Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Dear Friends and Family,
We send our warmest Christmas greetings, sharing with you the abundant numbers of grace from our lives this past year . . .

6 The number 6 is the date, June 6, 2010: the day of the marriage of our Kyle and Nicki Bastine, also class of 2010 U.S. Naval Academy. The wedding was in the Cottage Grove Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington. It was truly a perfect occasion and celebration. Mark continues to rejoice that the ceremony he led was flawless in every detail and abundantly blessed by the presence of Christ.

3 This number remains a remarkable source of pride in our hearts. We sat in the front row of the upper deck of Navy Marine Corps stadium at the United States Naval Academy waiting for the Commencement ceremonies. We could easily view the chairs lined up neatly waiting for the graduating class to march in. We knew instinctively where Kyle would be sitting. First row, third chair. Kyle graduated, with distinction, third in the class from the Naval Academy. It was a joyous, memorable day and the culmination of Kyle and Nicki’s successful careers at the Naval Academy.

21 This is a number which was hard to follow at times. This is Michael’s jersey number for his Hershey High School varsity basketball team. We sat in the stands for most every game and kept a careful eye on number 21, watching him sprint up and down the floor, and watching carefully as he got tangled in a web of players under the basket. We will forever cherish the memory of Michael’s days on the basketball court. We will forever cheer for our number 21! In the Fall of 2010 Michael started his career with the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. Go Hokies!

6 Given all the momentous events in our lives in 2010, it is also good to remember the ordinary number 6. This is Eric’s grade as he begins middle school and settles into life as an only child at home. His sixth grade year also included the start of his football career in which, although only a first year player, he thrived.

50 This is a big number which both amazes us and constantly reminds us of how abundantly blessed we have been in our lives. Kris and Mark both turned 50 years old in 2010!

25 This is also a big number which marks a longevity that truly amazes us. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on October 12, 2010. Within our busy year which included two graduations and a wedding, we were able to escape for a long weekend vacation in Quechee, Vermont.

+1 Most of all we are grateful for Nicki, the new addition to our family. The numbers of grace in our lives are abundance upon abundance, blessing upon blessing.
From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Mark, Kris, Kyle and Nicki, Michael and Eric Englund-Krieger

Friday, November 5, 2010

Honduras Mission Trip October 2010

Three Boys: Juan, Jr., Daniel and Elias.

Please pray for these three boys, in two different families, with whom I have worked in Honduras. This past April our Presbytery team helped to build a new home for Juan, Jr. and his family. Juan is 21 years old and like many Hondurans small and lean. Juan is one of the few young people I have met who has a full time job. He works the night shift in a “panaderia”, a bakery. (Our restaurant’s name “Panera” comes from this word.) With my limited language skills it was difficult for me to understand exactly what he did at the bakery, but I learned he is involved somehow in the baking process. He works from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. six days a week. With this money he supports his family, which allows them to live comfortably.

His family was selected by the special mission committee of the Pena de Horeb (Rock of Horeb) Presbyterian Church. Our Presbytery, with my leadership and the support of our missionaries in Tegucigalpa, was providing the funding and the organizational leadership to build a new home. The Honduran congregation was selecting the family to receive the new home and recruit people to help with the construction. I am very pleased with this partnership in mission which helps us move beyond Honduran dependence on the Americans, builds a solid administrative structure for mission in the Honduran Church, fully involves the Hondurans in every step of the project, and includes the full support of our missionaries, Tim and Gloria Wheeler and Mark and Ashley Wright.

Juan Jr. still lives with his parents, Juan and Maria, and his two younger sisters Amanda and Roxanne. Amanda is 18 years old and already has two children: Sarah, six years old, and Brian, two years old. Roxanne, 16 years old, was pregnant when we worked on their home in April, and has now given birth to a baby boy. This family (mother, father, three adult children and three young grandchildren) all lived together in a one room, wooden shack. They are joyous people, and with Juan Sr.’s sporadic income as a butcher, and Juan, Jr.s’ steady income from the bakery they live comfortably within the deep urban poverty of Tegucigalpa.

With the full cooperation of their church, our missionaries, and our Presbytery we built them a new home. It has a long, open air hallway along one side and four bedrooms, each six by nine feet, with doorways off of the hallway. The design of this home was fully their idea; they wanted bedrooms for everyone and decided not build a kitchen inside. So they still use the small, wooden, stall out back for their baths, do all the laundry outside next to the shower stall, and cook outside on an open fire. They have a pit latrine which they share with several other families.

In April, with one week of time, we were only able to meet with them to design the home, purchase all the materials, pour the concrete foundation and lay about four courses of the block walls. I have been following the building of this home by email photographs. I was delighted at our visit this past week to see the finished home. It is beautiful, and this family could not be more joyous.

In preparation for our visit last week, the Pena de Horeb congregation’s mission committee selected another family to support. The boys, Daniel, 20 years old, and Elias, 17 years old, live with their parents, Santos and Francesca, their younger sister Aleya, 8 year old, their grandmother, and their Uncle Omar. They are living in a very poor, wooden shack which has two bedrooms and an indoor kitchen, in which the open wood stove is an incredible fire hazard. I am not at all sure why the tinder dry, rotten wood of this home has not burned down long ago from the fire that is constantly simmering in the kitchen.

Santos, the father, is a remarkable Christian man with whom I spoke at length during our visit. He is university educated and works for the Honduran Red Cross, leading HIV education classes all around Honduras. In his decrepit little shack he has a large, eclectic mix of books, probably 1,000 books, which we helped carry to a neighbor’s home for storage during construction. Santos did not actually help with construction all week because he needed to work. Both Daniel and Elias worked very hard, side by side with us, every day. Again, this is their church’s mission project and their church committee did all the planning and organization with some support from our team.

This construction project is very difficult because the new home is being built right around their old wooden shack. It is an amazing construction task to build a new home, deconstruct the old home, while the family is still living in it at the same time. During our visit we spent most of our time delivering materials. Their home is in a very congested neighborhood, on the side of a mountain. The street in front of their home is actually steps; the only way to get to their home is up and down these very steep steps. Everyone walks! Vendors carrying eggs, milk, vegetables, rice, ice cream climb up and down the steps all day long selling their wares like the beer guys in a baseball stadium working the crowds.

Our team helped to move over 1,000 concrete blocks, 20 bags of concrete, and several tons of gravel and sand down the steps, by hand and bucket, to this work site. We simply created a long line of people and passed all the materials person to person. When the neighbors saw all the Americans, many came out and joined our work line. It took us more than four hours to move a ton of sand; more than two hours to move a delivery load of 350 block. While the Americans moved slow, and took many breaks, the boys never stopped. If one of our team members needed to step out of line, they would step in and pick up the load. When our whole team took a break, they would run all the steps alone. By the end of the week all the materials were delivered, the foundation poured, and two of the outside walls are well under way. When the new walls are up, and the new roof ready to go on, the old shack will be deconstructed and the wood, I imagine, carefully stacked, for future use and for firewood.

The most amazing blessing for me happened naturally and easily on our Monday morning. As we arrived at the work site, Juan and Maria, their daughters, and Juan Jr. were already there working. The family whose home we had built in April was there at the new work site as an expression of gratitude for what they had received. The construction projects serve a powerful connector bringing people together through the church. The new homes are not the point; it is these connections and renewed relationships among their church family, especially these young teenage boys, that is most important.

I pray most of all for these boys, Juan Jr., Daniel and Elias. In the inner city wilderness of Tegucigalpa they are right at the age when the future direction of their lives will be determined. They may easily be drawn down into the scum of the drug culture, gangs and criminal culture which are all very prevalent in the city. Or they may follow the influence of their church, their family, and find a higher calling in the midst of all the poverty and urban filth. I pray that the gift of a new home, which has almost transformed their families, will allow each of them to live into this higher calling.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Report to Presbytery September 28, 2010

Many Cultures

We live in a time of multiple cultures. That seems like a very obvious and clear statement. But I believe this statement is the kind of fact which we know for sure in our heads, but have not allowed to penetrate into our hearts. We live in a time of multiple cultures.

I have become a student of the work of the late professor of mission, Lesslie Newbigin. He writes in his little book, “Proper Confidence”: “Although the word “culture” came to be used in a sociological sense in the nineteenth century, it was not used in the plural. There was one “civilization” and the various peoples encountered in other continents were on lower or higher rungs of this one ladder. They did not have different “cultures” (until the present century) but were considered either less or more civilized.”

