Monday, December 5, 2016

Our Presbytery welcomes Moderator Denise Anderson

Some Moderators of the General Assembly north and south

We are delighted to have Co-Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev. Denise Anderson, with us today. Of course, Denise is not the first Moderator of the General Assembly. That honor belongs to Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon. Witherspoon was the Moderator of the First General Assembly in 1789. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He became the first President of the College of New Jersey which became Princeton Seminary.

In 1861, the Rev. Benjamin Palmer was the first Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Rev. Palmer was a gifted preacher and served as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church on New Orleans. With his preaching, he helped convince 47 southern presbyteries to break away from the northern Presbyterians and form their own southern church.

In 1870 Robert Lewis Dabney served as Moderator of the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. Dabney served as a Chaplain in the Confederate Army, and as Chief of Staff of General Stonewall Jackson. After the Civil War, Dabney had a distinguished teaching career at Union Seminary in Richmond.

In 1879 the Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson served as Moderator of the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. Rev. Wilson was the father of President Woodrow Wilson.

William Jennings Bryan never served as Moderator of the General Assembly. Bryan has been called the greatest loser in American history. Three times – in 1896, 1900 and 1908 – he ran for President of the United States. Three times he lost. In 1923 he ran for Moderator of the northern Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. He lost. But God is good. In 1924 the arch-conservative, Philadelphia pastor Clarence Macartney was elected Moderator. He named Bryan as his vice-Moderator.

In 1971 Ruling Elder Lois Stair was the first woman elected as Moderator of the northern United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

In 1976 Ruling Elder Thelma Adair was the first African American woman elected as Moderator of the northern United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Elder Adair was a professor in City University of New York. She spent many years in ecumenical and social justice work in Harlem.

In 1978 Sara Bernice Moseley was the first woman Moderator elected in the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. Elder Moseley was a strong advocate of the reunion of the northern and southern churches. Beginning in 1983, she served as the first Chair of the General Assembly Council in our, reunited Presbyterian Church (USA).

In 1986 the Rev. Benjamin Weir was elected as Moderator of our Presbyterian Church (USA). Ben and Carol Weir served from 1953 to 1984 as mission co-workers from our church to Lebanon. In 1984 Ben Weir was kidnapped off the street in Beirut. After his long captivity, he was honored to be elected Moderator. Ben Weir passed away this October 2016.

In 1992 the Rev. John Fife was elected Moderator of our Church. Fife was the pastor of the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. Along with colleagues from several denominations, Fife was a leader of what was called the Sanctuary Movement. These church leaders opened their church buildings to undocumented immigrants from Latin America. Their ministry pushed a very public conflict with the Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan.

In 2008 Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow visited our Presbytery, and taught a class at our Saturday Seminar. That is the only other Moderator visit we have had since I have been in this Presbytery.

And today in 2016 we are honored to have Co-Moderator Denise Anderson with us. Denise is a blogger. Her blog is better than mine. The title of her blog is SOULa Scriptura. SOULa is a constructed word: SOULa. The sub-title of her blog is even better: “to be young, gifted and Reformed.” I was very pleased to have dinner with Denise last evening. She is indeed, young, gifted and Reformed. Please stand and greet the Moderator of our General Assembly.

Report to the Presbytery December 6, 2016

Report to the Presbytery of Carlisle
Dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church

