Monday, November 14, 2011

Report to the Presbytery Nov. 15, 2011

What is the Question?

What is the question? As I ponder the life and ministry of our Presbytery, I am both grateful and bewildered. As I ponder the life and ministry of our whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I am both grateful and bewildered. As I ponder the next steps of our common life I would like each of you to consider what you belief should be the guiding question for our common life. What is the question that should guide and motivate our future planning and our decisions moving forward? I wonder if we can agree on the question that should be front and center for our discernment as a Presbytery. What is the question?

With that thought in mind, I have been gathering questions from my reading. These are all important questions, but they each take us a different direction.

I highly recommend a new book by Alan Hirsch titled The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. This book seeks to help the church move into a new future as a sent and sending people. The question that Alan Hirsch asks is this, “How did the early Christians do it? In fact they had none of the things we would ordinarily apply to solve the problems of the church, and yet they grew from 25,000 to 20 million in 200 years! So how did the early church do it?” Is that the proper question for us?

But then I thought that maybe our question needs to be more about our own spiritual lives in Christ. Maybe our guiding question needs to be the question the disciples asked Jesus, “How shall we pray?” Maybe our guiding question is a question about spirituality and prayer. I wonder if Richard J. Foster in his new book titled “Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer” asks the proper question. Richard Foster’s question is this: “How does God speak to us? What should we expect or even hope for? Are there conditions of heart and mind that open us to God’s loving – and terrifying – voice? How can we develop an inward, prayer-filled listening?” Is that the proper question for us?

Or maybe the question is not about prayer and spirituality. Maybe the question is about the way we do things as a Presbytery. On this vein, I found a great question in a great book by Peter Block. The book is titled, Community: the Structure of Belonging. This is Peter Block’s question. Is this correct question for us? “The core question, then, is this: What is the means through which those of us who care about the whole community can create a future for ourselves that is not just an improvement, but one of a different nature from what we now have?”

This is an important question because many of us here, and many of us who will bother to attend Presbytery meetings, serve on committees and spend long evenings at session meetings are people that love this church. We have been blessed, nurtured, formed by this church. It is hard to imagine a new, a different, a future way of being the church because the way we do church now has been so meaningful in our lives. How can we create a future church that is not simply an improvement, but a church of a whole different nature? That is a good question. Is that our question?

Or I wonder if our question needs to be a bit more practical. Gil Rendle has written a new book focusing on the future of the mainline churches in America. The title of his book is, “Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for the Mainline Churches.” Should the question that Gil Rendle asks be our question? Speaking to us in these mainline churches, this is his question, “What have we learned by living in the wilderness for the last forty years that will sustain us in the future?”

I will appreciate any consideration you may have as to what is the proper question now for us as a Presbytery. Amen!

Letter to the Editor of the Christian Century

This letter is written to the Christian Century in response to their cover story in the November 15, 2011 edition, The Case Against Wall Street by Gary Dorrien.

Dear Christian Century;

Please help me know what to do. Since 2008 I have been trying to educate myself concerning our financial system, the banking industry and what exactly happened in 2008. The cover article in your Nov. 15 edition from Professor Gary Dorrien is the most helpful and clarifying introduction of our financial system that I have read. This article helped me enormously. But this article renewed in me the deepest stirrings of my soul to do something. I must change! I must respond! I must do something in my own life, as a faithful Christian, to respond! Please help me understand what my response may look like.

As much as I appreciate the Occupy Wall Street movement, and have followed their story closely, I cannot camp out in a park for a few weeks or years. I am the Executive Presbyter of a small Presbytery, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in central PA. I have a busy professional life. I have a home, and children and many daily professional and personal expectations. Life is good for my family now. I have a great job which pays me well and is very satisfying. My wife also has a good job in our local medical center. In response to this economic crisis we have been careful about keeping our own finances in order. Both my wife and I contribute significantly to our 403b retirement savings plans. As a Presbyterian, I am a member of a solvent, well established and truly stellar benefits and pension plan. Since 2008 we refinanced our home down to 15 years with a remarkably low interest rate. Wells Fargo Bank, one of the biggest in the nation, has given us excellent service and an excellent rate on our mortgage. Because we are able to maintain a large, monthly balance including direct deposit of our paychecks we receive outstanding service from our local PNC Bank. I never pay any fees for our routine banking. In fact, with their rewards program and interest bearing accounts, I make money from our local bank. We have no credit card debt. In many ways I have benefited from our financial system because I have a good, paying job with excellent benefits and I am in clear command of my personal finances.

But I feel this nagging emptiness and yearning when I ponder these large financial questions. I feel guilty and privileged in my settled, upper middle class life style. We are getting by quite well, and we are well prepared for retirement. But having my own financial house in order seems inadequate when, in fact, I am supporting financial institutions which are allegedly acting so inappropriately. I am participating in this financial system, which seems to be doing so much harm to our social fabric. Deep down I feel a nagging guilt about my own good fortune. What should I do? How should I act as a faithful Presbyterian, as a follower of Jesus, in America today?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Charge to the Mechanicsburg Church

Give Permission for a Jesus Movement

My charge to the beloved saints of the Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church is a simple, direct, two words, “Give permission.” Give permission to your newly ordained and newly installed Associate Pastor. Give him permission to dream dreams, see visions and do ministry.