One thing we have learned in the great world missionary movement of the late 1800s is that culture is plural. There are many cultures. The great missionary movement started with the great idea that we are sending Jesus and our culture to all the foreign lands. The Jesus which we sent out was all wrapped up in our culture. We completely assumed that when all the people, in all the foreign lands of the world, came to understand and believe in Jesus, they would naturally adopt our culture as well. These foreign people would get Jesus and our civilization at the same time; what a great deal, we thought!

What we have learned, and it is a remarkable lesson, is that the people of all the foreign lands in the world were glad to have Jesus but they did not want our culture. In fact, all these foreign people quickly learned what we did not know. That Jesus is much, much bigger than our western culture. The world has gone forward knowing, growing with and praising Jesus from within their own cultures. We have been taught an important lesson which we have not completely understood: culture is plural, “cultures”. There are many cultures in the world, and Jesus works very well, powerfully well, in all of them.

This means that all of our work in mission and ministry is cross-cultural. There are many different cultures and our task as church leaders is to cross cultural divisions in the name of Jesus. Of course, this influences that way we do world mission today. I believe this also influences the way we do ministry in our local churches. You – as pastors and church leaders – need to understand in a new way that the people in your churches are living in many different cultures. We need to understand the cultures our people are living in, and we need to take Jesus across those cultural boundaries. We can no longer presume that our people are in any way living in the culture of Jesus when they show up in our churches. Our ministry is cross-cultural. One of the things we must learn to do is understand the multiplicity of cultures which intersect in our lives at any given moment.

Let me name, for example, three different cultures which are very powerful today. Our people are living in these cultures; and our people come to church in these cultures.

1) The culture of consumption: Many of our people are living in the culture of consumption. Consider what the culture of consumption has done to our celebration of Christmas. Consider how many of our good church people are carrying enormous credit card debt. What happens when our very strong, solid church members, who happen to be carrying 5 or 10,000 dollars of credit card debt, are asked to make a financial pledge to our church? We face a profound clash of cultures.

2) The culture of entertainment. I can mention three names and I wonder if there is anyone in this room who has not heard of these people: Tiger Woods, Madonna, Mel Gibson. Or take, for example, a solid, hard working pastor who works 6, 8 or 10 hours a week crafting a worship service and writing a sermon. The sermon is preached with energy and conviction. In the receiving line after worship, one of the church members says to the pastor, “I really like your haircut.” That person is absorbed in a culture of entertainment. We have another clash of cultures.

3) Consider the culture of the American empire. We are the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. What happens when the Presbyterian part of our identity clashes with the U.S.A. part of our identity? The culture of the American empire is so vast and powerful that it is possible to visit a tiny nation like Honduras and never leave American culture.

Pastors and church leaders today must become students of culture. What are the values and goals of these different cultures? We need to become cross-cultural travelers, missionaries. Our people are bringing all these different cultural identities with them when they come into our churches. We can no longer presume that our people are living in and committed to the culture of Jesus when they enter our churches. Often because of the confusion of cultures and the clash of cultures, there is a new and growing anxiety in the professional life of pastors.

I have a negative and a positive conclusion to the thesis that culture is now plural. First of all, we must realize that “sola scriptura” is not good enough anymore. Sola scriptura is the classic doctrine of our church which believes that Scripture alone is all we need for teaching and preaching in the church. Phyllis Tickle has argued in her book, The Great Emergence, about the erosion of sola scriptura from a historical perspective. I am saying the same thing from this cultural perspective. Before we can preach the word, we must also understand the various cultures our people are living in. Jesus has the power to touch and transform lives in every culture, but we must also understand these cultures where our people are living. Our cultural studies must be as smart as our biblical studies.

Positively, what I am saying is a foundational emphasis of a new way of thinking theologically: missional theology. Missional theology is all about cross-cultural ministry. We seek to understand the cultures where our people are living, and we take Jesus right into those cultures.

May it be so in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

World Mission in Ethiopia

We are there.

The March 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine includes an article titled, “Africa’s Last Frontier: Ethiopia’s Omo Valley is still a place ruled by ritual and revenge. But change is coming from upriver.” As always, the photographs are stunning and the article itself is beautifully well written. The story about the changing lives of these ancient African tribes is fascinating. But I would not have paid careful attention to this article until I heard about the mission work of Presbyterian World Mission missionaries John and Gwen Haspel in the same region of Ethiopia. According to Haspel’s, change is also coming to this remote region through the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit. The Haspels have been our missionaries in Africa – primarily in Sudan and Ethiopia – since 1974. Their service builds on and supplants the years of service which both their parents also invested in Africa.

Our Big Spring Presbyterian Church, in the Presbytery of Carlisle, has supported the Haspels for many years. The Haspels recently visited Big Spring church as part of their home itineration. John started his presentation by saying, “It is good to be back with you here at Big Spring Church. We were here before, 25 years ago.” John and Gwen told a story of missionary service that enlivened my imagination, made my skin tingle with a sense of the sheer courage and perseverance of their commitment, and bolstered my pride with the simple knowledge that our Presbyterian Church has people there with among these primeval tribes of Ethiopia. What National Geographic called the last frontier, we call, in the jargon of today’s missiology, one of the few unreached people groups in the world. And the Haspels are there with a deep, sustained, evangelistic mission to spread the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Haspels are an exemplary witness to the effectiveness of persistent, long-suffering commitment to mission service. Consider this description of their work from their Mission Connections webpage: John and Gwenyth Haspels work on a multiphase project in Ethiopia that would be taxing to the patience of almost anyone. It took the Haspels four years to receive work permits and resident visas from the Ethiopian government for phase I of the project. "We have been learning to wait on and trust in the Lord," said Gwenyth. Phase I of the project is devoted to construction of a 70-kilometer road to Tum and a second road through the mountains to the Surma people in Kibish, and also the development of a good water system for Tum. Phase II of the project is a comprehensive program that includes evangelism, education, medical care, and development work. The Haspels' work is being carried out at the invitation of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.

Many of the same features of social life which are profiled in the National Geographic article were also described by the Haspels. For complex historical and geographic reasons, the assault of the colonial powers in the 19th century missed this region of Ethiopia. Until very recently this part of Africa has not been touched by western influence. In this region, in far southwestern Ethiopia, the international borders with Sudan and Kenya are less meaningful than the divisions between the tribes. Ancient language and cultural barriers are still powerful. But the long reach of the modern world is now felt in the tragic influx of AK-47 rifles from Sudan which takes the socially ingrained commitment to revenge killing to a new level. The government’s ambitious plan to build a hydro-electric plant on the agriculturally, life-giving Omo river will probably not benefit the tribes who depend on its ebb and flow but the distant, national government will make money. And, of course, change also comes in the slow work of missionaries bringing schools and churches, a message of reconciliation in Christ, and a vision of Christian community which crosses tribal lines. This spreading of the Word is, as everywhere, often compromised by the corrosive effect of every type of profit seeker, exploitive tourism, and the long reach of modern economic development typically connected in some way with oil.

Despite it all, the light shines in the darkness, the seed of truth in planted and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed. I believe that in our lives today the movements, thoughts, reflections and insights of our modern culture are completely separated from the spiritual and theological convictions of the church. Thus it is necessary when we read and study things from our culture to ask ourselves where the hidden and mysterious work of God may be seen. This for me was confirmed again by carefully reading this National Geographic article about the Ethiopian frontier. As I expected this article did not mention the good work of our missionaries in that area. But the National Geographic article told the powerful story about a young man named Dunga. Dunga’s father had been killed by a rival tribe and Dunga’s older brother, Kornan, has also been murdered. “After Kornan was killed, the double weight fell to Dunga along paths of tradition worn as hard as the trails leading down to the river.” The article tells a compelling story about the way Dunga finally broke free of the “duty of vengeance.” This change is, the article presumes, the result of Dunga’s desire for education and hard, personal effort to seek schooling for himself. But there is a little sentence tucked into this story which the National Geographic author does not develop as transformational or important. “He wears a silver crucifix, a symbol of newly acquired beliefs.” Only we Christians will know that this little detail is, in fact, the whole Truth. Dunga’s newly acquired beliefs have changed his life bringing him out of the darkness of spiraling violence and into the light of Christ. It is this change which has the power, maybe more than electricity or economic development, to bless his family and people. Dunga, in a small, personal step, broke the tradition of violence. “The tribal elders supported his decision. . . They saw the trap of tradition that awaited Dunga, the one that had claimed Kornan. The elders understood Dunga was now more than a man caught in a blood feud – he was an educated representative of his people, a future leader, and a role model.” John and Gwen Haspel would understand Dunga’s transformation as a gift of grace. May our eyes also be open to the mystery of God’s work all around us.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

General Assembly 2010: Form of Government

Our Office of the General Assembly has done a very good job preparing the new Form of Government for our consideration, and has created a plethora of resources in support. Our General Assembly approved, by a wide margin, the new Form of Goverment and it will now be voted on by all the Presbyteries. This is a sweeping, proposed change in our church. I hope our Presbytery will create abundant conversation around this proposal.

