Change, Brave and Otherwise

5 Years Later, Bearings Makes Its Own Brave Change

I’ve started on the introduction to this issue of Bearings magazine on brave change maybe twenty times in the past couple weeks. Then I’ve stopped. That’s the thing about change—how often halting and unsteady it is, how seldom it is a matter of “pulling off the bandage” and dealing with the brief sting that follows, of jumping into the water and swimming with all your might. You know the metaphors.

In my experience, change is often a slow, maundering journey with missed turnoffs and unplanned u-turns. Indeed, even calling it a “journey” is something of a backwards look at what felt like a muddled mess much of the time. And, from that perspective, “brave” is an after-the-fact interpretation of something that felt a lot more white-knuckled at the time.

At least that’s how it’s often been for us over the past five years at Bearings, as we grew from a humble blog to a more robust magazine with, in the past year, a redesigned platform. The gathering of diverse contributors—diverse a number of dimensions—gender, ethnicity, race, age, sexual identity, denominational and religious identity, vocation, and more—has been central to the work we’ve aimed to do with the magazine. In particular, we saw Bearings from its inception as more of an educational project for the new BTS Center rather than a public relations exercise. We hoped, that is, not only to share insight on the changing landscape of progressive Christian ministry in America that would be enriching to leaders in diverse ministries. We also hoped to lift up the voices of people who are not typically heard outside of their congregations or other ministry organizations. We aspired to help local leaders in ministry adapt more pastoral, organizational, or academic voices to a wider audience.

In my experience, change is often a slow, maundering journey with missed turnoffs and unplanned u-turns. Indeed, even calling it a “journey” is something of a backwards look at what felt like a muddled mess much of the time.

While I’m confident that we have achieved that aim, that’s not the same kind of editorial or publication experience as calling on contributors who are used to seeing their words in Sojourners or the Christian Century. So, looking back, amplifying the voices of ordinary ministry leaders was surely a brave change from the usual path taken by publications on contemporary religious experience. But it hasn’t always felt that way at either end of the process, as those of us who have been involved in editing and production and those who were often contributing to a publication for a wider readership for the very first time got our bearings together in an enterprise that was wholly new for The BTS Center as it, as well, developed a new identity and mission distinct from its seminary history.

As readers of Bearings and supporters of The BTS Center are aware, this year the BTSC has changed again, calling a new executive director, Allen Ewing-Merrill, to set sail on a new course. Such journeys, as Peter Ilgenfritz reminds us in his contribution to the current issue, call on brave choices about what to keep on board and what to leave behind. In this new voyage of The BTS Center, Allen and I have determined that Bearings Magazine will wave farewell from the shore at the end of this year as the BTSC journeys in new directions.

Of course, we all have mixed feelings about this. Change, Socorro (Coco) Castañeda makes clear in a deeply moving feature, is often painful, unsettling, and, well, flat out depressing. But Coco’s insight on the role of spiritual imagination as a powerful resource for the resilience and vision change calls upon is instructive here: even when we give up much that we have been attached to, deep within us, we have what we need for the journey ahead. Emily Peck-McClain echoes this notion at a more institutional level in her commentary on brave change in congregations and other ministry organizations. Indeed, Emily argues, changing to adapt to the needs of the people and world we serve is not just a thing that leaders in ministry must do. Change, she insists, is who we are as Christians practicing in the traditions of Jesus and Paul. We’re new wineskin people, friends. Drink the change up!

If you read a tone of celebration in that call, you’re not far wrong. The joy of a new adventure, a new chapter, a new life, even, is central to all of the contributions to the issue by our three new Bearings writers in this issue. But a Bearings regular, Mark Collins, notes the delicate balance between the sorrows and joys of change in his final contribution to our creative insights section. Mulling his new-found, midlife attraction to the Obits section of the paper, Mark finds his way, in a video poem, to a memory of new life that turns back, in time, to a more uncertain change. And so it goes in Mark’s fitting conclusion to the new work we’ll be sharing in Bearings with this issue.

Clearly, this hasn’t been a solitary journey. We’ve traveled with a remarkable host of contributors and editorial partners over the past five years. In our December issue—the final publication of Bearings—we’ll offer a look back, highlighting the rich and insightful contributions of those who have traveled with us often and those who have hopped in for only a short, but meaningful ride-along. Until then, I can only say that I’m grateful beyond expression for the companionship of these fellow travelers. And I look forward to more adventures outside these digital pages with many of them in the future.

“Read a post-script from Allen Ewing-Merrill, Executive Director of The BTS Center, here”

change, end, journey

Elizabeth Drescher

Elizabeth Drescher, PhD is the editor of Bearings and a Consulting Scholar at The BTS Center. She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University and the author of Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones (Oxford University Press, 2016), Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation (Morehouse 2011), and, with Keith Anderson, Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse, 2012) and Click 2 Save: Reboot (Church Publishing, 2018). Her commentary on contemporary religion and spirituality has been published in Alternet, AmericaThe AtlanticSalon, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Religion Dispatches, The Washington Post, and other national publications. She is a much sought after speaker for religious and academic groups engaging the changing religious landscape in the United States. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter @edrescherphd.


Featured Image: Lubo Minar, “Road Ends” (

Photo #1: Jay Mantri, “No Baggage” (ND). Via JayMantri.com. CC 0.0 license.