I have been in our Presbyterian Church for a long time, all my life as a believer, and for more than 25 years of professional service. I know this will be hard for you to believe in Mechanicsburg, but I have learned that there are people in our church today who are discouraged. There are people in our church who are kind of weary, whose hands are hanging down, whose heads are kind of drooped, and, believe it or not, there are people in the church today – some of the them are elders and some of them are ministers- who do not feel good about our Presbyterian Church.

Then we come to a day like this. Here we are celebrating that God continues to call, God continues to work in the lives of young people, God continues to call people into service and ministry in our Presbyterian Church. How sweet is that! How can we possibly be discouraged? When these newly called people come into our midst we must stand back in awe and wonder and simply give them permission. Let him go to live into this powerful call from God. Let him go to dream about the ministry which God alone has placed on his heart. Give him permission. Do not hold him back. Do not surround him with constraints and limitations and expectations and demands. Give him permission. Let him go.

I am doing a lot of reading, pondering and discussing these days on the relationship between institutions and movements. What is the difference between an institution and a movement? This fascinates me, and I believe I am on to something important with this question. An institution is structured and organized, it knows how to make transitions and perpetuate itself. A good institution knows how to make decisions as groups, and knows how to share power, manage risk, and implement plans and strategies. A good institution always has a plan for the future. I am an institution guy. The Presbyterian Church is a great institution. I love the institutional church. The institutional church has formed me and nurtured me. I trust the institution. I believe the institution is beautiful. Many of you are just like me. Yes, session members, I know who you are.

But today, for lots of complex, social reasons institutions, including the church, have lost their ability to transform hearts. Transformation happens in movements. Movements are free, fast and flexible. Movements are relational, not structured. Movements are about transformation, not planning for the future, but creating a new future.

This is my thought experiment. I believe institutions and movements need each other. Institutions bring structure and longevity. Movements bring passion, enthusiasm, flexibility and freedom. Without each other, movements and institutions, both will die. We are in a situation today in the church, it is an exciting time, when the institution needs to encourage, needs to give permission for a movement quality in our midst. But an institution can only encourage a movement quality if, and only if, the institution itself is strong, vital, self-confident, proud and trusting. If the institution is discouraged or paranoid then the institution will constantly snuff out any movements that emerge near it.

Give permission for Mark to inspire a movement quality for Jesus in the midst of your church. Give him permission to be free, flexible, spontaneous, creative and imaginative. Give permission.

Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church, you are on my short list of our top-tier churches who are helping us live into God’s new future. Go for it!

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3: 20-21).

Mark Englund-Krieger
October 30, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Report to the Synod of the Trinity Oct. 10, 2011

Lend a Hand

Lend a Hand is the disaster response ministry of the Presbytery of Carlisle. Lend a Hand became associated with the Presbytery of Carlisle in response to Hurricane Katrina. We expected Lend a Hand to last about six months, and then we would be finished. Thus Lend a Hand since its first days in cooperation with our Presbytery has this sort of temporary, free form, flexible, close to the ground feeling about it. We do not have to worry about sustaining and continuing the work of Lend a Hand because we have no expectation that it will be sustained and continued. Lend a Hand operates day to day, disaster by disaster. Through these years, Lend a Hand has sent teams to Mississippi, Iowa, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia. Now our own Presbytery is a disaster response site.

The purpose of Lend a Hand is simple. There are victims of disasters. There are many people in the church who immediately want to reach out to, care for, respond to those victims. Lend a Hand has been successful because it has been focused like a laser beam on this one task: connecting disaster response volunteers with victims of disasters.

There is huge benefit in having such a singular, focused task. This focus allows a very fast response. The rain stopped and the rivers and creeks crested on Friday; Lend a Hand had teams in homes on Saturday.

Lend a Hand only works with homeowners. The ministry of Lend a Hand is comprehensive. We will work with homeowners from beginning to end. We will rebuild homes, in addition to simply cleaning them out. We have a database of skilled construction people, and we keep detailed skills inventory of our volunteers. For our response within our Presbytery now we have already a database of almost 200 homes that we are serving. We will track each home individually. We trust that volunteers will keep coming. We expect to continue this response within our Presbytery until next June.

What can we learn from Lend a Hand? I ponder this question often.

Lend a Hand has not been highly organized. We refuse to institutionalize Lend a Hand. So legally there is no such thing as Lend a Hand. It is not its own non-profit corporation; it does not own anything; it is fully owned and operated by the Presbytery of Carlisle. The Presbytery donates the time from our office support staff, office space and I am responsible for all financial management. But our Presbytery does not give Lend a Hand any money. There is no Lend a Hand board of directors; there are no by-laws or operating manuals; people are not elected; there are no long term plans, goals and objectives. Lend a Hand is a movement.