Please begin understanding this recommendation by studying the proposed amendments and all the support material now available at the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) website within

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Report from the General Assembly 17



Several years ago, my good friend and co-founder of Haiti Partners, John Engle, introduced me to a method of facilitating meetings called “open space.” The method was built on the observation that at many meetings, the best part of the meeting, as far as participants are concerned, is not what happens as part of the official agenda, but is what happens around the sides of the meeting, in informal conversations.

It is an insight that definitely pertains to the 219th meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that I attended July 3-10 in Minneapolis. The best part of the meeting as far as I’m concerned was what happened outside of the meeting’s official agenda. There were reunions with old friends from seminary and other presbyteries where I have served. There were fascinating presentations at special lunches and dinners. Worship was outstanding. And gathered around tables at mealtime, I was able to engage in real dialogue with other Presbyterians from across this entire country about important issues.

However, when we gathered to address the official agenda, I found General Assembly to be boring at its best, frustrating at its worst. Dialogue ended and debate began. We ceased to learn and began to be lobbied for our vote. We often found ourselves, not united, but polarized. And when God was brought onto the floor of the Assembly, the point more often than not seemed to be to claim God for “our side” rather than to lead us to try to discern whether or not we were, together, honoring God.

As I reflect on all of this, I think that part of the problem is the method that we use to facilitate the General Assembly and many other meetings in the Presbyterian Church. We use something called Roberts Rules of Order, named for the military engineer who came up with the first edition of them in the latter half of the 19th Century. They represented his attempt to standardize parliamentary procedures, and no doubt, they are still valuable in certain settings, particularly in settings that have primarily a parliamentary (that is, a legislative) function.

But in today’s church, I question their value, to be honest—questions that were deepened by my experience at the General Assembly. For in today’s church, it seems to me, our primary task is not to legislate. Instead, I think that our primary task is to build relational communities of folks seeking together to follow Jesus Christ in Christ’s mission in the world. And so, our method of facilitating meetings needs to change, it seems to me, to methods that promote dialogue over debate; mutual learning over lobbying; permission to follow our passions over promotion of polarization over our differences; all seeking together to discern the will of God, no matter how long that takes, exercising the spiritual discipline of mutual forbearance.

It’s hard to imagine things changing nationally before the next General Assembly meets in Pittsburgh in 2012. I’d guess that the air of the convention center there will be filled with the language of Mr. Robert. But here at Silver Spring, where I actually think that Roberts Rules already are less important in how we live, maybe things can change. At least, that’s the journey that I’d like us to take.

The Rev. Don Steele

Monday, July 12, 2010

Report from the General Assembly 16

A Pastoral Letter to our Churches from the Moderator of the General Assembly

July 10, 2010

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

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

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38) …

Just one week ago, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) convened with Scripture and music and prayer. Commissioners and advisory delegates from every presbytery across the church gathered around the baptismal font with hopeful expectation of what God’s Spirit would do in and through them as they sought to discern together the mind of Christ for the PC(USA).

As the week progressed, prayer was a foundational part of each day’s deliberations and decisions, and the presence of the Spirit was palpable!

“Out of the believer’s heart…

While all assemblies are significant, this one holds particular significance in the life of the PC(USA). Among the assembly’s decisions – to be ratified by presbyteries – are the addition of the Belhar Confession to The Book of Confessions and a revised Form of Government. Both of these items give a clear signal that we are a church that is not afraid to change – an important perspective to have in these days of great change in the church and the world.

The assembly celebrated and was greatly encouraged by the commissioning of 122 young adult volunteers and 17 new mission workers for service around the globe. Commissioners voted unanimously to renew the call to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” and were inspired by the stories ( of congregations that are growing in evangelism, discipleship, diversity, and servanthood. They celebrated the generosity of Presbyterians who have contributed more than $10.5 million to relief and redevelopment work in Haiti in the wake of Januarys’ devastating earthquake.

The assembly also engaged in discussion about significant matters of faith and life – ordination standards, justice and peace in the Middle East, and civil union and marriage, to name just a few.
Information on the more than 300 assembly actions is available at Answers to frequently asked questions about the items that have already garnered media attention are attached to this letter and available online ( We commend these resources to you for their accurate and straightforward information.

While the content of the assembly’s decisions is important, what may be of equal or greater importance is the manner in which commissioners and advisory delegates did their work. They debated, but did not fight. They tackled tough issues while refraining from tackling each other. They placed great value on finding common ground as they displayed gracious, mutual forbearance toward one another. They sought the will of God within their actions, rather than regarding their decisions as the will of God. One commissioner called the experience of seeking – and finding – common ground truly “miraculous.” In short, this assembly exhibited to the whole church and, indeed, to our society and the world a way to engage in difficult issues while maintaining respect for one another. To put it another way, they exhibited well what it means for the church to “a provisional demonstration of what God intends for the world” (Book of Order, G-3.0200).

…shall flow rivers of living water.”

Just a few short hours ago, the 219th General Assembly ended in the same worshipful manner with which it began, as well as with a similar same sense of hopeful expectation that the hard work done in Minneapolis will continue forward across the church. Michael East and Caroline Sherard, elected by their peers as co-moderators of the young adult advisory delegates to this assembly, shared their thoughts in a blog entry (

If all our commissioners and advisory delegates returned to their places of community and
encouraged others to continue similar stories, what great things could be next for the PC(USA)?
These narratives have the ability to inspire discussions on new, creative, and innovative ways of
being the Church. At the heart of being Presbyterian is the principle belief that our discernment is best done when we gather together. Being able to gather in one place, as one people, for the one
Church is a powerful and transformative experience--one which dramatically shapes future

The assembly has commended to the church a number of items for further study, out of which is hoped will come, as Michael and Caroline write, “new, creative, and innovative ways of being the Church.”

May the good and faithful work begun in Minneapolis truly be just the beginning of a season of respectful, earnest, and gracious engagement – both in our words and in our deeds – all for the sake of the gospel.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,

Elder Cynthia Bolbach
Moderator, 219th General Assembly Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Ponderings from the General Assembly 15

A letter to the editor of the Harrisburg Patriot News:

On Friday July 9 I sat in the Minneapolis St. Paul airport reading a front page article about the meeting of my Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly. When I arrived home I read an Associated Press story in the Harrisburg Patriot News on the same topic with the headline “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Leaders reject same-sex marriage.” Although this article in the Patriot-News was factually accurate, it does not communicate the deep theological commitments which are the foundation of our General Assembly’s action. Indeed, those of us in leadership in the Church today are increasingly convinced that the mainstream media and the general culture in America do not understand the deepest convictions and motivations of our churches. There is an increasing separation of our church’s culture and worldview from American society.

Yes, the Presbyterian General Assembly rejected same-sex marriage. But that is a superficial understanding of what we did. What we did is profoundly more important. We made a commitment as a church to try and live together in a spirit of prayer and discernment and deep dialogue. We made a commitment NOT to live in the powerful worldview of blue states versus red states; republicans versus democrats; conservatives versus liberals. This deeply embedded cultural and political paradigm of “us versus them”, however “us” and “them” is defined, is very difficult to break. But we Presbyterians are seeking another way for our church.

This is what we did. Our General Assembly in 2008 asked for a special study on the question of marriage and civil union. The special committee did good work and was reporting to our 2010 General Assembly meeting in Minneapolis last week. As the committee reported we heard a passion for our church to find another way which will not simply divide us into camps. The committee itself could not come together in its conclusions despite a continuing commitment to be together. Thus the special committee presented to our General Assembly two reports: a Majority Report and a Minority Report. What the General Assembly did next was stunning to all of us in attendance. The Assembly put the two reports together and we will send them out together to all our congregations asking for a time of careful study, prayer and discernment around this difficult issue. More important we made a commitment to stay together despite our differences around these complex questions. It is this action that is a very important witness of the Presbyterians this year.

