Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Report to the Presbytery January 22, 2008

“Sent” is the Church’s word.

“Sent” is the church’s word. Jesus heard that word. The Christmas miracle which we just celebrated again is the about Jesus the Christ being sent into our world. Peter heard that word, and after Pentecost he was truly a sent person. Paul heard the word “sent” in his heart and off he went in the name of Jesus.
The Presbyterian Church has always been a sent church. For our own American Presbyterian history we may consider the first, official organization around this call to be sent to be in 1837. Of course, many heard the call before that, but in that year the Board of Foreign Missions was formed. At that time the Board of Foreign Mission had responsibility for forty-four international missionaries, twenty of whom were women. This work grew enormously; the church heard this call to be sent. In many ways this work was driven by Presbyterian women. Before 1900 there was an American Presbyterian missionary presence around the world including: West Africa, China, Siam, Colombia, Japan, Chile, Guatemala, Korea, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and the Congo. The high water mark for American Presbyterian mission work was 1927: 1,606 international mission workers from the northern church, 553 mission workers from the southern church serving all around the world, fully supported and funded.[1]
The Presbyterian Church was created to do mission. The rise of the concept of the denomination happened, in part, because of the need to centralize, organize and efficiently administer the church’s international mission efforts. Over the decades the church has become a very highly organized, centralized and an administrative heavy institution. Now, of course, the pendulum has swung the other way. Today congregations are the center and the locus of all mission activity.[2]
What I am proposing may be called an exercise in appreciative inquiry. What do our congregations do best? How may the presbytery help us to do that better together? Clearly, what our congregations do very, very well is mission work, in an amazing variety of expressions. How may we build on that strength.

My proposal has three parts:
One: The Center for Parish Development[3]
We need to develop a theological foundation for our presbytery’s mission and ministry. This effort will seek to provide a theological foundation for the work of our presbytery and our church within our Reformed Tradition. Essentially we are seeking to define a strategy for missional transformation for our presbytery with a Reformed understanding of missional theology at its core. From a theological perspective, what does it mean to be sent? How may we create a vision and strategic plan around a missional theological vision? What would it look like if we comprehensively embodied and expressed this biblical call to be sent into the world as disciples of Jesus?
We have an ad-hoc study group that has been reading and discussing missional theology for almost two years. There are plans around this effort to organize our study group into a presbytery wide ministry initiative and use the services of the Center for Parish Development. This ministry initiative would seek to create a strategy for missional transformation for our presbytery and for our congregations.
I am seeking to create a second, ad-hoc study group to ponder these same questions. You may want to educate yourself about the work of the Center for Parish Development. If you are interested please let me know.
Second: Harrisburg Mission Initiative:
Currently, we have an energized mission advocacy committee led by Elder Skip Becker. Our Mission Committee and I are calling for a Harrisburg Mission Initiative. We want to gather all the pastors and mission-committed people together for one conversation. We want to ask, how can we focus our energy and resources into inner-city Harrisburg where we have connections with a whole list of mission agencies? The mission committee is hosting a lunch meeting on Wednesday February 13 to ask this question.
If the presbytery can begin to focus our mission efforts into Harrisburg, where we have the highest concentration of churches, then I hope we may begin to replicate that same kind of cooperative effort in other areas of the presbytery.
Three: International Mission Co-Worker position:
I want to offer a bold vision of what is means, to me, for our presbytery to take seriously the biblical call to be a “sent” people. I propose that our Presbytery fund our own international mission co-worker in cooperation with our Worldwide Ministries Division. Our Presbytery would be involved in identifying this person, fully participating in their ministry wherever they are serving in the world, and funding their ministry. We would be very intentional about creating close relationships between our mission co-worker and our congregations.
As you know we now have international mission co-workers sent out from our church all over the world. The history of our Presbyterian international mission work is a remarkable and beautiful story. But you may also know that the number of our mission workers has been decreasing in recent years because the funding has not been available. There is a lot of hand-ringing and whining about this decrease in international mission work.
The reason why our number of international mission workers has decreased is easy to understand if you simply follow the cash flow. Our congregations, especially in the past twenty years, have shifted their money from funding international mission positions to local mission projects and doing mission trips. In fact the money for mission has increased every year, total Presbyterian giving has increased every year, but the amount of that money that is kept within the congregations, and not used to support international mission co-worker positions, has also significantly increased. I am a strong advocate for mission trips. I believe mission trips are vital in the spiritual development of our people today. In fact I am sponsoring a mission trip to Honduras this June. But we must find more balance. We cannot continue to shift all our money to congregation-based mission work. We must balance local mission work with support for long-term, professional, international mission co-workers.
I ask you to begin a conversation at your session about support for international mission work. Can we ponder a better balance between the mission giving we provide locally and our international mission work? Can we provide a better balance between our mission trips and our funding for international mission co-workers? Is it time for our presbytery to make a bold commitment to our Presbyterian mission work around the world?
We are a sent people. How are we going to claim and live into that calling as a presbytery?

