Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Advent Pastoral Letter to our Churches

December 15, 2009

Dear Friends,

The themes of the season of Advent always move me into prayer and reflection. My wife encourages our family to gather regularly around our Advent wreath for Bible reading and prayers. Our boys have grown beyond their childish reluctance, and our family prayer time is important to us all. We are grateful for the good health and abundance in our family.

But my prayer this Advent also turns to a litany of recent news from our churches. This news from many places, all over our presbytery, burdens me and nags at my sense of comfort and ease. I am very concerned about the ways this nagging economic stress burdens our Pastors and discourages our Elders. I run through my mind and lift in prayer a list of reports and stories which have come to me: the note from one church saying they are using up their cash reserves which may be gone in a year; the elimination of staff positions in several of our churches; drastic cutbacks in Per Capita contributions due to financial stress; a little blurb in a church newsletter asking for donations to their heating oil fund which is now depleted; a pastor struggling with a proposed cutback from full to part-time status; one church struggling to pay their mortgage; several churches already forecasting significant decreases in Basic Mission Giving in 2010. . . And our Presbytery is looking for ways to manage a $150,000 deficit in 2009. And of course, the ripple effect of this economic stress strains the bonds of our connectionalism as our shortages are passed along to the General Assembly. I am also acutely aware of the financial stress in many of our mission agencies, social service organizations, and feeding ministries which are on the front line of meeting basic human needs. I know the burden is heavy in many of our congregations, but I must ask, if you are able, please be attentive to your Per Capita contributions and Basic Mission contributions as we approach year end. Please do not hunker down in fear and trepidation. Please do not turn in on yourself. Let us walk this journey together.

It is time to be faithful. Do not fear. Do not lose heart. The name of our God is NOT Dollar. We know the name that is above every name. “He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Like no time I can remember in my ministry, it is time to be bold in Christ, be strong in proclamation, be constant in prayer, and walk together in love.


Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Emerging Church and Karl Barth

Our missional church study group is studying a collection of essays published as An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones. Baker Books, 2007.

One of the better essays in this book is:
Digging Up The Past: Karl Barth (The Reformed Giant) as Friend of the Emerging Church
by Chris Erdman

It is remarkable to me to see the new conversation about emergent church connecting with some old, classic theological reflection from Karl Barth. When I see the old and the new connecting in fresh ways I pay attention. For people of my generation, Karl Barth was a very important theologian in our education. Indeed, Barth was a revolutionary thinker who had a giant impact on the post-World War Two generation of pastors, especially in the Reformed Tradition. This quote from Barth, in a book on Emergent Theology, is very relevant today:

This quote is from Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume 1:

"How disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theology is the business of a few theoreticians who are specially appointed for the task.... Again, how disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theological reflection is a matter for quiet situations and periods that suit and invite contemplation, a kind of peace-time luxury.... As though the venture of proclamation did not mean that the Church permanently finds itself in an emergency! As though theology could be done properly without reference to this constant emergency! Let there be no mistake. Because of these distorted ideas about theology, and dogmatics in particular, there arises and persists in the life of the Church a lasting and growing deficit for which we cannot expect those particularly active in this function to supply the needed balance. The whole Church must seriously want a serious theology if it is to have a serious theology."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Report to the Presbytery Nov. 17, 2009

Can we do this together?

The technology that we have available to us today is remarkable. If you use the “Google Books” search engine you can find almost every book you can imagine. What for me is fascinating about Google Books are the full electronic versions of books that are now in the public domain. For example, working with the University of Michigan, Google Books now has available many of the very earliest records of our Presbyterian Church. For someone like me who likes to study our church history, I feel like a little boy on Christmas morning.

On Google books I found a book that was published by our General Assembly in 1820. In that year our General Assembly published a Digest of all previous General Assembly action going back to the start of our Church in America. Within that very long Digest, there is a shorter article titled, “A Short Account of the Missions Conducted by the Presbyterian Church.” In the introduction of that “Short Account of Missions” we find this sentence: “Our church has always considered missionary labours an an object of importance; which has been pursued sometimes with greater, and at other times with a less degree of zeal.” I learned the earliest Presbyterians in this land put some real teeth into this commitment to “missionary labours.” I quote: “The late Synod of New York and Philadelphia, as early as the year 1766, directed that a subscription should be taken, or a collection made, in all their congregations, vacant as well as supplied, for the purpose of raising a fund for sending the gospel to destitute places. The next year they determined on an annual collection, and adopted other suitable measures for the accomplishment of their benevolent design.” From our very earliest days in America, our congregations were each contributing to a common Presbyterian mission work. As our churches grew in those early days, this common commitment moved right into the work of the General Assembly. Again, I quote: “The General Assemby, which was constituted by that Synod, met for the first time in Philadelphia, in May 1789. During the session of that year, the Missionary cause claimed their particular attention. They directed the four Synods, then existing under their care, to recommend each two missionaries to the next Assembly and that funds might be prepared to meet the expense to be incurred, it was enjoined on all the Presbyteries, to take measures for raising collections in all the congregations within their bounds.”


The missionary impulse flows in our veins. In 1766 the Presbyterians found the conviction and the inspiration to work together in a common mission. Is that conviction still with us? Can we do this together? In the early days there seems to have been this natural, divinely inspired commitment to work together. The gathering of the presbyteries, and then the connecting together of the presbyteries into the first synods, and then, of course, the first meeting of the General Assembly in 1794 all happened very quickly, naturally for our ancestors. What about us? Can we do this together? Is there any inspiration and conviction to do this together? Or has the spiritual energy shifted completely so that we are now being drawn apart, and each congregation does their own thing?

What I am asking is not simply a financial question. I am asking a spiritual question. Where is the spiritual energy? Where is the Holy Spirit calling us and leading us to connect together, be together and work together? Can we do this together? Is there any spiritual energy for connectionalism? There are three large areas around which I would like us discern the spiritual energy in our churches. Again, these are spiritual questions, not first of all financial questions:

Per Capita: This is a very strong Per Capita Presbytery. But I believe spiritually there is no energy or future in the concept of Per Capita. We need to talk about this. I have not asked for or advocated for any increase in Per Capita since I started here in 2005. But with an expected $30,000 budget deficit in 2010, we could simply raise our Per Capita by $2.00 and that deficit would be funded. But I do not discern any spiritual energy there. I know some congregations are redirecting Per Capita to cover other expenses. Is there any spiritual energy for Per Capita? What should we say to churches that cannot or will not contribute their Per Capita?

Basic Mission Giving: In my opinion, the most significant structural flaw in our Presbytery is that no group, and no committee, has taken responsibility for the interpretation of and celebration of Basic Mission Giving. We have done a poor job celebrating what is, in my opinion, the best work in the Presbyterian Church: our World Mission Program. Can we do this together as Presbyterians? Why are so many of our congregations offering greater financial support for Habitat for Humanity, Worldvision and Compassion International than for Presbyterian World Mission? Why can we, within our congregations, raise tremendous support for a one week mission trip while we often have no, ongoing relationship with any of our fulltime Presbyterian missionaries? Can we do this together? Is there spiritual energy for the theology of Basic Mission Giving in your congregation?

Designated Mission Giving: I believe this may be the future of our church, and will soon define the funding patterns of our presbytery. You will notice on our budget report that we now have an income line for Designated Mission Giving to the Presbytery. This category has been growing. There is a lot of energy around designated giving. What does that mean? There are increasing numbers of our congregations who designate mission giving to the Presbytery. Let’s talk about this. Is this the future? What kind of conversations do you have at your session meeting to determine your mission giving designations? Can we do this together?

Please be very clear about my intentions. I am advocating for and calling a very activist and robust Presbytery. I see a Presbytery, maybe through the concept of Regional Associates, that is intentionally linking and connecting congregations to walk together in ministry. I see a Presbytery where pastors and church leaders relate to one another with high levels of trust, prayer and collegiality. I see a Presbytery that has made a commitment to create a holy space, a sacred place where our church leaders and our children can go to connect with God and with one another. We call it Camp Krislund. I see a Presbytery where every congregation has a relationship with, a friendship with, at least one of our Presbyterian world missionaries. I see a Presbytery which working with our World Mission office sends out full time missionaries to serve on our behalf. I see a Presbytery that has connected congregations together in international mission networks. I see a Presbytery which supports evangelists within our bounds to reach out to all the people who will never walk into our churches. I believe the Presbytery is the key link in the connectional commitment of our Church. My friends, can we do this together?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Presbyterian World Mission: Listen to the gentle ones!

