Loving God, etc.

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BY THE REV. CORY L. KEMP |

What do you believe?  When do you feel most faithful?

We church folks tend to focus on believing and acting in faith that God is working with us according to God’s will. It’s a good practice, to pay attention to what you believe as a Christian, to trust yourself and God in living your life by those beliefs.  Faithfulness over time creates a life well-lived, satisfying for you and those you serve in your way. Beliefs and faith in God are so incredibly important, aren’t they?

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And yet, we are called, first and foremost, to love.

Marcus Borg, theologian and author of Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most, reminded me of the two most important commandments with which God has entrusted each one of us who call ourselves Christians.  They are as familiar to you as they are to me, and I’d like to share them with you again here as Jesus shared them with his disciples:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” ~ Matthew 22:36-40

Borg’s last chapter of Convictions focused so beautifully on what it means to love God, how we can do this every day. And, by natural extension, our expression of love for God becomes love in action for other people, and for ourselves.  

So, how do you love God?

First, ask yourself how you feel about God.  

A little obvious, I know, but love is a feeling, a tangible human feeling that makes you want to spend time with the object of your affection.  When you love someone, you may feel a little excited at the thought of unexpectedly seeing him, or you may catch yourself smiling as the thought of her crosses your mind.

So, how do you feel about God?  Do you feel happy, delighted knowing God’s presence in your life?  Do you light up inside at the thought of catching a glimpse of God in a place you don’t expect? Consider that for a few moments.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash   

Next, ask yourself what you like to do with God when you spend time together.  

When you love someone, you want to spend time with them, being together and doing what you enjoy.  Borg mentions devotional time, meditation, prayer, singing, reading scripture and retreats as ways we can spend time with God.  You may have participated in some or all of these activities with God over the years of your life.

But you may not have thought of them as expressions of your desire to share time with God because you love God and love being with God.  You may also have a few great ideas of your own to share about ways you and God spend time together.  When you spend time, consciously, with God, you get to know God better and better, which makes love grow.  

Last, Borg reminded me that loving God means loving what God loves.  

What do you believe God loves?  The second commandment tells us: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  God loves your neighbor and God loves you. In Jesus’ teaching, preaching, healing and mentoring of his disciples, God revealed what loving our neighbors, each other, looks like: compassion, freedom and courage, gratitude.  All of these are expressions of what God loves.

How do you feel about your neighbors?  Do you spend time with them, getting to know them better? Neighbors by another name are simply people with whom you share the planet.  People you live next door to, across town, the state, the country, the world from, are all people you have opportunity to love and spend time getting to know better.  Learning about other people’s lives is an expression of the love God has for you and me, and for all our neighbors. It is also easier to feel compassion for those with whom you do not agree, but have come to understand.

How do you feel about yourself?  How do you express love for yourself? Do you spend time with you?  Spending time with yourself is time well-spent, a spiritual practice of honoring the unique creation of God’s love that is your life. When you choose to be with yourself, do what you enjoy doing, you are loving yourself with a freedom and courage built into you by God’s ever-present, creative, powerful love for you.  

And, whenever you love your neighbor, whenever you love yourself, you are saying, thank you, God, for loving me.   

The brilliant artist, Georgia O’Keefe, known best for the flowers she pained, once said of her success, “In a way, nobody sees a flower, really.  It is so small, we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

Loving God takes time too.  You may believe you don’t have time, and that God knows your love is real.  But neglected love changes things, and before you know it, you have changed too.  You’ve lost track of what meant so much to you. Your life is emptied of what mattered to you most.  And, you may have forgotten who you are too.

So, how do you feel about God?


Cory Kimp

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp is founder and faith mentor with Broad Plains Faith Coaching. Cory, employing her signature Handcrafted Faith program, supports ordained and lay women leaders in visualizing, understanding and strengthening their beliefs, so that they may know, love and serve God and their communities with generosity, wisdom and joy.


