Sunday, June 29, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 14

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 14

NOTE: This is a copy of the official, church-wide letter sent out after the Assembly:

June 28, 2008

To Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The 218th General Assembly adjourned just a few short hours ago. Even now, 973 commissioners and advisory delegates are making their way back home from San Jose, CA, where they worshiped daily, discussed and debated overtures, and celebrated the countless ways Presbyterians are engaged in ministry near and very far away—all with a focus on discerning the mind of Christ for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and seeking ways to live out this assembly’s theme: “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Beginning today and continuing over the next two years, elected commissioners will be about the task of interpreting the actions they took at this assembly. Already, their decisions have been broadcast across the church and, in this Internet world—with information received in real time, live blogs, and more—many people have already weighed in on the assembly’s actions, sharing their thoughts and feelings about the implications of those decisions on our life together in the PC(USA).

The assembly dealt with well over 400 business items. Some items had undivided agreement, including a covenant to join together to carry out mission together and a churchwide commitment to “Grow God’s Church Deep and Wide.” There was an action to continue to study a revised Form of Government, and one committee devoted its time entirely to youth issues. In addition, we continued our longstanding work toward peace in the Middle East. More information on these and other actions will be coming soon.

A few of the many assembly actions will make, or already have made, headlines across the country. Most likely, you will read about the actions from a number of sources over the next many days and weeks, but we want you to hear about this important gathering directly from the General Assembly. That is why we are writing this letter to you.

Perhaps the subject that will make the most headlines has to do with the ordination standards of our church. It is a subject with which Presbyterians are familiar and one that tends to evoke great debates and deep emotions. With that in mind, we want you to know what the assembly did—in the actual wording—in regard to ordination standards, and what will happen next.

By a 54% to 46% margin, the assembly voted to propose an amendment to our Book of Order to change one of our current ordination standards. The change is to replace the current language that says officers of the church must live by “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” (G-6.0106b) to this new language: Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

By a 53% to 47% vote, the assembly adopted a new Authoritative Interpretation (AI) on G-6.0106b: Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect.

By a 54% to 46% vote, the assembly adopted a new AI on G-6.0108 which restores the intent of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church report (2006) to allow someone who is being considered for ordination or installation as a deacon, elder, or minister to register a conscientious objection to the standards or beliefs of the church and ask the ordaining body to enter into a conversation with them to determine the seriousness of the departure.
The assembly left unchanged the definition of marriage found in the Directory for Worship (W-4.9000)—“a civil contract between a woman and a man.”

By its actions, the assembly has initiated a new opportunity to focus ordination on primary allegiance and obedience to Jesus Christ, as well as to Scripture and the church’s confessions. The assembly places the responsibility onto sessions and presbyteries for discerning a candidate’s fitness for ordination.

In all of this, it is important to note that the assembly has not removed the church’s standard of “fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness.” For the proposed change—making obedience to Christ the ordination standard—to become part of the Book of Order , a majority of presbyteries will need to ratify it over the next year.

We know the assembly actions may do little to ease the anxiety that seems to permeate our life together as a denomination. The debate isn’t new and the future holds difficult challenges. As the Rev. Dan Holloway, moderator of the committee that took up the items on ordination standards, said, “As we move forward, it is essential that we have conversations that are gracious and loving and welcoming, since we are not all of one mind.” Our hope is that none of us will act or react immediately to the decisions, choosing instead to pray and talk with one another about these issues.

During the question-and-answer time for the Stated Clerk election on Friday morning, now Stated Clerk-elect Gradye Parsons spoke of the story of Jesus being in the boat with his disciples in the middle of the lake when a storm arose (Luke 8). If fear could have capsized their boat, the disciples would have found themselves working hard to tread water in the midst of the wind and waves. Yet, Jesus calmed the storm and proceeded to question them about their faith.

Like the disciples, we, the PC(USA), are in the boat together, sometimes not altogether sure where we are headed. We see the storm approaching and our fears rise with the waves. Yet, as he was with the disciples, so, too, is Christ in our midst—calming the wind, settling the waves—being present and guiding us as we proceed ahead.

Gradye offered the following mantra as a summary of the Luke story: Get into the boat. Go across the lake. There will be a storm. You will not die .

As we move forward from this assembly, we know that storms may come, but we put our confidence and trust in the one who both calms the storms and leads us into God’s future with hope.