Today I encourage you to approve the dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church. Our Commission on Ministry has already acted to dismiss their Pastor Carl Batzel pending our action today.
Once again today, in official meeting, we consider the dismissal of one of our congregations to the new denomination, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). We have done this before. We dismissed the Upper Path Valley Church and their Pastor Meagan Boozer; we dismissed the Lower Path Valley and Burnt Cabins Churches and their Pastor Donna Ryan; we dismissed the Port Royal and Mexico Churches and their Pastor Crystal Lyde; we dismissed the Shippensburg Church and their Pastor Mike Miller
            Many of you will also remember that we did NOT dismiss our Faith Church, despite the request of the session at the time. In seeking to leave our Church, the Session at Faith Church caused enormous conflict, and more than half of the congregation left with their Pastor Wayne Lowe to form what is now a new ECO congregation. Our Faith Church today, although smaller, is thriving with remarkable energy and enthusiasm. I am grateful to their Interim Pastor Steve Lytch and their new session members.
            My friends, I believe we have reached the end of an era. My belief is confirmed in conversation with my colleagues in presbyteries all around Pennsylvania. There are still several dismissal conversations in process in neighboring presbyteries, but generally, I believe, the era of church dismissals is behind us. After today’s action we will not have any active Conversation Teams, and we have not received any official requests from any other session to begin our dismissal process. I am not aware of any of our congregations that are discussing dismissal at this time.
            My friends, I believe we have done this right. I believe we should be proud and grateful for the way we have acted through this season of deep conflict and turmoil. We wrote, we debated, we approved, and we acted on repeatedly a policy, and a spiritual stance, of gracious dismissal. This was and is the right thing to do in Christ Jesus. Like many of you, I know all the arguments for a different path, a different tone in these conversations. In many sleepless nights, I have played out those arguments in my mind. Today, without any doubt, I am convinced that we have done the right thing with our policy and our practice of gracious dismissal. And I am very grateful to almost countless numbers of leaders in this presbytery who have participated in this discernment and these practices, and especially the members of all the Conversation Teams we have had over these years.
            Now I see three great challenges before us:
            Our first challenge is to live into this very new language in our Book of Order: Nothing shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session  believes  is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.
            Our second challenge is live into this very old language in our Book of Order; one of the historic principles of our church: “We also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which (believers) of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty of both private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”
            Third, if I am correct that we are now moving into a new era, we need to ask ourselves as a Presbytery in a very deep and thoughtful way, “What are we going to do now?”
            I ask you to support the recommendation of our Conversation Team and our Council and approve the dismissal of the Hawley Memorial Church.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ten Years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Carmen’s Place, Part 1:

As I begin writing this, it seems impossible to describe Carmen’s home with words. Truly its very existence seems almost impossible to believe. If I had not been there, worked there, and seen it for myself I would doubt that a home could be built, and a family can live in this place. 

After twisting and turning on the narrow, bumpy, often steep, unpaved local streets of a small neighborhood in the middle of Tegucigalpa, our van backed into an open spot between two homes. We unloaded and were pointed in the proper direction, “Down”. The hillside simply dropped off into a sheer cliff. This ravine was much too steep to walk down, but not too steep for plants, wild grass and small bushes. My view, standing at the top, went steeply down and the bottom was a lush, thick forest of wild, tropical plants with the large leaves and tangle of vines, maybe 100 yards down from the top edge where I stood. The sound of a rushing stream at the very bottom was loud but invisible. The water obviously fed the lush green everywhere at the bottom of the ravine. Coming up out of the ravine, presumably on the other side of the rushing stream, was a steeper cliff, bare rock too steep for plants to grow. I could see homes perched on the top of the other side of the ravine. My view went straight down this ravine, and it caught my attention.  I wondered, “Where are we going? How could there be a house down here?”

It is impossible to walk straight over the edge of the ravine, and quickly I realized a well-worn path hugged the side of the ravine off to the right and dropped down very steep directly behind and beneath the home which was next to our parked van.  With only several steps down the path, the back wall of this home was straight up above my right shoulder. The path dropped precipitously, so much so that I checked my traction, making sure each step was planted solidly and I was not going to start sliding. The path dropped, then flattened out a bit and continued down to where I could see two homes perched below, one sort of above the other. But our direction switched back fully, and started down several, precarious steps which were carved into the hillside. Now, because of the switchback, the steep hillside rose up on my left, the ravine fell downward to my right side. And there is Carmen’s place. A carefully constructed, new, concrete landing welcomed us and we arrived at her front door.