[1] See G. Thompson Brown, Presbyterians in World Mission, Revised Edition, (CTS Press, 1988).

[2] See Chapter Five, “The Organizational Revolution: Mainstream Protestant Denominations and Mission” in Vital Signs: The Promise of Mainstream Protestantism, Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996).

[3] For information on the Center for Parish Development please see their website at missionalchurch.org. “The Center's purpose is to help churches strive to become more faithful and effective missional communities that engage the culture with the gospel, liberate themselves from Christendom bondage, and equip themselves to discern and participate in God's redemptive mission.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

In Memory of Professor Eberhard von Waldow

From Warrior to Peacemaker:
In memory of Professor Eberhard von Waldow

He never called me by my first name. He only used my last name, “Krieger.” When he said my name, he exaggerated his deep German accent. The first day of the first class I had with von Waldow, he called out my name as he was scanning down the class list. “Krieger,” he called out now scanning the class to identify me. As usual I was sitting in the front row. I politely responded, “Yes, sir.” Do you know that your name “Krieger” in German means “warrior”? Then with one of the classic von Waldow rhetorical questions he muttered quietly, but loud enough for the whole class to hear, “Why are they letting warriors into this seminary?” No one laughed, no one responded, we were still unsure how to respond to his air of superiority. I smiled to myself. I had already learned of von Waldow’s penchant for sarcasm and cynicism from my upper class friends. I was proud that I was his first victim in this class.
After our Hebrew class one day, Professor von Waldow asked if he might have word with me. He invited me to his office. He explained that he was organizing a major, academic conference to be held in the year 1984 in commemoration of George Orwell’s famous book 1984. He asked me if I would work for him to help with the planning of this conference. I would be paid. It was one of the joys of my seminary career to work closely with von Waldow, behind the scenes, in preparation for the Orwell conference. The conference was a huge success. The auditorium was packed full for the keynote speaker. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a special commemoration of Orwell’s book promoting the conference.
In the mystery of God’s providence and blessing, this harsh, proudly German, Old Testament professor and I became close. We were not really friends; his was the teacher and I was an eager disciple. I count him as one of my most influential professors during my time at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. But his influence on me was not really academic or biblical, his area of expertise. His influence was personal and visceral. I see grace and transformation in the story of his life. He was a Nazi tank commander who now taught Hebrew and was a powerful voice for peace. I sat in the front row of Professor von Waldow’s Hebrew class for a whole school year. I never missed class, any class. For von Waldow’s class I was always early because then I could always hear his daily editorial comments on the world with which he started each class.
By the time I started my years at the seminary, von Waldow was already approaching retirement age. Many students had perceived, as I did, that his heart was not much interested in teaching Hebrew language any longer, as he had done for a long career. His teaching was rote and routine; he had done it all before. But throughout each class were interspersed his little, thoughtful editorial comments which always caught my attention. Sometimes they were points of preaching, looking at a particular Old Testament passage; sometimes they were points of politics and social commentary about our world; sometimes they were discussions of history; and, now and again, there were the personal stories about his life which quickly morphed into the von Waldow folklore among the student body. Beneath all his wandering reflections which were always spontaneous, unorganized and random, there was a deep commitment to peace, a desire for the church to be more and do more to transform our world and bring peace, and a deep concern about current events.
When I was at Pittsburgh Seminary during the mid-1980s there was a comprehensive commitment to peacemaking emerging. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program was a new emphasis at the General Assembly. There was a call to focus on peacemaking in the seminary curriculum. The world was caught up in a cold war with the Soviet Union which the Reagan administration was heating up. Professor Ron Stone was asking if we are now called to resistance. Professor Don Gowan was thinking about shalom in the Old Testament and wrote an influential Bible study in the Kerygma series on that topic. Ulrich Mauser, who was the Dean at that time, was writing about peace in the New Testament. Professors von Waldow and Doug Hare team taught a course titled “Peace in Theological Studies.” Unlike his more lackadaisical teaching of Hebrew, in this class on “Peace” von Waldow was motivated, passionate and very engaged. They invited many other faculty to lecture. My mind and heart were captivated by this conversation, and, once again, I was in the front row, never missing a class. It was a joy to simply listen in as the faculty talked with one another about peace in theological studies.