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow
Moderator of the 218th General Assembly

The Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Elder Linda Bryant Valentine
Executive Director, General Assembly Council

Friday, June 27, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 13

The 218th General Assembly reflections part 13

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The most emotionally charged overture from the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee came from the Presbytery of Newark asking the 218th General Assembly “to correct translation problems in five responses of the Heidelberg Catechism as found in The Book of Confessions and to add the original Scripture texts of the German Heidelberg Catechism.”

The issues surrounding this confession are complex and multi-layered. After hearing much information and debate, and defeating a minority report, the Assembly approved the overture to initiate the process to revise the Heidelberg Catechism by a vote of 436-280-11.

The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopted The Book of Confessions in 1967, which included a 1962 translation of the Heidelberg Catechism prepared for and published by United Church Press. According to the overture rationale, Professor Edward Dowey of Princeton Theological Seminary chaired the committee of the General Assembly that compiled the confessions. He later admitted that a thorough check of this version was never undertaken and certain “illicit” changes made to this Heidelberg translation went undetected. After consulting the original German, as well as early Latin versions, five passages in the original text were discovered to be rendered incorrectly and key theological meanings were obscured.

Most of the Assembly’s attention focused on Question 87 of the catechism: “Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?” The current text of the answer reads: “Certainly not! Scripture says, ‘Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.’”

According to the overture rationale, two phrases in the current answer that were supplied by the 1962 translators do not appear in the original text or in any translations produced prior to 1962. The primary phrase that is in dispute is “or of homosexual perversion.”

Neither the original German nor Latin contains text corresponding to this phrase, “Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake:”
If approved, the corrected text would read: “Certainly not; for as Scripture says no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, greedy person, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or anyone like that shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

The other four responses to the catechism questions would also be amended in a way that makes them more accurate and faithful to the original text. This approach would satisfy concerns that have been raised without the need of a major rewriting of the present translation.

According to the Rev. Mark Tammen, associate stated clerk and director of Constitutional Services for the Office of the General Assembly, a special committee will be appointed by the 218th GA moderator to study the recommendation and bring back a proposal to the 219th Assembly (2010). If that Assembly approves the proposal, it will be sent to the presbyteries for approval. If two-thirds of the presbyteries vote to adopt the amendments to the catechism, it will return to the 220th Assembly (2012). If that Assembly approves the changes, then the corrected Heidelberg Catechism will replace the current version in The Book of Confessions.

General Assembly reflections part 12

The 218th General Assembly reflections part 12

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The Rev. Gradye Parsons was elected stated clerk of the General Assembly.
Parsons has served as associate stated clerk of the General Assembly for the past eight years. In that role, he has been the director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), including director of OGA’s General Assembly Meeting Services department.
Parsons has staffed a number of General Assembly committees. He spearheaded the development of a review process for each of the six agencies of the PC(USA) and staffed five of the six committees that conducted the reviews, with the exception being the review committee for OGA. Before his national church responsibilities, Parsons served as pastor of two churches in Tennessee for fifteen years. He was executive presbyter and stated clerk of Holston Presbytery for six years.

General Assembly reflections part 11

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 11

The Form of Government Taskforce referred:

After long discussion with many amendments, including a minority report, the Assembly approved the recommendation of their committee to refer the Form of Government Taskforce report to a new, expanded task force. Quoted here is the actual language of the action:

“That the recommendation (from the Form of Government Taskforce) be referred to the Office of the General Assembly with comment:

The referral to the Office of the General Assembly is for a period of consultation and study with churches and presbyteries through a system or systems designed and implemented by the Form of Government Task Force and members of the 218th General Assembly Committee on Form of Government Revisions. The participation of every presbytery in the period of consultation and study will be strongly urged. New members of this expanded task force are to be chosen from the 218th General Assembly (2008) Assembly Committee on Form of Government Revisions by the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008), in consultation with the moderator and vice moderator of the 218th General Assembly (2008) Assembly Committee on Form of Government Revisions.

The new task force will revise the Form of Government Task Force Report, taking into account the concerns and suggestions gleaned from the consultation and study process. The guidance of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, the overtures, and the testimony received by the 218th General Assembly (2008) Assembly Committee on Form of Government revisions and the committee’s comments are referred to the task force for serious and studied consideration. “

The Presbytery of Carlisle “is strongly urged” to study the Form of Taskforce report and make our conclusions known to the new taskforce. Anyone interested in participating in this consultation and study within our presbytery is asked to contact me as soon as possible.