As I reflect on the fabulous World Mission Celebration which was held this October 21 to 24 in Cincinnati, I believe I have discerned something of the challenge we face. Our Presbyterian Church needs to celebrate and support the work being done all around the world, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by our full time, professional missionaries. These are our people! They are serving on our behalf around the world and at the invitation of our partner churches. I have been very involved with our World Mission work for several years; I have learned something of the spiritual paradox of our missionaries. Almost to a person, including the director of World Mission Hunter Farrell, every Presbyterian missionary I have met and talked with recently has a very gentle, humble, quiet personality and presence. Our missionaries are not gregarious, loud and life-of-party personalities. They are not flashy. Our missionaries are humble servants. At times these missionaries are difficult to personally connect with because often they do not initiate conversation or broadcast their stories. But these are the people who we are asking to sing from the mountaintops, to proclaim abroad the good work of World Mission. There is a paradox of personality here. Our missionaries are the gentle servants of the church, who work in humble partnership with our church partners all over the world. But we are also asking them to be the cheerleaders for our World Mission work. We must listen carefully. We must pay attention. Our missionaries are not going get in our faces and buttonhole us at the coffee break with their stories. These missionaries are not loud. Often, I have noticed, they are uncomfortable with public speaking.

We need to listen to these gentle ones. We need to open our hearts to their stories. There is a spiritual lesson for us here. It is often the loud, flashy, polished and sexy noise of our world that gets our attention and, too often, our devotion. But maybe God is not in all the noise which attracts us and seduces us. We need to listen to the still, soft voices. We need to listen in and through the silence of deep prayer. Indeed, let us celebrate and applaud the work of World Mission around the world today and hear the quiet, gentle voices of our missionaries. If you are not listening with an open heart and a focused attention you may miss the good news. Let us listen! Let us hear the story of Mark Hare working so far out into the rural area of Haiti that few mission teams ever visit. Mark will tell the good news of the moringa tree. Let us hear the story of Tricia Lloyd-Sidle who works in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Cuba. If we listen, Tricia will breakdown many of our stereotypes and polarized perceptions. She tells the story of Presbyterians who have been faithful, devout, and persevering through all the years of the Castro regime. Let us hear the story of Gloria Wheeler who knows what happens when poor women are inspired and come together around the task of community development in rural Honduras. Let us hear Jim McGill’s story about the social and spiritual domino effect which unfolds in a rural Malawian village when a new well provides fresh, clean water for the first time ever. Listen to the heartbreaking story of the Roma people. They were in the crosshairs of Nazi Germany, and the victims of prejudice and discrimination throughout the ages. Now there are glimmers of a new tone, a new message and the breaking down of the strong walls of hatred. Our missionary Burkhard Paetzold is there. Are we listening? A quiet, deep truth is being proclaimed. It is the story of Presbyterian World Mission. Please listen to these gentle ones.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Letter from Honduras

This letter is from Mark and Ashley Wright, new Presbyterian missionaries in Honduras. This letter may also be found at the Mission Connections website: http://www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/letters/wrightm/wrightm_0910.htm

October 14, 2009
Friends,

Moving to a new country isn’t easy. Even though we talked about it at orientation this summer, and even though I had traveled a lot in foreign countries before, I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of it. What made this time different was that I knew I wasn’t going back home. This strange place was supposed to become my home.

I did great at first. I was so excited to finally be here, excited to be answering God’s call and thrilled to be sharing my knowledge with other people. But things started to get a bit tough when it started to set in that I wasn’t going to get to go home anytime soon, and all the frustrations started to really gnaw at me.

One day, as I was making a mental list of all the things that bugged me in Honduras, I had a sudden realization of all the things that weren’t bugging me, and I had to laugh and say, “Glory to you, God, for how you have prepared me for this, and I didn’t even know it.” In a flash, God showed me how He has been preparing me step by step for this adventure. Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.” And indeed, by Him and in Him, I am a new creation. My old life has gone, and a new life has begun.

Over the years, God has met me and changed me in very practical ways—from our honeymoon on the Greek islands where (like Honduras) old and inadequate plumbing means that toilet paper goes in the trash can, not the toilet; to learning to live with the nightly window-rattling “boom-boom” cars in our neighborhood in Cincinnati, which prepared me for the incessant noise of Tegucigalpa; to the culture shock of our first pastorate in the Appalachians, where mountain ways were much more different than we expected, and we learned what it meant to be outsiders. Coming to Honduras, we expected major cultural differences, but through those early pastoral years God sharpened our sensitivity to the subtle cultural norms and values that are so important, but rarely discussed.

Last spring, when we first got the chance to meet with the pastors here in Honduras and hear how they had been praying and planning for PC(USA) mission coworkers, it became so clear how God had been preparing us—all of us, in Honduras and North America—for something that we can’t even begin to understand yet.

I know that living and working here in Honduras will bring many difficult challenges. Even the smallest things we take for granted can become mountains to climb. Right now we live day to day, not knowing what the political situation will bring: Will there be a demonstration blocking the road to the kids’ school? Will there be more curfews and disruptions of daily life? What about the people who are in such need even when things are “normal?” They need to work every day just to have a bit of food for their families. I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I can’t change them. I can’t fix them. I don’t even always know how to be faithful in the face of them, but I do know that God is with us all of the time. And I know that God has called us here, to this place, at this time. And looking back, I can see how God has been patiently preparing me and my family for this very thing. Scripture tells us that even when we am faithless, God will still be faithful with us: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

There are still days when I ask myself, “Why are we here? What possible good can we do? And though we don’t know fully how we will be used down here, Mark and I have felt that something big is happening here in Honduras. This sentiment has been echoed by other people here as well. The young and old here are so hungry for God’s word. And they are not afraid to share the hope they have in Christ. When you meet a person who knows what the good news of the gospel is, you can tell right away by the smile on their face, or the happiness in their eyes. Yes, they may have tragedy in their lives, but they know that what they see before them is not God’s final say on the situation.

When I am faithless and think that nothing will ever change, I have to remember the people we have met here who carry the promise of the gospel inside them—how they are a blessing to us, and how, somehow, just by being here without a political or economic agenda, we seem to be a blessing to them as well. Together we live in expectation of the things that God has been preparing, whatever they may be, and in thankfulness and humility that God has been preparing us for this very time.

I hope that you will pray for Honduras during this difficult time, for the political leaders and for the people.

Grace and Peace,
Ashley and Mark Wright

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.-Peter 1:3-4

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Report to the Presbytery Michael Englund-Krieger

With an invitation by our Presbytery's education committee, this report was presented to the Presbytery of Carlisle by Michael Englund-Krieger. Michael is a senior in high school and a member of our Derry Church:

My name is Michael Englund-Krieger. I believe some of you know my Dad. I was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church and I love our church. I love Jesus, and I am committed to live a Christian life forever. In the Presbyterian Church I have had wonderful opportunities to know Jesus, grow in faith and experience what it really means to be the church. When my dad was the pastor of Parkwood Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh we had an awesome youth group. We did the forty hour famine and we did Group work camps. We had a great youth leader who really had a great influence on me in middle school, and this is when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Those were great years in youth group and church. I had friends in that youth group, and I truly enjoyed going to that church every Sunday. The first year we moved here I went to Montreat with Pastor Kelly and the Market Square Church youth group. Montreat was a wonderful blessing in my life. The next summer, my Dad and I went on a mission trip with the Derry Church to Nicaragua. I experienced poverty, God touched my heart, and my eyes were opened. Later that summer, I went to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium along with 30 other kids from this presbytery. What a fabulous experience to be together with 3,000 Presbyterian teenagers. I think Presbyterian Triennium is a great opportunity for senior high Presbyterians. I loved Triennium because I got the opportunity to worship with other high school students around the country. At Triennium, they broke us up into small groups. In each of these groups, no two people are from the same presbytery, and I made some very close friends. My small group was excellent; we all learned about each other’s faith and grew into a small family. I still remain in touch with a few friends from my small group. The following summer, my dad talked me into applying to Project Burning Bush at Union Theological Seminary. Project Burning Bush is one of the most powerful blessings in my life. It is a leadership development program for teenagers focused on the discernment of our sense of call. In several short weeks the 16 teenagers at Project Burning Bush became some of my closest friends, truly my brothers and sisters in Christ. This summer I went with my Dad to Honduras. We talked a lot about freedom and democracy, since we had a lot of time sitting in the hotel. Our trip was cancelled because of the political crisis in Honduras. But that trip was still a remarkable blessing in my life. This summer I also worked at Camp Krislund. I was on the Adventure Team, and I am proud and grateful that not one summer camper was hurt or injured on the adventure equipment at camp. The summer staff at Krislund was an amazing community of Christians. I thank Art for his leadership and friendship, and his extraordinary impact on the camp.

I know I am supposed to talk about the 2010 Youth Triennium. But what I really want to say to all the pastors here is this: I am a teenager and I love the Presbyterian Church because I have had so many wonderful opportunities in the Presbyterian Church. Pastors, please find your teenagers, talk with them and connect them with these amazing opportunities we have in the church. Teenagers need role models at this point in their lives, be a leader and mentor for them. Tell them about Triennium, and Montreat, and Krislund. These programs will have an impact on their lives. Encourage the youth to go on mission trips. Please get your teenagers involved and connected with these events and their lives will be blessed. They will love Jesus and they will love the Presbyterian Church.

I love Jesus. I love the Presbyterian Church. I am called to serve. I am a senior in high school and I am applying to the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy. I hope for the opportunity to express my service through the Army or the Marine Corps. This deep heart for service which I have; I got it in the Presbyterian Church. Thank you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday John Calvin!