The question now for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and, I would say, for all American Christians is whether or not we can find ways to live and serve together which are motivated by the Good News of Jesus Christ and not by America’s reigning paradigm of “us versus them” politics?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ponderings from the General Assembly 14

The most beautiful things at the General Assembly:

From my experience of the General Assembly this year, I want to list three events which are very different from the Actions Items upon which we typically focus. Because I am not a Commissioner, I have the opportunity to take advantage of many other events and programs that happen around the edges of this meeting.

ONE: This morning I attended the breakfast of the Committee on Theological Education. My conviction was affirmed again at this breakfast. Our Presbyterian Church has the finest group of theological institutions in the world. Our ten Presbyterian seminaries are a very important aspect of our church which need our appreciation and support. Indeed, Christians from around the world come to our seminaries to study and prepare for ministry. Our seminaries have a significant global impact in the global Church today.

At this breakfast, Professor Barbara Wheeler received a special recognition. Her address on “Excellence in Leadership” was stirring and very motivating. Indeed, despite all our conflict, stress, strain and decline, God continues to raise up gifted pastors and leaders to service in the Presbyterian Church.

TWO: I attended the Presbyterian Writers Guild luncheon today which is one of the tiny advocacy groups of the church with which few people are involved. But today the room was filled to overflowing because Eugene Peterson was received a special recognition from the Guild. In a very quiet, almost meek voice which created a deep quiet in the room, Eugene Peterson offered some of the most eloquent, deep, and beautiful words I have ever heard on the gift of being a pastor. It was one of the most affirming and inspiring presentations I have ever heard. I felt that everyone in the room was touched by his words which moved me to a deep gratitude for the calling I have received to serve the church.

THREE: At the General Assembly worship service this morning, a huge, new class of full-time, professional missionaries were commissioned. The whole gathered congregation burst out in joyous praise and applause several times as these new missionaries were introduced and commissioned. This work is, indeed, the passion of my heart. Despite everything else we must do now as a church, this work of calling, equipping, sending out and financially supporting new, full time, professional missionaries to work with church partners all around the world may be the most important. Indeed, while we continue to be in decline in many ways, we have turned the corner and we are now increasing the number of missionaries we have in the field. Our church will be abundantly blessed as we deepen and nurture close relationships with church partners around the world.

In addition, during worship, the General Assembly Mission Council announced that this week, during the meeting of the General Assembly, two large gifts were pledged to our work in World Mission. Gifts from individuals in the amounts of $400,000 and $250,000 have been pledged specifically to support new missionaries.

Beautiful things are happening in our Church!

Report from the General Assembly 13


After long, sometimes passionate, and sometimes bewildering debate, and after a motion to Call the Question was defeated thus allowing even more debate, yet another proposal to change the language of the Book of Order G-6.0106b was approved. This approval was on a very narrow margin of 373 YES to 323 NO votes. This action is very similar to action approved by the last General Assembly which was defeated by the Presbyteries. The great debate continues. The actual language of the new proposal is copied here:

G-6.0106b. "Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

Report from the General Assembly 12


The substitute motion which would have killed the Form of Government proposal was overwhelmingly defeated, and after extensive debate the Form of Government proposal itself passed with a very strong vote of 468 YES votes and 204 NO votes. It is very important that our church leaders become familiar with this proposal in preparation for our Presbytery vote on this proposal.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Report from the General Assembly 11

NOTE: The General Assembly approved the recommendation to add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. I strongly believe in the open theology that is reflected in an open Book of Confessions. I like the idea of adding Belhar to our Book of Confessions. This is, of course, a constitutional issue which we will need to act on as a Presbytery. This conversation presents us with a good opportunity to have conversation about our Book of Confessions in our churches. Resources about the Belhar Confession including a study guide are available at Copied here is the actual text:

Confession of Belhar

1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe
• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another;
• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain;
• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted;
• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity;
• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God;
• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church;
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;
• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;
• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe
• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world;
• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;
• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
• which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe
• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged
• that God calls the church to follow him in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right;
• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology
• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Ponderings from the General Assembly 10

Grow the Church Deep and Wide

NOTE: The General Assembly voted, without debate, to continue this program emphasis on Growing the Church Deep and Wide. This conversation has not touched the life of very many of our congregations. This action is a simple, theological vision. It does provide a nice framework to begin conversation about the ministry and direction of our congregations. We may ask each session to consider their own work in response to these four priorities: Evangelism, Discipleship, Servanthood, Diversity. Copied here is the actual, approved action item:

The General Assembly Mission Council recommends that the 219th General Assembly (2010) renew its commitment to help grow Christ’s Church deep and wide by doing the following:

1. Extend a churchwide commitment to participate in God’s activity through Jesus Christ in transforming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through the 2011–2012 biennium.

2. Encourage synods, presbyteries, sessions, and all agencies, entities, and networks of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to commit to foster the growth of Christ’s Church deep and wide in the following areas:

a. Grow in Evangelism: Share the good news of Jesus Christ. Invite persons to join in the church’s worship and fellowship. Baptize children and adults (Mt. 28:19–20; Lk. 15).

b. Grow in Discipleship: Rediscover Scripture, including daily reading and study. Nurture relationships with Jesus Christ in the context of our Reformed heritage (Lk. 14:33; Jn. 8:31, 13:35, 15:8).

c. Grow in Servanthood: Stand alongside the wider community to promote the well-being and love of neighbor. Embrace stewardship in all of life (Jn. 13:12-17; Mt. 25:34–40).

d. Grow in Diversity: Welcome everyone. Learn from others. Reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of God’s peoples in the world including leadership (Gal. 3:26–29; Rev. 7:9–10).

Report from the General Assembly 9

Note: Here we go! The decision of the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues is bringing a recommendation that will be very controversial in the church. We must wait and see how the whole Assembly handles the Committee's recommendation. Presbytery of Carlisle Elder Commissioner Nancy Flint served on this committee.

The Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues voted Tuesday (34-18-2) to recommend to the full Assembly changing the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship from “a woman and a man” to “two people.”

Heeding the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, the committee agreed to replace “couple” with “two people” because, according to Advisory Committee on the Constitution representative Catherine McDonald, “couple” in some languages “automatically translates as husband and wife.”

The committee also recommended approving an Authoritative Interpretation that gives ministers of the Word and Sacrament and commissioned lay pastors discretion over which marriage services they'll perform. Sessions may refuse the use of church property for wedding ceremonies of which they don’t approve.

An Authoritative Interpretation requires no approval by presbyteries and does not amend the church’s constitution. If it’s approved this week in plenary session, it becomes effective immediately.

The other nine overtures the committee considered Tuesday were either not approved or were similar enough to the two recommended overtures that they were considered by the committee to be “answered” by those overtures.

Advocating for changing the church's language of who may marry, Laura Marsh, an elder from East Iowa Presbytery, said her church, First Presbyterian of Iowa City, decided that “until we are allowed to marry everybody, we aren’t going to marry anybody. Is everybody happy? No. But there’s been no mass exodus, and we didn’t implode. But we’re urgently asking you to act.”
Committee member the Rev. Marion Haynes-Weller of Donegal Presbytery called herself “a pastor of one of those small rural congregations we seem to be worried about. We are in a very conservative community but it’s a congregation committed to welcoming (gay) members who are impatient with our lack of solidarity in standing with them.”

Young Adult Advisory Delegate Paige Eubanks of Mid-South Presbytery said “My fear is that if we open up Scripture to interpretation, we compromise purity, we become susceptible to deception and this body, my family, will disintegrate.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ponderings from the General Assembly 8

Special Offerings Review

The 2008 General Assembly initiated a major review of our four, church wide special offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing, Peacemaking, Christmas Joy and Pentecost. I was invited to meet with the review team today to share my perspective and reflections.

Some of my thoughts:
The Special Offerings are on automatic pilot. Churches that gather them do so with a sense of inertia and repetition, not any real, new energy or commitment.

The causes which the Special Offerings now support are so fragmented that few people understand what they are for and what they support.

One Great Hour of Sharing, because it is old and gathered at Easter time, continues to be very strong; although there is not much new energy to grow it. We have almost universal participation in OGHS.

The Board of Pensions has a strong, good reputation in the church and thus the Christmas Joy offering receives good support; although, I suspect, there is little enthusiasm for the support of racial ethnic colleges which is also part of Christmas Joy’s purpose.

In our Presbytery the Peacemaking offering tracks with a small group of churches who are reliably committed to this program; there is not any new energy emerging for growing this cause or purpose.

