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