Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Our exciting partnership in Honduras.
Many members of the Presbytery of Carlisle have supported and participated in the housing ministry we have created in partnership with the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. Our mission team going to Honduras next month will be contributing to the twelfth new family home as part of this ministry. This is truly a partnership between our Presbytery, leaders in the Presbyterian Church in Honduras and the families that receive the new homes.
But this ministry is only one aspect of a larger and growing partnership between USA Presbyterians and Honduran Presbyterians. We have also recently initiated a robust program of theological education into this relationship. Our World Mission Co-worker Karla Koll, who serves with the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica, has written about this new aspect of our ongoing mission partnership.
The link to Karla's recent World Mission enews article about this work is here:
We expect soon to offer a mission trip to Honduras which will participate in this theological study with our Honduran brothers and sisters. For those who may be more interested in Bible study and theological reflection than mixing mortar and carrying concrete blocks, please consider joining us in this important work.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
"The First 500 Years" by Jerry Andrews
As part of a series of papers sponsored by the General Assembly Mission Agency, Jerry Andrews offers us a beautiful reflection on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What is the gift that our PC(USA) brings to our cherished Reformed project? Andrews' answer: "This is the gift of the PC(USA) to the next 500 years - a church that thinks through, teaches, and tests the Faith expressed in distinctly Reformed terms, appropriated by conversing with those who first thought through the Faith be being the first interpreters of Scripture."
Let us be a Church in conversation "with the testimony of the ancients."
Monday, December 5, 2016
Some Moderators of the General Assembly north and south
We are delighted to have Co-Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev. Denise Anderson, with us today. Of course, Denise is not the first Moderator of the General Assembly. That honor belongs to Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was the Moderator of the First General Assembly in 1789. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He became the first President of the College of New Jersey which became Princeton Seminary.
In 1861, the Rev. Benjamin Palmer was the first Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Rev. Palmer was a gifted preacher and served as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church on New Orleans. With his preaching, he helped convince 47 southern presbyteries to break away from the northern Presbyterians and form their own southern church.
In 1870 Robert Lewis Dabney served as Moderator of the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. Dabney served as a Chaplain in the Confederate Army, and as Chief of Staff of General Stonewall Jackson. After the Civil War, Dabney had a distinguished teaching career at Union Seminary in Richmond.
In 1879 the Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson served as Moderator of the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. Rev. Wilson was the father of President Woodrow Wilson.
William Jennings Bryan never served as Moderator of the General Assembly. Bryan has been called the greatest loser in American history. Three times – in 1896, 1900 and 1908 – he ran for President of the United States. Three times he lost. In 1923 he ran for Moderator of the northern Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. He lost. But God is good. In 1924 the arch-conservative, Philadelphia pastor Clarence Macartney was elected Moderator. He named Bryan as his vice-Moderator.
In 1971 Ruling Elder Lois Stair was the first woman elected as Moderator of the northern United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
In 1976 Ruling Elder Thelma Adair was the first African American woman elected as Moderator of the northern United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Elder Adair was a professor in City University of New York. She spent many years in ecumenical and social justice work in Harlem.
In 1978 Sara Bernice Moseley was the first woman Moderator elected in the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. Elder Moseley was a strong advocate of the reunion of the northern and southern churches. Beginning in 1983, she served as the first Chair of the General Assembly Council in our, reunited Presbyterian Church (USA).
In 1986 the Rev. Benjamin Weir was elected as Moderator of our Presbyterian Church (USA). Ben and Carol Weir served from 1953 to 1984 as mission co-workers from our church to Lebanon. In 1984 Ben Weir was kidnapped off the street in Beirut. After his long captivity, he was honored to be elected Moderator. Ben Weir passed away this October 2016.
In 1992 the Rev. John Fife was elected Moderator of our Church. Fife was the pastor of the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. Along with colleagues from several denominations, Fife was a leader of what was called the Sanctuary Movement. These church leaders opened their church buildings to undocumented immigrants from Latin America. Their ministry pushed a very public conflict with the Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan.
In 2008 Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow visited our Presbytery, and taught a class at our Saturday Seminar. That is the only other Moderator visit we have had since I have been in this Presbytery.
