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