There is little energy or enthusiasm for the Pentecost offering in our Presbytery. I expect that very few people know its purpose.

I believe one of the offerings needs to be redirected to World Mission, and I believe this change will be well received.

Despite my less than positive perceptions, the Presbytery of Carlisle continues to be one of the top special offering giving Presbyteries. Thank you Presbytery of Carlisle!

I am very interested in gathering your thoughts, perceptions and ideas about our four special offerings. I am especially interested in gathering ‘best practices’ about ways they are interpreted, explained and gathered in your congregations. Please email your thoughts.

Report from the General Assembly 7

Note: I like the Form of Government report. I liked it in 2008 at the San Jose General Assembly. I like it now. I like to do polity on the fly, making decisions that carefully consider the ministry context and the fullness of the relationships involved. The Form of Government Taskforce report made it out of committee; and we will have a fun debate in plenary session at the General Assembly. I hope it passes and we have the opportunity to discuss it at our Presbytery. If you have not done so, I encourage you to consider Paul Hooker's background paper on "missional polity" which is available at the Form of Government website. More to come. . .

The Form of Government Revision Committee of the 219th General Assembly (2010) voted 37-5 Tuesday to send the proposed Foundations of Presbytery Polity and revised Form of Government to the full Assembly.

If the Assembly approves the document, it will then move to the denomination’s presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes. If a majority of presbyteries vote to accept the document, it will replace the current Form of Government that has been amended more than 300 times since it came into existence in 1983.

The committee rejected an overture from the Presbytery of Central Washington that called for posting the revised Form of Government online for informational purposes and seeking amendments from presbyteries to “improve and enhance the ways in which we govern ourselves missionally.”

Speaking in favor of that overture, Joan Johnson of Santa Barbara Presbytery warned of “unintended consequences of omission,” and the Rev. Jim Tony of Chicago Presbytery said, “This is way too complex to make this better than what we already have.”

The Rev. Dan Williams, co-moderator of the task force, responded to the overture advocates, saying he wanted to see a church “so infused with the presence and power of Jesus Christ that people cannot wait to be a part of it.”

He added, “I do not doubt this is happening in places throughout our denomination today, but how much more might we accomplish if we dare to step out in faith, if we are willing to take the risk and let go of a model of being the church bound up in structures and processes.”
The committee spent most of the morning making changes to the document, specifying the requirement for committees on representation and stating that such a “committee should not be merged with another committee or made a subcommittee of another committee,” and adding deadlines for the Advisory Committee on the Constitution to make requested interpretive reports 60 days prior to a meeting of the General Assembly.

Report from the General Assembly 6

Note: For those of us who work for Presbyteries and Synods one of the big issues at this General Assembly are several overtures asking for changes in the structure and responsiblities of our Synods. I am in favor of the full de-structuring and elimination of the Synods as a governing body. But this question is complicated and difficult. I hope this General Assembly will take significant action on this question. The article here on the Committee's deliberation is copied from our News Service. . .

A willing but wary 219th General Assembly Committee on Middle Governing Body Issues has recommended creation of a Middle Governing Body Commission to act on the requests of presbyteries and synods “to divide, unite or otherwise combine” them during the next two years.

The committee debated for several hours Monday whether to create a special committee to deal with the myriad stresses facing synods and presbyteries or to establish the rarer and more powerful 21-member commission that would be “authorized to act as the General Assembly.”
The committee amended the commission proposal – brought by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) – nine times to more closely define its work and require a super-majority to take action. The final measure going to the Assembly passed 38-4 with two abstentions.

“We’re in a moment of history that is uncharted territory,” COGA member the Rev. Eileen Lindner told the committee. “We need a commission because the time is too urgent – we cannot tell some of our most hurting governing bodies to tread water for two more years.”
However, Mike Herron, stated clerk of Mississippi Presbytery, while acknowledging the sea changes going on in middle governing bodies around the country, questioned the move. His presbytery, for instance, has reduced staff rather than cut programs. “We’re just finding different ways to serve the kingdom of God,” he said. “If you need to change, appoint a committee – there’s no urgency to appoint a powerful commission.”

COGA member the Rev. John Wilkinson responded to committee members’ concerns that a 21-member commission given the full authority of the General Assembly would be too powerful.
“The commission we propose cannot act unilaterally, but only at the request of the middle governing bodies at issue,” Wilkinson insisted. “My guess is any big-ticket items are going to come to the next Assembly anyway.”

While the committee amended the proposal to require a two-thirds majority by the commission to take action, it defeated other amendments to require the affected presbyteries and synods to also approve commission decisions by a two-thirds majority and to exempt property and assets disposal from the commission’s purview.

Most, but not all, middle governing body officials who spoke to the committee during its 90-minute open hearing Monday morning supported the commission. The Rev. Betty Meadows, executive presbyter for Mid-Kentucky Presbytery and president of the Association of Executive Presbyters, urged the committee “to give the group power and flexibility because of the profound changes going on.”

Noting that three new church developments have been spawned by commissions in her presbytery, Meadows said, “We know that the Spirit is breaking out all over. We need people who are empowered to know and respond to what the Spirit is doing.”

Report from the General Assembly 5

Note: One of my favorite aspects of the General Asssembly meeting is the opportunity to meet many Christians from our partner churches around the world and our missionaries. A highpoint of the General Assembly for me is the World Mission Luncheon. Copied here is the New Report on this year's world mission luncheon.

by Pat Cole

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is writing the third chapter of a mission “love story” that began in 1837, a denominational mission leader said Sunday at the World Mission Luncheon.
Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, said the newest chapter in the saga is the formation of “communities of mission practice.” Participants in these communities include World Mission staff and mission personnel, global partners, and grassroots Presbyterians directly involved in international mission.

The purpose of the communities is “to discern the mind of Christ as we participate in God’s mission,” Farrell explained.

The earliest PC(USA) mission efforts were focused exclusively on sending mission personnel, he said. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, Presbyterians in the United States moved into the second chapter of its history, emphasizing working in partnership with churches overseas that were formed through the efforts of early missionaries. “Partnership was limited to the leaders of our church and the leaders of partner churches,” Farrell said. Today, however, numerous congregations and presbyteries have established partnerships with international counterparts.

This has led to World Mission’s focus on facilitating communities of mission practice, which will help coordinate efforts, Farrell said.

Farrell noted that more and more mission personnel are serving as “global connectors,” helping link congregations and presbyteries with international partners.
One of those connectors, Tracey King-Ortega, the PC(USA)’s regional liaison in Central America, invited congregations and presbyteries directly involved in international ministries to work with mission personnel. “They can help you maximize efforts with these three communities working together,” she said. Transformation, she added, is the goal for everybody involved.
Speakers from Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis stressed the importance of building relationships with partner congregations. Westminster member Trish Van Pilsum, who has visited the congregation’s partner in Cuba, said, “I was inspired by the people of Matanzas and my faith deepened.”

While the visitors from Westminster brought medicine, glasses and other resources, the Cubans would not say those were the most important items the congregation brought, she said. “The people of Matanzas would say that we brought energy, we brought compassion and we brought love.”

The luncheon also included remarks from the Rev. Noe Bernier, an archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. He said the PC(USA) has worked with the diocese since the 1960s in its ministries of health, education and economic development. The church continues its holistic mission amid the daunting challenges presented by January’s massive earthquake.
“Haiti will not be destroyed,” he said. “Haiti will not perish. Haiti will rise again because of God’s people who are called to do mission.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ponderings from the General Assembly 4

Ponderings from the General Assembly 4

At the “Conversations” session which I attended, hosted by Linda Valentine and Gradye Parsons, I asked a question that has nagged me for many years, and which I also have heard from many people around the church: “How should we interpret and understand the fact that the total membership of our denomination has significantly declined for many consecutive years?”

Gradye shared his own reflections on this question and admitted that this was also an issue which has bothered him deeply. He said that in studying the statistics from all across the church and from demographic studies there seems to be a 20/ 20/ 60 rule which is generally true. In terms of our active membership loss, it seems that about 20% of our loss is people transferring to other churches; 20% of our loss is due to death. But most of our membership loss, about 60%, is due to losses “out the back door.” These are the people that simply drift away from the church; typically they are not angry; there is not an issue or particular cause that created their leaving; often their leaving the church takes awhile as they drift from regular participation, to less and less, and finally to no participation or connection with the church. Simply put, most of our membership loss is due to the fact that for many people the church no longer satisfies their spiritual needs. This is confirmed by other demographic data today which reports that the fastest growing category of religion in America is the “unaffiliated”, the people that simply have no church home and no active religious life.

