young, I mean, it was adults, young adults, but it was adult and they started dancing. And the people that are brought into this conference and into like the Presbyterian culture are quotes. I'm doing quotes right now. We're like, What in the world is this? Like, this is bizarre. This is something that they're not used to, it was kind of a glimpse into, like this kind of stereotypical Presbyterian culture. And yeah, it makes it made me really think about, you know, the things that we do within the church that seem, in some ways can seem exclusive, and not just energizers. But a lot of different things, a lot of stereotypes that happen in the church, kind of inner language and inner things that happen that people from the outside come in, and they're just like, What in the world and it can also happen so much so that it is exclusive, that it can kind of be off putting. And so we want so this question came up because of that. Now, not everybody has my experience. But I do think it is in some ways. For me, it's it's kind of a balance of I don't know, it does make me more uncomfortable than it does make me comfortable. But on the other side, I think people like it. But another way is another side of that is people from the outside look in and are wondering, you know, what, what is this? And we can also argue that it is it can also be very white, that I don't that I think that could be an interesting topic to talk about. But I know Simon is of another opinion. Correct?
04:59 – Simon Doong
Yeah, well I somewhat disagree, not disagree, but I have a different experience with regards to energizers. But first of all, thank you for sharing your experience Lee, because again, I can definitely see why for some people that would be uncomfortable. I personally really like energizers. As you were saying energizers are songs that are usually accompanied with hand and body movements, I don't know if I would necessarily call them a full dance. But they're simple. They're a little simpler than a dance per se. But you know, they've got some hand and body movements, they're usually up, upbeat and very peppy. The one that comes to mind most often, if people are familiar with it is Kirk Franklin's revolution, which has some corresponding arm movements to go with it that I don't know, really gets you in the spirit. And yeah, I think the purpose of energizers is to get everyone excited and get them hyped for worship. Sometimes the song or the movements may correspond with the theme of the conference that you're attending or for that particular day's worship. And usually, you're not just doing them on the spot. I mean, you are but usually the instructors for or worship leaders will teach everyone how to do the motions. So personally, I do enjoy participating because there's this kind of energy that gets created when everyone is doing the same movements to a song energizers are usually pretty expressive, but also a little silly at times, which I personally find nice. But I can also see why other people might look at that and be like, that's a little weird, or that's not really for me. And it's funny that you brought up the, you know, the bringing in someone in for the first time, and their reaction to it, because the first time I ever did it was at a Presbyterian Youth Conference when I was in middle school. And, you know, our church, youth group rolled up and came into worship, we came in and they started doing I think revolution might have been the first one actually that we that we did. And I remember, our youth group had never done anything Presbyterian, outside of our one single congregation. And suddenly, all these people are on the stage are doing these movements to the song and people around us are just doing it. And we look at each other. And we said, are you going to do that? Are we doing this? Am I doing this? Are we doing this? And in the end, some of us did it some of us did not. I was one of the ones that did go figure. And I thought it was fun. But I also understand that some people might not it there's also the fact that you have to be able bodied to completely participate in energizers. I mean, obviously, they can be adapted. But it's good that if a congregation or a conference wants to use them, then to be sure to provide alternatives for people who are not completely able-bodied. I also think with regards to energizers. Specifically, often when young people are given the opportunity to participate in worship, especially after attending a youth conference, the default, the sort of default assumption of congregation members, when they ask the young people to participate is Oh, you did energizers at that youth conference, right? You can lead energizers for the congregation, which is great. Some people may be very inclined to do that. But if someone wasn't comfortable doing it at the conference, as you were saying, Lee, they may not be comfortable doing it in front of their own congregation. And there's also just the fact that young people have so much more to offer than just leading energizers as part of worship and as part of reflecting their experience at a conference. And so that's just sort of my thoughts on using them. But I enjoy them. But I recognize they're not for everybody.