General Assembly reflections part 10

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 10

Christian and Muslim relations: “Same” versus “One”

The Assembly approved, after long debate and several significant amendments, a resolution on the relations between Christians and Muslims titled, “On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities.” As part of this impassioned debate on the floor of the Assembly, the important distinction between believing in “one” God and believing in the “same” God was discussed. It is very correct to say that each of the world’s three great, monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism- each believe in one God. But these religious convictions placed in one God does not necessarily mean that these religions all believe in the same God. As we ponder the relations between the different religions of the world, especially since adherents of all these religions are increasingly present in our neighborhoods, it is a very important theological discussion to consider whether or not these different religions worship the same God.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 9

The 218th General Asssembly (2008) reflections part 9

The Assembly approved a resolution to study the Belhar Confession, and consider whether or not this Confession should be added to our Book of Confessions. The text and a study guide are available at this websites (or search on Belhar at

General Assembly reflections part 8

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 8

The Presbytery of Carlisle team:

I lift up grateful appreciation for the Commissioners from the Presbytery of Carlisle serving the 218th General Assembly.

Rev. John Green, pastor of our Paxton Church, serving on the Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation Committee.

Elder Margaret Mielke, clerk of session of our Pine Street Church, serving on the Review of the General Assembly Permanent Committees

Rev. John Barlow, pastor of our Warfordsburg Church, serving on the Worship and Spiritual Renewal Committee.

Elder Bud Marshall, from our Greencastle Church, serving on the Youth Committee.

Youth Advisory Delegate, Sarah Flint, from our Camp Hill Church, serving on our General Assembly Procedures Committee.

General Assembly reflections part 7

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 7

San Jose, California: Being an ethnic minority today.

This year the General Assembly is meeting in San Jose, California. I never visited this beautiful, northern California city before. I have enjoyed spending some time running each morning and using the break times during the day to walk around downtown San Jose. The convention center where our General Assembly meets is only a short walk from San Jose State University. The vicinity around the convention center and university community in downtown San Jose is a gorgeous area, highly developed but with beautiful green space and parks. I especially love the huge, majestic palm trees which are very common here and do not grow in Pennsylvania.

For lunch today, a gorgeous, sunny day in San Jose, I found a light sandwich and sat at a sidewalk table outside the restaurant. As I watched the lunchtime rush of people up and down the sidewalk, a fascinating thought entered my mind. As a white, middle-aged, male in San Jose I was an “ethnic minority”. A rich and fascinating rainbow of different kinds of people walked up and down the sidewalk past me. Only a few of them looked like me. Although I do not experience this kind of diversity on the sidewalk in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania or anyplace in the Presbytery of Carlisle, I know it is coming. What does it mean to be an “ethnic minority”? What does it feel like? The increasing ethnic diversity in our nation is a wonderful thing, in my opinion. America is a land with all kinds of difference and diversity. Whether we like it or not, whether we encourage it or not, our church is quickly becoming an ethnically diverse community as well. Although white people like me are still a vast majority group in our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we will soon be an ethnic minority in our nation? How do you feel about that fact? How should the Church respond?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 6

The 218th General Assembly (2008): Reflections part 6

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21

“Giving has always been a mark of Christian commitment and discipleship. The ways in which a believer uses God’s gifts of material goods, personal abilities, and time should reflect response to God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ and Christ’s call to minister to and share with others in the world. Tithing is a primary expression of the Christian discipline of stewardship.” – Book of Order, W-5.5004.

The Presbytery of Carlisle is being recognized and thanked at this meeting of the General Assembly for our phenomenal commitment to Presbyterian mission giving. It is an honor and great privilege for me to receive the kind remarks, congratulations and acknowledgement of different people every day here at the Assembly. Numerous times when I either introduce myself as from the Presbytery of Carlisle or people read my name tag, some sort of grateful comment about our place on the top ten list usually follows.