We celebrate this year the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. I was in Montreat on July 10, which is his actual birthday, for our church’s celebration of John Calvin. John Calvin, by the power of his mind, and his remarkable organizational skills set in motion a movement that truly changed the world and our lives. His thoughts about organizing the church have flowed through these centuries with great power and have been captured in our Book of Order, and in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches all around the world. It is no exaggeration to say that wherever in the world we witness the blossoming of the idea of democracy, we see the legacy of John Calvin. When we sit at our session tables, gather in the dignity of our presbytery meeting, and in congresses and federal courts all around the world, with our commitment to group decision making and shared authority, we feel the genius of John Calvin. From Geneva where Calvin first pondered and practiced these blessed ideas about church organization this influence has flowed. Like all brilliant ideas, these ideas have been claimed, revised, reworked and created again in different contexts and in different cultures. Like all brilliant ideas, these also have been misused and transformed into ugly patterns of ideology and idolatry. One thing I have learned in this year of remembering is that we must peel back all the layers and remember John Calvin himself, his work, his ministry and legacy; not Princeton Theology or the theology of James Thornwell, not Westminster Theology, and certainly not the theology of the Synod of Dort and it aberration of Calvin using the acronym TULIP, and not the Dutch Reformed Church and not even the heritage of the Church of Scotland. In other words we need to remember John Calvin and not simply Calvinism. The essential kernel of Calvin’s polity has flowed from Geneva to Scotland, from Scotland to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to South Korea, Thailand and India, to Mexico and Brazil. These ideas have flowed to Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, Malawi and South Africa. And now in our world the essential ideas of Calvin’s polity are expressed in church meetings and church structures, and democratic constitutions by people who have never heard of John Calvin, and who do not know this heritage. But we know the heritage and we are grateful for the legacy.
For us today though, maybe it is the theological system of John Calvin, more than the polity, which is most astounding. It is this theology that needs to constantly be remembered and reclaimed, celebrated and breathed deep into the very soul of our prayer life. If Calvin’s church polity easily becomes confused in the interplay and interconnection of a number of different and vital themes, Calvin’s theology may be easily summarized and proclaimed in one, loud, glorious phrase: the sovereignty of God.

I want to try on with you a one paragraph summary of John Calvin’s theology: The world is filled with the dazzling beauty, majesty and magnificence of God. All around us, everywhere, in all of creation, in every creature, in the whirling of the planets, and the movements of the molecules God’s dazzling magnificence is everywhere. But we cannot see it. Why can we not see the beauty and majesty of God all around us? Our blindness cannot be God’s fault, it must be our fault. There is something wrong with us. We are sinful, totally depraved, creatures. This sin blinds us to the majesty and beauty of God all around us. We are blind. Our loving and gracious God comes to us in Word and Holy Spirit so that we might be able to see. We are by the gift of Word and Spirit assisted in seeing; we are chosen to see. Now with the new eyes blessed by the Word and the Spirit we can see all the majesty and beauty of God, and we spend our lives saying “Thank you.”

Maybe I can do even better. I can summarize the totality of Calvin’s ministry and purpose in one memorable phrase: “Lift up your hearts.” “Lift up your hearts.” This is the essential spiritual practice to which Calvin calls us. All the organizational work, and the careful themes of polity are in order to create churches, and church structures which are holy places devoted to the lifting up of our hearts. All of the carefully systemized theological reflection is intended to help us to orient our minds toward the lifting up of our hearts. Most importantly for Calvin, it is about our hearts. It is about God’s gift in Jesus Christ which fills us with a motivating passion and an ardent zeal. It is about the power of the Holy Spirit coming down into the very core of our being, not simply our minds, and not simply an act of intellectual belief, but a passionate and inspired lifting of our hearts. All the polity and all the theology of John Calvin is intended toward this one end, that the people of Jesus Christ will lift up our hearts to the Lord. Preachers, maybe at the top of every sermon as you sit down to craft and write each week you may write this: “The purpose of the sermon is to encourage us to lift up our hearts.” Elders, maybe we should print this at the top of every session meeting agenda or maybe above the door to our church buildings: “The purpose of this church is to help us lift up our hearts to the Lord.” And, maybe I pray, the purpose of our presbytery is to help us lift up our hearts to the Lord.

If you want to understand the theology of John Calvin, and, I would say, if you want to understand the purpose of the church today standing in the legacy of John Calvin, simply ponder this little phrase, “Lift up your hearts.” How does that happen? Where does it happen? What inspires and motivates it to happen? And finally what are the consequences and results when we come together with lifted hearts. This is the legacy and the invitation we have received from John Calvin. Lift up your hearts. Thanks be to God.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Report to the Presbytery Sept. 22, 2009

The Coercion of Connectionalism

When I was in high school, in both my junior and senior years, I earned a Varsity Letter in Men’s Gymnastics. Gymnastics was my sport and those years and those teams are some of the great, joyful memories of my life. I was pondering recently that my experience in men’s gymnastics, long ago, has prepared me for this job. I have a very highly developed sense of balance. A sense of balance is a good thing in a time when the ground beneath the church is shifting and moving.

We are living in a time of massive culture change and transformation in our church. Some have called the changes that are happening in the church today as sweeping and comprehensive as those of the Protestant reformation in the 1500s. I agree with that, we are living in the midst of a Modern Reformation.

Possibly the most sweeping change which is shifting the ground and undermining the foundations of our Presbyterian Church is the breaking down of our connectionalism. So much so that a polity of free association has, for many congregations, become the polity of our church. The polity of free association is the American way, and it is very successfully expressed in the Southern Baptist tradition which, of course, is by far the largest of the Protestant Churches. A polity of free association means that each church has a choice, a free choice, about what other congregations you may choose to associate with. This is a very free form, fluid polity. Congregations come and go in their relationship with one another depending on their needs and desires at any given point in their life. This polity of the free association of congregations is both a very old idea in America and a very new idea. The post-modern, emergent church movement which is blossoming all over our country is a free association of congregations. The Willow Creek association, and the Purpose Driven Church association are free associations of congregations. Each congregation decides with which other congregations they want to associate.

Let me be very clear, the Presbyterian Church is very, very different. There is supposed to be, and there has historically always been a fundamental coercion to our connectionalism. Our congregations do not, on any given day, have a choice about our connectionalism. Our connections together are part of the identity of who we are as churches. I call this the coercion of connectionalism because there is not free choice about this decision. Congregations today that choose to break our connectionalism and sever all connections with our Presbyterian Church cause tremendous trauma and pain, often expressed in disciplinary action, legal action and high rancor.

I argue the Presbyterian Church is very unique because our connectionalism binds us together in ways deeper than our own free choice. This is part of our identity and character; it is not a choice on any given day. This is a style of church which is very different from the American cultural emphasis on free choice and free association. But this all begs a very difficult question: Is our connectionalism sustainable in the midst of the modern reformation we are living through? My response is that it depends on what question is being asked when our church leaders are sitting around their session tables planning the ministry and mission of their own congregations.

If the question, “What has the Presbytery done for us?” is on your agenda as you do your session work, I submit that all connectionalism is gone. And I would argue, from my own experience, that this is exactly the question that many church leaders are asking today. “What has the Presbytery done for us?” This question does not reflect our classic Presbyterian connectionalism, but rather is an expression of a polity of Baptist free association. The Presbytery and the General Assembly cannot possibly bring resources and expertise to every one of our churches, to be able to satisfy every session need, every day. If our defining question is simply, “What is in this for me?”, we are done. Shut off the lights and close the door. This question breaks all connectionalism because it presumes that all that really matters is my congregation, my needs, and my well being. This question casts out any vision of the vital importance of being together in ministry.

For connectionalism to be true and deep in our midst we must ask a different question: “How can we participate in and support the connection of the 52 church in our presbytery, and, indeed, the 11,000 churches in our Presbyterian Church.” We must presume a deep connection between us and ponder ways, especially in these challenging times, in which we can participate in our connections. Thus I ask our Elders and church leaders to think carefully about the defining questions that are operating within your congregations. Are your guiding questions presuming that the churches of our presbytery and, indeed, throughout our church are in this together? Or are your guiding questions actually straining the bonds that unite us? I request that our church leaders take very seriously a framework of decision making that unites and builds us up together. Ask and pray and ponder this question: “How can we participate in and support the connection of the 52 churches in our presbytery?”

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our Missionaries in Honduras: Mark and Ashley Wright

Praise God! Ashley and Mark Wright and their three children arrived safely in Honduras to begin their mission service. Please see their mission connections webpage at:

http://www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/profiles/wrightm.htm

You may find webpages for all of our Presbyterian international missionaries at missionconnections. Please pray for the Wrights as they begin their service with the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. This article is copied from their initial mission connections article:

Rev. Mark and Ashley Wright

The Wrights are the first Presbyterian mission co-workers to serve with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. They began their service in July 2009. They’re tasked with leadership and theological training, as well as promoting congregational self-sufficiency in the Honduran context. While their primary role is helping to build the capacity of local church leaders, the Wrights also nurture and resource the PC(USA)’s mission network.