It is this movement quality that I want to highlight. It is this movement quality that may be something we can learn. We should ponder together the difference between a movement and an institution. Now there is no doubt that I am an institution guy. I was called, formed, blessed, and nurtured by the institutional Church. Many of us who would bother to attend a Synod meeting or a Presbytery meeting are the same way. The institution has formed us. A good friend of mine likes to say that I am so loyal to the Presbyterian Church that he is convinced that I have the Presbyterian symbol tattooed on my but. I also now believe that people like me – institution people – are obsolete and increasingly extinct. People today do not come to Jesus through the institutional church. People come to Jesus through much more free form, loose, flexible, relational, spiritual movements. We need much more of this movement quality in our common life.

This leads me to a difficult question, “Can institutions create movements?” How can we institution people create more of a movement quality in our common life? How do we do that? My conclusion is very clear for me. We cannot. Institutions cannot create movements. All we can do is get out of the way. This is very difficult for us. This is difficult for me. I am an institution guy. Institutions cannot create movements.

We may use Lend a Hand as a case study of this. Here is a tiny example where we have allowed a movement to flourish in harmony with the institution. My role in many ways is to serve as the offensive line for Lend a Hand. Lend a Hand is the quarterback. Too often, most of the time, we allow the institution to blitz and bury all the movements that rise up in our midst. My job has been not to allow our obsession with institutionalization to take control of Lend a Hand. Lend a Hand is a movement. This is very difficult for Presbyterians today. We want to institutionalize everything. A pastor walked into my office, closed the door, and said, “Suzie spends a lot of time doing Lend a Hand work. Don’t you think we should keep track of her Lend a Hand hours, and then Lend a Hand can reimburse the Presbytery for her time?” The institution is blitzing again. My response, “NO, we are not doing that.” Of course, afterwards I asked Suzie that question. Her response, “That’s dumb.”

Obviously, Lend a Hand is small and rather peripheral. It has been easy to allow its movement quality, its freeform, close to the ground way of running to blossom. But what if we begin asking the big questions? In the life of the Synod, in the life of our presbyteries, for the future of the church can we get out of the way and allow this kind of movement quality to emerge? And when such movements do emerge with energy, innovation and leadership in our midst are we going to blitz and bury them over and over again? Institutions cannot create movements. But we can give permission and encouragement. We can get out of the way. All over the world and throughout our society today there is a profound Jesus movement emerging. Can we institutional people get out of the way and allow that movement to bless and transform us.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Report to the Presbytery September 27, 2011

A Spiritual Commitment to Camp Krislund

I must tell you that I have fallen in love with Camp Krislund. And over these years I have poured blood, sweat and tears into Krislund, and, of course, I am not the only one. My friend and colleague, Joy, the General Presbyter of Huntingdon Presbytery, likes to tell the story about me from about October 2005. We were both at a monthly Board meeting at the Camp. I had started this position in July, and this was, if I remember correctly, only the second time I attended a Board meeting. I remember taking Joy aside after the meeting. Joy had only started her position with Huntingdon some months before I started here. I said to Joy, “There is a lot of work to do here. I think I need to spend some more time here; what do you think?” She smiled and agreed, saying, “I think we both do.” Indeed, many of us have poured blood, sweat and tears into Camp Krislund for these years. Look at the reports you have in your packet on both summer camp and our financial situation. I am very proud of what we have accomplished at Camp Krislund.

I want you to know that I struggle with this deeply. I pray a lot about whether this really should be the way I spend so much time and energy. I wonder and pray if it was a good decision for our Presbytery to make such a massive commitment to this Camp. Joy and I have had this conversation with our other colleagues around the state. On several occasions when all the Executives gather for our support group together, I have brought up this topic of Camps. Indeed, I have brought up this topic in conversations I have had with Presbytery colleagues all across the church. What we are doing here is increasingly rare. Many, many presbyteries are abandoning their camping ministry, and selling their camps. Many Presbyteries are pulling back from putting energy, leadership and time into their camps. So I struggle with the fact that we are doing something different; and in my position, I am doing something very different than many peers.

I want to be very clear: I am all in for Camp Krislund. I believe it is an essential piece of our ministry together as a Presbytery. I believe Krislund is one of the vital connective links in our Presbytery. I believe that Krislund is one of the reasons why our Presbytery is a high trust, highly functioning, healthy system. I have a dream that Krislund may be a sacred space and blessing for church leaders throughout our congregations.

I have in my hand now a letter that is truly one of the most wonderful letters. It is from the Centre County Planning Commission telling us that we have permission to commence construction on our Krislund cabins. Indeed construction will begin on October 3. My mind is boggled at how difficult it has been to satisfy all the government regulations for this project. Now it is ready to go.