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Remembering Our Baptismal Vows to Nurture the Faith of Our Children

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BY BETH HAYES |

As we broke into the verse of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” that says “He’s got the itty little baby in his hands…” the image of our three newest additions to Come and Worship came to mind. There is no better time to reflect on the baptismal vows we make as a community and how we help these young families raise their children in their first Christian family.

Come and Worship families

We presented each family with a copy of Loving Hearts United: A Moravian Guide to Family Living and added copies of our favorite Bible stories. The Covenant for Christian Living says this about baptism:

“As parents, remembering that our children are the property of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and take all possible care to preserve them from every evil influence. For this reason we will seek to approve ourselves as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, setting an example for our children. We will give faithful attention to the spiritual development of our children, both in the home and in the church.”

Our response doesn’t end at this point. We pledge to join with families as communities of God to be there and offer help to parents in faith formation. It takes more than families to guide in this process, it takes more than individual churches to guide in this process, and it takes more than Provincial programming to guide in this process. We have to work together in constant and abiding love to nurture children, youth, and even adults in their faith journey. This experience will be that much richer if we do this together as individuals, congregations, and as a Province.

Not every church is fortunate to have a staff person dedicated to leading faith formation. This is one of many areas in which the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) can assist. In our mission statement, it is listed as our job to help congregations as they and their congregants walk the continuous faith journey. We provide events and workshops on a provincial level so that all churches have access to the resources that will help us in doing this work as a team. Our denomination is much richer for having this programming to help in faith formation and the growth of the Unity. Be sure to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and pass the word on about these opportunities. Join the Roots and Wings Facebook page to stay informed and see some of the best resources and activities for supporting faith formation. Visit our lending library online (Resource.Moravian.org) or in person and check out many helpful resources as you go on this continuous journey.

There are many ways to help in the faith journey, including, but not limited to:

  • Being a table parent at a midweek meal
  • Teaching a Sunday school class
  • Being a youth leader
  • Helping caregivers in your community
  • Joining the Children and Family Task Force of the Moravian BCM

When you prayerfully consider helping in one of those ways or another, remember the baptismal vows and give opportunities to serve some consideration. This is the way to grow our Moravian congregations healthily, where people of all ages can grow together as children of God’s community.


If you have questions or need additional information, email BHayes@MCSP.org or call the Resource Center at (336) 722-8126.

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Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). 


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Taking Laurel Ridge Home

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BY CARTER GENTLE |

Laurel Ridge

Laurel Ridge

It occurs to me that the place where I most experience God is at Laurel Ridge. It’s the place that taught me how love works, and what it means to be a Moravian and a Christian. Surrounded by God’s holy mountain and my Laurel Ridge (LR) family, it seems that my faith is elevated and life’s responsibilities seem far away. At LR, “regular” life stays at the camp entrance. Here, I can feel God’s presence with every sense. Faith seems to be less foggy, but is intensely clear. But as camp ends, the euphoria of the experience fades away and the “mountain high” dims as you pick up life at the camp exit. We talk about what we’re going to do when we come down the mountain–but it’s hard. So how do I keep the flame of the Spirit burning in me when I get down the mountain?

For me, RYC inspires me to keep that feeling alive. In helping plan future camps and Provincial activities like the Children’s Lovefeast, I am able to reconnect with old and new Moravian friends. As this year’s RYC president, I can help insure that others have the wonderful experiences that I have had.

Trinity Moravian

My home congregation, Trinity, sustains me by the Wednesday night LOGOS program. Bible study, reading scripture at worship and singing in the choirs reminds me of Christ’s presence in my life. And of course, you can’t forget the potlucks–physical food is just as important as spiritual food!

My family is very important. They support me, love me, and encourage my gifts 24/7. They’ve taught me how to lean on God in good and bad times. And no kidding, the second you walk in the door, you know you’re in a Moravian home!

