LOUISVILLE – Launched in April 2019, Matthew 25 is a bold vision and invitation to actively engage congregations in the world around them. The invitation was launched before the COVID-19 pandemic, before the social unrest in the fight for justice and before many churches realized how important they were without their buildings.
Late last week, First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, Indiana made the commitment, marking the 500th church to help multiply this loving commitment to radical and fearless discipleship even during a time of anxiety and fear with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way churches do church.
“We have been forced to go from an inward focus to an outward focus; we are not doing things the way we have always done them because we can’t,” said Kim Adams, senior pastor. “Now that we have the space to be creative, to dream, to look at the gospel, pray for the spirit to illuminate the gospel so we can hear new things — this real positive thing came out of it.”
First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso selected all three areas to focus their work and energy around — building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. But why now? Why did they choose to respond to the bold invitation to become a Matthew 25 church in the middle of a pandemic and social unrest?
“I started the call in September 2019 with great visions of mission projects and congregational engagement,” said Adams. “I was just getting to know the congregation when the pandemic changed everything. We were immediately an online community for the first time.”
Adams reported that as more news reports of violence and injustice through the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor surfaced, the congregation said, “we have to do something.”
Many of the things that First Presbyterian in “Valpo” had already been doing lived into the Matthew 25 invitation by building congregational vitality and eradicating poverty. But dismantling systemic racism was an area the session chose to first focus their energies toward. The congregation wanted to make the church inclusive to everyone and embraced the idea of committing to become a Matthew 25 church as an entry point. “What better way than through the gospel?” said Adams.
Recently, Adams was part of a group of interfaith leaders that organized a prayer vigil for peace, unity and change to be held in downtown Valparaiso. Three hundred people, in a predominantly white community of around 30,000 residents, attended the prayer vigil. “We came together to recognize that the system isn’t broken. In fact, it is working as it was designed to work,” said Adams. “The system needs to be redesigned.”
In what feels like full circle, the 224th General Assembly began last week as well. Convicted by the Matthew 25 passage, both the 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) exhorted the PC(USA) to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.
“As we see more and more congregations commit to the Matthew 25 vision after just one year, we can only imagine what God has in store for the Church,” said the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “The pandemics of disease and racism have redefined what community means, and the call to be a Matthew 25 church is even more compelling.”
To see the map and list of all 556 congregations, groups and mid councils, click here. You can learn more about the work of each congregation through their stories and videos.