The General Assembly recognizes the Presbytery of Carlisle for:
Total Giving: Basic Mission Support (#6)
Per Member Giving: Basic Mission Support (#1)
Per Member Giving: Special Offerings (#6)
Per Member: Total Giving (#2)

The Presbytery of Carlisle is a mission-shaped, mission-driven and mission-giving presbytery. As I reflect on this good news in conversations with people around the General Assembly, several reflections easily come to mind. There is, by the grace of God, a remarkable, high level of trust in the Presbytery of Carlisle. That high level of trust is especially true within our Presbytery where there is wonderful collegiality among our church leaders, and a deep commitment to being connected together as Presbyterians. That high level of trust is, of course, also reflected in the deep and generous commitment many of our churches continue to have for Presbyterian mission work.

In the light of these accolades, the questions I ponder and pray are these: How can we enhance and multiply the high level of trust which already exists in our presbytery? How can we, as a healthy and trusting presbytery, raise trust and enhance connectionalism across the whole church? We have a number of congregations who do not participate in Presbyterian mission giving and are only weakly connected within our presbytery? What can we do to listen to their concerns, build trust, and join together in mutual mission and ministry? In a presbytery with such a high commitment to mission giving, what is the next step in our journey of faithfulness and service in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?

With Linda Valentine, the executive director of the General Assembly Council;
with Hunter Farrell, the director of world mission;
with Stan deVoogd, the regional liaison for Mexico and Central America, (with whom I work closely in our Honduras mission work);

I say “Thank you” to the pastors and church professionals, elders and church members of the Presbytery of Carlisle who give generously to Presbyterian mission work, and are truly leading the way forward in our great Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

General Assembly reflections part 5

The 218th General Assembly (2008): Reflections part 5

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reflections on the Form of Government taskforce proposal:

I listened to some of the testimony of the Form of Government taskforce members to the General Assembly committee responsible for bringing their proposal forward. There was a lot of conversation about the Taskforce’s intention in dropping out all the specific tasks for the work of the Committee on Ministry and the Committee on the Preparation for Ministry. The work of these committees, which is precisely delineated in the current Form of Government, is revised into broad categories and expectations in the proposed Form of Government. The theory behind this proposal is that each Presbytery should be empowered, given their particular context and ministry needs, to implement the broad expectations as necessary.

In explaining this point to the Assembly Committee, a member of the Form of Government taskforce told a story from his home, Grace Presbytery in Texas. His Presbytery, of course, has a huge number of Spanish speaking people, and their presbytery is trying in various ways to reach out to them. One of the ways the presbytery has done this is by building relationships with pastors and church leaders from the Presbyterian Church in Mexico. They have identified pastors from Mexico who may, with the help of our Grace Presbytery, come into America to serve with Spanish speaking congregations here. But there is a huge obstacle preventing these Mexican Presbyterian pastors from expressing full pastoral responsibilities within our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). These pastors cannot be received as minister members of our church because they do not satisfy all the ordination requirements which are currently defined and listed in the Book of Order.

This particular situation raises a huge question for our church. Should Grace Presbytery, which is actively trying to reach out to the Spanish speaking people in their midst, be allowed to receive pastors from the Presbyterian Church of Mexico as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament in our church? Currently the moment a Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church of Mexico steps across the border into our church they cannot serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament because they have not satisfied all of our ordination requirements. Should Grace Presbytery, which needs these pastors from Mexico to support their ministry and mission to Spanish speaking people in Texas, be allowed and encouraged to receive these pastors as full and active members here? This is exactly the kind of flexibility in process and procedures which the Form of Government taskforce is proposing with their revised Form of Government.

Monday, June 23, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 4

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 4

Reflections on our World Mission

One of the highlights for me of this week’s General Assembly meeting thus far was the World Mission luncheon on Sunday. (NOTE: We have scheduled the director of World Mission, Hunter Farrell, to be with us in our Presbytery for our April Presbytery meeting.) There is completely new national staff in place in our World Mission office, and I am very supportive of our effort in the church to grow our international mission work. It was very meaningful and moving to sit together at the World Mission luncheon with Christian brothers and sisters from our partner churches all over the world, all of whom express deep gratitude for the mission and ministry of our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There are stories upon stories from all around the world of churches that were initially planted, and conversions to Christ that were originally sparked, sometimes several generations ago, by the work of Presbyterian missionaries from the United States.