Generally speaking, our membership decline is not about social issues or theological positions or style or culture. Our membership decline is about the fact that for many people the church is not spiritually enriching and inspiring in their lives. This is wake up call for our congregations. More than anything, we need to create congregations that are spiritually alive, and we need church leaders who live and communicate a vigorous and energetic spiritual life in Christ.

Ponder your congregation, how many people have begun the slow drift out the back door? Create a dynamic spiritual life in the name of Jesus Christ and bring them back in!

See the Presbyterian News article on membership statistics:

Ponderings from the General Assembly 3

Monday July 5, 2010
Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence

The book for the week at this year’s General Assembly is Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books, 2008). She is the guest speaker at several events during this year’s General Assembly including the Presbyterian Foundation breakfast, the Office of the General Assembly breakfast and the Association of Executive Presbyter’s reception.

This book, which I have studied carefully, offers a sweeping historical perspective and a convincing argument about the changes we are living through in our culture and church.
At the Office of the General Assembly breakfast today Phyllis Tickle told this wonderful story as illustration of her thesis. She was speaking at a church conference in Atlanta during which a youth group from a local church was helping serve the dinner. While she was speaking she noticed that one of these young people stopped their dish clean up tasks and started paying very careful attention to her talk. She was, at that time, discussing the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the ways in which the importance and understanding of theological doctrine is changing in the church today. She was making the point that many new, emergent Christians are not much interested in systematic theology and the classic doctrines of the faith.

After her presentation, and after most of the people had left the room, this young person approached her and wanted to ask a question. The question was about the Virgin Birth. The young person asked what she had meant in her statement that doctrine did not matter much anymore. This young person said that he read the story of the Virgin Birth in the Bible. He thought it was a beautiful, poetic story, and it was very important to his faith.

Phyllis Tickle’s important point is that this perceptive young person exactly articulated the great emergence that is happening in the church. Systematic, precise, intellectual doctrines of theology, like the Virgin Birth, are being replaced with the importance of story, image and mystery, like the Virgin Birth. This is a profoundly new and different way to look at the same Bible story.

What is the difference between systematic theological doctrine and stories, images and metaphors as foundations for our faith? In this difference we see the some of the Great Emergence which is happening all around us.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Report from the General Assembly 2


For moderator, it's Bolbach in four

By Leslie Scanlon, Outlook national reporter

MINNEAPOLIS - After four rounds of voting and some worry about technical difficulties with the electronic voting keypads, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elected as its moderator Cynthia Bolbach, a lawyer and the only elder in a six-person field.
Bolbach - tall, plain-spoken, with a crisp sense of humor - brings to the office decades of experience in church life, from the congregational to the national levels of the denomination.
She has served as a deacon and clerk of session for her congregation, as well as moderator of National Capital Presbytery, chair of the presbytery's Committee on Ministry and its interim general presbyter. She also serves as co-moderator of the Form of Government Task Force, which is bringing to this assembly a proposal - four years in the making - to streamline and make more flexible the denomination's Form of Government section of the Book of Order.
After the fourth-ballot, the candidate with the second-highest number of votes was Julia Leeth, a pastor from California, who earlier in the evening said she guessed she might be the most conservative of the candidates.
In that final ballot, Bolbach received 325 votes (51 percent) and Leeth 148 votes (23 percent), out of a six-person field. But Bolbach led from the start, winning 149 votes (30 percent) in the first ballot - with things splitting neatly from there, with four of the other five candidates drawing from 71 to 76 votes apiece that time around.
Before her election, Bolbach used a biblical analogy - drawn from the New Testament story of the friends who raised up a paralyzed friend, cut a hole in the roof of a building where Jesus was inside, and dropped their friend down into the room with Jesus.
The PC(USA) is paralyzed by uncertainty and fear about how to proclaim the gospel in the 21st century, Bolbach said. "You and I are the friends who can help our paralyzed denomination see Jesus," and be healed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ponderings from the General Assembly 1

Ponderings from the General Assembly 1

July 3, 2010

This morning a new feature was added to our General Assembly. In the past there had been a time of orientation and training for all of the Commissioners together on this the first day of the meeting. Instead of these traditional training and orientation sessions, this year there were six different “conversations” offered this morning, all at the same time, for the commissioners to choose from as they prepared for the start of the plenary sessions this afternoon. Several of the conversations were focused on the large issues that this Assembly faces, for example, the Form of Government report, the Middle East report, and changes in the Book of Order. I attended a “Conversation” with Gradye Parsons, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly and Linda Valentine, the Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council.

They offered a short presentation on their “Hopes for the 219th General Assembly". Together they listed and discussed seven hopes. I was very pleased by the deep spiritual quality of this conversation. The hopes of these two leaders of the church are spiritually very significant and theologically very sophisticated.

Hopes for the 219th General Assembly are that we:

Practice prayerful decision making;
Discern a deeper awareness of the whole PC(U.S.A.);
Discern a deeper understanding of the issues facing individual congregations;
Identify a common calling within our changing church;
Focus attention beyond ourselves;
Develop enthusiastic sharing of our Faith;
Further the mission of Jesus Christ.

I was very impressed and pleased that this discussion of the hopes of our General Assembly is much deeper than any of the individual topics and actions items which we will consider. We need this deep spiritual foundation to our work.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Report to the Presbytery June 22, 2010

"Outlining what is yet to be."

A recent Newsweek article on Walt Whitman inspired me to consider again his famous collection of poetry published as "The Leaves of Grass". First published in 1855 the collection was expanded significantly through Whitman’s life time, and has become one of the most famous books of poetry in American history. On this fifth anniversary of my service with you, I wanted to claim some of Whitman’s bright, forward looking American spirit in my reflections.

Walt Whitman “To a Historian”
You who celebrate bygones,
Who have explored the outward, the surfaces of the races,
the lifethat has exhibited itself,
Who have treated of man as the creature of politics, aggregates,rulers and priests,
I, habitan of the Alleghanies, treating of him as he is in himselfin his own rights,
Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited itself,
(the great pride of man in himself,)
Chanter of Personality,
outlining what is yet to be,
I project the history of the future.

At this June Presbytery meeting in 2005 I was examined and elected to this position with this presbytery, and I am very grateful. Indeed in this year of the Lord, 2010, I give thanks for five years of service with you. Not only that, in this year of the Lord 2010 I will celebrate my 50th birthday; our 25th wedding anniversary, the 25th anniversary of my ordination; and in this year of the Lord 2010 we have celebrated our beloved, oldest son’s wedding. (My son called me on Father’s Day, from his honeymoon, to report that he and his wife were on schedule to hike to every waterfall on the island of Maui.) In my life this year, 2010, is sacred and blessed, overflowing with gratitude and joyful blessing.

All these events of joyous memory and hopeful vision define my thinking and guide my reflection. With such a repertoire of blessing holding and surrounding me, I cannot but be hopeful for tomorrow. With Walt Whitman, I want to “press the pulse of life that has seldom exhibited itself.” This rare, cherished pulse of life is, in my mind, the spiritual life. The pulse of life, although increasingly rare in our society is still very real for you and I. This is the pulse of the Holy Spirit that thuds through the veins of faith keeping us alive, motivating us to love and serve. The pulse of life itself is for me, and for us, the very presence and power of Jesus Christ. Our fault and our problem is that powerful pulse of life is indeed seldom exhibited. So we need a new boldness in proclaiming with word and deed that we are disciples of Jesus, and this church belongs to him.

And with Walt Whitman, “I project the history of the future.” “I project the history of the future.” What a wonderful phrase. This task is not a celebration of bygones, but a new and full pressing of the pulse of life. I project the history of the future, and this is what I see:

I see a church connected. This is the great question of our day in our church. What does it mean to be connected and connectional? Is your church isolated or connected? There are fifty two congregations in our presbytery; how many of them do you feel connected with today? We are starting this grand new experiment with our Regional Associates and this is, in my mind, our motivating question: What does it mean to be connected? How may we connect together? What does that look like?