Once the center of the Mayan empire, Honduras is a now a sparsely populated, mountainous country in Central America, and one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Throughout most of the last century it has been ruled by various military dictatorships, but since the 1980s the military has been more restrained and democracy is growing, as is the income level of the people. The Presbyterian Church of Honduras consists of 20 churches located within a 60-mile radius from the capital city, Tegucigalpa. The church members are said to be so enthusiastic that many meet four days per week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday as well as Sunday.

Ashley recalls a particular moment of insight that occurred in India when she was only 10 years old. “We were in New Delhi visiting the Taj Mahal and it was very, very hot. We had walked back up to the front along the flat pools, and were standing next to a man chopping sugar cane. He tossed the left-over ends into a huge pile on his left, and many children were scampering onto the pile looking for pieces that had any juice left in them. I started watching a little girl who was about 6 years old. She stopped in front of me and we stared each other up and down—I in my dress and shoes and hat and she in a dirty undergarment but with a gold stud in her nose. She was very thin, and from the way she tore into her small stump of discarded sugarcane she was obviously very hungry. For the first time, I realized how extremely blessed I was to have been born into my family in the United States and not into poverty in India. I realized at that young age that I was not put into the world to be a taker, but to be a person who gives and makes the world better.”

Mark tells about the time during his junior year abroad in 1986-87 when he was part of a group of American students who crossed the Berlin Wall and were hosted by a group of students in East Germany. The two groups defended their countries vigorously. Then, Mark reports, “As the evening wore on and our leaders went home for the night, we all began to talk and defend less and listen more. Words got easier, ideas and ideologies got softer, and we all began to be able to admit both the faults of and our love for our respective nations. A wall fell that day. Later, during graduate school at the University of Salzburg, I took another trip to Berlin and Checkpoint Charlie, where not long before the guns, dogs, and barbed wire had seemed so permanent and dangerous. This time, however, I borrowed a hammer and climbed on a stretch of that thick wall. I beat enough pieces of concrete off to fill a backpack and I brought them home when I returned to the United States. The funny thing is, I don’t know what happened to them. It seems that even the pieces of that wall have disappeared.”

Ashley spent four years in children’s ministry for the Kennedy Heights Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. She gave children’s sermons, taught both preschool and confirmation classes, and organized Bible school. Prior to that work, she had served in a similar ministry with children at First Presbyterian Church in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Before that, she worked as a librarian at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, a high school biology teacher in Charlotte/Mecklenburg, North Carolina, and a customer service representative for Eagle Vision in Memphis, Tennessee.

Mark spent a year in Germany and another in Austria and is fluent in German. He served for almost five years as pastor of Kennedy Heights Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and two and one-half years at Spruce Pine Presbyterian Church, Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in art and literature from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. She also earned an M. Div. from Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in religion from Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. He has also earned three masters degrees. The first was in teaching from the University of Memphis, Tennessee. His certificates are in middle school and high school biology, chemistry, science, and German. The second was in German language and literature from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. The third was an M. Div. from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Ashley is a member of the Balmoral Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Presbytery of the Mid-South. Mark was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament on July 1, 2001. He is a minister member of the Presbytery of Cincinnati.

Ashley and Mark have three sons—Ethan, Eliott, and Gabriel—who will accompany them on their assignment to Honduras.

Praying for our Schools.

In preparation for a new school year, the New York Board of Regents wrote a prayer which they expected to be read at the start of the year in every public school in the state of New York. The pray was brief and nondenominational:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.”

On June 25, 1962 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the State of New York could not have an official prayer read in public school classrooms. The Court deemed unconstitutional a public prayer to be used in public schools which was composed by governmental officials. As we know, there was a chorus of outrage at this Supreme Court decision from many devout Christians. But since that long ago day, those of us who attended public schools which never had official public prayers, and who now have children looking forward to another school year in public schools which never have public prayers, we have learned that, in fact, the civilized world has not come to an end because of that Supreme Court decision.

I believe we church leaders need to hear again and take to heart President J. F. Kennedy’s very perceptive response to that monumental Supreme Court decision:

“We have in this case a very easy remedy and that is to pray ourselves. I would think that it would be a welcome reminder to every American family that we can pray a good deal more at home, we can attend our churches with a good deal more fidelity, and we can make the true meaning of prayer much more important in the lives of all our children.”

In our churches and in our homes, our congregations, pastors and parents have the responsibility to pray for our schools, students, and teachers. As we begin another school year let us pray.

NOTE: For an excellent discussion of public religion in America, including the story of the 1962 Supreme Court ruling on school prayer, see Jon Meacham. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. (Random House, 2007).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Honduras: A Call to Prayer

This call to prayer has been sent out to the General Assembly's Honduras mission network and is posted on Tim and Gloria Wheeler's mission connections page:

A call to prayer and expression of concern for Honduras

From the Central America and Mexico Office with information from PC(USA) mission workers Tim and Gloria Wheeler

August 4, 2009:

During this time of great difficulty in Honduras we are led to ask for ongoing prayers for a peaceful process in the country and for a process of reconciliation that will lead to real benefits for the whole population. During the past three months the country has been living a time of great tension and division. The degree of polarization has become even more evident after the events of June 28. As in any conflict of this dimension, there are two sides that need to be heard in order to move ahead along a peaceful path that will eventually allow the country to develop and prosper that benefit all people, especially the most excluded and forgotten.

In this atmosphere of tension the news of mediated talks taking place in Costa Rica come as very positive news in the hope for movement forward in a process of peace, democracy and national reconciliation. The immediate future of the country depends on these talks and we pray an agreement can be reached for the upcoming months leading to scheduled elections in November. The talks will be mediated by President Oscar Arias. The positions of the parties involved are distant and both will need to make concessions and move to a more central position for the good of the country and to avoid violence. On the positive side there has been a great deal of discussion of national problems and the need for political reforms so that the democratic system will work in a better and more just way. If this can happen in a national dialogue to strength the democratic process so that public institutions work much better, then all will benefit from the present conflict, especially the people who have been traditionally left out of the national dialogue and agenda.

Special prayers are asked for Honduran families who may suffer division from a political crisis in which they have no control.

Pray for the Honduran Presbyterian Churches that are dealing with a range of difficulties brought on by the interruption of normal life.

Pray for children to be able to go back to school.

Pray for nonviolence on the streets and that people will express their opinions without violence.

Pray for people in rural communities who do not have enough to eat and in whose name so much is said and proclaimed.

Pray for continued dialogue at all levels of society on fundamental issues facing Honduras and that freedom of expression not be curtailed.

Finally, please pray for the many mission partnerships that exist between the PC(USA) and churches and communities in Honduras.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Report from Camp Krislund

Dear Presbyterians,

Our Camp Krislund 2009 summer camp has been a remarkable success. We are grateful for the leadership of our new Program Director Art DeVos. One evening while our JCCC (Joint Camp and Conference Committee) was at the camp we appreciated the joyful enthusiasm of all the campers when Joel, a huge stuffed bear, was marched around the dining hall to uproarious applause. The girls’ wagons had just won the daily award for being the cleanest and best decorated unit. They won the opportunity to keep Joel for the day! Joel the Bear is a small sign of our success in bringing a new culture of clean to our Camp. Several other successful changes have been initiated this summer:

We have revitalized the chaplains program. The chaplains are now responsible for the daily “Nightfest” worship service talks, for daily staff devotions, and for preaching at the Saturday morning worship with all the parents in attendance. This intentional and high profile inclusion of our pastors in the summer camp program will reap an abundant spiritual harvest for years to come and create a closer relationship with our churches.

In the dining hall we have seen wonderful improvements. Under Pam DeVos’ leadership we have changed to family style dining. We overcame the overwhelming stress on kitchen volunteers by rotating all the campers and summer camp staff through dining hall set-up and clean up responsibilities. Importantly, because we have a large percentage of campers on scholarships, we applied for and were approved to receive food supplies from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank system which has created extraordinary cost savings.

With expertise and volunteers from our State College and Derry Churches, we now have two new longhouses at Camp. These new housing units replaced the old, canvas tents which had been a mainstay at Krislund. The longhouses and the newly renovated Conestoga wagons improved the camping experience at Krislund this summer.

We remember well the cold, dark days in January and February when we sat at our JCCC Board meetings agonizing over a massively out of balance budget and wondering if summer camp was possible. God is good; All the time. We have a much better grasp of our financial management on a day to day basis. We have successfully concluded what many parents have told us is the best Krislund Summer Camp ever.

We need your support as we build on the success of summer camp 2009 and bring Camp Krislund up to its potential and our vision. Our financial viability is still tenuous. There is still an enormous amount of infrastructure repair and maintenance work to do. Looking ahead, we have gathered a remarkable, professional team to guide our plans for the construction of the new adult lodge through your Funding the Future capital campaign. This construction and the careful management of our new lodge are still before us.

Camp Krislund belongs to the Presbyterian congregations of our three presbyteries. It is your camp! We are grateful for the abundant support and encouragement so many of you have provided through this difficult year of transition. We believe we have turned the corner; our Camp Krislund is poised to move into a bright new future in service to our churches and our Lord.