I hope you know what this means. We will be building at Krislund twenty cabins to provide adults a comfortable place to stay at camp; no bunk beds, no shared bedrooms. These cabins are beautiful. We have had one proto-type built and delivered to Krislund already. It is sitting in the parking lot at camp. We are ready to go with the site development which will include a new sewer system to service these cabins, the electrical plan to provide power to each cabin, the specifications on all the plumbing to hook up the water and sewerage, and we have a taskforce working to identify and create a budget for all the little things we need in each cabin like shower curtains, towel bars, bath mats, two Adirondack chairs for the front porch, a small writing table and some wall decorations. Each cabin is one room, with two double beds, a full bathroom with a shower stall, a fabulous front porch, air conditioning and heating. The cabins will be connected by asphalt walking paths to the retreat center where we will have all meal service and meeting space. It will be a great facility.

What am I asking for today? Today I am asking for a financial commitment to Krislund. You can see that we are proposing continuing our support for Krislund in our Presbytery budget for 2012. We will soon be asking our congregations that have not done so yet and who are able to make a financial commitment to this project. As soon as we payoff the construction loan that we will have for this project the sooner we will put Krislund on a solid, sustainable financial path.

More important today I am asking for a spiritual commitment to Camp Krislund. We want Krislund to be a spiritual retreat center. Our children and youth summer camp at Krislund, which is a stellar program, is secondary and supplemental. I believe that our rental services, which are growing, are supplemental. First of all, most of all, we want Krislund to be a sacred space where we can go to relax and breathe deep of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We want Krislund to be a place that is truly a source of blessing, renewal and peace for all our Church leaders. We want Krislund to be a spiritual retreat center for us.

Joy and I are working on the concept of a 24 hour retreat. When our cabins are available we expect to schedule a 24 hour Presbyterian leadership retreat at Krislund every quarter, thus four times a year. A 24 hour retreat starts with lunch. This means that even for our folks in McConnellsburg, Chambersburg and Gettysburg you do not need to leave very early in the morning to get to Krislund by lunch. Our 24 hour retreat will have lunch together, all afternoon to program and gather, dinner together, evening time together, a night sleep in the cabins, possibly some very early morning time together for those who like me enjoy the morning, breakfast, program and gathering time through the morning and ending with lunch. Then everyone can be back home by 4:00 in the afternoon; 24 hours at Krislund. We hope to create these 24 hour retreats to renew, enrich and bless our spiritual lives together.

A 24 hour retreat for pastors or elders or deacons or clerks or women or men or couples or youth leaders or any variety of church leadership. A 24 hour retreat which may be a Bible study retreat or a spiritual retreat, or a sermon writing retreat, or an educational retreat or a support group retreat or a planning and visioning retreat or a book reading retreat or a silent retreat.

I am asking you to make a spiritual commitment to the future of Krislund. Starting with our pastors, I am asking you, over the next three years, to participate in at least one church leadership retreat at Krislund. Give Krislund one chance to be a blessing and support for your ministry. I know that most of our pastors have never been to Krislund. If it does not work for you, I understand. Krislund is not for everyone. But please, every pastor, give Krislund one chance to make a difference in your ministry.

What we are doing at Camp Krislund is beautiful. Thank you for your abundant support.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Report to the Presbytery June 28, 2011

Living into Amendment A in Three Movements.

Movement One: The Briggs Case

In 1874 Professor Charles Augustus Briggs started his career on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York City teaching in the area of New Testament. At that time Union Seminary was affiliated with our Presbyterian Church. In 1892 his teaching sparked a whirlwind of controversy and disciplinary action in our Presbyterian Church. The problem was that Professor Briggs was teaching a controversial new approach to biblical interpretation which we call the historical critical method. He learned this method of biblical interpretation in Germany when he was a graduate student at the University of Berlin. Under the surface of the Briggs case there is a strong stench of anti-German racism. Disciplinary charges were brought against Briggs in the Presbytery of New York for approaching the interpretation of the New Testament in a way that was thought to be contrary to the Westminster Confession. Briggs was convicted, the case was appealed to the Synod, the Presbytery’s action was overturned, the case was appealed to the General Assembly. The General Assembly upheld the Presbytery of New York and Briggs’ ordination in the Presbyterian Church was removed, since he refused to give up his teaching position. But by this time the Seminary itself was supporting Briggs, and the whole affair escalated into action against Union Seminary. Because of the General Assembly decision, the Seminary broke all official relationships with the Presbyterian Church, becoming an independent theological seminary, which is today affiliated with Columbia University. The no-longer Presbyterian, Professor Briggs was retained on the faculty at Union Seminary and had a long, prolific career as a New Testament scholar.
Fast forward with me about eight decades. In the 1980s I was a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary which continues to be affiliated with our Presbyterian Church. My professor of New Testament was Ulrich Mauser. My professor of Old Testament, a wonderful mentor of mine and also the preacher at my Ordination Service, was Eberhard von Waldow. Think about that: Mauser and von Waldow. Now what nationality do you think they are? Indeed both Professors Mauser and von Waldow were born and educated in Germany. While on the faculty of Pittsburgh Seminary, they immersed their students, including me, in the historical critical method of biblical interpretation. We were taught to take seriously the cultural, historical and linguistic context of the Bible.
As I reflect on the Briggs case I find that history to be sad. Given the culture and theological commitments of the church at that time, it probably could not have come out any different. But I wish we as a church were big enough to listen to Professor Briggs. In fact, what he was teaching and preaching has become foundational for our Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church believes that the Bible must be interpreted. Our pastors, in their theological education and in our continuing commitment to study Greek and Hebrew, are taught the tools and methods by which we interpret the Bible. We interpret the Bible. We believe that the Bible must be interpreted. What I am saying is not at all controversial or debated today. This is the air we breath; we all know this. If we believe that the Bible must be interpreted; we must also believe that there may be different interpretations of the Bible. This is a belief with which we truly need to make peace.