08:39 – Lee Catoe
Yeah. And I appreciate that. I think sometimes it may come off that, you know, if you don't like it, then what's up? You know, and I love dancing. I'll go out, I'll dance all night long. I'll get on the karaoke stage and sing all day long. But for some reason, yeah. When when it's in that space. And so I have no problem with people who do energizers. But I think we really wanted to talk about this and kind of a way that's like, it's not just about energizers it's like how are we cultivating like, a culture within the Presbyterian church that is unique, and that is that but needs to be inclusive, that needs to be porous to allow other expressions that come through different ways of being in some ways. I do see many of the energizer songs there are a few by black gospel artist. And it is a conversation that a very white Church has used these songs to create these energizers and that interplay. I'm always the one that's going to talk about like systems, I'm always going to be the one to talk about justice. That's another thing that we don't normally talk about science. This is what makes me and Simon very like different. Of course, Simon also talks about justice and things like that, but we have very different deliveries, we will just say that, but I do think it's also just very interesting. And when it comes to other things like in the church in the Presbyterian Church specifically that kind of gets this like culture, a Presbyterian culture that can sometimes be very white and very non inclusive of other ways of creating a Presbyterian culture, if that makes sense, like chacos and birkenstocks. Um, and people out there who are listening to this know this, like, people are listening to this, and they know what we're talking about Mumford and Sons, acoustic guitars, things like that. What is that saying, for the people who are coming from the outside and looking at the church that I love looking at the Presbyterian Church? And what are they seeing? And some ways it can be very exclusive? And I've seen it in some ways about Yeah, like the certain people, you know, or they say, presby, prayers, be celebrities, things like that. And so I think we're there one of the reasons why we want to talk about that. It's just to bring that up, and not to criticize people for living into, you know, to what they like and what they gravitate toward. I'm not saying that at all. But I do think it is an interesting thing to talk about, just because I've experienced that some way from the outside looking in and say, Hmm, interesting. And there are some things where I do kind of live into that is kind of a cult cultivated in the Presbyterian Church world. But I also caution and say, how is that also ways that we're excluding? How is it kind of a white way of being? And how are we perpetuating systems that aren't allowing other ways of being and other ways of expression to kind of permeate that? And I think we're doing better at that. I really do. But I also No, it's all still there. And so. So yeah, I just wonder about that.
12:11 – Simon Doong
Well, I think there's also something to be said, as, as you were saying, and someone new is coming into the space. And the first thing that they see is everyone doing this dance, not exact dance to movements, there's nothing wrong with that. Again, there are other traditions and and cultures that do that very well. And it is an ingrained part of their culture for the for the Presbyterian space, because it's specific to certain contexts. I think it could it can come off as does everyone do this is we didn't do this at my church. Do other Presbyterian churches do this? That was a question I legitimately had, as a middle schooler. I was like, are we missing something at my Presbyterian Church? This is not what I understood it, that you didn't have to do this. This is not what it means to be Presbyterian. Now again, I say that as someone who loves energizers, but just for representing that, the our understanding rather that the various ways that we represent we represent ourselves to those who are coming into our into the circles should generally be open and accepting and not that energizers art but that everyone's gonna come into it with a different understanding of what those activities are, what they mean and level of comfortability.
13:25 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, and meeting people there. And I'm really glad you said about able bodied like ableism within it. We all we need to mention that too. And I'm really glad you said that. And, and yeah. And when I first encountered and I'll say it is Presbyterian culture, and I will say a lot of it is white Presbyterian culture, although, I mean, I mean, people of all races, participate and all this, but I also think that yeah, it is kind of a balance of where, yeah, where that inclusivity and exclusivity are and the Presbyterian jokes that happened. Like the frozen chosen. I've attended many black Presbyterian churches, some Korean Presbyterian churches, some Hispanic Presbyterian churches, they ain't frozen at all, and very expressive. And even growing up, we may as well have been kinda Baptists, because we would shout out sometimes we would say amen sometimes. And so I think it's those kinds of things. It's like, how do we both open up not exclude because do you do energizers all day long? I think that's great. But I think opening it up to a certain way of opening up the culture more to include a variety of different ways that Presbyterians worship and interact and in create community is is something that I hope to see more of, not all of us are frozen churches. I'm not all of us are. That's the biggest joke. I think not all of us sit in the back pew. I think that's also a joke. So those kinds of things, I hope we can continue to break down because I do think it can be an excluding type of way. But again, if you're a pro Energizer, no shame. Just not all of us are. Ready for the next question, Simon?
15:25 - Simon Doong
Let's do it.
