Posted February 1, 2023 in Featured News

A couple years ago, Kevin Long was sitting in a pew at his church when he noticed the young couple in front of him struggling to follow along with the worship service. When the pastor announced he was going to read from one of the gospels, the couple went searching for the scripture but could not find it because they were looking in the Old Testament, not the New Testament where the gospels are found.

It was an eye-opening moment for Kevin, who began to realize that church structure, like specific terminology and why things like confessions are read on Sunday mornings, are not common to those who were not raised in a church environment.

“In general, our worship is not friendly to new people,” he said. “We don’t explain why we do what we do.”

It’s this awkwardness that Kevin, a Presbyterian pastor in the Presbytery of Carlisle, is hoping to avoid through a new worshiping opportunity that he has created called “Intertwined.” Attempting to reach “nones and dones” [those who are either not church-goes (nones) or have left the church (dones)], Intertwined is a low-key gathering community that includes an outdoor aspect called “Peace Outdoors” and an online option known as “Interconnect.”

In the spring of 2022 while still at Lancaster Theological Seminary, Kevin started posting video reflections (sermons) and other content to social media to build a foundation for Intertwined. By the fall, with his number of followers growing, he was ready to hold an outdoor gathering.

“The intent of Intertwined is to appeal to ‘nones and dones’ and to people who most easily encounter the divine outdoors,” Kevin said.

Benefitting from a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon in late October, Kevin organized his first in-person gathering at Cove Mountain in Marysville (Perry County), PA, where he created hiking-related activities. On a circle trail, he posted a dozen numbers along the walk that corresponded with a “mindful activities” chart that was available at the entrance of the trail.

“For instance, when you were doing your hike, when you came to no. 1, you would say a prayer of gratitude to the Appalachian Trail Association that maintains the trails,” Kevin explained. “When you came to no. 2, maybe there was some moss there and you would look at that and the intricacy of the moss and consider that as part of God’s creation. It was just 12 mindful activities for people to engage in as they went about their hiking that day.

“I had a handout that on one side were the 12 activities to participate in. On the other side was just information about Intertwined because at that stage I was just trying to make contact and connections with people.”

Several people participated in the hiking activity that first day, a turnout that Kevin was excited about considering the newness of the outreach. Future Sunday afternoon gatherings for Peace Outdoors were held at Harrisburg’s City Island, but with the weather deteriorating as winter approached, attendance quickly shrunk to zero. This caused Kevin to have to cancel future outdoor gatherings and instead build up his online presence with similar messages, something he figured was necessary eventually as the cold weather approached. With the purpose of sustaining the community, Interconnect was born.

“The Cove Mountain activities were strictly to show an example of some of the ideas around what Intertwined is about in terms of even thinking of ourselves as part of God’s creation,” Kevin said. “It was just a way of making a connection to those folks and familiarizing those folks with Intertwined and what it was going to be about.”

The online Interconnect gatherings that began in November occur Sunday afternoons, a strategic time for this alternative worship opportunity.

“Intertwined can serve as a supplement for people who maybe have a faith community where they engage on Sunday mornings, but they want to do something in addition,” Kevin added. “A lot of kids’ sports and things are on Sunday mornings, so this offers an opportunity for those parents and families who can’t go to things on Sunday mornings. For those people who are really into Sunday brunch and use that as an excuse to not go to church on Sunday morning, Intertwined is available Sunday afternoon.”

Kevin makes the reflection he provides at the gatherings available for listening as well. It is disbursed on Sunday mornings through both audio and written form, allowing for a shorter version of the gathering to be heard.

“If they want to listen to it in the morning while they’re having their coffee, there’s a lot of freedom around it when they can actually take time to concentrate on that message,” he added.

Kevin is using different online methods to share the Word. He started using Google Meet but is exploring YouTube Live as a better-known alternative to reach people. Kevin is on many platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to help spread the word about Intertwined.

Kevin posts daily on these platforms (as @IntertwinedFC and online here) to keep people engaged, from a 30-second nature sound urging people to take a moment of peace to scripture readings to a prayer from the World Council of Churches. A Google Group email list he has compiled also allows him to connect regularly through the more traditional email with updates and schedules for the week ahead. He also makes himself available at coffee shops and restaurants from time to time for those who would like some personal interaction, and those opportunities range from one-on-one conversations to Bible studies.

“I want to offer people an opportunity to just come and meet with the goal that maybe eventually there will be enough of a core group of people that we can do a regular Bible study or a book study,” he said.

Age-wise, Kevin is seeing a range of teenagers to people in their 50s attending the online and in-person gatherings.

“It’s been a cross section so far, which is really what I was after,” he said.

Where this will go, Kevin is not sure. He has applied for a Synod of the Trinity Innovation Grant to help him along and has also connected with the Presbyterian Church’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities program to find resources and build relationships that will help him in this journey. The Presbytery of Carlisle and Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg have also contributed funds to help Kevin’s new-found vision become a reality.

“The idea has never been to replicate what is already being done in our congregations,” Kevin concluded. “It’s to supplement them and pull in people who aren’t churched, whether they stopped attending or don’t speak that language because they never attended church in the first place.”