I still do not have any idea how a previous generation of Carmen’s family had acquired this property and this home was built on the side of this very steep ravine. But there it was, and the contribution from our Presbytery and our work for the week was a major renovation and remodeling of her home. Welcome to Carmen’s place.  

Ten Years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Carmen’s Place, Part 2.

We have done this before with several of our home construction projects. Because homes in the poorest neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa are packed close together, the walls of the home itself are often the property lines. There are no yards, very little outside space, and, of course, the families are living in the homes during reconstruction. Thus in a remarkable exercise of flexibility and creativity, we are often systematically deconstructing an old, dilapidated home while at the same time building a new home on the same spot, at the same time. Each situation, each family’s needs, and each home moves through the delicate process of destruction and construction in different ways.       

At Carmen’s place, the powerful, tropical deluges, which they call rain in Honduras, was most of the problem. Because she lives on the side of the steep ravine, the force of the water rolling down on her home was powerful and destructive. With funding from our Presbytery and a lot of expertise from her church, a construction team created an amazing, concrete waterway which funnels all the rushing storm water away from a direct hit onto the side wall of her home, and into a new, concrete channel which carries it safely around her home, and directs it down a safe path, and ultimately into the stream far below. This new storm water system which now protects her home is the most remarkable concrete construction project I have ever seen, in a place where construction is done without any power tools or equipment. This storm water system was made in a way that also created a new, open landing which offers a small outside space in front of her home. Previously, Carmen, in the worst downpours, needed to keep her front door closed and sealed to prevent the rushing water from entering her home. When we arrived that remarkable concrete work was complete, and I spent some time standing on her new, front porch chatting with the lead mason on this job, Alejandro, about how this project was conceived and built.

These are poor people. Statistically these are some of the poorest people on earth, living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa. Despite being poor, these people are resilient, creative, resourceful, smart and hard working. The concrete, storm water system which a small, group of volunteers from a small Presbyterian church in their neighborhood designed and built at Carmen’s place is a profound testament to the fact that our perceptions about “poor people” are probably all wrong. 

Ten Years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Carmen’s Place; Part 3:

Carmen is a warm, energetic, athletic woman who never stopped working in support of this project in her home the whole time we were there. When she was not directly supporting the construction work, or cleaning up, she was maneuvering all her household belongings to keep the way clear. Her two daughters and her three, young grandsons live in this home with Carmen. 

Prior to our adopting this project, this home was one room. Part of our construction project is to add additional inside walls which will divide the space into two, tiny bedrooms and a small kitchen area. These new inside walls are being built with concrete block because they will be load-bearing walls for the new rafters and steel roof that is also part of this project. For Carmen’s place, the four outside walls of her home will remain in place. Our project includes the addition of significant concrete and block support around the foundation of this home (remember that this home sits precariously on the side of a steep ravine), the storm water system which will prevent the erosion of her foundation in the future, the construction of the new inside walls, and the complete replacement of her roof which includes replacing rotten wooden rafters with new steel rafters and a new steel roof. From within the four walls that already existed at Carmen’s place, a completely new home will rise.

This description of Carmen’s place gives a hint at the way we have developed our home construction ministry in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras these past ten years. Carmen’s place is the eleventh home we have built or remodeled as part of this partnership. The congregations we work with in their Presbytery truly own this mission work. Their mission committees recruit and identify families for new projects. They interview and carefully vet each family and proposal. The family is consulted concerning exactly what they want the project to include. Each home is truly a custom construction job. No two projects are alike. Our Presbytery has contributed to this ministry by providing the financial support. We budget from our Honduras Designated Fund $3,000 for each new home project. We support the organizational, administrative and accounting efforts which must be the basis for a sustainable mission program. We send mission teams to contribute to the construction of each home. The Hondurans do not need us to do construction, but we believe our presence at each home for a week puts a face on our commitment and enhances our partnership. After all these years working together, while we are there the construction sites take on the tone of festive, family reunions. 

Ten Years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Carmen’s Place, Part 4.

