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?”