I project the history of the future, and this is what I see:
I see a church claiming a powerful, open relational spirituality. We have not paid much attention to this; but I believe the spirituality of the church is shifting and moving. I believe there are those among us who are uniquely in touch with this new, pulsing relational spirituality. You are our women in ministry. I ask this question: What does it mean to be a woman in ministry today? How does it feel? I grew up in ministry in the 1980s and 90s. In those years all the doors were, of course, officially open but still there was this unspoken sense that the women still had to prove it. It is different now; and we need to claim and celebrate it. When I see women in ministry now I see networking, collegiality, support and connectionalism all of which many of us simply do not know how to do. I see this relational spirituality increasingly blessing our church.

I project the history of the future, and this is what I see:
I see spiritual energy for mission. This is the center of my passion. I see a growing heart for mission. I define mission carefully, using the work of Professor Andrew Walls as my guide. I define mission as intentionally crossing a cultural barrier in the name of the Jesus Christ. In those crossings I have seen energy and transformation, power and blessing. We are a world full of cultural barriers; and every time we cross one, and break down these dividing walls of hostility, we bring honor and glory to our Lord.

I project the history of the future, and this is what I see:
I see a church finding new ways to do the old conversations. I am discouraged by many of our old conversations. As we move to another General Assembly this summer I am very concerned again about the toxicity of our debate. Specifically, in response to the public policy paper on the Middle East and again in response to the proposed changes to our ordination standards and revisions to our Book of Order I feel division, paralysis and a lack of inspiration. Maybe we will soon be blessed with new ways to have these old conversations.

Because of the health, the vitality, and effectiveness of this Presbytery maybe we here in this little corner of God’s Holy Church may join together in, Whitman’s words, "outlining what is yet to be". Please join me in that work. Amen!

Mark J. Englund-Krieger
Executive Presbyter

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Preparing for General Assembly: Keeping a Long View

Psalm 90:2 “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Two of the congregations of the Presbytery of Carlisle – First Presbyterian in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Silver Spring Presbyterian in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania - celebrated their 275th anniversaries in 2009. Both of these congregations continue to be vital, growing and forward looking communities of faith. It was a deep joy for me to participate in their joyful birthday celebrations. Of course, we are in Pennsylvania where the Presbyterian Church is planted deep in the soil. Indeed there are Presbyterian congregations to the east of us, in Donegal and Philadelphia Presbyteries, that are older than 275. As we prepare for another meeting of the General Assembly, I believe it is inspiring and helpful to ponder our long Presbyterian heritage. Ponder in your heart 275 years of church life. Faithful Presbyterians were sitting in the pews of these churches wondering about the ability of George Washington’s rag-tag army to defeat the mighty British Redcoats; these congregations may have lifted up joyful prayers for our nation every time a new state joined the union throughout the 1800s, and, I am sure, these congregations gathered for deep prayer during those fateful days of July when rivers of blood flowed in the fields of Gettysburg; these congregations would have named in prayer the people from among their flock who boldly served during the Great War and then again during World War Two. These congregations would have prayed deeply and reached out with care and compassion to neighbors during the dark years of the Great Depression. Through it all the church continued; all the way down to this year of the Lord 2010.

I am not encouraging us to rejoice in some great imaginary, bygone era when “all the men were strong, the women good looking and all the children were above average. (Yes, Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion is in Minneapolis.) I am not encouraging us to spend too much time remembering and reminiscing. I am simply encouraging us, as we gather for General Assembly, to maintain a long view. This year’s General Assembly is not the first, nor will it be the last, it is not ultimate, and the whole fate of God’s universe does not rest on the shoulders of our commissioners. Take a deep breath of Presbyterian heritage. We have been doing this for a long time; and faithful Presbyterians in ages past have struggled and argued, debated and decided concerns and questions that are as important as the ones we will consider. Maintain a long view of time and providence. There is indeed a long view behind us as we remember our heritage and history. And I believe there is also a long view in front of us as we begin each new day to build on the gifts we have received and live into the church which God is bringing forth for our life together.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Model for Mission Partnership

A Model for Mission Partnership in Tegucigalpa, Honduras:
The Presbyterian Church of Honduras,
The Presbytery of Carlisle and
Presbyterian World Mission

This mission partnership is intended to promote and encourage the community outreach ministry of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras.

Since 2006 I have been leading mission teams from the Presbytery of Carlisle to Honduras to build relationships with the pastors, leaders and members of the 20 congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. One of my goals has been to help the Honduran pastors and congregations begin to understand and express a commitment to mission work. The Honduran Presbyterian Churches are all small by our standards, i.e. less than 100 people in worship and very, very poor. As I have met with and developed close relationships with the pastors, I have encouraged them to reach out with compassion and service to the members of their congregations. In many ways, this was a new idea for them although they understand the concept to be deeply biblical. Nonetheless, these churches do not have any resources for any kind of service and mission projects.

This April 10 to 17, 2010 I led my ninth mission team to Honduras for what was truly a breakthrough in our partnership. Building on conversations and planning meetings from previous mission trips and with our Presbyterian missionaries Tim and Gloria Wheeler serving as our communication link, I challenged the Honduran Presbyterian Churches to identify a mission project which our team could participate in and support. In preparation for our mission trip, the flagship congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, the Pena de Horeb Presbyterian Church in Tegucigalpa, selected a family from their congregation for whom they wanted to build a new house.

During our week in Honduras our team met with and started the construction on a new home for this family from the Pena de Horeb Presbyterian Church. What is very special about this construction project is not the construction itself; many groups do the same kind of work. What is very special is the partnership and cooperation that is behind this project. It is this partnership that is a powerful model for what I believe is the proper way to do mission work today. It is this concept of mission partnership that I am asking our Presbytery to support. This project included the full cooperation and sharing of our Presbytery of Carlisle mission team, our Presbyterian missionaries Tim and Gloria Wheeler, the leaders of the Presbytery of Honduras and specifically Pastors Rene and Juan from the Pena de Horeb Presbyterian Church, Presbyterians from other congregations who participated in the construction, the Honduran masons who were hired to lead the actual construction, and, of course, the Presbyterian family who are receiving the new home.

Specifically, I plan to repeat indefinitely the model of mission partnership which we used this month. A Presbytery of Carlisle mission team will be recruited and each member will be responsible for their own airfare and room and board in Honduras. All our logistical support in Honduras is provided by Tim and Gloria Wheeler: they provide room and board at their retreat center for $20 per day per person, they provide all transportation in Honduras for a cost of $80 per person for the week. In addition each member of the Presbytery of Carlisle team will be expected to contribute $200 toward the home project. We are seeking other congregations and members of the Presbytery of Carlisle to support the cost of the home project beyond that which is funded by the members of our mission team, in this example, $2,300. Depending on the availability of funding we may encourage the Presbyterian Church in Honduras to identify family for new homes, and begin the planning process to work with those families. My goal is for the Presbytery of Carlisle to make a commitment to fully fund ten new homes for members of the Presbyterian Churches in Honduras, a financial commitment of $23,000.

Funds needed, New Home Project
Mission Team Contribution:
One Home: 7 members X $200 each: $1,400
Ten Teams for Ten Homes: $14,000

Other contributions:
One Home: $2,300
Ten Homes: $23,000

One Home: $3,700
Ten Homes: $37,000

This project is intended to be a long term, sustainable relationship between the Presbytery of Carlisle, the Presbyterian Church of Honduras and Presbyterian World Mission. As long as the congregations in Honduras are able to identify families and organize the home projects and we are able to identify mission teams and funding this project will continue. The initial goal defined by the Presbyterian Church of Honduras is two new homes per year.

The project will directly support families of the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. These very poor people often live in substandard housing. Typically, we will be replacing very poor, wooden homes which seldom have doors, windows or floors with new concrete block homes.

The project is an expression of partnership in mission between Honduran and American Presbyterians to the glory and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Report to the Presbytery April 2010

Support Presbyterian World Mission

There are two motivating questions that I try to keep in mind. These are big picture questions that bring me back to what I believe is the true purpose and direction of my calling, and my ministry among you.

The first is, “Where is the energy?” This is my spiritual discernment question. There is always so much to do, so many different directions, and so many different tasks; but this question helps me focus. “Where is the energy?” By this I am seeking to understand where and with whom I perceive the Holy Spirit to be working in our midst. What is God doing?

My second motivating question is this: “How can we connect?” How can we connect with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, how can our congregations connect with each other, how can we connect together as a presbytery, and, most important, how can we connect with what God is doing in our midst?

Where is the energy? How can we connect? These are spiritual discernment questions for me, and like all spiritual discernment I find bits and pieces of answers to these questions all over the place, and in many surprising places. But there is one answer to both of these motivating questions that is far above and beyond all the other bits and pieces of answers which I see in other places. There is, for me, a very clear, number one answer to both of these questions. It is our world mission work.