Bienvenidos a Tegucigalpa! Welcome to Tegucigulpa! This is a huge, sprawling city set among steep mountains. In the States now the issue of the vast distinction between the very rich and the working class is a public discussion. Here in Honduras, the distance between the rich and the poor is glaring and blatant.  The high walls, razor wire and security guards keep the upper class protected and cocooned. 

We work with the poorest. I am proud and blessed by the fact that the Presbyterian Church of Honduras is immersed among the poor both in the city and in the rural areas. This, of course, is not true of our PCUSA. When we come here the spiritual and theological lessons about being the church among the poor and for the poor often challenges our comfortable worldviews. 

I had a quiet, personal conversation with Pastor Juan last year. We visited his congregation to distribute food to their community in response to the devastating drought. He needed to ask me a question; I could see the pain in his eyes. He humbly asked if it was okay if his own family could receive a food packet or should he give theirs away also. I assured him that he should indeed take one of the packets to his own family. I remember Pastor Enrique sharing a miracle story with our group. His family, which includes three young children, had run out of food and was, at last, sharing one egg for their whole family dinner. Before they ate it together they prayed, and their children prayed. The next day members of their congregation arrived with some basic food supplies to carry them through. Enrique tells this story with a tone of powerful rejoicing in the providence of God. I hear his story and my heart aches with sadness. While working at Carmen’s place which had taken on the feeling of a construction site – concrete being mixed on the kitchen floor, bags of mortar piled in the corner, a pile of sand on the front porch, blocks piled high in the living area – I asked if she was going to sleep there that night. She responded, “Yes, of course”, and pointed to the roof. I interpreted her sign as meaning that the roof over her head was most important, despite the construction mess within. This is not a family who has the option of staying at the local Hampton Inn for a night while their kitchen is being remodeled. 

I was theologically educated in the  era which included Liberation Theology as part of the conversation. I studied the idea, and I truly believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has a “preferential commitment to  the poor." I do not fully understand what this means. I wish our church conversations today were more interested in the exploring this idea together. What are the great gifts which  the poor offer to the church today?         

Ten Years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Carmen’s Place, Part 5.

Members of the church always drive for us in Tegucigalpa. The road system is awful, traffic is horrendous, and finding your way around seems like some strange magic. I am too intimidated to drive here. The few large modern highways, often paid for by American grants, are clogged with traffic. These highways teem with tractor trailer trucks of every variety, many of which belch ugly, black clouds of exhaust. The city streets are filled with old school buses which serve as the principle means of public transportation. It is ironic to see the name of some American school district still printed on the sides of these re-purposed buses. As far as I can tell, there are no marked bus stops and no indication anywhere of the bus routes. I have no idea how one would learn to use this bus system. But most times of the day, the buses are packed to standing room only. (I know about this bus system from chatting with Herbert, a successful businessman who owns of a large bus company in the city and also serves as a leading Elder and Treasurer in the Presbytery. Herbert pays enormous “fees” to the gangs which allow his buses to keep running. This is a cost of doing business.)

In addition to the trucks and buses which are pervasive in the city, there is also a deep, ubiquitous ethos of crime, violence and gangs. It is important to say that I have never, in ten years of visits to Honduras, ever been the victim of a crime; I have never seen any crime; I have never witnessed any violence. I believe to the bottom of my heart that when we are in Honduras our church friends keep us safe. They keep us safe with their powerful commitment to prayer. They keep us safe by very practically watching out for us, surrounding us with their presence, and protecting us. Of course, safety cannot be guaranteed or promised but my experience here thus far has been safe. This is a gift from God; this also includes a careful attention to all the details of personal safety and security. But there is everywhere an uncomfortable sense that this is a dangerous place. The way buildings, stores, and homes are locked up tight with metal gates, razor wire, fencing or high walls is a sign. The presence of security guards, usually carrying shotguns, at most stores, businesses, banks, gas stations and office buildings is a sign. The statistics of gang violence and murder are signs. This may be one of the troubling and nagging spiritual issues for Christians here. We know the reports we hear in the States about Honduras being one of the most dangerous nations in the world; we know about the flow of drugs through these small Central American nations into the States which have gorged streets gangs with money and power. We feel the stressful obsession everyone has to be safe and stay safe. In such a context what does it mean to trust God? What does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to pray for protection and safety? As North Americans we do not live with this daily ethos of crime in our society. Should we avoid the risk and stay home? No, we will keep coming here. But it is essential for anyone considering one of our mission trips to understand that this is a dangerous place.     

