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Comfortable with the uncomfortable: Lessons learned from ‘Shift Happens’

By Jessica Brodie

One South Carolina pastor is taking wisdom gleaned at a conference and turning it into a new way to do ministry in her local church and district.

The Rev. Thessa Smith attended Shift Happens: Doing Ministry from the Right Side, a conference offered by Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century, a ministry that works to transform and sustain Black and cross-racial churches and pastors in The United Methodist Church.  There, she learned valuable information about a needed perspective shift that she is working to implement in her church, Trinity UMC, Greenwood, as well as across the Greenwood District as a whole.

Smith presented her learnings April 19 to Greenwood District clergy, sharing how with the pandemic particularly, churches have had to move into bold new places. But that movement has been fruitful for the church.

Shifting to the “right side” is not a political innuendo, SBC21 noted. They are referring to a shift from the old way of doing things—comfortable, predictable, but often with lackluster results—to the new.

“It’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Smith shared. “The church will never ever again be as we know it.”

But, she said, Jesus told us to cast our nets into the deep, the right side of the boat (John 21:6), and look what happened—the nets overflowed.

Held at St. John’s Downtown UMC in Houston Dec. 1-2, Shift Happens featured a host of powerful speakers, authors and church leaders, including Dr. Michael Bowie Jr.,  executive director of SBC21, as well as the Rev. Kevin Murriel, the Rev. Olu Brown and the Rev. Nathalie Nelson Parker.

Smith shared about how shifting involves moving into the digital world; being aware and knowing change is necessary; and being clear about our purpose, mission and identity.

It’s like driving a manual transmission, Smith said.

“You’ve got to know when to downshift, when to upshift, when to reverse or speed up and when to coast,” she said.

She said before the pandemic, most churches did zero virtual worship, but now, most do.

“The church must be open to all,” Smith added, whether that is people, issues or ways of doing.

For example, her church decided to offer Easter Sunday worship at the Greenwood Uptown Market as a way of reaching new people. Many members wore their “Shift Happens” T-shirts, which are an admitted conversation starter given the slightly irreverent play on words. People slow down to read, realize the word is “shift,” and then engage in dialogue.

She noted churches today must also be willing to talk about hard issues, such as racism and mental health.

“We must deal with the things we don’t want to talk about,” Smith added.

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