And today in 2016 we are honored to have Co-Moderator Denise Anderson with us. Denise is a blogger. Her blog is better than mine. The title of her blog is SOULa Scriptura. SOULa is a constructed word: SOULa. The sub-title of her blog is even better: “to be young, gifted and Reformed.” I was very pleased to have dinner with Denise last evening. She is indeed, young, gifted and Reformed. Please stand and greet the Moderator of our General Assembly.
Report to the Presbytery of Carlisle
Dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church
Today I encourage you to approve the dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church. Our Commission on Ministry has already acted to dismiss their Pastor Carl Batzel pending our action today.
Once again today, in official meeting, we consider the dismissal of one of our congregations to the new denomination, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). We have done this before. We dismissed the Upper Path Valley Church and their Pastor Meagan Boozer; we dismissed the Lower Path Valley and Burnt Cabins Churches and their Pastor Donna Ryan; we dismissed the Port Royal and Mexico Churches and their Pastor Crystal Lyde; we dismissed the Shippensburg Church and their Pastor Mike Miller
Many of you will also remember that we did NOT dismiss our Faith Church, despite the request of the session at the time. In seeking to leave our Church, the Session at Faith Church caused enormous conflict, and more than half of the congregation left with their Pastor Wayne Lowe to form what is now a new ECO congregation. Our Faith Church today, although smaller, is thriving with remarkable energy and enthusiasm. I am grateful to their Interim Pastor Steve Lytch and their new session members.
My friends, I believe we have reached the end of an era. My belief is confirmed in conversation with my colleagues in presbyteries all around Pennsylvania. There are still several dismissal conversations in process in neighboring presbyteries, but generally, I believe, the era of church dismissals is behind us. After today’s action we will not have any active Conversation Teams, and we have not received any official requests from any other session to begin our dismissal process. I am not aware of any of our congregations that are discussing dismissal at this time.
My friends, I believe we have done this right. I believe we should be proud and grateful for the way we have acted through this season of deep conflict and turmoil. We wrote, we debated, we approved, and we acted on repeatedly a policy, and a spiritual stance, of gracious dismissal. This was and is the right thing to do in Christ Jesus. Like many of you, I know all the arguments for a different path, a different tone in these conversations. In many sleepless nights, I have played out those arguments in my mind. Today, without any doubt, I am convinced that we have done the right thing with our policy and our practice of gracious dismissal. And I am very grateful to almost countless numbers of leaders in this presbytery who have participated in this discernment and these practices, and especially the members of all the Conversation Teams we have had over these years.
Now I see three great challenges before us:
Our first challenge is to live into this very new language in our Book of Order: Nothing shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.
Our second challenge is live into this very old language in our Book of Order; one of the historic principles of our church: “We also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which (believers) of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty of both private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”
Third, if I am correct that we are now moving into a new era, we need to ask ourselves as a Presbytery in a very deep and thoughtful way, “What are we going to do now?”
I ask you to support the recommendation of our Conversation Team and our Council and approve the dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
As I begin writing this, it seems impossible to describe Carmen’s home with words. Truly its very existence seems almost impossible to believe. If I had not been there, worked there, and seen it for myself I would doubt that a home could be built, and a family can live in this place.
After twisting and turning on the narrow, bumpy, often steep, unpaved local streets of a small neighborhood in the middle of Tegucigalpa, our van backed into an open spot between two homes. We unloaded and were pointed in the proper direction, “Down”. The hillside simply dropped off into a sheer cliff. This ravine was much too steep to walk down, but not too steep for plants, wild grass and small bushes. My view, standing at the top, went steeply down and the bottom was a lush, thick forest of wild, tropical plants with the large leaves and tangle of vines, maybe 100 yards down from the top edge where I stood. The sound of a rushing stream at the very bottom was loud but invisible. The water obviously fed the lush green everywhere at the bottom of the ravine. Coming up out of the ravine, presumably on the other side of the rushing stream, was a steeper cliff, bare rock too steep for plants to grow. I could see homes perched on the top of the other side of the ravine. My view went straight down this ravine, and it caught my attention. I wondered, “Where are we going? How could there be a house down here?”