Ten years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Carmen’s Place, Part 6

The Presbytery of Honduras has 25 congregations, three of which are in Tegucigalpa. The number of the congregations in the Presbytery is always in flux given their commitment to evangelism. The pastors and leading church members are always exploring and planting new congregations, typically starting with a Bible study and worship service in someone’s home in a new neighborhood. Some of these projects wither and fail; many develop into new congregations. Often these little house churches will attract Pentecostal or Baptist leadership and go a different direction, never joining the Presbytery. Nonetheless, the commitment to evangelism, to constantly look for opportunities to create and plant a new community is part of the culture of these Presbyterians. This is an important witness to us: these Presbyterians in Honduras can form  a new community and plant a new church without any money. All they need is a deep spiritual commitment to share their faith, the Bible, and someone to host a small gathering in their home.  

We work very close with the three Presbyterian congregations in Tegucigulpa. The Pena de Horeb congregation, which sits on a major city highway, is their leading church and is served by Pastor Juan Rodas; the Roca de Israel congregation (Carmen’s home church) is tucked into a small, poor neighborhood, which we are told is controlled by a gang, and is served by Pastor Edin Samoya; the Tierra Prometida congregation also is tucked into a poor neighborhood and is served by Pastors Fernando and Gloria Huete, who have a small apartment upstairs from their small sanctuary.

Our home construction ministry started in the city, serving families from the Pena de Horeb congregation. That congregation had the vision, leadership and resources to implement our dream of doing ministry into the city. It was their idea to try building new homes for Presbyterian families that were living in substandard housing, essentially wooden shacks.

Our team had an important strategic decision to make. Along with the leadership at the Pena de Horeb congregation, we wanted to expand our housing ministry to the other congregations in the presbytery. Outside the three congregations in Tegucigalpa, all the other congregations in the Presbytery are either rural or located in small towns. (Several of the congregations are only accessible to us by four-wheel drive pickup trucks; the people who live in those communities, of course, walk for miles anywhere – stores, schools, doctors, jobs.) We made a strategic decision, at this point, to only work in the city. A large part of our motivation for this decision is that, in our years of working here in Tegucigalpa, we have never seen another mission team from the States working in the city. We have talked with many, many mission teams. Every flight to Honduras typically includes mission teams; but without exception these other teams after landing at the airport quickly leave the city to do their mission work in some far-flung rural area.

We believe this is our calling: to serve our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in these three, small congregations in the city of Tegucigalpa and by connection the whole Presbyterian Church of Honduras. This calling has been a remarkable blessing to me, and many others actively involved in this partnership. 

Ten Years of Partnership in Honduras (2006 - 2016)

Celebrating Ten Years of Partnership  between the Presbyterian Church of Honduras and the Presbytery of Carlisle.

The family homes in Honduras  to which the Presbytery of Carlisle has contributed:
  1. Juan and Maria
     Maria Ellena and Exsel
    Santos and Francesca
    Rene and Mercedes (Mercedes deceased 2014)
    Denia and Fernando

Monday, October 10, 2016

Questions for your Mission Committee:

Doing Mission and Giving to Mission:
Challenging Questions

These questions may help guide the discernment of a mission committees as they discern how to define and allocate money from the congregation directed to mission work outside the congregation:

·        How much money which the congregation receives should be turned around and given out beyond the congregation? How is this amount determined? Does the session define and communicate a goal for mission giving beyond the congregation? Or is this amount determined by default, after all other financial obligations are met?