In our world mission work, in which I have been very involved, I find spiritual energy and powerful connections which are together motivating, transforming and incredibly life-giving. This is my thesis: In our world mission work we will find the energy and the connection to move into the future which God has prepared for our life together.

For many of you I know, I am preaching to the choir: Our Derry Church has been building homes in Nicaragua for more than ten years, our Gettysburg Church has led medical mission trips to Honduras in cooperation with CURE international for more than ten years, our Pine Street Church blessed their members Eric and Becky Hinderliter into Presbyterian world mission service and they will begin a new term of service in Lithuania, our Mechanicsburg Church built a new church building for the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, our Market Square Church has made a generous commitment to the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Haiti, our Silver Spring Church has had a sister to sister church relationship in South Africa, our Lower Marsh Creek has had a sister to sister church relationship in Russia, our Falling Spring Church blessed their members the Diane and Scott Carper into mission service in Honduras, Second Carlisle and Christ Church Camp Hill have made commitments to support the work of Presbyterian missionaries Tim and Gloria Wheeler in Honduras. This list goes on and on and on. All of this work should be encouraged and supported. I would like to ask those of you who have had a strong world mission commitment to test my thesis. In our world mission work we will find the energy and the connection to move into the future which God has prepared for our life together.

This is a remarkably healthy presbytery with a very high level of trust and a beautiful collegiality. I am very grateful for the opportunity to do ministry together with you; and I find deep joy and a lot of fun in this work. At our June Presbytery meeting in 2005 I was elected to this position. I remember pondering at that time that moving into this governing body work was a real experiment in faith. I thought then that maybe I would try this for about five years. I remember telling my wife that I am not really interested in working with some dysfunctional, conflicted, nasty presbytery. If that is what this becomes I will simply find another good church to serve. Today, I am sorry to disappoint some of you, but I am not going anywhere. I love this job. I am very grateful for this opportunity.

This is my thesis: In our world mission work we will find the energy and the connection to move into the future which God has prepared for our life together. Standing here now in 2010, my question becomes what do we need to do to move to the next level? How can we claim the future which God has prepared for our life together? Of course, I already have an answer to test with all you. In our world mission work we will find the energy and the connection to move into the future which God has prepared for our life together.

1) I challenge every one of our congregations to connect with our world mission work. About half of you are already doing this. Focus on and grow that work; there is energy and connection there. For those of you looking for an opportunity or seeking another one, I encourage you to connect with the ministry we have created in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. Sponsored by and organized by the Presbyterian Church in Honduras - this is their ministry - and hosted by our Presbyterian missionaries in Honduras the Wheelers and the Wrights, we have the opportunity to contribute to a home building ministry in Tegucigalpa. If you have never been on a mission trip and have no world mission connection, please consider this opportunity. This ministry is serving Presbyterian families in the context of some of the difficult poverty in the world. This is their ministry and we simply walk along side of them in partnership.
2) I challenge every one of our congregations to make a commitment to Basic Mission Giving and Presbyterian World Mission in order to sustain and grow the number of professional Presbyterian missionaries we have deployed around the world. Support Basic Mission Giving and Presbyterian World Mission. Presbyterian World Mission is a glorious and proud dimension of our heritage, and I believe Presbyterian World Mission will help us find a way forward. Please support Presbyterian World Mission in direct and relational ways.

3) I challenge every one of our congregations to claim the “Both/And” theology of the New Testament. The call to mission in the New Testament is a call to Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. It is a “Both/And” theology. We are called to mission in Tegucigalpa and Nicaragua and Lithuania and Malawi and we are called to mission in the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg, the downside of Chambersburg and into all the almost invisible pockets of poverty up and down Path Valley and throughout Fulton, Perry, and Juniata countries. We are called to the ends of the earth and we are called to stock the neighborhood food pantry. I challenge us to cast out the destructive “Either/Or” theology of scarcity and claim again the abundant “Both/ And” theology of the New Testament.

In our world mission work we will find the energy and the connection to move into the future which God has prepared for our life together. May it be so! Amen!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Conscientious Objection to War

In the sixth chapter of my book, The Presbyterian Pendulum, I discuss the history of the Presbyterian Church's advocacy for conscientious objection to war as one end of the pendulum's swing. As indicated by this recent letter from the Stated Clerk of our Presbyterian Church (copied here) this is still a very important issue for the church. . .

March 2010

To every congregation and presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and its predecessor denominations, has long recognized that
followers of Jesus Christ make different choices in regard to military service. The Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) teaches that one way Christians can be faithful is through service in the armed
forces. The General Assembly’s first statement in support of conscientious objection as an option
for people of faith was made in 1930. In 1969, the General Assembly made a statement in
support of selective conscientious objection, which means that objection to a particular war
judged by the individual conscience to be wrong is a moral obligation that may stem from
Christian just-war teaching.

The 218th General Assembly (2008) took actions that relate to Presbyterians and military service in several ways. These actions include implementation steps for General Assembly programs, presbyteries, and sessions. The assembly’s action On Supporting Those Who Feel Called to Seek Status as Conscientious Objectors:

 “Reaffirms the church’s position on the freedom of conscience, especially as it relates to
a person’s status as a conscientious objector against participating in the armed services.

 “Encourages the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program to produce and identify study guides
and discernment materials for individuals, congregations, and presbyteries to help church
members and their friends be able to articulate God’s calling on their lives in regard to
participating in the armed forces, and war.

 “Encourages presbyteries to provide education opportunities for ministers, military
chaplains, and sessions on how to fulfill their responsibility of educating young people
about issues of faith, conscience, and war, including civic alternatives to serving the
country through the armed forces.

 “Encourages presbyteries and sessions to create a structure to document and support
those who feel called to seek status as conscientious objectors to participation in the
armed forces, or war.

 “Encourages presbyteries and sessions to create a structure to document and support
those who feel called to seek status as conscientious objectors to participation in the
armed forces, or war. Active members of the church can now register with the Stated
Clerk of the General Assembly for conscientious objector status, and certificates are sent
to the church for their records and for the church member (Book of Order G-5.0202; GA
Minutes, 2003, Part I, p. 651, Recommendations 2, 3; “Presbyterians and Military
Service” – PDS #7027005035).”

In the action, On Building Peace in Iraq, the 218th General Assembly (2008) voted to “call upon
the United States government to support our military personnel by granting speedy discharges to conscientious objectors; fully funding veterans’ benefits; ensuring that injured service personnel and veterans have the best medical, mental health, and rehabilitation care available; and providing generous benefits to surviving family members.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program has created a Web page with resources to help
individuals discern God’s call in relation to participation in the armed forces. It is available at

The Office of the Stated Clerk is prepared to register active members, baptized members, and
active nonmembers of congregations as conscientious objectors. Contact Joyce Evans at (888)
728-7228, ext. 5424, or read “Presbyterians and Military Service” (PDS# 70-270-05-035 in
English; PDS# 24-358-07-012 in Spanish) for the process. This information will be included in
future publications related to this issue. The Presbyterian Washington Office has communicated
the concerns of the 218th General Assembly for our military personnel to our elected officials in

Choices related to military service may be challenging. We will hold you in prayer as you
provide assistance to individuals as they make and live out their decisions.

In Christ,

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Book: The Presbyterian Pendulum

I am glad to announce that my book, The Presbyterian Pendulum, is now published and available from

The Presbyterian Pendulum is a study in mainline Protestant social ethics
with a focus on the Presbyterian Church (USA). This book is written for the
church with the hope that it will provide theological foundation and
spiritual encouragement for our efforts to find unity despite the diversity of
convictions and perspectives in our midst. This is a historical study of the
significant social and political issues to which the church responded
throughout the twentieth century. With a foundation in solid historical
research, this book offers the compelling thesis that the Presbyterian Church
is at its best when the wild diversity of worldviews, theological perspectives,
and convictions are encouraged. Even more, the book offers the spiritually
rich thesis that it is in this wild diversity, not despite of it, that the providence
of God is seen and known. What is unique and compelling about this study
is the guiding metaphor of the pendulum swinging. The vast difference of
opinion in the church around social issues has historically always been true,
is necessary today, and itself points to a deeper truth about God’s sustaining
providence. The church must discern and hold onto that deeper truth. We
must let the pendulum swing. It is my hope that this book will be an encouragement
for the church even as we continue to be mired in deep conflict.