It is impossible to walk straight over the edge of the ravine, and quickly I realized a well-worn path hugged the side of the ravine off to the right and dropped down very steep directly behind and beneath the home which was next to our parked van. With only several steps down the path, the back wall of this home was straight up above my right shoulder. The path dropped precipitously, so much so that I checked my traction, making sure each step was planted solidly and I was not going to start sliding. The path dropped, then flattened out a bit and continued down to where I could see two homes perched below, one sort of above the other. But our direction switched back fully, and started down several, precarious steps which were carved into the hillside. Now, because of the switchback, the steep hillside rose up on my left, the ravine fell downward to my right side. And there is Carmen’s place. A carefully constructed, new, concrete landing welcomed us and we arrived at her front door.
I still do not have any idea how a previous generation of Carmen’s family had acquired this property and this home was built on the side of this very steep ravine. But there it was, and the contribution from our Presbytery and our work for the week was a major renovation and remodeling of her home. Welcome to Carmen’s place.
Carmen’s Place, Part 2.
We have done this before with several of our home construction projects. Because homes in the poorest neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa are packed close together, the walls of the home itself are often the property lines. There are no yards, very little outside space, and, of course, the families are living in the homes during reconstruction. Thus in a remarkable exercise of flexibility and creativity, we are often systematically deconstructing an old, dilapidated home while at the same time building a new home on the same spot, at the same time. Each situation, each family’s needs, and each home moves through the delicate process of destruction and construction in different ways.
At Carmen’s place, the powerful, tropical deluges, which they call rain in Honduras, was most of the problem. Because she lives on the side of the steep ravine, the force of the water rolling down on her home was powerful and destructive. With funding from our Presbytery and a lot of expertise from her church, a construction team created an amazing, concrete waterway which funnels all the rushing storm water away from a direct hit onto the side wall of her home, and into a new, concrete channel which carries it safely around her home, and directs it down a safe path, and ultimately into the stream far below. This new storm water system which now protects her home is the most remarkable concrete construction project I have ever seen, in a place where construction is done without any power tools or equipment. This storm water system was made in a way that also created a new, open landing which offers a small outside space in front of her home. Previously, Carmen, in the worst downpours, needed to keep her front door closed and sealed to prevent the rushing water from entering her home. When we arrived that remarkable concrete work was complete, and I spent some time standing on her new, front porch chatting with the lead mason on this job, Alejandro, about how this project was conceived and built.
These are poor people. Statistically these are some of the poorest people on earth, living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa. Despite being poor, these people are resilient, creative, resourceful, smart and hard working. The concrete, storm water system which a small, group of volunteers from a small Presbyterian church in their neighborhood designed and built at Carmen’s place is a profound testament to the fact that our perceptions about “poor people” are probably all wrong.
Carmen’s Place; Part 3:
Carmen is a warm, energetic, athletic woman who never stopped working in support of this project in her home the whole time we were there. When she was not directly supporting the construction work, or cleaning up, she was maneuvering all her household belongings to keep the way clear. Her two daughters and her three, young grandsons live in this home with Carmen.
Prior to our adopting this project, this home was one room. Part of our construction project is to add additional inside walls which will divide the space into two, tiny bedrooms and a small kitchen area. These new inside walls are being built with concrete block because they will be load-bearing walls for the new rafters and steel roof that is also part of this project. For Carmen’s place, the four outside walls of her home will remain in place. Our project includes the addition of significant concrete and block support around the foundation of this home (remember that this home sits precariously on the side of a steep ravine), the storm water system which will prevent the erosion of her foundation in the future, the construction of the new inside walls, and the complete replacement of her roof which includes replacing rotten wooden rafters with new steel rafters and a new steel roof. From within the four walls that already existed at Carmen’s place, a completely new home will rise.
This description of Carmen’s place gives a hint at the way we have developed our home construction ministry in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras these past ten years. Carmen’s place is the eleventh home we have built or remodeled as part of this partnership. The congregations we work with in their Presbytery truly own this mission work. Their mission committees recruit and identify families for new projects. They interview and carefully vet each family and proposal. The family is consulted concerning exactly what they want the project to include. Each home is truly a custom construction job. No two projects are alike. Our Presbytery has contributed to this ministry by providing the financial support. We budget from our Honduras Designated Fund $3,000 for each new home project. We support the organizational, administrative and accounting efforts which must be the basis for a sustainable mission program. We send mission teams to contribute to the construction of each home. The Hondurans do not need us to do construction, but we believe our presence at each home for a week puts a face on our commitment and enhances our partnership. After all these years working together, while we are there the construction sites take on the tone of festive, family reunions.