·        What projects beyond the local congregation do you support that do NOT involve giving money?

·        How much of your giving beyond the congregation supports local projects and how much supports PCUSA projects?

·        Of all the projects you support financially – both local projects and through the PCUSA – with how many do you have a personal and spiritual connection?

·        Do you perceive in your congregation now any difference in the level of commitment to our Presbytery and the level of commitment to the General Assembly?

·        Presbyterian World Mission has focused their work into three critical initiatives: Evangelism, Global Poverty and Reconciliation. Which of these areas would be most important for your congregation? Into which area do your mission projects fit?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Doctrine of the Trinity

I read a daily devotion from Father Richard Rohr which is delivered by email. Today he includes this wonderful poem from Meister Eckhart. What a fabulous doctrine of the Trinity!

Laughter, Liking, Delighting, Loving
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Let me share an astounding bit of poetry from Meister Eckhart, the wonderful fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic:
Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us. [1]
God has done only one constant thing since the beginning of time: God has always, forever, and without hesitation loved “the Son”—and yes, you can equally and fittingly use “the Daughter”—understood in this sense as creation, the material universe, you, and me. The quality of the relationship toward the other is the point, not gender or even species.
God cannot not love God’s self in you (see 2 Timothy 2:13)! The “you” that holds the indwelling Spirit, which many of us call the soul, is always considered eternal and intrinsically good because of its inherent connection to God.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Report to the Presbytery, September 27, 2016

Financial Planning requires good communication!

Several different financial reports were distributed to the September 27 meeting of our Presbytery, including a First Reading our 2017 Presbytery Budget. I would like to talk about money for a moment.

Per Capita Assessment: Per Capita is a very dependable and important source of income from our congregations to the presbytery, the synod and the Office of the General Assembly. But I must share with you some difficult conversations which we have had at our Administration Committee. Because Per Capita is such a precise formula, we would like to think that it makes our budget consideration easy. Just plug in the total Per Capita assessment for the year; we know that number. The problem is that we do not receive all of our Per Capita from our churches, and we do not know how much we will receive. So the 2017 Budget has an income number for Per Capita that is only 86% of the total Per Capita for our presbytery, this is the percentage we actually received from our congregations the previous year.

There is a report on 2015 Per Capita giving in your Presbytery meeting papers. Of course, we are grateful to the 33 congregations that contribute their full Per Capita. You will also see there are a number of congregations that do not contribute their full Per Capita. The problem is that not one of the congregations who were not able to contribute their full Per Capita actually communicated that fact to us in 2015. This makes our financial planning very difficult.

I believe this is a very healthy presbytery; there are very good and trusting relationships among us. We know each other. We want to be connected. Please communicate with us. I encourage your session to have a conversation about Per Capita, and please make a commitment to it. Please communicate your intention to us! This is doubly important since our Presbytery is committed to contributing our full Per Capita contribution to the Synod and the General Assembly whether or not we receive it from our congregations. This creates a significant deficit for our presbytery.

Mission Support: As you know, our Presbytery is not only financially supported by Per Capita but also by your Mission Support. Unlike Per Capita, we do not define the contribution amount. This is fully a session responsibility. It is the area of Mission Support that we are seeing the great shift that is changing the whole church.

Shared Mission Support: We have congregations that continue to be generously committed to Shared Mission Support. Thank you! Our Presbytery has approved an 80/ 20 sharing percentage. If you make a Shared Mission gift, 80% is used to support the Presbytery; 20% is used to support the General Assembly Mission Agency.

Designated Mission Support for the Presbytery: We now have congregations that are moving away from Shared Mission support and are making what we call Designated Mission gifts in support of the Presbytery. Very simply these gifts to the presbytery are not shared. All of your Designated Mission gifts in support of the Presbytery are used in support of the Presbytery.

I am asking each congregation for three things:
Please support our Presbytery both with your Per Capita contributions and your mission support. Our Presbytery does good work, and the Presbytery is worthy of your support.