In Christ;

Chuck Curley, Pastor State College Church, Huntington Presbytery JCCC chairperson
Joy Kaufmann, General Presbyter, Huntington Presbytery
Charlie Winkelman, Pastor Jersey Shore Church, Northumberland Presbytery JCCC chairperson
Bill Knudsen, Executive Presbyter, Northumberland Presbytery
Harold Nightwine, Elder Derry Church, Carlisle Presbytery JCCC chairperson
Mark Englund-Krieger, Executive Presbyter, Carlisle Presbytery

Monday, July 13, 2009

Report to the Presbytery June 23, 2009

Loyalty to Presbyterian World Mission

According to my dictionary, the word “loyal” means “giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution”. Is there any loyalty left in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)? What does it mean to be loyal to an institution? Is loyalty a value or a spiritual gift which we even seek today in our church? I want to ask for and encourage loyalty to the work of Presbyterian world mission.

If there is one great, abiding legacy of American Presbyterianism it is our heritage of world mission. We are a church tradition which participated in the invention of world mission. In the great age of world mission, from the end of the Civil War to the first World War we are the church which sent missionaries around the world, building hospitals, building schools, building agricultural and farm infrastructure, building churches. Our heritage of world mission is stellar and profound. I believe it may be the most important bequest of American Presbyterianism.

I believe with this heritage of mission work the Presbyterians, and our partner mainline Protestant denominations, planted very fruitful seeds in our own culture and society. These seeds have grown up in today’s younger generations as a deep commitment to mission work and community service. These spiritual seeds, which were planted generations ago in the great era of world wide mission work, have grown up into one of the most, remarkable expressions of church work we have today, mission trips. I believe that these seeds planted during the great era of world mission have sprouted into the remarkable plethora of para-church, mission organizations that are now spanning the globe: Group Work Camps, Reach Work Camps, World Vision, Compassion International, Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity. I mention these organizations specifically because I have personal experience with them all. In many ways these organizations, and many others like them, offer important and worthy mission opportunities. For example, through their popular program called the 40 hour famine, World Vision has moved many teenagers to think deep and pray about the abundance and material blessing we have in this country. What does it mean to be a first world Christian living in such an affluent society? After a group of teenagers spend a 40 hours famine together, deep spiritual reflection about consumerism and abundance flow very easy and very deep. For example, Group Work Camps have created an infrastructure and procedure for doing short term mission trips which is easily available for even our smallest congregations. For many churches, their first mission trip with teenagers is a Group work camp, and these experiences often change lives and transform churches. Our son Michael, now a senior in high school, still has a Group work camp ball cap hanging on his bedroom wall from his first mission trip when he was in sixth grade. For example, Habitat for Humanity, as we all know, has given countless people the remarkable opportunity of hands on mission involvement. When I went to a Habitat for Humanity Global Village training class several years ago, I was by far the oldest person among the more than 50 people in our class. Most of the students were college kids preparing to go around the world on short term Habitat mission trips. I believe that the great era of Protestant world mission, during which the Presbyterians were a driving force, is the historical and spiritual antecedent for these exciting, modern and popular para-church mission organizations today.

If you look around the churches of this Presbytery, almost every vital and healthy church in this presbytery does mission trips. I believe that mission trips are as vital today in the life of the church as Sunday school. For many young people and, indeed, for many adults, mission trips are transforming experiences in Christian faith formation. I believe mission trips are vital in the church today. I am leaving on a mission trip this Sunday. But I also believe that there is a huge difference between mission trips and Presbyterian world mission.

Presbyterian world mission is a very different thing than short term mission trips. For many, many complex reasons we have as a church lost our focus on Presbyterian world mission. One of the reasons is that we have shifted enormous energy and resources to doing mission trips. I am asking us to rekindle our commitment and our loyalty to Presbyterian world mission.
At its core, Presbyterian world mission is a commitment to full time, long term, professional missionaries serving at the invitation of our partner churches all around the world. The difference between mission trips and Presbyterian world mission is the difference between kindergarten and the university. Certainly we need excellent kindergartens; we need mission trips. But we also need universities, we need Presbyterian world mission.

I ask for loyalty and commitment. I ask that we proudly proclaim that we are the Presbyterians; we are the ones with a 200 year old heritage of world mission commitment. I ask that we support Presbyterian world mission.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Presbyterian Church of Carlisle

Meeting House Springs Cemetery

Dear Mrs. Thomson,

I prayed for you today. I know that some people may consider praying for a dead person strange. But I find comfort and blessing in praying for the dead. I know you died in faith, since we know your husband was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Carlisle. Did you refer to your home as “Carlisle” when you died in 1744? I know you died too young, and I wonder if you still had young children to care for when you passed away. If so, that must have caused a terrible hardship for your husband. I trust his congregation supported him through that difficult time. I pray for your husband also, Rev. Thomson, but I am afraid that we do not know where his grave is located, and where he went after leaving our church.

I wanted to write so that you may know you have been a wonderful encouragement and blessing to the people in our church. We believe that your grave in our church cemetery may be the oldest marked grave in our Cumberland County. (I am sure it was not called Cumberland County when you lived here.) Your gravesite has become a sort of holy place for our people. I am sure you would be surprised to learn that your life has become such a cherished memory for us.

You would be pleased to know that your husband created a beautiful gravesite for you after your death. Now after all these years, some of our people have carefully cleaned and restored your grave so that we may now see the inscription your husband had carved there on the stone grave top, and the family coat of arms that is carved there also. I wish we knew today all that these symbols meant to your family.

Because of you, our people have decided to clean and restore the cemetery where you are buried. It has been more than 275 years since your death, and now many of the people you probably knew – McFarlands, Dennys, Blacks, Clarks – are buried all around you. We have soldiers buried there from our Revolutionary War, but you died long before that brutal conflict which gave birth to our new nation. I wonder if your husband ever talked about freedom. Many Presbyterians were involved in that war. They wanted to be free. Your husband picked a beautiful spot for your burial. It is a holy place, on a little bluff, not far from the spring which you must have visited daily for your water, and only a few yards from your church building.

Some of our people learned that your husband came here from Scotland before you. He moved onto the frontier of Penn’s land and gathered some other Presbyterian folk into a new congregation. There were many Scots Irish folks pushing into that wilderness and many new churches were born in those days. I am sure those were difficult years for you, being separated from your husband without knowing where he was or what he was doing. Can you remember the day you received his letter beckoning you to come and join him? That journey across the ocean alone must have been difficult? Did you land in Boston or New York? How did you travel out to your husband’s new church? That is long journey.

I prayed for you today. I hope you know that the church you and your husband started is a strong and vital congregation, in this year of our Lord 2009. I wanted you to know that your great, great, great, great, great grandson visited us today. He is a fine man with a charming wife, but they have moved south into Virginia. But your husband would be glad to know that his family is still Presbyterian.

May God bless you and keep in your eternal life.

Sincerely,

Mark

Friday, May 29, 2009

Waynesboro Presbyterian Church

Healing in the name of Jesus.

Can you list all the Bible stories of Jesus which involve healing? Of course, we know healing is a powerful and common dimension of the ministry of Jesus.

Despite all the changes and transformations in the church today, one constant remains true about the work of pastors. Pastors today are expected to make hospital calls. This is an aspect of ministry which simply cannot be neglected or abandoned in the church today. Indeed, most pastors understand the vital, spiritual importance of hospital calls. We understand that our pastoral presence is a powerful source of healing and encouragement when our people are living through the trauma of modern medical care.

I was richly blessed by the opportunity to worship with our Waynesboro Presbyterian Church on a Sunday when they included a Service of Healing in their worship. Given the centrality of healing in the ministry of Jesus and in our professional ministries today, it may be appropriate to consider more ways we may include a Service of Healing in our regular worship services.

The Waynesboro example is very meaningful and beautiful. This Service of Healing was expressed during the regular Sunday morning worship. Pastor Brian introduced the Service of Healing by explaining it as an extended time of prayer. The members of the session were invited forward to join him at the front of the church. A chair was brought out and the pastor and session formed a loving semi circle around the chair, facing out toward and thus including the congregation in their circle. Brian invited anyone who wanted prayers to come forward. Slowly and reverently individuals came forward and quietly whispered their prayer concern to Pastor Brian. Brian then repeated the prayer concern for the congregation to hear, invited the person to sit, the session all laid hands on the person and Brian lifted up a pastoral prayer focusing on their individual prayer need.

This Service of Healing, I learned, is a regular practice at Waynesboro expressed about quarterly and always as part of worship. I am sure there may be some uncomfortable feelings and attitudes when this practice is first introduced in worship for the first time. But the feeling I had with the Waynesboro Church was one of deep reverence and a real depth of prayer as the congregation prayed for healing. Such depth of prayer only comes with practice.