Movement Two: The Fundamentalist Modernist Controversy
In the 1920s our Presbyterian Church moved into a bitter season of conflict which was complex, multi-faceted and nasty. In order to be brief, I need to jump to the end of the story. But in some ways the Fundamentalist Modernist controversy has never ended and we are still living with it. Nonetheless there was a formal end to the Fundamentalist- Modernist controversy with a report that was overwhelming received and appreciated: the Special Commission of 1925. There are two conclusions of the Special Commission which define the church we are today.
In a nutshell, without discussing any of the personalities involved, the essential issue at the heart of the Fundamentalist Modernist Controversy was the desire of the General Assembly to define five specific points of theological doctrine as absolutely essential. In fact, the General Assembly has approved these five points of necessary theological conviction several different times prior to 1925.
But the Special Commission of 1925 clearly articulated what has always been, what was then, and what continues to be the practice of the Church. The General Assembly cannot define the theological doctrines of the church without the approval of the presbyteries. We have always lived in this tension between a unified, national voice spoken by the General Assembly and the many local voices and convictions spoken by the presbyteries. We are always going to live in this messy place which is a tug of war between the presbyteries and the General Assembly, and between presbyteries themselves. It is exactly in that messiness, in that tug and pull between these different councils and between different convictions that we seek to discern the will and way of God and move the church forward. In my opinion, one of great gifts of being Presbyterian is that we learn to live with, and I hope, embrace this deep discernment. We have never had and we will never have a General Assembly, or a Book of Order, or a council of bishops, or, God forbid, an executive presbyter that is going to precisely define the way we should act or our theological convictions. We are going to figure it out and continue to figure it out in the beautiful and awkward dance of the General Assembly, the presbyteries, and our congregations together.
The Special Commission of 1925 also expressed a significant spiritual conviction which I wish was more important and more practiced in our common life. The Commission in 1925 called us to a principle of toleration. Here is a direct quote from the Special Commission of 1925, an age long before the use of inclusive language: “Toleration does not involve any lowering of the Standards. It does not weaken the testimony of the Church as to its assured convictions. It does not imply that support is offered to what may be regarded as a brother's error. But it does mean that in the spirit of Christ, patience is exercised by the body of the Church toward those deemed to be at fault in some of their beliefs, remembering our own proneness to err, in order that by the manifestation of such graces, and by prayer, together with fidelity in our own witnessing, all finally, may be brought to see eye to eye in a fuller apprehension of the truth, and led into a convincing compliance with the Master's new commandment that His disciples should love one another.”

Movement Three: The Book of Confessions
In the 1960s our Presbyterian Church made a transformative decision. We approved the Confession of 1967 and created our Book of Confessions. Up to that time the Presbyterian Church had one authoritative Confession of Faith, the Westminster Confession. Today there are now several generations of pastors, including me, who have grown up with and have been formed in the theology of the Book of Confessions. I believe the theology of the Book of Confessions is beautiful and correct; this is the way I was raised and educated. The theology of the Book of Confessions is the conviction that theological expression changes. Theological expression changes. As culture, historical context, political and social practices change over time so does theological expression. Thus the Scot’s Confession is different than the Barmen Declaration which is different than the Confession of 1967. The theology of the Book of Confessions is essential today.
But there was consequence to the approval of the Book of Confessions which I would like to address, as my final word. The Presbyterian Lay Committee was formed in 1965 in opposition to the Confession of 1967 and what was considered the dilution of the Westminster Confession. The Lay Committee started a modern phenomenon in the church of what I will call theological political action committees. And now there are many in our Church: The Lay Committee, Covenant Network, Presbyterians for Renewal, The Outreach Foundation, The Frontier Fellowship, the Witherspoon Society, Presbyterians Pro-life, etc. It looks like we have a new group forming called the Fellowship. I certainly respect these groups. My concern is not about the existence of these groups; I have no problem with that. But I believe there has been an unintended consequence. Because we now have many different theological political action groups all around the church, it seems to me that they have become the location for theological discussion. Thus, I believe, serious, deep, thoughtful and prayerful theological discussion has been sucked out of the presbyteries. We simply do not do it anymore. The Presbytery must get back into the hard work of doing theology. Let’s do theology together. Let’s do theology together as a Presbytery, not in small groups of like-minded friends. Let’s do theology together as a Presbytery, fully aware of the wild diversity in our midst. Let’s do theology together which is immersed in the Bible, which is inspired by the theology of our Book of Confessions, and which embodies a principle of toleration. Let’s do theology together. Amen!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Using Bonhoeffer for Prayer and Reflection

