Monday, October 10, 2016

Questions for your Mission Committee:

Doing Mission and Giving to Mission:
Challenging Questions

These questions may help guide the discernment of a mission committees as they discern how to define and allocate money from the congregation directed to mission work outside the congregation:

·        How much money which the congregation receives should be turned around and given out beyond the congregation? How is this amount determined? Does the session define and communicate a goal for mission giving beyond the congregation? Or is this amount determined by default, after all other financial obligations are met?

·        What projects beyond the local congregation do you support that do NOT involve giving money?

·        How much of your giving beyond the congregation supports local projects and how much supports PCUSA projects?

·        Of all the projects you support financially – both local projects and through the PCUSA – with how many do you have a personal and spiritual connection?

·        Do you perceive in your congregation now any difference in the level of commitment to our Presbytery and the level of commitment to the General Assembly?

·        Presbyterian World Mission has focused their work into three critical initiatives: Evangelism, Global Poverty and Reconciliation. Which of these areas would be most important for your congregation? Into which area do your mission projects fit?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Doctrine of the Trinity

I read a daily devotion from Father Richard Rohr which is delivered by email. Today he includes this wonderful poem from Meister Eckhart. What a fabulous doctrine of the Trinity!

Laughter, Liking, Delighting, Loving
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Let me share an astounding bit of poetry from Meister Eckhart, the wonderful fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:
Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us. [1]
God has done only one constant thing since the beginning of time: God has always, forever, and without hesitation loved “the Son”—and yes, you can equally and fittingly use “the Daughter”—understood in this sense as creation, the material universe, you, and me. The quality of the relationship toward the other is the point, not gender or even species.
God cannot not love God’s self in you (see 2 Timothy 2:13)! The “you” that holds the indwelling Spirit, which many of us call the soul, is always considered eternal and intrinsically good because of its inherent connection to God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Report to the Presbytery, September 27, 2016

Financial Planning requires good communication!

Several different financial reports were distributed to the September 27 meeting of our Presbytery, including a First Reading our 2017 Presbytery Budget. I would like to talk about money for a moment.

Per Capita Assessment: Per Capita is a very dependable and important source of income from our congregations to the presbytery, the synod and the Office of the General Assembly. But I must share with you some difficult conversations which we have had at our Administration Committee. Because Per Capita is such a precise formula, we would like to think that it makes our budget consideration easy. Just plug in the total Per Capita assessment for the year; we know that number. The problem is that we do not receive all of our Per Capita from our churches, and we do not know how much we will receive. So the 2017 Budget has an income number for Per Capita that is only 86% of the total Per Capita for our presbytery, this is the percentage we actually received from our congregations the previous year.

There is a report on 2015 Per Capita giving in your Presbytery meeting papers. Of course, we are grateful to the 33 congregations that contribute their full Per Capita. You will also see there are a number of congregations that do not contribute their full Per Capita. The problem is that not one of the congregations who were not able to contribute their full Per Capita actually communicated that fact to us in 2015. This makes our financial planning very difficult.

I believe this is a very healthy presbytery; there are very good and trusting relationships among us. We know each other. We want to be connected. Please communicate with us. I encourage your session to have a conversation about Per Capita, and please make a commitment to it. Please communicate your intention to us! This is doubly important since our Presbytery is committed to contributing our full Per Capita contribution to the Synod and the General Assembly whether or not we receive it from our congregations. This creates a significant deficit for our presbytery.

Mission Support: As you know, our Presbytery is not only financially supported by Per Capita but also by your Mission Support. Unlike Per Capita, we do not define the contribution amount. This is fully a session responsibility. It is the area of Mission Support that we are seeing the great shift that is changing the whole church.

Shared Mission Support: We have congregations that continue to be generously committed to Shared Mission Support. Thank you! Our Presbytery has approved an 80/ 20 sharing percentage. If you make a Shared Mission gift, 80% is used to support the Presbytery; 20% is used to support the General Assembly Mission Agency.

Designated Mission Support for the Presbytery: We now have congregations that are moving away from Shared Mission support and are making what we call Designated Mission gifts in support of the Presbytery. Very simply these gifts to the presbytery are not shared. All of your Designated Mission gifts in support of the Presbytery are used in support of the Presbytery.

I am asking each congregation for three things:
Please support our Presbytery both with your Per Capita contributions and your mission support. Our Presbytery does good work, and the Presbytery is worthy of your support.

    Please understand our funding system and discuss your support at your session. If you look at our Budget proposal, I am asking you to study and understand Notes 1, 2 and 3 which I provided there.