Given my introverted personality, if you asked me whether I would ever seek such public prayer for myself, I would quickly respond, “Probably not.” I typically prefer my prayers private and anonymous. But this time of healing prayer during worship at Waynesboro moved me deeply. So I went forward when there was an appropriate time, and quietly asked Brian to pray for the healing of the Presbyterian Church, and for my leadership. I was lifted and blessed by the gentle touch of the session members, and truly encouraged by Brian’s prayer for the unity of our church and my ministry.

Maybe our church will be more faithful and effective if we each identified those ways we need to be healed, and publicly asked for healing prayers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Report to the Presbytery April 28, 2009

"Abundantly Far More"

I know many of you will find this hard to believe. But truly, I had a wonderful spiritual experience at the annual meeting of a congregation once. It was way back in the first half of the 1970s; I was still a junior high school student; I do not remember the exact year. It was a difficult time for our nation. We were in the middle of the OPEC oil embargo, and the national economy was in a very serious recession. At my small, home church our annual meeting was on one very cold, winter Sunday. At that time my father was serving as both the Clerk of Session and the financial secretary of our little church.

He did his Clerk report, not much had changed in that little church in a year. He moved right into his financial secretary report, and reviewed the financial reports and the budget for the new year. Things were very bad. There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of discussion. I have this memory of my dad responding to many questions and concerns clearly and calmly. (By the way, my parents are very well. They are now fully retired and living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.) This was a small family church, and this meeting was much more of a conversation among friends, than a business meeting. And then, after all of the concerned discussion waned, my father gave this sort of off-the-cuff little sermon to the congregation. He said something like, “We know this is a very difficult time for the church and for many of our families. We need to make some difficult decisions; we need to be managing this situation very carefully. But the church will carry on. We will carry on through this. The church will carry on.” My dad never used God language, like we preachers use. My dad would never have used words like prayer and providence. But in his own way, and in a way that was deeply meaningful to our family church, he proclaimed our essential truth: God will be God, and the church will carry on. Preachers, I challenge you to bring that same spirit of encouragement and hope to our people now.

More than fifteen years after that annual meeting of my home church, I was the pastor of a very small church. We did not have a secretary. I took the bulletin material and the announcements to Carol’s home every Wednesday morning, and she typed and then photocopied at her dad’s auto parts store. Without a secretary, I was glad to walk out to the road every noon and gather the mail, and I took responsibility for getting all the stuff to the right people: Sunday school curriculum to our teachers, bills and bank statements to our financial secretary, etc. You all know the routine. But that day, this one envelope caught my attention, so I opened it. This was a notice from the electric company to the church that because we were three months past due our electricity was going to be turned off. I had never experienced anything like this before either in my family or in the church, and this notice really upset me. For some reason, our financial secretary, Rose, was out of town for a couple days and unavailable. So this notice sat on my desk, and burdened my mind. Sunday morning rolled around again; this notice was still sitting on my desk and rolling around in my mind.

I noticed that Ron had arrived, and was sitting in his usual pew near the front. Ron was one of the saints and was a great supporter of me. He was on session at that time and was, of course, related to our financial secretary Rose. If I was 25 years old at the time; Ron was probably 65. Ron and his family became some of my best friends in the church as I was learning how to be a pastor. So I decided, on the spot, to share this notice with Ron a few minutes before the worship service. I snatched it up off of my desk, and went out and sat down next to Ron in his pew. Ron always sat alone in worship because his wife and two daughters were all in the choir. I handed Ron the notice from the electric company, and told him that this was bothering me and Rose was out of town. I was not sure what to do about it. Ron quickly looked at the notice. Calmly, he put it back in the envelope and tucked into his jacket pocket. He looked at me and said, “The session will take care of this. You need to worry about your sermon.” That is still very good advice for our preachers. He flashed me a big smile and sent me on my way to lead worship. It was another of those moments of grace in my life. At the next session meeting I noticed on the Treasurer’s report an extra large payment to the electric company. I did not feel a need a comment on it and neither did Ron, and the electricity was never disconnected, and the church carried on.

Wow, it is stunning to me how quickly the social and economic climate has changed in the past half of a year. My friends, for times like these the church needs to carry on. The church needs to be the church. Let us be clear about who we are what we are able to do. We cannot feed all the hungry people in the world, or even in our presbytery. We cannot stop people from losing their home because they cannot pay their mortgage. We cannot stop company managers from sharing the sad news that jobs are being eliminated, and people will be out of work. We cannot restore the investment savings of our people, or insure that everyone will have an abundant retirement. We cannot pay every tuition bill, or even everyone’s utility bill. But we can be the church. We can be the church. And the church will carry on. We can proclaim a word like this one from the letter to the Ephesians:

"Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever." Amen

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Memory of Carl Dudley

I never met Carl Dudley. But when my email popped up with a Presbyterian News article announcing his death, a deep sadness filled my heart. This is a man who wrote a book that was a very significant source of inspiration and encouragement for me in the very first years of my ministry. After reading the short article (Presbyterian News Service, number 09338, April 24, 2009) I pulled my copy of Making the Small Church Effective, (Abingdon Press, 1978) down off my bookshelf. This is not a book I have looked at for many years, but as I paged through it quickly I felt again the power with which this book blessed my ministry. As with all my books, the year I first read it is written in the front cover: 1982. That was my first year of seminary and this book was one of the required texts in our Introduction to Ministry course.

After graduation in 1985, I started ministry in a very small, rural congregation in Kiskiminetas Presbytery. I remember those first years of ministry with great fondness. I remember most of all the profound graciousness of this family church that took me in as one of their own and literally taught me how to be a pastor. They poured out hospitality, kindness, and tolerance for the young, new minister who had all the academic answers and none of the life experience to be a pastor. Indeed, in the first years of my professional ministry we created, by the grace of God and the amazing tolerant and accepting love of the congregation, a very effective ministry.

But there were many dark days in those first years of ministry; days when isolation and loneliness burdened at my heart. On Thursday mornings when I tried to write yet another sermon, or on Monday mornings when I sat quietly wondering what exactly I should do with my time all week, I often pulled this little Dudley book off the shelf and read through it again. That a “professor of church and community at McCormick Theological Seminary,” as the back cover proclaimed, would have bothered to write a book about the tiny, isolated church where I found myself serving was an idea that itself inspired me. Somehow, just the fact that this book existed with its focus on and celebration of small churches, encouraged me. “Truly, I am not alone!” Furthermore, that such a small church could and should actually be “effective” was like a fount of divine inspiration for me.

So I type out here Dudley’s eloquent description of small church as family. This is my own heritage and history. Deep down in my heart, there is an abiding love and affection for small, family churches:

“To understand our small church, we begin with the feelings of the members. When asked, members show a strong sense of ownership and deep feelings of belonging. ‘This is our church,’ they say. Members do not begin with apologies or comparisons, unless they are implied because the questioner comes from a larger congregation. For members, the small church is not ‘small is beautiful,’ or ‘small is quality,’ or ‘small but anything.’ Members have a strong, positive attitude toward belonging, because it is a significant experience in their lives. Some ‘members’ are not active in programs, or even in regular attendance on Sunday. They may participate only on special occasions and attend only for annual events. Some such members are not even listed on the rolls of the church, but it remains ‘our church’ to them. They have remained with the church despite other alluring alternatives. In times of crisis for the congregation, they have rallied with support. In the crises of their personal families, the congregation has surrounded them with care and concern. Belonging to the church is like being a member of the family.”
(Dudley, Making the Small Church Effective, page 29)

Thanks be to God for the life, witness and ministry of Professor Carl Dudley.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Characteristics of a missional congregation.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Our missional church study group has been intentionally reading and discussing missional theology for several years. We recently finished working through one of the seminal and early works in missional thinking: Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. I want to highlight the image of a missional congregation which Newbigin outlines in Chapter 18, “The Congregation as a Hermeneutic of the Gospel.” As I regularly visit the churches in our presbytery, I see many glimpses of these characteristics. I believe Newbigin has captured in his six, short descriptions the basic outline of what a missional congregation may look like. These characteristics may inspire good conversation in our congregations as we continue to explore new directions in ministry and mission.

It will be a community of praise (page 227). Then, too, the Church’s praise includes thanksgiving. The Christian congregation meets as a community that acknowledges that it lives by the amazing grace of a boundless kindness (page 228).

Second, it will be a community of truth (page 228) A Christian congregation is a community in which, through the constant remembering and rehearsing of the true story of human nature and destiny, an attitude of healthy skepticism can be sustained, a skepticism which enables one to take part in the life of society without being bemused and deluded by its own beliefs about itself (page 229).

Third, it will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of the neighborhood (page 229).

Fourth, it will be a community where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the exercise of the priesthood in the world. The Church is described in the New Testament as a royal priesthood, called to ‘offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God’ and ‘to declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (I Peter 2: 5,9) (page 229 – 230).

Fifth, it will be a community of mutual responsibility. If the Church is to be effective in advocating and achieving a new social order in the nation, it must itself be a new social order (page 231).

And, finally it will be a community of hope (page 232).

May it be so in our churches.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Presbyterian Missionaries!

The article is copied from Presbyterian News Service; February 17, 2009.
http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/2009/09116

A dozen new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) international mission personnel attended orientation in January and have begun their international assignments or will begin them in coming weeks.