Hunter Farrell, in a very compelling address, spoke in broad terms of the history of Presbyterian world mission work and offered his vision of this new era. The Presbyterian Church made a massive commitment to world mission more than 150 years. This began the great era of mission work during which we sent our missionaries around the world. Many of our international partners today are churches that were planted and formed in that great era of world mission emphasis. Presbyterian Churches in Korea, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and many others were planted by American Presbyterians. Because that era was also a time of limited communication and difficult international travel, our mission strategy was necessarily a “dependent” strategy. That is to say our congregations depended on our General Assembly to do this mission work. The congregations provided the funding, massive amounts of funding, and the General Assembly functioned as a mission sending agency. This was a profoundly successful strategy for doing world mission work.

Everything shifted and changed in our culture through the 1960s. Thus from the 1970s through the 1990s our world mission work shifted to an “independent” strategy. For many reasons, including the breakdown of trust in the church and the flattening of the world with our now easy communication and travel, individual congregations started doing world mission with a local and personal involvement. This is the era when the concept of mission trips started and has become an established part of our mission work. In this era the world mission work of the General Assembly floundered and downsized because congregations were no longer dependent on the General Assembly to engage in world mission. We are now learning the downside of this completely independent strategy for world mission work. I have seen this in the Presbytery of Honduras which simply does not have the resources or leadership to constantly host the vast numbers of American mission trips that are arriving. I have heard, for example, of one Presbyterian mission hospital in Kenya that was completely overwhelmed by the requests of three different American Presbyterian congregations that wanted to bring medical mission teams, each of more than 20 people, in the same month this summer. I have heard the terrible story of a small Presbyterian church in Mexico who organized the painting of the same wall in their town’s park six weeks in row by six different American mission teams because they do not have the resources or leadership to host this annual onslaught of American teams. The real tragedy of this independent, congregational based world mission work is that we have had to cut back on our financial commitment to full-time, fluent in the local language, professional mission workers because our money has shifted to short-term, usually week-long, mission trips.
Are we poised for a new era of world mission commitment? A new era which, obviously, will never return to a strategy in which our congregations are fully dependent on the General Assembly to do mission. A new era which, I hope, with a higher level of trust. A new era which may move us beyond the excesses of a completely independent strategy of world mission in which each congregation does their own thing with little coordination with others who may be working in the same nation. Are we ready to move into a collaborative era of world mission in which congregations, presbyteries and the General Assembly work together with our international church partners. This is clearly the direction in which Hunter Farrell would like to lead our world mission efforts. This is clearly the direction that is being proposed in the concept of mission networks. (I am very involved in the Honduras mission network). There are now 35 mission networks in our church.

Each congregation needs to be directly and personally connected with world mission. Each congregation needs to do mission trips, including international trips. But we also need communication and collaboration with our international church partners so we do not overwhelm them with our arrogant American audacity. We also need to make a serious commitment to the calling and equipping of full-time, professional mission workers serving with long term commitment all around the world. We also need the General Assembly, through the concept of mission networks and the regional liaisons staff people, to help congregations and presbyteries coordinate our world mission efforts so we are not paying thousands of dollars to travel to a foreign nation to paint the same wall six weeks in a row.

It is new day for the church. In the name of Jesus Christ let us make a commitment to world mission.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 3

Copied from the General Assembly website:

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, 39, an energetic new church development pastor in San Francisco and leader in the “emergent church” movement, was elected moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Saturday night (June 21), capturing a second ballot victory.

Reyes-Chow — who received 48 percent of the first ballot votes — won an easy majority on the second ballot with 390 votes or 55 percent.

The Rev. William “Bill” Teng of National Capital Presbytery finished second with 255 votes or 36 percent. The Rev. D. Carl Mazza of New Castle Presbytery finished third with 52 votes or 7 percent. Elder Roger Shoemaker of Homestead Presbytery trailed with seven votes or 1 percent.

Reyes-Chow is pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, an innovative new church of San Francisco Presbytery that was recently named winner of a 2007 Sam and Helen Walton Award for outstanding new church development. In his address to the Assembly, he noted that he makes as many pastoral calls by email as by in-person visitation.

Such is the future of ministry, Reyes-Chow said. Mission Bay has a state-of-the-art Web site and extensive electronic communications among members and participants, which he said is absolutely essential for a congregation that is predominantly under-40.

In her nominating speech for him, Elder Vivian Guthrie of Greater Atlanta Presbytery urged Reyes-Chow’s election “to keep our church relevant … or we aren’t going to be on the same page as younger people. Bruce has a profound understanding of the way the world is changing, so he can help us feel less anxious and less resistant to change.”