Moravian candles

These three areas remind me of my faith, even down the mountain. It’s all fine and dandy to keep that great feeling in your heart. But I’ve learned that my response to God’s love has to show in the way I serve God and God’s people. Service is important to my faith because it is the outward sign of my belief. I am a Boy Scout and serve with my Troop. I help feed the homeless at the Overflow Shelter, and I’m fortunate enough to help serve Meals on Wheels with my Mawmaw, just to name a few.

These things remind me of the mountain and I remain connected to Jesus when I’m not up there. It also reminds me that whatever we do, no matter how difficult, it is to be done in love. And when things are really hard, I retreat to my “inner mountain” and remind myself to let the light that I experience at Laurel Ridge shine in and through me.


Carter Gentle bio pic

Carter Gentle is a junior at North Davidson High School. He attends Trinity Moravian Church in Winston Salem, NC. He currently is serving as the Regional Youth Council (RYC) President. 

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The Invisible Congregant: the Church’s Relationship with Mental Illness

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BY DEWEY MULLIS |

A friend once shared with me, “when someone came home from having knee surgery, half of the church brought food and sent cards. When my husband came home from the hospital after a suicide attempt, our fridge stayed its usual empty.”

Mental health and illness have always been a one of society’s greatest curiosities and infatuations. With popular films and show such as Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, and Criminal Minds, or infamous killers the likes of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, one can barely escape the enchantment of psychological drama.

Spoiler alert; mental illness is not as exciting as it looks on the big screen.

Empty pews

The church’s history with mental illness is rocky at best. In her book, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Health, Dr. Heather Vacek, associate professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, explores the successes and failures of addressing mental illness from colonial times through modern means of today.

At the core of the church’s mishandling of mental illness is the belief in a relationship with sin. Great sin must be the event preceding complex psychological or demonic infestation. Biblical passages offer this same terminology and etiology. In Matthew 9, Jesus rids a man of physical paralysis by proclaiming the forgiveness of his sins, and similarly whilst casting out demons.

But while popular verses like Philippians 4:13 bring many of us strength and peace, do they also protect us from having to interact with the complex and often taboo nature of mental illness?

Exhibit A: While completing an internship in an adult and adolescent psychiatric hospital, I took on a patient who will go by the pseudonym Dillon. Dillion is a male in his mid-20s and struggles with intellectual disabilities, schizoaffective disorder, substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration – a mental and social Molotov cocktail. Born to parents who also struggle with addiction and instability, Dillon had few constants in his life.

His one crutch – attending church every Sunday.

When it was time to seek intensive care, only a faith-based program would suffice. Dillon traveled to an unfamiliar area to seek the support and structure needed to survive.

A local pastor who ran a half-way home took Dillon in. Thinking this would be where is problems would end, Dillon soon faced the harsh realities of stigma in the church.

After a mild increase in psychotic symptoms, Dillon appeared on the psychiatric unit, and after some adjustments to his medication, it was soon time to leave. I called the pastor to tell him he could pick Dillon up, but was informed that he was no longer welcomed.

“Why?”, I asked. With too much ease, the pastor told me Dillon had been relying on prescribed medication for his illnesses, which went against the church-based program’s philosophy.

Dillon’s one last chance, the one place where he always felt at home, had turned their back on him.

After pleading with the pastor to reconsider – even diving deep into Matthew 25’s call to shelter the homeless – Dillon and I were left to face the reality that the church just made him homeless yet again.

Dillon’s case may be extreme in diagnosis and experience, but allow me to return to the opening paragraph. Why does the church struggle with even the most common materializations of mental illness: depression, bipolar disorder, self-harm and suicide?

Much of what the church does – or doesn’t do – is in response to its leadership.

A 2016 study conducted by LifeWay Research and published in ChristianityToday revealed the horror and reality that only seven percent of church pastors discuss mental health with their congregations “once a month” or “several times a month.”1 Meanwhile, 92 percent of pastors reported talking about mental health in sermons or church functions “once a year, rarely, or never.”

It is imperative that pastors speak openly about mental health – their own trials or in general. Fear of speaking on tough or taboo topics in church is profoundly counter to the church’s objective of being a safe and welcoming place for peace-seekers and those in need of care.