A resource for prayer and spiritual reflection
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together.

Introduction: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran Pastor arrested, imprisoned and killed by the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. His writings, especially the books The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, have become enduring classics for the church. There is a new, English critical edition of Bonhoeffer’s works published by Fortress Press, including an Amazon Kindle electronic version. For an introduction to Bonhoeffer search on his name in All quotations here are from “Community,” the first chapter in Life Together.

Bonhoeffer: Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.

How important is the community of Christians in your life today?
Consider in your mind and heart, and pray for the people who have been part of your Christian community throughout your life?

Bonhoeffer: Therefore, we may now say that the community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and reformation message of the justification of human beings through grace alone. The longing of Christians for one another is based solely on this message.

Bonhoeffer considers the message of justification through grace alone to be foundational.
What do you think this means?
What are the foundational convictions of your Christian faith?

Bonhoeffer: Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one. But they can continue to do so only through Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ are we one; only through him are we bound together.

What is it that separates Christians from one another?
What is it that binds Christians together?

Bonhoeffer: It is essential for Christian community that two things become clear right from the beginning. First Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality; second, Christian community is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.

Bonhoeffer makes a striking distinction here between ‘ideal’ and ‘divine reality’ and also between a ‘spiritual’ and ‘psychic’ reality.

What do you think he means?
Do you agree?
Are these distinctions helpful for you today?

Bonhoeffer: Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.

What do you believe is the foundation for Christian community today?
Do you believe you belong to such a Christian community?

Bonhoeffer: We are bound together by faith, not by experience.

Do you agree with this sentence?

Bonhoeffer: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Bonhoeffer begins the book Life Together with this Bible verse.
What comes to your mind when you read this verse?

Please pray for life together in unity.

Mark J. Englund-Krieger
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Carlisle
May 2011

Questions concerning Amendment A

Some Questions and Answers in response to the approval of Amendment A
The Change in Ordination Standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

What has happened?
In July 2010, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a proposed amendment (10-A) to the Book of Order, part of the PC(USA) Constitution, regarding ordination standards. As with all constitutional changes, Amendment 10-A required ratification by a majority of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries (regional bodies) for it to become part of the Book of Order. Now a majority of our presbyteries have approved Amendment 10-A.

What will change?
The following provision that is currently in the Book of Order (G‐6.0106b) will be changed:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W‐4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self‐acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

The new language (Amendment 10-A) will read:

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.

What does this mean?

• A person in a same-gender relationship can be considered for ordination as deacon, elder, or Minister of the Word and Sacrament. The ordination standards have changed from “living in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” to “joyfully submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

• All other church wide standards for ordination remain unchanged. (There was never a prohibition against a person being ordained based on sexual orientation, as long as that person was celibate.)

• Ordaining bodies continue to retain the right and responsibility to determine their own memberships. A congregation continues to elect their deacons and elders and the session examines them for suitability of office. Likewise, presbyteries examine individuals for suitability to be ordained as ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

What will remain the same?
Ordaining bodies have always had, and will continue to have, the right and responsibility to determine their own memberships; and our church continues to affirm that all those called by God to ordained office acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of all and Head of the Church.

What’s next?
Amendment 10-A will take effect on July 10, 2011 (one year after the adjournment of the last assembly). Already, the change has energized many conversations at all levels across the PC(USA) about how we can best enable the gifts of those called to service in Christ’s church and have mutual respect for each other’s integrity. In addition, sessions and presbyteries will review their processes for examination.

May congregations now ordain people who are openly gay?
The previous standards were never based on a person’s orientation, but on their behavior. The new standards do not list specific behaviors that automatically exclude someone for consideration for ordination. Each examining body is responsible to look at all possible factors to determine if someone is being called into ordained ministry.

What practical changes will we see?
If Pastors, elders, and deacons who are ordained in one area move to another location, they shall be examined according to the standards of that ordaining body before being able to take up their office. Those standards may or may not conform to the standards that were used by the body that originally ordained them.

Is the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians mandated?
No, it is not required, but it is no longer prohibited by specific Constitutional language.

Will a congregation be required to change anything?
A congregation cannot be forced to ordain or receive pastors or elders or deacons of whom they do not approve. The congregation retains the right to determine who will serve as officers.