In both his speech and his responses to questions, Reyes-Chow reiterated over and over his belief that “nothing is too hard or too wondrous for God. If the church steps out in faith rather than clinging to survival, to be more intent on being faithful than on being right, to be together based on our common covenant in Jesus Christ rather than by property or pensions, then we will be able to live into a future in which we are a vital and vibrant presence in the world.”

Teng, the only one of the four candidates to explicitly support the current constitutional prohibition of the ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian Presbyterians as church officers, emphasized his campaign theme of “gratitude and hope.” “We gather up a wealth of meaning as Presbyterians in response to the grace of God in Jesus Christ,” Teng said. “We have no greater need than to look beyond ourselves and follow Jesus into the world he loves and calls us to love.”
Mazza, who brought to his candidacy a compelling personal story of conversion and resultant commitment to the homeless and other marginalized people as founder and director of Meeting Ground in Elkton, MD, spoke of the two “great strengths” of the PC(USA) that drive his ministry: “We have an abiding commitment to gospel and Jesus Christ and a commitment to mission in the world,” he said. Shoemaker, the only elder among the four, called for Presbyterians to develop a greater understanding of themselves as the body of Christ and as Presbyterians and in doing so “we will find ways to pursue solutions that will grow our congregations spiritually and numerically.”

Reyes-Chow, the grandson of Chinese and Filipino immigrants to California, was raised in Sacramento and Stockton, CA. He is a graduate of San Francisco State University and San Francisco Theological Seminary. A prolific writer and blogger, Reyes-Chow describes himself as a “pastor/geek/dad/follower of Christ.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

General Assembly reflections part 2

The 218th General Assembly (2008) reflections part 2

Quoted here is the recommendation coming to the General Assembly asking “organizations to affirm and adopt the following invitation.” I shared this document with our Presbytery at our June meeting, asking us to consider it for adoption in September. I hope this invitation will help us have conversation about mission in our Presbytery, and make a renewed commitment to our world mission efforts:

As a result of the Worldwide Mission Consultation, “Renewed Call to Presbyterian Mission in the World! Dialogue for Our Shared Future” that was held January 16-18, 2008, in Dallas, Texas, the Moderator, together with the Stated Clerk and the General Assembly Council, recommend that the 218th General Assembly (2008) invite the sessions, middle governing bodies, seminaries, General Assembly Council ministries areas, and all PC(USA)-related mission organizations to affirm and adopt the following invitation:

An Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission

As members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) committed to God’s mission, accompanied by global partners, we gathered together January 16-18, 2008, in Dallas, Texas. We acknowledge the rich Presbyterian heritage in world mission and reaffirm the Presbyterian understanding of God’s mission as it is expressed in “Gathering for God’s Future,”

The Good News of Jesus Christ is to be shared with the whole world. As disciples of Jesus Christ, each of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is sent into the world to join God’s mission. As individuals and as a church, we are called to be faithful in this discipleship. Our mission is centered in the triune God. Our mission is God-called, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led. Our mission is both proclamation and service; it is the reason the church exists. …

Our renewed call from God is to face the challenges of witnessing and evangelizing worldwide, equipping the church for transforming mission, engaging in ministries of reconciliation, justice, healing and grace, and living the Good News of Jesus Christ in community with people who are poor, [persecuted, and living in the midst of violence]…

The church is part of God’s plan. We are called into the community of the church, and we call new disciples into that community. With Christ as our head, the church community exists for the sake of God's mission. We learn to serve in mission in a way that is faithful to the triune God. We are to model the kind of community God intends for all humanity. To be the church is to be one large mission society. [PC(USA), “Gathering for God’s Future: Witness, Discipleship, Community: A Renewed Call to Worldwide Mission,” 2003, pp. 1, 16. Text in brackets is added.]

Grounded in this theological foundation we realize that God is calling us to new patterns of mission. The world has changed, and the majority of the world’s Christians are now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The great growth and mission faithfulness of the Church outside the West invite us into a new posture. We must listen and learn to receive. We must also be open to new patterns of collaboration. These new patterns involve new cooperation and partnerships within the PC(USA).