Famous mega-church pastor and author, Rick Warren, was compelled to speak to his massive congregation and followers around the world in the aftermath of his son’s suicide.

Warren said to his congregation, “There is no shame in diabetes, there is no shame in high blood pressure, but why is it that if our brains stop working, there is supposed to be shame in that?”2

So how do churches tackle the topic of mental illness?

It starts with the acknowledgement that depression, suicide, addiction, and the like are common realities. While they differ from other ailments in their physical location, the experience is as painful and inconvenient as a stroke, heart attack, fall, or hip replacement.

Once we see psychological ailment in the same light as physical ailment, only then can we grow. This happens through large and small group conversations, and allowing those who struggle to struggle openly.

It is as simple as opening the church doors to regular Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA) meetings. This shows the congregation and the community that those with psychological angst can find respite within these walls.

It is as simple as having guest speakers who can inform and lead if it is out of the pastor’s wheelhouse.

It is as simple as not being afraid to visit or call. The common response is, “well, I don’t know what to say.”

From someone who has dealt with personal mental health trials for over a decade, I will let you in on the secret: just have a normal conversation as if they were experiencing any other ailment. “Get well soon” and “thinking of you” mean the same to the depressed congregant as it does to the one who broke a leg. We – and I say “we” because I’m in the box of Christians with mental illness – just want to feel supported.

Photo by Matthias Zomer

And finally, talk to the young people. Our younger generations are the most accepting, understanding, and inclusive among living generations3. They are exposed, either by experience or knowing someone, to the realities of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

The church’s youth hold the answers and the drive many churches seek, and it is time to tap into that as well.

The conclusion is simple in that, though mental health is complex, the response is contrarily simple. It boils down to basic actions of care, compassion, and understanding. It doesn’t – or shouldn’t – require a bold awakening.

We, the church, have the power and the resources to change stigma surrounding mental health and medication. We just have to use them.

As Ellen DeGeneres always reminds us, “Be kind to one another.”


1 Stetzer, Ed. “The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness.” The Exchange. May 23, 2016.
2 Kaleem, Jaweed. “Rick and Kay Warren Launch Saddleback Church Mental Health Ministry After Son’s Suicide.” The Huffington Post. March 28, 2014.
3 Scott, Ryan. “Get Ready for Generation Z.” Forbes Magazine. November 28, 2016


Questions? Comments? Contact Dewey Mullis at DeweyMullis@Gmail.com 

Portrait of Dewey Mullis

Dewey Mullis is a life-long Moravian with roots at Friedland Moravian Church. He studied criminal justice at Appalachian State University, and is currently a graduate student of clinical counseling and social work at Moravian Theological Seminary and Marywood University. Dewey has worked with adults and adolescents in correctional and psychiatric facilities, and currently researches re-entry and mental health services for jail populations.

Disaster Response Update from PEC President David Guthrie

Moravian seal

 

Disaster Response Update (Harvey & Irma)

For most recent news and info on how you can help, visit the Moravian.org website [LINK]

Friends,

We invite your continued prayers for the people in the Caribbean impacted by Hurricane Irma, those who are first-responders, and those who are preparing for potential effects in the next few days.

The island of Antigua, home of the Eastern West Indies Provincial offices, has been impacted.  We are awaiting an update from Cortroy Jarvis, President of the EWI Provincial Board.  The storm’s projected path includes other areas where Moravian brothers and sisters live: the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba and Florida.   Our church in Cuba is scheduled to begin its first Synod as a Mission Province on Tuesday (12th), with Sam Gray and representatives from the Armando Rusindo Mission Foundation traveling to attend.  Plans for the Synod are currently being evaluated.