May a congregation or presbytery continue to uphold the old standards?
Yes, as long as the standards used are applied on a case by case basis. The authority for ordaining elders and deacons is fully vested in the local congregation. The authority for ordaining Ministers of the Word and Sacrament is fully vested in the presbytery. The new language calls the ordaining body to be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying ordination standards to individual candidates.

May a congregation or presbytery now ordain or install a sexually active homosexual?
Yes, if after a thorough examination, the congregation or presbytery believes the person to be called by God to serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, elder or deacon and not to be living in violation of the church’s ordination standard, its Confessions, or Scripture.

Is a presbytery required to receive, by transfer of membership, an ordained sexually active gay or lesbian minister?
No, each presbytery determines which ministers to receive into its membership.

May questions about a candidate’s sexuality be asked or are such questions forbidden?
All questions are allowed during an examination. The acknowledgement of being sexually active outside the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman does not automatically disqualify a person from being ordained.

Is a congregation required to call a pastor who is openly gay or lesbian?

How will this change influence Presbyterian World Mission?
We do not want to lose our relationship with our global partners, mission personnel or with the advocates of World Mission throughout the United States. We know we are better together and we celebrate the work we do on behalf of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We always remember that we serve at the invitation of our global partners. We have always taken into consideration that our partners in other places in the world might have differing views on who is suitable for ordination, or who is suitable to be appointed as a mission co-worker. We always work appropriately in a collegial way with those partners.

Gathered and edited from a variety of sources.
Mark J. Englund-Krieger
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Carlisle
May 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Report to the April 26, 2011 Presbytery meeting

Included with the papers for our April 26, 2011 Presbytery meeting is a comprehensive review and evaluation of our Presbytery's new ministry initiative. That full report is too large to post into this blog, but I call it to your attention. Posted here is the cover letter to the report. I was interested comments shared by Brian McLaren on this topic of new ministry. Please join with me in pondering what 'far-reaching experimentation' may look like with the life of our presbytery?

* * * *

Recently the General Assembly Mission Council sponsored a podcast interview with popular, contemporary Christian theologian Brian McLaren. We appreciated his comments to our General Assembly staff which were reported in a recent Presbyterian ENews article.

His words are directly applicable to the New Ministry Initiative we have begun in our Presbytery with the leadership of Dan and Alison Siewert. McLaren said, “If we want our tradition to continue in the future, we have to give permission and encouragement for creative innovation and creative exploration, which will require us to go back and rediscover what it is about the gospel that’s precious. What does it really mean to be a Christian? What is our identity and mission in the world?”

The Enews article reported that, “McLaren proposed to the group of staff several steps mainline denominations like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can take to help foster ‘fresh expressions of church.’ Among the steps are:

• Having creative marginal zones for far-reaching experimentation and providing support for leaders of those zones to have the freedom and entrepreneurship needed to be creative.
• Sequestering funds for new lines of ministry.
• Attracting new people in new ways to new zones.
• Thinking in terms of a garden (diversity) instead of a tree (a single trunk with branches).
• Thinking in terms of ‘refounding’ instead of preserving or renewing or restoring. ‘Existing churches imitate,’ McLaren said. ‘New churches innovate.’
• Trusting the Holy Spirit.”

The report is our first effort at a comprehensive review of our New Ministry Initiative. We are grateful for the many people who have encouraged and supported this ministry thus far. We hope you will find an ‘onramp’ to join us in this journey. Even more we hope you will join us in fostering fresh expressions of the church.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Response to the Open Letter from Pastors

“Deathly Ill” or “Called by Christ.”

Are we “deathly ill” or “called by Christ”? It is astonishing to me that a group of our pastors would begin an open letter by using the phrase “deathly ill.” I do not know any of the writers of this letter personally, and none are serving in the Presbytery where I am on staff. But I can imagine that these are all talented, gifted, and wonderfully positive and encouraging pastors. No one is ever called to be the pastor of one of our congregations by focusing on how sick and dysfunctional the congregation may be. I imagine that in their own ministry, and in their own contexts, these pastors are gifted communicators of the “Good News.” Why is it their thoughtful, and in some ways prophetic, open letter requires such a dire and deathly tone? I would much rather ponder the exciting new ways that we are being called by Christ; ways which will, of course, transfigure all our institutions and habits.

The Presbytery of Carlisle recognized the 25th anniversary of my ordination last year. All but five of these years I served as a pastor. I learned a valuable lesson early in my pastoral career. When I am leading a funeral service, I presume that the dead person has some good, beautiful and redeemable qualities which God knows and will bring to glorious resurrection. At funeral services I always try to preach hope, healing and resurrection in Christ. During my years of pastoral ministry, funeral services were some of the most fruitful times for faithful proclamation. If these good pastors would like to preach at the funeral service of our Presbyterian Church, I wish they could do so with a bit more graciousness and hope.