15:27 - Lee Catoe
So our next question that we are going to talk about is one about paying attention paying attention in church. So the writer of this question asked, I just can't pay attention through a full worship service, particularly through the sermon. Don't tell my pastor, things go too long, and I started to space out. Am I bad? Do you recommend any strategies to help maintain focus and attention? Well, Simon?
15:55 – Simon Doong
That's a very real and relatable question. First of all, I would say don't feel bad, we've all spaced out during church, especially during those early morning services. I'm just gonna go ahead and admit that. So strategy number one, if your church allows coffee in the sanctuary, don't be afraid to bring your cup of joe your cup of coffee with you, if you think that's going to help you be more attentive to simple one, if you're allowed to have coffee, I would recommend actually trying to get involved in worship in some way. Participating in some way, I always feel that I feel more active and engaged and less spacey, when I have a part to play or a role in the service. It doesn't have to be anything big. It could just be reading scripture, or reading or leading a part of the liturgy, like call to worship or prayer of confession, it could be being an acolyte. So lighting the candles at the beginning of the service and putting them out at the end. Or if you're musically inclined, maybe considering being a part of the music worship team or the choir, those are just ways that you can get involved and feel more like you're participating and have agency and are contributing to the service and probably more likely to pay attention as well. And if you're really struggling, you can always sit there and read the Bible, I can't tell you the number of times as a kid that I got bored during worship. And so I just picked up the Pew Bible that was right in front of me just open to a random page and read some of it at least I was engaged in some way I was still engaging with the word still got something out of church. And if all else fails, and you space out, it's okay. We believe in forgiveness. It's all good. You're only human. Just do what you can do your best. What do you think Lee?
17:40 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, I think that's those are great suggestions. And I also and this may be me just speaking to pastors out there, because I do think that in some ways, delivering sermons preaching has morphed and, and I wonder about the question of like, how do we cultivate you know, a culture of really of many teaching elders who do a lot of the preaching not saying all teaching elders are solely preachers, but what does it mean to I don't know, be more sustained. To be more straightforward, it used to be that ministers what preach a long time and in some traditions, that is that is something that has carried on but in many traditions, like the black church sermons can go on for a long time, but you would never know because of the engagement alongside call and response of churches of congregations in this relationship they have toward the minister and so and even growing up going not necessarily to Presbyterian churches, but we would also go to like the Baptist church or whatever. It was a different dynamic between the congregation and the minister, there was a kind of call Yeah, call and response type of thing. And so I wonder about that too. How can even as a congregation that I think often times can kind of feel in some ways powerless because it's like up you don't you don't challenge the pastor or you don't you don't try to question how it's always been and stuff and I think working and getting involved and seeing how to create to be creative around worship to Yeah, I think I think there are there could be partnering ways to really develop worship in many, many different ways alongside the pastor and alongside sessions or alongside committee members. There's always a worship committee. So it's like, how do you create some sort of relationship there? I know in our book of order and me being a teaching elder myself, there is something in there that Like the pulpit is like that is when a preacher preaches from that that is the word. And that is something that technically, you can't really challenge in some ways, if I'm getting that, right, and if I'm not somebody writing about it, but I think in many ways that needs to, we need to start talking about how to be engaging, and how to how to really develop a relationship. And I see this in a lot of white churches, a relationship with the congregant and the minister. It's like there has to be some form of back and force way of engaging that is a little more creative than just listening, you know, to somebody speak for that long. Now, for me, if I'm preaching it not be a maximum of, of 12 minutes, it's now that if it's any more people kind of, especially for not like engaging, you know, so I do think it is a, it shouldn't always have to be on the congregants to stay engaged because we're all human. And we all have different ways of learning and different ways of engaging. And I think I think that's also changing within the church, because we're realizing people learn in many different ways people have many different abilities. And so, yeah, having those Creative Conversations with a pastor that is hopefully open to that, because of is happening over and over to find ways to because it won't be just you I'm sure it's not just you. Let's not you're not the only person that is experiencing that there's people all over. And it's I think it's one of the reasons why many people have stopped going to church is that the engagement and finding ways to really yeah, to really develop a relationship in that worship space has been hard because of that kind of traditional model of doing worship.