The Rev. Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson will serve in Peru as delegations and partnerships coordinators. They will organize, coordinate, and translate for Presbyterians visiting from the United States, helping to ensure that these visits reflect the mutual mission priorities of the partner churches. They will serve at the invitation of the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru.

A minister member of the Santa Fe Presbytery, Sara was associate pastor for mission and pastoral care at Central United Methodist Church in Albuquerque, NM, prior to entering mission service. She also has served two bilingual Presbyterian congregations in New Mexico and Colorado and three churches in Ohio. Her experience also includes service as a chaplain at Menaul School in Albuquerque and as executive director of a faith-based charity.
Sara earned an undergraduate degree from Smith College in Northampton, MA, and a Master of Divinity degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Rusty founded Zapata Builders, LLC, a commercial construction company, and SimpleVentures, a marketing/investment firm, in Colorado and New Mexico. Prior to that, he worked in the maintenance and interpretive divisions of the National Park Service. He is a graduate of New Mexico State University, where he studied agricultural engineering. Rusty is a member of Alamosa (CO) Presbyterian Church.They will arrive in Peru in March.

Alexandra Buck is project facilitator for Bridge of Hope, a fair trade project developed in 2005 by the Joining Hands network in Peru. Joining Hands is a program of the Presbyterian Hunger Program that addresses the root causes of hunger through networks of churches and grassroots organizations in developing countries. The networks are also linked to PC(USA) presbyteries and congregations that support the networks’ struggle against hunger.

Buck facilitates a fair trade bridge between artisans in Peru and consumers in the United States. The availability of new markets has significantly increased the income of the Peruvian artisans.
Prior to her mission appointment, Buck was a young adult intern with the Presbyterian U.N. Office. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Hispanic and international studies from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and is a member of West Granville Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee, WI.

Amanda Craft is serving in Guatemala, where her assignment focuses on women’s leadership development. Her work in Guatemala is at the invitation of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala.

Craft enters mission service after working for eight years as an associate for education and advocacy for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. From 1999 to 2000 she was a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer program in Guatemala. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Denison University in Granville, OH. She is a member of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville.
Craft is married to Omar Alexander Chan Giron, who accompanies her in her ministry in Guatemala.

The Rev. David Diercksen is serving along the border between the United States and Mexico at Puentes de Cristo, one of six sites of the Presbyterian Border Ministry. Puentes de Cristo’s work is concentrated along Mexico’s northeastern boundary with the United States.
The Presbyterian Border Ministry is a joint ministry between the PC(USA) and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. Diercksen is the U.S. coordinator for the Puentes De Cristo site.
Working closely with his Mexican Presbyterian counterpart, Diercksen will facilitate the work of the numerous mission teams that visit the border region each year.

A minister member of Pittsburgh Presbytery, Diercksen has served congregations in Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. Most recently he was pastor and head of staff at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.

Diercksen earned a bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA, a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ, and a Master of Education degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Diercksen is being accompanied by his wife, Nadine, in his new ministry.

Dr. John and Gwenda Fletcher will serve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. John, a physician, will work at the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai. A major part of his assignment is to help form a network of support and collaboration among all the Presbyterian Community of Congo’s mission hospitals. He will also teach medical residents, medical students and nursing students. Gwenda will work as an education consultant with the Presbyterian Community of Congo.

The Fletchers previously served in the Congo from 1989 to 2002. Both of them grew up in India as children of Presbyterian mission workers.

John is a graduate of the University of Washington, where he received both his undergraduate and medical degrees. Gwenda holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, and a master’s degree in special education from Portland State University.

Both are ordained elders and members of First Presbyterian Church, Yuma, AZ. They will arrive in Congo in April after completing language study.

The Rev. Brenda Harcourt is a leadership trainer for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Kenya. She works in the eastern and Mt. Kenya regions to help improve the leadership skills of both clergy and lay leaders.

Harcourt's assignment in Kenya is her second appointment as a PC(USA) mission worker. From 1989 to 1991 she was a seminary instructor in Ghana, serving with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana.

Immediately prior to her new mission appointment, Harcourt was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Oregon, IL. She also has been pastor of a congregation in Pennsylvania, a conference center director and a chaplain.

Harcourt holds a bachelor’s degree from Millersville University in Millersville, PA, and a Master of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA.

Jed Koball is serving in Peru with Joining Hands as a companionship facilitator. He will be facilitating the relationship between the Peruvian network, Uniendo Manos Contra Pobreza (Joining Hands Against Poverty) and PC(USA) congregations.

Koball served as a Young Adult Volunteer in the Philippines from 1996 to 1997. Prior to re-entering mission service, he was interim associate pastor at Larchmont Presbyterian Church in Larchmont, NY. He also has worked in Nicaragua with Bridges to Community, a not-for-profit community development organization.

Koball earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC, and a master’s in theology from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Nancy McGaughey works in Sudan as a health coordinator with the Association of Christian Resource Organizations Serving Sudan (ACROSS). She serves at the invitation of the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, the PC(USA)’s partner in southern Sudan.

McGaughey, a registered nurse, brings 15 years of mission experience to her assignment in Sudan. She worked in Nepal from 1987 to 2002 as a PC(USA) mission worker and from 1977 to 1980 with the Peace Corps. Most recently she has worked at Clare Medical Center in Crawfordville, IN. She is a member of Russellville Community Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ in Russellville, IN.

She holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Indiana University, a bachelor’s degree in vocational home economics from Purdue University, and a master’s in vocational and technical education from Purdue.

The Rev. Stacey Steck is serving in Costa Rica as associate for congregational growth and development with the Costa Rican Presbyterian Church. He also will assist U.S. Presbyterians who travel to Costa Rica on mission trips and serve as half-time pastor of an English-speaking congregation, Escazu Christians Fellowship.

Steck has been living in Costa Rica since 2006, serving the EscazĂș Christian Fellowship. Prior to moving to Costa Rica, he was stated supply pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church in St. Cloud, MN.

Steck holds a B.A. degree from the American University in Washington, DC, and an M.Div. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is a minister member of Minnesota Valleys Presbytery.
Nathaniel Veltman is a development consultant with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. He will be working with the five synods of the church in the western region of the country in a variety of development projects.

Nathaniel Veltman is a development consultant with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. He will be working with the five synods of the church in the western region of the country in a variety of development projects.

Veltman recently received a master’s degree in international development from the University of Pittsburgh. His undergraduate degree is from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. While a student, he participated in service opportunities in Ghana and Malawi. Veltman is a member of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Future of the Synod

My proposal for the future direction of the ministry and mission of the Synod is very simple. The Synod should be completely dismantled as a governing body. There is nothing shocking or surprising about this proposal. I have heard this very point repeatedly in conversation with many different people around the church. The complete dismantling of the Synod is often spoken of as an inevitable result of time and funding. We know this will happen someday. The Synod is going to disappear as a governing body; my concern is that this will happen by a very slow death which will devour vast amounts of money and hours of leadership time. I propose we become much more forward thinking and visionary in approaching this question. I propose we do not simply allow the force of inevitability to define our future.
I have heard all the emotional arguments which presume that the dismantling of the Synod will compromise and break our connectedness as a church. I humbly submit this is completely not true. The Synod is not a source of connectedness in the church today. The most effective source of institutional connectedness across the denomination today, and in my experience in the Presbytery of Carlisle, is provided by the General Assembly. The General Assembly provides a vital connecting link on the Office of the General Assembly side by providing our constitution in the Book of Order and Book of Confessions, and, of course, for providing the process for their amendment. Much more important to my heart and soul, I believe that the General Assembly Council, the other side of our General Assembly, provides the most important connecting link in our church through the World Mission office. It is here that we should be gathering and focusing our resources and leadership. In addition, I believe the Office of Theology and Worship and the Church Leadership Connection provide vital connecting links within our church. We do not need the Synod for any of these vital connecting links in the church today.

Very quickly, I propose to offer an overview of what we may lose and what we may gain if we boldly and courageously consider the complete dismantling of the Synod.

What we should lose: We should lose the administrative functioning of the Synod. There should not be any Synod meetings, no Synod commissioners, no official governing body action or administrative maintenance. Within our presbyteries we should not continue to hit our heads against the wall trying to recruit Synod commissioners. There should not be any Synod programs or vast Synod initiatives.

What we should gain: I propose that the position of Synod executive should be transformed into a “Consultant to the Presbyteries” position. This professional church consultant should work in two broad areas, with oversight provided by a very small Coordinating Council which may include one person from each of our presbyteries.

Leadership Development: The consultant to the Presbyteries should focus on developing the leadership of the presbyteries. This will include models of support and nurture parallel to what we now have in the Executive Presbyter Forum. The consultant will take responsibility for gathering leaders together. These leaders may be the Executives, the Associate Executives, the Clerks, the Moderators, the chairs of our COM and CPMs, large church pastors, small church pastors, lay pastors, new pastors, etc. There are many different constituencies of leaders which our Presbytery consultant could be responsible for connecting together and encouraging. The consultant’s responsibility would be to help create the bonds of prayer and patterns of mutual support, sharing, and learning for our presbytery leaders.