I. We recognize that God calls us to mission that is grounded in confession of our sins, grows out of a life of prayer and is sustained in worship. Therefore, we covenant to live and serve together in God’s mission according to the following values:

1. Trusting in the Holy Spirit and trusting in one another as each discerns how God is moving us in mission. (Acts 10)

2. Doing mission in the way of Jesus who humbled himself, showing the way of self-giving and self-emptying. (Philippians 2)

3. Seeking to be faithful to God as we live and proclaim the fullness of Jesus Christ’s good news; personal witness to those outside the church, justice for the oppressed, and compassion for those in need. We accompany others in their efforts to be faithful. (Luke 4)

4. Affirming the complementary nature of God’s gifts to all in the one body of Christ and encouraging one another in living out those gifts. (1 Corinthians 12)

5. Recognizing our responsibility to each other by communicating openly, acting transparently, and speaking and hearing the truth in love. (Ephesians 4)

6. Striving in our mission to be aware of the context out of which we come, to respect the persons with whom we labor, and to honor the context in which they live. In an era of massive global inequalities we commit ourselves to be sensitive to and address the issues of power that result from our differences. (Philippians 2)

7. Valuing long-term relationships, partnerships characterized by perseverance and long-term commitments, which support and encourage global partners. (1 Thessalonians 2)

II. We seek to live out these mission values with humility, integrity, and steadfastness. Recognizing that God invites us all to be full participants in God’s mission, we commit ourselves to work cooperatively with one another in the following ways:

1. We will affirm and encourage World Mission as it continues to move from a regulatory role to a more enabling and equipping role.

2. We will celebrate and encourage diverse Presbyterian approaches and structures for mission while maintaining the unity of our participation in God’s mission.

3. We will share responsibility for the education and preparation of all Presbyterians for mission.

4. We commit ourselves to seeking more mission personnel who will serve long-term in cross-cultural contexts through the PC(USA), and to supporting them fully.

5. We commit ourselves to enabling and supporting our global partners as they send their mission personnel in cross-cultural service.

6. We recognize and affirm the growing opportunity for cross-cultural mission in our own increasingly pluralistic and multicultural society, and we receive the global community from near and far as mission partners and God’s gift to us. We seek increased integration between local and global mission.

III. As we move forward together in God’s mission, we commit ourselves to calling the church to ongoing intercessory prayer for God’s mission and to the following tasks:

1. We will form a coordinating committee to ensure that we will meet together to share and cooperate on a regular basis.

2. During the coming year we will work to address two immediate priorities:
a. to coordinate and collaborate in the sending of mission personnel;
b. to expand Presbyterian funding for mission personnel.

3. During the next three months we will share this document and invitation with our constituencies.

IV. With bold humility we invite those who would covenant with us to join in this new collaborative model of Presbyterian mission, and we ask for encouragement, for guidance and for prayer, remembering Jesus’ own prayer:

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

General Assembly reflections part 1

The 218th General Assembly (2008): Reflections part 1

Saturday June 21, 2008

The report of the Form of Government taskforce is certainly one of the most important issues before this year’s General Assembly. This is a sweeping, comprehensive revision of the Form of Government, which is, of course, the largest part of our Book of Order. (Our Book of Order also includes the Directory for Worship, and the Rules for Discipline.) Although the General Assembly’s first business meeting convenes today at 10:00, there was already, late Friday evening, an open presentation by the Form of Government taskforce concerning their proposal. Clearly, the taskforce has done an amazing amount of work in preparation for this decision this week. I have written about their proposal and discussed it in several different forums since their first draft was distributed last fall.

I am of two minds concerning the Form of Government taskforce proposal. I like it; I like the flexibility and streamlining of our polity which they have built into their proposal. I like the serious shift of authority and decision making back to the presbyteries, where historically it belongs. I like the focus on function rather than structure. On the other hand the approval of this proposal will require a much higher level and trust and cooperation across the church than currently exists. This kind of massive change in our administrative organization requires a very high level of trust. Does such trust exist in the church today? If not, this proposal may degenerate into deep conflict or move many people into deep apathy as they simply withdraw from this complicated conversation.

The distinction between function and structure may be the deepest change which this proposal brings. It is this distinction which may be the most important shift. The proposed Form of Government defines the function and responsibilities of the various “councils” of the church (sessions, presbyteries, synods and General Assembly). But the proposal does not define specifically how those functions should be expressed and implemented. For example, the proposed Form of Government does not explicitly state, as our current Form of Government does, that each presbytery must have a Committee on Ministry, a Committee on Preparation for Ministry and a Committee on Representation. In fact, many of the specific implementation steps and specific rules of the current Form of Government are dropped out in the new proposal. Instead broad responsibilities are outlined but specific steps for implementation are left to the decision of the individual councils.

