Saturday, June 30, 2012
I am writing from Pittsburgh, the site of the 220th meeting of the General Assembly (2012). The General Assembly started today with a glorious opening worship service within the large Convention Center. It was estimated that about 3,500 people were in attendance. As is our tradition, the outgoing Moderator Cynthia Bolbach was the preacher. Because of her recent battle with cancer, she preached seated in a wheelchair. Her message was a moving call to relationships and service across all the many boundaries that exist in the church. The worship service was filled with music featuring a huge choir, a brass quintet, a large bell choir, and Bill Carter and his Presbybop Quartet.
There was a creative and interesting touch on the traditional Unison Prayer of Confession. During the prayer all the congregation turned toward the opposite side. The “right” side of the congregation first confessed, allowing the “left” side to respond. Then it was switched. Although this was very simple, it was for me a significant and meaningful gesture symbolizing a reaching out across the “aisle”. We need to ask forgiveness of all those whom we consider to be “on the other side.” Maybe we will find some peace and unity if we can truly ask those across the aisle from us to forgive us.
Act of Confession from the Opening Worship of the 220th General Assembly:
Right side: I confess to God Almighty before the whole company of heaven, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned by my own fault, in thought, word, and deed; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.
Left side: May Almighty God have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins and give you time to amen your life.
Right side: Amen.
Left side: I confess to God Almighty before the whole company of heaven, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned by my own fault, in thought, word, and deed; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.
Right side: May Almighty God have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins and give you time to amen your life.
Left side: Amen
The opening worship service ended with this eloquent Charge and Blessing:
Eternal God, you call us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
What good is a new house?
Presbyterian World Mission has defined one of its critical global issues as responding to the root causes of poverty, especially as it affects women and children. The Presbytery of Carlisle has created a partnership with the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. An important aspect of our partnership is our working with the mission committee of the Pena de Horeb Presbyterian Church in Tegucigalpa to build new homes for their church members. We have now participated in the construction of six new homes located in some of the poorest, most difficult areas in Tegucigalpa. Is building new homes a fruitful expression of this huge, conceptual call to address the root causes of poverty?
I believe these new homes are a particularly important example of responding to the root causes of poverty because of the process we have used to do this work. The ministry belongs to the Hondurans. When we first started having conversation with Church leaders in Honduras about ways we could work together, they quickly complained that they had no resources, no organization, and no means to address the profound poverty all around. We encouraged them to gather a group within the congregation to discern and pray about ways they might be able to reach out and serve their members. This small kernel of an idea grew up into a powerful presence in their church. A mission committee was born with a vision of reaching out, gathering their resources, and serving the poorest of the poor in their midst.
The mission committee identified and prioritized a list of projects within their congregation. Some they are able to do one their own; for some they seek support from us. Then we put life into the vision of “communities of mission practice” which Presbyterian World Mission has named as a preferred method of doing mission today. What does a community of mission practice truly look like? I know; I have seen it. It looks like a circle of people gathering in the back corner of the sanctuary at the Pena de Horeb Presbyterian Church after their Sunday worship service. Within the circle are the members of the mission committee of the congregation; the chairperson of their mission committee leads our conversation. Within the circle are our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionaries in Honduras. Also within the circle is a small mission team from the Presbytery of Carlisle. This is a community of mission practice. Importantly, there are typically more Hondurans around the circle than North Americans. Out of the conversation within this circle, we conceived of the idea of building new homes for some of the poorest of the members of church. The members of the mission committee in Honduras identify the families, plan and prepare the construction project, and work with our missionaries to organize the work. Presbyterians from our Presbytery show up for a week at a time to walk alongside, offer our support, and get to know the family who is receiving the new home quite. What good is a new home? Come with me and chat with these families for awhile! The answer will be clear.