21:56 – Simon Doong
Yeah, I think a challenge for anyone in ministry and particularly for pastors standing up or sitting down however they give their sermon is that you're the competition for your the congregants time is the congregants cellphone, if someone is sitting there, I mean, again, we hope people don't look at their phones during worship, we know what happens. And especially right now everything's virtual, you have no idea if someone's multitasking, you know, being on their phone, in everyone's hand or pocket is a device that can take them to whatever they want. That is not you talking. So just remember that, again, it is very important for the congregants, the person listening to try to pay attention and maybe work some of these strategies in to try to be more involved and engaged in worship. But yeah, like you were saying, Lee, it's also on the part of the pastor as well as the church body as a whole to try to find ways to be engaging for the folks in the pews, or in this case, worshiping over zoom, trying to keep their attention, because it's very easy to get distracted when you have a little device that can take you anywhere and look up anything at any time.
23:08 – Simon Doong
So Joining us today is a very special guest to help us discuss a very interesting and relevant question for today's congregations. Joining us is Toby Weiss Miller and elder at Colesville Presbyterian Church in Maryland. And Toby is going to help us talk about a question related to Black Lives Matter signs and and putting up signs related to justice issues that we care about. So the question reads, Will our church get vandalized if we put up a Black Lives Matter sign? Toby? What do you think about this question based on your experience with your congregation?
23:55 – Toby Weismiller
Well, I think it is a very relevant question. And I suspect that many congregations are having the same sort of dialogue and consideration about if they weigh in on this topic, our experience. We are a suburban congregation, and we're on kind of a busy thoroughfare and so we have big signage that we put out and change periodically in front of the church while after the George Floyd killing. We had a session meeting and the Justice committee brought forward this statement that we wanted to share our concerns with the congregation about what had happened. And we also wanted to display our Black Lives Matter banner. So session was very supportive of that. And right away early in June, we put out a large, like, I don't know four by 12 banner in front of the church saying Black Lives Matter. So that went on a couple of weeks and then or The Fourth of July holiday, we saw that the banner was gone completely missing. And, and someone had taken it down, we then we had another banner on hand. And so we replaced that one with securing it with some cables and padlocks so that it couldn't be easily removed. And the following. I don't know it was well into July. The first thing was that that the word black was spray painted over. And then later about a week later, we decided to leave it up just as a statement of our commitment to continue the message someone used at some kind of a blade to slash and to cut out the black word. And so at that point, it was pretty tattered, we decided we'd leave, leave it up a short time, while we ordered another banner. It was interesting, because that's when we first got engagement from neighbors. And the church was closed then because of COVID and had been closed since March. So there weren't people at the church, the phone was on the answering machine. And you know, we have the website, but people couldn't speak directly to the church. Well, we started getting emails from neighbors saying how concerned they were about the banner being vandalized. And we even went back a week after this last incident, I went by the church and a person had put up a small Black Lives Matter flag on our tattered banner. And there was a note attached to it that was obviously written by a child who said how much she or he supported our message and what we were trying to do. So shortly after that, that didn't weather too well. And so we took the whole display down. And we were waiting for another banner to be made and delivered. And that soon after that, like within a couple of days, I was at the church again. And there was a new Black Lives Matter banner hanging. And so I went out to sort of look at it and check it out and stuff. And a gentleman stopped by and said, I hope you don't mind. I wanted to have a banner up censures with destroyed. So we got acquainted in this with a gentleman who lived across the street from the church, and obviously was very committed to displaying this message. So anyway, he was going to leave his banner up until we got a replacement. Well, a little while later that went on for maybe a month. And then his banner was also slashed and destroyed. So then we go to a yard sign strategy where we had yard signs made, which weren't so expensive. And we posted them. We had I organized some crews of people and someone would put them out in the morning and someone would take them in at night so that they wouldn't be vandalized or destroyed in any way. And we did that for a while until we got a new banner, then we we have a new banner, this would be into August. And that one also was vandalized after a period of time. And our friend across the street just happened to have a backup banner. And so he put it up. And then he began the ritual of putting the banner up every morning and taking it down at night. And meanwhile we're getting really a lot of positive visibility and feedback from the neighbors through email and through the website. And also people were sending contributions to replace the banners knowing that they were an expanse. And I think