But, despite the yearning of these pastors to do so, I am not convinced that we should be writing the funeral sermon for our Presbyterian Church just yet. The statistics and historical allusions which the pastors use in their open letter are boring. Everyone knows this: the membership decline, the incessant conflict, and the institutional downsizing. So what else is new! These things have been our reality for my entire ministry. What is important and new (as recognized and appreciated by the pastors) is that the culture of the Presbyterian Church has been shifting so that our congregations are now the true center of our vitality and ministry. This is a crucial culture shift which I believe prepares us well for moving into the future.

I only know the 52 congregations of the Presbytery of Carlisle, where I have been serving since 2005. I know our pastors and I know our congregations very well. In my speculative, back-of-the-envelope ponderings I have concluded that the Presbytery of Carlisle, as one piece of our Presbyterian common life, is alive, healthy and sustainable for many years to come. If I continue, as I hope and pray, to do this work for fifteen more years we may, as a Presbytery, close some congregations. But at least 35 of our congregations are what I may call indefinitely sustainable. This is not a glorious theological category, but it is very important. These congregations have vital ministries which are generally sustaining membership despite the passing of the builder generation, they have sustainable financial management, and, most important, they have a vital and positive spiritual life which is not afraid of the future. Because of the support and leadership of this group of congregations, the Presbytery of Carlisle is also indefinitely sustainable. Because we have reoriented all our mission and ministry to support, encourage and connect these congregations our Presbytery has purpose and direction into the future, a positive, sustainable cash flow, and, most important, a very high level of collegial trust. By any measure, the Presbytery of Carlisle is NOT deathly ill! Certainly in ten, fifteen, twenty-five or fifty years from now the Presbytery of Carlisle and our congregations will look different. We will have patterns of leadership, expressions of mission and ministry, and networks of innovative relationships and connections that will be leaner and very different than today. But we will not be dead and gone! Are the authors of the open letter interested in helping us live into that new day called by Christ, or simply focused on writing a funeral sermon for a denomination?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Report to the Presbytery January 25, 2011

Resources for Planning and Visioning within your Congregation:

ONE) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Research Services


“Research Services provides a wide variety of services including articles and reports, demographics information, statistics, program evaluations and Ten-Year Trends.”

“In an effort to help congregations understand more about the local congregation and its needs, we developed the Church Home Improvement Toolbox: This resource contains a variety of "do-it-yourself" research strategies for positive church improvement. You wouldn't try to build a new home using just an electric drill – why work on congregational improvement without a full toolbox?

1. Ten-Year Trends in Your Congregation: Statistical reports based on annual congregational reports to the Office of the General Assembly in the Session Annual Statistical Report.

2. Demographic Report: Learn about the people who live in the community around your church.

3. Congregational Surveys: Surveys can give your congregation: a picture of "who you are" (including age and marital status of members, average length of church membership, etc.), information about the strengths and priorities of church programs, and tools for strategic planning.

4. Research Strategies for Congregations: A packet of information gathering tools designed to help you learn more about your worshipers and your local community.

5. RCMS data (Religious Congregations & Membership Study): Data on religious congregations and memberships in every county in the United States.”

Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce. A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations: Who’s Going Where and Why. Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
__________. Beyond the Ordinary: 10 Strengths of U.S. Congregations. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.
__________. A Field Guide to Presbyterian Congregation: Who’s Going Where and Why. Research Services, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2010.

TWO) Healthy Congregations: Develop. Train. Educate. Consult


“Healthy Congregations is a congregational support network which seeks to help church leaders discover the advantages of congregational vitality through a family systems approach. The organization was founded by Peter Steinke, and now offers comprehensive training and workshops in church vitality.”

Peter Steinke. A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope. An Alban Institute Publication, 2010.
__________. Congregational Leadership in Anxious times. Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. An Alban Institute Publication, 2006.
__________. Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. An Alban Institute Publication, 1996.

THREE) GraceNet: Research, Coaching, Consulting for Vibrant Spiritual Leadership of Christian Congregations.


“GraceNet serves churches. GraceNet provides research, coaching and consulting in effective spiritual leadership of new and revitalizing congregations.”

Martha Grace Reese. Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism. Chalice Press, 2008.
__________. Unbinding Your Heart: 40 Days of Prayer and Faith Sharing. Chalice Press, 2008.
__________. Unbinding Your Church: Steps and Sermons. Chalice Press, 2008.

FOUR) Natural Church Development

“Natural Church Development is all about releasing the potential God has already implanted in our lives. Based on research in more than 40,000 churches on six continents, NCD describes universal principles that are applicable regardless of culture or spiritual style.”

Christian Schwartz. Color Your World with Natural Church Development: Experiencing All that God has Designed You To Be.
__________. Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches.
__________. Implementation Guide to Natural Church Development.
__________. Paradigm Shift in the Church: How Natural Church Development Can Transform Theological Thinking.

Reference Book:
Gil Rendle and Alice Mann. Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations. Alban Institute, 2003.