Mission Networks: The Presbytery consultant should initiate, support, and encourage multi-presbytery mission networks. This has been discussed in the current Synod structure, but this whole effort has, in my opinion, been completely stifled because of our concern to maintain a governing body. Thus, currently, the mission networks have been left to fend for themselves. Some of them like the Transformation Network and the Trinity Disaster Response Network, which Carlisle initiated, have thrived. I submit that the whole concept of mission networks fits the theological, technological and cultural context which we are learning to live into as a church. For example, our General Assembly’s World Mission office is supporting a system of international mission networks, where there is tremendous energy and deep spiritual commitment. I am the moderator of our nascent Honduras mission network. This model may be the future of Presbyterian World Mission. At our level, as a gathering of presbyteries, I humbly submit that we cannot have both. We cannot have a robust and energetic commitment to mission networks and a functioning governing body. As it is now, we are trying to both and we are doing neither very well.

In summary, I propose the complete dismantling of the Synod as a governing body. I propose the creation of a full-time consultant to the Presbyteries position with a focus on leadership development and mission networks. I propose that of our presbyteries redirect their Basic Mission Giving distributions from the Synod to the General Assembly. The new consultant to the presbyteries should have a salary and a support infrastructure derived solely from Per Capita contributions and current Synod financial reserves.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review: Lamin Senneh

Lamin Senneh,
Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity
Oxford University Press, 2008

There is something truly remarkable happening in the world. I believe we must be constantly challenged and inspired to lift up our eyes and ponder what is happening in the Church (note the capital “C”) in our world today. It is easy and ordinary to be short-sighted. We may easily consider our own daily to-do list to be the full extent of our vision of the church on any given work day in ministry. There are, of course, sermons to write to satisfy the inevitable coming of another Sunday, and worship services to craft for special seasonal occasions, committee meetings to attend, and the relentless call of pastoral visits. We express ministry on a daily and a local level, and it becomes natural and easy for us to consider this the end of the story, and the fullness of our task.
But, once and again, a voice goes out and may enter our ear, which beckons our vision up and out. Lamin Senneh is such a voice. Do we realize what is happening in the Church around the world? Wow. Listen to this voice. Pay attention to this word. There is something truly remarkable happening in the Church. We are living through a great, global awakening of the Church. The fact is our little corner of Christ’s holy Church today, that is, the American Protestant churches and specifically our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are not participating in this great awakening. The implications of this fact deserve our deepest pondering and prayer. Being outside of this great global awakening will have momentous consequences for our style of church. I believe we need to start paying attention to voices like Professor Senneh.
This new book is the first in a series of books being published as the Oxford Studies in World Christianity. Lamin Sennneh, of Yale University, is the series editor.

“The extent to which the current awakening has occurred without the institutions and structures that defined Western Christendom, including the tradition of scholarship, learning, and cosmopolitanism, is an important feature of World Christianity and its largely hinterland following. In the current resurgence monasteries, theological schools, and hierarchical agency, for example, have played comparatively little role. . . .” (quoted from locations 58-63 of the Amazon Kindle edition.)

This is, of course, the fact with which we must reckon, even while we are too often captivated and captured by our local concerns: “With unflagging momentum, Christianity has become, or is fast becoming, the principal religion of the people of the world. Primal societies that once stood well outside the main orbit of the faith have become major centers of Christian impact, while Europe and North America, once considered the religion’s heartlands, are in noticeable recession.” (quoted from locations 80-83 of the Amazon Kindle edition.)

“These unprecedented developments cast a revealing light on the serial nature of Christian origins, expansion, and subsequent attrition. They fit into cycles of retreat and advance, of contraction and expansion, and of waning and awakening that have characterized the religion since its birth, though they are now revealed to us with particular force. The pattern of contrasting development is occurring simultaneously in various societies across the world. The religion is now in the twilight of its Western phase and at the beginning of its formative non-Western impact. Christianity has not ceased to be a Western religion, but its future as a world religion is now being formed and shaped at the hands and in the minds of its non-Western adherents. Rather than being a cause for unsettling gloom, for Christians this new situation is a reason for guarded hope.” (quoted from locations 88-92 of the Amazon Kindle edition.)

A guarded hope indeed! Amen!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Report to the Presbytery Jan. 27, 2009

In anticipation of his Invocation at the Inauguration of President Obama, there was a lot of criticism of Rev. Rick Warren. I read a comment from Rev. Warren where he responded, “I am not for the right wing; I am not for the left wing; I am for the whole bird.” I like that image. I feel that way also. I am for the whole bird.
On this day, at this meeting of the Presbytery of Carlisle, we participate again in the great debate about the qualifications for officers in our church. In my mind, and I know many others agree, there seems to be a deep spiritual fatigue around these issues. Here we go again; many of us feel with frustration and resignation. Will anyone change their mind? Are there any new insights and arguments which we have not heard before? Here we go again, and it all seems tired and deeply wearing. From my perspective, there has been very little interest in these questions in our presbytery. I have not been invited to a single session meeting or a single Sunday school class to make a presentation on these questions. On the other hand, I have done numerous presentations on missional theology, our world mission work and on Camp Krislund. Of the two, open discussion forums I created to talk about the General Assembly, one was cancelled because of a lack of response. The second, hosted by our Greencastle Church, was an excellent discussion and a good event, but with only five of our churches represented. As far as I know, our General Assembly commissioners have not been invited to other churches to discuss their experiences. In my very casual conversation with a number of pastors, I am not aware of any churches that have had session discussions, or congregational conversations around these General Assembly amendments. I hope that there has been some discussion at your session meetings in preparation of this vote today.
At the same time, I have a very different perception of our Presbytery. In many ways, and I can list examples, this Presbytery is very engaged, energized, motivated, healthy and vital. This is, in my mind, a remarkably good and healthy Presbytery, and my opinion is confirmed when I hear stories from my colleagues about some of the dysfunction and conflict that is happening in many other presbyteries. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work and serve in this presbytery.
Obviously, we have something very, very special in our presbytery. There is a tremendously high level of trust and support. There is a deep and abiding sense of collegiality and friendship among our church leaders. We have been, two years in row, the number one Presbytery in the nation in per member basic mission giving. There continues to be very strong participation in Per Capita giving. There is, I believe, a wonderful good spirit at our presbytery meetings and a very high level of participation. As I am out and about in our churches, I am blessed by the respect and appreciation which I receive. This is not about me. This reflects a high level of respect and appreciation for my office, and thus for the presbytery itself. We have a remarkable gift and grace in our presbytery.
So I ask this question: out of our health and out of our spiritual vitality as a presbytery how may we serve the whole church? How can the Presbytery of Carlisle contribute to the peace, unity and purity of the whole church? I have been pondering this question since the meeting of the General Assembly last June; I have not come up with any brilliant answers.
I put together a draft overture to the General Assembly which proposed that all changes to our constitution be decided by supermajority voting. In my own mind, I pondered this idea as a way to create a higher unity, and a greater consensus around these questions. But as I shared my proposal with some friends around the presbytery, I quickly realized that proposal did not bring people together across the great divide but, in fact, fell right into the old divisions.
So I ask again, what may we do, as one of the healthiest and vital presbyteries in the church, to share our gift? How may we give what we share to the whole church? How may we contribute to the peace, unity and purity of the whole church out of the deep sense of peace, unity and purity which we share among ourselves?
So I put that question out there for us to ponder and consider. I only have some tentative suggestions which move us in that direction. I suggest that we make a commitment to enhancing and growing what we already do very well. Let us build better relationships, enhance the bonds of unity and trust, and grow the connections which we already share in this presbytery.
Some modest proposals:
Let us organize a presbytery wide pulpit exchange this year. As a Presbytery, we did this before, long ago, in celebration of the Presbytery’s 150th anniversary. This will be an opportunity for our preachers to share their gifts with other congregations and in a small way connect our congregations together.
Let us create a church to church partnership program within the presbytery. By linking up churches with one another we create a whole list of ways in which we may grow the relationships among us. Sessions can visit the other church for worship, there may be an exchange of Sunday school teachers for some classes, or maybe congregations can join together for a common worship service or maybe a picnic.
Let us make a common, renewed commitment to Camp Krislund. Let us build a camp and holy place dedicated to bringing people together across the dividing walls which separate us.
Let us explore and commit to a new international mission partnership, not as individual congregations but as a presbytery. I encourage your to join me in our Church Leadership Conference in Tegucigalpa this March. This is an excellent experience for pastor’s continuing education.
Let us have more fellowship and fun together. I encourage your participation in our presbytery retreat. I encourage your participation in our Presbytery day at the Harrisburg Senators baseball game this June 28.
Most of all let us continue to be the best Presbytery we can, let us grow the bonds of spiritual connection and mission involvement, let us learn each others names, and preach in each others pulpits, let build on the wonderful gift we have as a presbytery, and together let us discern ways we may share our abundant gifts with the whole church.

January 27, 2009