Importantly, a beautiful, young woman who was a student at the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh cross-registered and took our course on Peace in Theological Studies. Since her Dad was a pastor, she was comfortable in the theological context. Kris and I met in that class, chatted about peace in the hallway after class, and soon had a dinner date together. The next year we were married.
As a senior I asked von Waldow if I he would lead an independent study for me on the topic of peacemaking. It was this personal time with von Waldow which really blessed me. I sat quietly with him in his small office and listened to his meandering thoughts. I received a glimpse of the character of this man. I heard a little of his story. Like a whole generation of Americans, World War Two was a formative experience for von Waldow. Of course, he was then our enemy. He told me two personal stories from the war which I will never forgot. I still wonder if these stories are completely accurate. Von Waldow had a gift for embellishment and exaggeration. Nonetheless these are great stories:
After von Waldow was first drafted as a teenager into the German army, he was soon in a training program for a Panzer division. One day his unit was out in the training field learning to operate the new, state-of-the-art German tank. It was his turn to drive the tank around a course set up in the large field. A group of officers stood nearby evaluating each young soldier. As von Waldow was driving the tank, he made a mistake, the tank veered up the side a little bank. He overcorrected his mistake, and the tank rolled completely over. Von Waldow used an escape hatch to climb out of the now, up-side-down tank. He was not hurt. He crawled out and stood up next to the up-side-down, completely disabled tank. He impulsively burst out laughing. As von Waldow told this story, I remember the glimmer of laughter in his eye and voice. He thought that it was hilarious that he had rolled over, and completely disabled this huge tank. A very high ranking commander walked over to him and questioned him. Then, immediately on the spot, von Waldow was promoted to a tank commander, a rank he held for the remainder of the war.
Von Waldow told me another World War Two story which has also deeply touched me. In 1945 the war was essentially over. He was serving on the German western front as the British and American armies were relentlessly pushing toward Berlin and victory. Since there was no fuel available the German tanks were abandoned. Von Waldow was put in command of ground unit of new recruits. I remember the sadness in his voice as he told of very young boys and very old men who were now being forced to serve on the front lines. There was not enough ammunition, and many of the new recruits had no training, and some did not even have weapons. Von Waldow was supposed to use these recruits to stop the oncoming allied forces! As they were on the very front lines waiting for the attack, von Waldow walked up and down his line commanding that no one shoot until his command. His troops were to wait a long a possible as the allied forces advanced until he personally gave the command to attack. Finally, their unit could see the British troops advancing toward them; von Waldow was screaming orders for his men to hold their fire until his command. The Brits kept advancing toward their line. Before any of his men fired their weapons, with the British forces in sight, von Waldow personally stood up, raised his hands and surrendered himself and his whole unit to the British. As he told this story I remember the pain in his voice, but also the pride that he had not caused the inevitable death of those young boys and old men who were under his command.
I graduated with my M.Div. in 1985 and started serving a small church in Kiskiminetas Presbytery. I asked Professor von Waldow to preach at my ordination service. My friend, John White, the director of admissions at the seminary and moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery, led my ordination commission. Professor George Kehm also was on my ordination commission. My home church, the Verona Presbyterian Church, where my family was very involved and where I was a favorite son was filled on the occasion of my ordination on September 8, 1985. Von Waldow preached beautifully from the First Letter to Timothy. I remember his word to me. He said in essence, “I hear all the time in our churches people saying, “We love our pastor. Our pastor is wonderful. We have such a great pastor, I hope our pastor will stay forever.” These comments make me sick. I ask myself what is wrong with our pastors when everyone in the church loves them. Are they really preaching the gospel? Where is the word of the prophets? Where is the call to transform our society? Where is call of the cross of Jesus Christ. We need pastors today who are not concerned with making everyone happy and comfortable, but with being faithful and obedient to the Gospel.”
Thanks be to God for the life, ministry and prophetic witness of Professor Eberhard von Waldow. May he rest in peace.