Please continue to pray for everyone recovering from Hurricane Harvey and the extensive flooding in Texas.  Our friends in the Unity of the Brethren Church in Texas are responding to needs in the Houston area and among their members and congregations.  Pray especially for the Good Shepherd Moravian Church, in Port Arthur, TX, which is part of the UBC.  Its members are predominantly Moravians who formerly lived in Nicaragua. The pastor is Adolfo Ugarte.  As reported from TX: “The church had about 3 feet of water in it and they have lost their piano, organ, pews, carpeting and probably walls.  Many of the members also had water in their houses and are presently staying in shelters until other arrangements can be made for temporary housing.”

 The Board of World Mission will be sharing further news and developments including response plans as information is received from these places and more is known about what is needed.

“For all who are in danger, trouble, or anguish, we ask the presence and strength of your Spirit.”  (Intercessions in Time of Crisis)

For most recent news and info on how you can help, visit the Moravian.org website [LINK]

+  +  +

The  Rev David Guthrie, President
Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church in America, Southern Province
459 South Church Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101-5314
(336) 725-5811  (888)725-5811


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If You Do it, it Will Happen…

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BY AMY LINVILLE |

"Buck passing" graphic

In the church world, we categorize ourselves into boards, committees, subcommittees, and circles. We have fellowship groups, small groups, Sunday school classes, and age-based activity groups. We are teachers, pastors, lay members, bishops, provincial leaders, church staff, and so many things. These categorizations are useful and community-building in so many ways. They are meant help us interact with each other, delegate the work of the church, and serve others more effectively.

But what these can sometimes prevent is real action. We can get lost in a circular system of passing a task between committees. Or, we might be too afraid to step on toes or take away a task that we feel is traditionally the “turf” of someone else. We wait, talk, vote, evaluate, affirm, legislate—we do everything but act. It can be infuriating to watch and experience. All the while, a need or passion is left in limbo. The things we care about are not getting done because we are too afraid or reticent to act.

Do you know what this sounds like to me? We don’t care enough. If we truly cared, we would make it happen. I know we are all busy and have many obligations. We are all obligated to outside forces and live in a world where our actions impact others. BUT. But, we are also all (most who read this blog) adults, who make our own priorities. If you truly make something a priority and dedicate yourself to something, you will see it through to some kind of fruition. It might not be your original vision, but something will happen. Sometimes that’s better. If you make the good and bright future of your church a priority, something will happen! If you dedicate yourself to the renewal of your church that you love, not just improvement of the same things that make you comfortable, it will happen. I’m certain. Yell at me in 20 years if it doesn’t, but at least you will have done something that you care about in the mean time.

"Just do it" graphic

Joel Osteen is under a great deal of criticism lately. He did not immediately open the door of his megachurch and its network to stranded residents of Houston searching for a place to rest after hurricane Harvey displaced them. I don’t want to defend him, and he doesn’t need defending, but there is something more there. A friend of mine made me realize that there are thousands of members of that church. Any one of them could have started a grassroots movement to utilize the gifts of THEIR collective church. The church doesn’t belong to the pastor or staff, but all of the members and brave souls who call themselves members of the church community. The pastor and staff support, respond to, and are at least partially beholden to you, the rest of the church. They can be powerful leaders in the church, but they cannot do it all by themselves. We cannot expect them to do it all, and especially not to everyone’s ideals. We need to be leaders and do-ers, too!

Quote graphic

This is not a blame game. We already know that gets us nowhere. This is to remind all of us that we are excitingly responsible for what happens in our church. We have the power to enact change in your church; we can be the revolution! We don’t need to wait on our pastors or staff to do something, we can do it ourselves (they are too busy figuring out the fickle church printer, anyway).

photo of hand reaching out

Now, disclaimer, this is not a free pass to bypass all church protocols, committees, and leaders (paid or otherwise) to do whatever you want. Conferential systems are good (yay checks and balances) and these processes were set up for a reason. All I’m asking is that you don’t let these things stop you from taking ownership of and action for your church and your passions. If you care about something, then take constant action towards it. And if we do it, it will happen. And, hopefully, God will look down at us and our work, declaring “it is good.”