Please communicate with us. Please tell us your intentions with both Per Capita and Mission support. Communication builds trust; communication builds community. Like every year, we will be sending out pledge forms to each congregation. Please communicate with us. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Directory for the Public Worship of God, 1645.

Our Presbytery will consider the proposed new Directory for Worship as an amendment to our Book of Order. The proposed Directory passed our General Assembly and will now be voted on by all our presbyteries. I have been reading and studying the new Directory, a task which sent me back to consider again the Directory for Public Worship which the Westminster Divines wrote in 1645. The Church of Scotland approved and widely used the Westminster Directory for Public Worship. Thus from the Church of Scotland, that Directory has been widely influential in American Presbyterianism.

It is a fascinating, intellectual exercise to consider the cultural and theological changes from 1645 to the present. This sentence is part of the section on the Lord's Supper in the 1645 Directory for Public Worship:

"The ignorant and the scandalous are not fit to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper."

Interesting discussion questions would be: Why do we not talk this way today? What changed and why?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Amendments to the Constitution 2016: The Directory of Worship

The proposed new Directory for Worship

The 2016 meeting of our General Assembly approved a new Directory for Worship. This recommendation is now forwarded to the presbyteries for their consideration. If approved by the presbyteries, this new Directory for Worship will be added to our Book of Order. This action item was not controversial at the meeting of the General Assembly; I predict it will easily be approved by the presbyteries. This Amendment presents us with a wonderful opportunity to discuss our common worship life. For one example, I appreciate this discussion of "culture" (proposed new W-1.0304) which I copied here. As we ponder our public worship and the place of the church in the larger culture, I find the concepts of "contextual", "cross-cultural", transcultural", "countercultural" and "intercultural" very interesting.

W-1.0304: Culture 
God has poured out the Holy Spirit on all flesh; Scripture promises that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The book of Acts and the New Testament epistles record the challenges and controversies of an emerging Church that would be “no longer Jew or Greek” (Gal. 3:28), but one in Jesus Christ. As the Church has grown and spread over two thousand years, it has taken root and flourished in cultures and lands all around the globe—bearing witness to the love of God for all the world and Christ’s sovereignty in every place. Finally, from the book of Revelation, we know that the company of the redeemed will be a great multitude from every nation, tribe, and people, singing praise to the Lamb of God. 
Christian worship is contextual—emerging from a particular community and incorporating the words, images, symbols, and actions that best convey the good news of Jesus Christ in that gathering of God’s people. It is also cross-cultural—reflecting the diversity of traditions and cultures within and beyond the community of faith. Christian worship is transcultural—proclaiming the universal message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and rooted in common elements of human life that transcend all cultures. It is also countercultural—asserting the scandal of the gospel and anticipating God’s reign of righteousness, justice, and peace. Finally, faithful worship should be an intercultural event—fostering mutuality, dialogue, and equality among all people. 
Whenever and wherever we gather in Jesus’ name, we join the praise and prayer of the people of God in every time and place. Therefore, it is fitting that we share stories and sing songs from cultures other than our own as we pray for and with the Church throughout the world. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thank you 33!

As we begin our careful financial analysis and budget preparation for next year, we learned that 33 of our congregations contributed 100% of their Per Capita contributions in 2015. To those congregations, thank you for your generous commitment to whole ministry of our Presbyterian Church (USA).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Beautiful words; a beautiful prayer: 

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, offered a prayer of lament for those killed and injured by a semi-truck driver who systematically plowed through crowds in the French Mediterranean resort city of Nice last evening.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…. 2 Corinthians 4
God, whose presence we yearn toward in the stillness after our shaken, broken voices and the fires of violence fall silent: we have no words left.
The words others have said: “horrific” “worst” “unspeakable” “impossible”
have been spoken so many times that we can no longer hear them.
Our hearts have broken so often, we cannot feel.
Our hope has been tried, and, we confess in sorrow,
has been found wanting.
There has been too much terror, and not enough answers
too many lost lives with too little time to grieve them all
too much violation of the ordinary and not enough glimpse of the holy to hold us fast.
But You, oh God: beyond our words, beneath our hope:
be the creative breath that orders our chaos
the mercy and justice that compels us to action
the Love that is stronger than death.
We ask you again, for we have nowhere else to turn—
Hold us fast, when we cannot hold on any longer.
Walk with us through the valley of the shadow
Turn us away from despair, that we may not grow weary in well-doing
Triune God, grant us liberté, égalité, fraternité:   …the liberty of your love that conquers fear and evil
…the mind of your Son, who did not consider equality with You a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself
…the fraternity of your Spirit, beyond our divisions, to bind us together as one family in your kindom of mercy and peace. Amen.