Pivoting and Planting: How We Got from There to Here
Greg: Kevin, you are the veteran Philadelphian here, and you have had your hands in this for quite some time. So can you take us back a little bit, from whence this is all came?
Kevin Porter: Ruth talks about the time that we first went into first African shortly after she got here. It was not with a clean slate; we all walk into a narrative. Part of the narrative that we were walking into was folks saying, “Oh, First African. They are just about their history. They are stuck in their ways. There is no life and ministry going on there.” That is why, when Ruth came and saw that was not the case, it spoke so powerfully. So it was not a thing of us trying to resurrect something that was dead, but to nurture the embers that were still there…
The context that is important to me- this was not the first effort in trying to do something collaborative at First African. About 20 years ago, there was an attempt with five congregations of which First African was just one, and Calvin was in that conversation as well, to see what could be done collaboratively with the five. And it just was not the right time. For a number of reasons, it got to a certain point and then could go no further.
When you hear Ruth talk about the joy in the kairos of being able to call Eustacia, Eustacia was not around 20 years ago. So when in retrospect you can see God’s hand at work through the whole process. That is very important, whatever your ministry situation is, do not be scared of risking; and do not be afraid if your risk does not turn out the way you intended. It may not mean that it was meant to be at that moment, but seeds can be planted for another time when God’s will be done and fruit will be born…
Listening to the ceremony that happened [at the baptismal font] to incarnate what God is doing in this day…when you put your own stones in, the same amount of water can actually flow to the top to the point of overflowing. So, folks can look and if they are bearing witness to God’s presence in this place and look at it and say, “there is almost no water left in the there. It is almost bone dry.” What God can do if you offer your stone to the water is actually have that water be overflowing. That is a powerful witness in and of itself.
Ruth: Kevin reminds me of something that I think is invaluable- how we saw ourselves as a Presbytery during that time and reframing how people viewed the Presbytery. We deepened relationships. Our role is not to sit as judge and jury over the effectiveness of a witness but to come alongside and talk about the theology possibilities as opposed to the theology of scarcity. That was proven so significantly in my first conversation with the same to First African. We took a selfie that day of all these leaders and something was birthed. The beginning of a relationship that would result in dialogue. This trust allowed us to partner with the Princeton Seminary’s Association of Black Seminarians to introduce another model of ministry that would open them up to something new…That relationship led them to be open, too. And then we gathered together an Administrative Commission. It is an extraordinary story of improvisation along the way.
Eustacia: Part of my discernment process coming here, was seeing what I observed with the Presbytery and the relationships that had already been born with the congregation. I knew that to come here and do what this assignment call for, it was almost an impossible task. I knew it can only be done, not by one leader, but by many. Ruth just so beautifully articulated all the different people that came alongside this process that began to engender trust. I did not come just because we did not want these congregations to die…That would not have been enough… It is much deeper than that. We do see that there is some clouds and a pillar of fire leading this thing. That this is God inspired, God-breathed.