Questions? Comments? Contact Amy Linville at Amy@MoravianBCM.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 404

Amy Linville

Amy Linville is the College Age Ministry Coordinator for the Moravian BCM. She spends her time outside of work taking classes to become a librarian, serving Rural Hall Moravian with her husband the Rev. Aaron Linville, and snuggling her puppy and two cats.

Living Moravian Traditions

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BY THE REV. CORY L. KEMP |

Incomprehensible Orchestration is about faith as a verb.

Every morning I honor three familiar Moravian traditions: Reading the Moravian Daily Texts, writing in my personal journal and drinking coffee.

I love that these traditions, devotional study, personal reflection on God’s activity and fellowship with a favorite beverage, have been part of our community for generations. Each one offers a steadfast reminder of God’s love over the course of time. More so, they are avenues of grace, vital practices that cultivate my faith. They assist me in knowing, loving and serving God in the life I am living now.

Daily Text cover

Learn more about the Daily Texts here.

As I sip my coffee, I often think of God as Great Mystery, which requires me to pay attention and listen as a disciple. A wonderful Roald Dahl quote hanging on my refrigerator helps point me along this path of deeper awareness: “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in the magic will never find it.”

Moravian lovefeast

Compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit and forgiveness, these are all first nurtured by observing the way Jesus interacted with people, then seeing how people responded to Him. That is God’s grace in action. Its fluidity and beauty isn’t magic, but it surely feels like that when we trust ourselves, God and the very human examples we are privy to in so many of our daily readings, that are also still so relevant in our own relationships.

God’s wisdom is unconventional, and it takes intention and practice to experience the full power of its richness in this unfolding plan. Even within a basic routine, I don’t know what the day will bring. But Great Mystery teaches me to see everything as being done for me, not to me, and always in ways that make sense to me.

These daily verses you and I share, and the reflections I write in response to them, have taught me several important life lessons.

One lesson is that how I talk to myself matters. Harsh criticism rarely helps and often hinders. The prophet Jeremiah, sharing God’s message with those experiencing the Babylonian exile, wrote, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). My internal fluency is improving.

Another lesson is to hear other people’s words without attaching how I feel to what I am hearing. Taking a deep breath, asking a question when I don’t understand or need more information are helpful in discerning what someone meant, or didn’t mean, in how they used their words.

This lesson’s close cousin is to remember that each of us thinks in our own way, and usually not the way that I think. It is here that I am called to claim the full truth of God’s equal and abundant love for each of us. To stay in this stride is to always do my best to pay attention for and respond to God’s activity in my life.

Mininalist shot of coffee cup

As I continue to sip my coffee, copying the weekly watchword, daily verses and my own watchword for the year, I also write about the intricate weaving of conversations and events that reveal God as Incomprehensible Orchestration all around me. I love catching onto what God has done, how I have welcomed my own participation, and, sometimes, how my fears may have kept me on the edge of a great step forward.

Incomprehensible Orchestration is about faith as a verb.

Faith is risk and with risk comes fear. But making the effort to understand how God has worked makes seeing God in action much easier. And with that ease comes greater trust the next time the chance comes to act. This is the greatest lesson my morning devotional time has taught me: perseverance proves out in the end when I trust what I know to be God in action.

Although my devotional time is private, I’m pleased to spend time with people you know too.

Remember Lydia? We visited earlier this summer. She was a purple cloth dealer from Thyatira and a worshipper of God. She listened intently, eagerly, to what Paul had to say, having allowed God to open her heart. Fellowship is something that we Moravians hold dear. Lydia is someone I want to have coffee with again soon.

Reading the Daily Text, keeping journals and drinking coffee in fellowship with one another are beautiful Moravian traditions. They remain fresh as powerfully rich transformational resources. They are custom tools by which we shape ourselves, grow our community, by God’s grace in action among us.


 

Cory Kimp

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp is founder and faith mentor with Broad Plains Faith Coaching. Cory, employing her signature Handcrafted Faith program, supports ordained and lay women leaders in visualizing, understanding and strengthening their beliefs, so that they may know, love and serve God and their communities with generosity, wisdom and joy.