Given some of the conversation we have started in the Presbytery of Carlisle, I want to emphasize that this proposed Form of Government is intended to be a “missional polity”. What does that mean? I want to quote here some background which was distributed by the Taskforce to help us understand their purpose and task. I quote here from “An Introduction” which is a short paper the Taskforce shared at their presentation Friday evening.

“The Form of Government proposed by the task force seeks to implement a missional polity. What is missional polity?
· To be missional begins in the confession that God has sent the church into the world to bear witness to God’s activity in reconciling and transforming the world. Therefore, mission is not something the church does; it is what the church is.
· Polity is the architecture of mission. A missional polity recognizes that the church councils – session, presbyteries, synods and General Assembly – guide and support the work of the congregation, and connect and coordinate that work with other congregations so that the whole church may witness more effectively to the activity of God in the world.
· A mission polity provides flexibility so that each congregation, as it engages the world in it particular corner of Christ’s kingdom, may do so effectively as possible, while still maintaining overarching constitutional standards that apply across the church.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Report to the Presbytery June 17, 2008

Our Coordinating Council organized a very successful Committee Day in April, when all the Committees of the Presbytery had their meetings at the same time, in the same place. Many committee members present that day responded to some discussion questions which our Council had prepared. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and input. Our Council discussed your responses at length. What we have learned most clearly is that many people simple do not have a deep understanding of what our presbytery is supposed to be and do. And, of course, we always have new leaders in our midst who are first learning about our life together. I would like with this report to offer some response to that uncertainty about our presbytery’s mission and ministry.
The Presbytery of Carlisle voted to implement a new administrative structure in April, 2000. Thus the new structure is already eight years old. This Presbytery was one of the first, but now Presbyteries all across our church are doing the same thing and moving in the same direction. It seems to me that our presbytery is on the front edge of the deep restructuring and reformation that is happening in our denomination. I am excited to be part of it all.
The centerpiece of our presbytery’s, administrative structure is the philosophy of supporting congregations and the strategy of “ministry initiative.” This kind of thinking is becoming common sense across our church today. Our purpose is to support our congregations, connect them together, and identify new ministry initiatives as they are developing in our congregations.
We have created a culture in our presbytery of supporting congregations. The presbytery structure implemented in 2000 focused that purpose in the work of our Strengthening our Congregations Committee. We are now poised to push this to a whole new level with our Missional Church Initiative. We have started a professional relationship with the Center for Parish Development. We have a team working on this proposal and we will be, over the next year, be asking each church, each committee, and the presbytery as a whole to consider missional transformation as a common goal for our life together. I ask us to consider what it would look like if we established missional transformation as the theological foundation for our support of our congregations? We will, of course, have lots of discussion about what exactly that means in the days ahead.
The concept of ministry initiative is foundational to our presbytery structure. The idea is that the presbytery will identify and support new initiatives, ideas, and dreams as they come up out of our life together. My question is when do we take a ministry idea, which a lot of different people are contributing to, and establish it officially as a strategic initiative of the presbytery? This is an important discernment process. When do we have enough participation and ownership across the presbytery in a particular initiative in order to establish it as a strategic focus of the whole presbytery?
I want to name three important initiatives that are happening in our presbytery. I want to ask whether these should be established pieces of the strategic emphasis of our presbytery.
1. That the Presbytery make a renewed and aggressive commitment to Presbyterian international mission work by funding a new international mission co-worker position and establishing an international mission partnership. What would that look like?
2. That the Presbytery make a renewed and aggressive commitment to building our ministry at Camp Krislund. We need to do more than build a new building with our capital campaign; we need to build a whole new ministry at the camp. I have in a mind there a Missional Church Training Center. What could that be?
3. That the Presbytery make a renewed and aggressive commitment to clergy care building on the important work that our clergy support groups are now doing. What would that look like if the care for our church professionals was established as a wide and deep commitment across our presbytery?
As we continue to live into the administrative structure which we have adopted as a presbytery we need to theologically establish the support of congregations as the bedrock of all we do. We need to discern, discuss, claim and implement new initiatives as they are identified in our midst. May Jesus Christ our Lord bless our ministry and mission.