we got over $1,000 in contributions over a period of just a few months, and we didn't solicit any of those. Yes. So that was really a great reinforcement, to have that kind of affirmation from the neighborhood. And finally, later in the, I guess it may have been in September, someone took the neighbor's sign that he had posted in front of the church or his manner in the daylight. He had, you know, been careful to do it morning and take it in at night while someone evidently came in the daylight hour and took the banner. So at that point, we had one last banner left. That was the churches. So we put it up and he again, took it down every night. And that lasted until we did the session decided that we would stop the banners before the election knowing that that was probably a pretty politically volatile time. So we stopped the banners in late October and we had curious people emailing the church, why have you taken your banners down? So people were certainly watching and wondering what was happening. So we did develop a little email list of our supporters, which we've I've continued to kind of update as our campaign continues. And we hope to once we're open again, invite those people to join us for some fellowship or some activity and acknowledge their support and how much it meant to the church. So our last effort was for Black History Month, we wanted to, you know, celebrate that occasion. And, again, I sent a communication to our email, friends I in the neighborhood that we would be hanging the banner again in February, and our neighbor across the street said, volunteered right away that he would be glad to put it out and take it in each night. So that we did that. And it was again later in that month damaged. And so we had to at the end of February, we would stop the campaign as we had planned. And so that's where we are at this moment. And I think there probably will be a moment Well, when we decide to pull it out and pull the banner out, get our message out again,
31:03 – Simon Doong
Toby, I really appreciate you sharing that story, because it illustrates the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional nature of when a community of faith decides that there's a message that it wants to support and refuses to be silenced about it, while also at the same time facing backlash from certain community members, not initially of the congregation, but in the wider local community. And also support from local community members as well. I just love the idea that it what seems as a very, very simple or a single action suddenly has all of these effects and outreaching that you don't expect some congregations might experience vandalism to their actual building at you know, in response, sort of to the original question, and some won't, and some may just simply have their signs defaced and vandalized. But I'm very I'm very grateful to hear that, you know, there is a congregation out there that is putting that sign back up with the help and support and care of the local community. I just think that's beautiful.
32:19 – Toby Weismiller
Well, it was certainly an unexpected benefit. When we started this, we thought we were just you know, saying a message on behalf of the church. But obviously, the George Floyd incident really set off a great Firestorm among people who maybe hadn't been moved to think about, you know, what criminal justice has, has become. So I do think that it was an opportunity and it really, I think, we're very glad we went through that struggle.
32:58 – Simon Doong
So for our resource roundup segment today, we're gonna be mentioning the gun violence policy of the Presbyterian Church USA, which is called gun violence, gospel values mobilizing in response to God's call. This policy and report was approved by the 200 and 19th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 2010. And it's a really great policy that challenges our society's fatalism and numbness and accepting the highest gun death rates in the world, reviews past church positions, and proposes a new spiritual awakening approach, which is a church related community-based strategy. It looks at our culture of violence, acceptance, with its undercurrents of fear and desperation. We really encourage people to check this out because not only does it outline policy, it also provides additional resources that people might be interested in, including how guns and violence is incorporated into the language that we use, and it provides a list of other resources that people can check out both online for further study. It also includes study questions for congregations so that they can take this resource and use it say in a Sunday school, or as a discussion, a discussion piece. So we really recommend that people check out gun violence, gospel values mobilizing in response to God's call. It's available from the Presbyterian mission agency, just Presbyterian mission.org backslash resource backslash gun violence gospel values, we highly recommend that everyone check this out as gun violence will continue to unfortunately be a major issue that we all have to live with and increasingly are becoming more aware of, so check out gun violence gospel values.
34:51 – Simon Doong & Lee Catoe
This has been the matter of faith podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unbound if you would like to submit a question for discussion. You can do so at faith podcasts at pcusa.org. We look forward to hearing from you. See you next time. Thanks everyone. See you next time.
35:27 – Lee Catoe
Thank you for watching episode eight of a matter of faith, I press the podcast again, don't forget to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform of choice.
35:37 – Simon Doong
And don't forget to leave us a review. It helps us bring more faith-based content to you.