    Please understand our funding system and discuss your support at your session. If you look at our Budget proposal, I am asking you to study and understand Notes 1, 2 and 3 which I provided there.

Please communicate with us. Please tell us your intentions with both Per Capita and Mission support. Communication builds trust; communication builds community. Like every year, we will be sending out pledge forms to each congregation. Please communicate with us. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Directory for the Public Worship of God, 1645.

Our Presbytery will consider the proposed new Directory for Worship as an amendment to our Book of Order. The proposed Directory passed our General Assembly and will now be voted on by all our presbyteries. I have been reading and studying the new Directory, a task which sent me back to consider again the Directory for Public Worship which the Westminster Divines wrote in 1645. The Church of Scotland approved and widely used the Westminster Directory for Public Worship. Thus from the Church of Scotland, that Directory has been widely influential in American Presbyterianism.

It is a fascinating, intellectual exercise to consider the cultural and theological changes from 1645 to the present. This sentence is part of the section on the Lord's Supper in the 1645 Directory for Public Worship:

"The ignorant and the scandalous are not fit to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper."

Interesting discussion questions would be: Why do we not talk this way today? What changed and why?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Amendments to the Constitution 2016: The Directory of Worship

The proposed new Directory for Worship

The 2016 meeting of our General Assembly approved a new Directory for Worship. This recommendation is now forwarded to the presbyteries for their consideration. If approved by the presbyteries, this new Directory for Worship will be added to our Book of Order. This action item was not controversial at the meeting of the General Assembly; I predict it will easily be approved by the presbyteries. This Amendment presents us with a wonderful opportunity to discuss our common worship life. For one example, I appreciate this discussion of "culture" (proposed new W-1.0304) which I copied here. As we ponder our public worship and the place of the church in the larger culture, I find the concepts of "contextual", "cross-cultural", transcultural", "countercultural" and "intercultural" very interesting.

W-1.0304: Culture 
God has poured out the Holy Spirit on all flesh; Scripture promises that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The book of Acts and the New Testament epistles record the challenges and controversies of an emerging Church that would be “no longer Jew or Greek” (Gal. 3:28), but one in Jesus Christ. As the Church has grown and spread over two thousand years, it has taken root and flourished in cultures and lands all around the globe—bearing witness to the love of God for all the world and Christ’s sovereignty in every place. Finally, from the book of Revelation, we know that the company of the redeemed will be a great multitude from every nation, tribe, and people, singing praise to the Lamb of God. 
Christian worship is contextual—emerging from a particular community and incorporating the words, images, symbols, and actions that best convey the good news of Jesus Christ in that gathering of God’s people. It is also cross-cultural—reflecting the diversity of traditions and cultures within and beyond the community of faith. Christian worship is transcultural—proclaiming the universal message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and rooted in common elements of human life that transcend all cultures. It is also countercultural—asserting the scandal of the gospel and anticipating God’s reign of righteousness, justice, and peace. Finally, faithful worship should be an intercultural event—fostering mutuality, dialogue, and equality among all people. 
Whenever and wherever we gather in Jesus’ name, we join the praise and prayer of the people of God in every time and place. Therefore, it is fitting that we share stories and sing songs from cultures other than our own as we pray for and with the Church throughout the world. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thank you 33!

As we begin our careful financial analysis and budget preparation for next year, we learned that 33 of our congregations contributed 100% of their Per Capita contributions in 2015. To those congregations, thank you for your generous commitment to whole ministry of our Presbyterian Church (USA).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Beautiful words; a beautiful prayer: 

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, offered a prayer of lament for those killed and injured by a semi-truck driver who systematically plowed through crowds in the French Mediterranean resort city of Nice last evening.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…. 2 Corinthians 4
God, whose presence we yearn toward in the stillness after our shaken, broken voices and the fires of violence fall silent: we have no words left.
The words others have said: “horrific” “worst” “unspeakable” “impossible”
have been spoken so many times that we can no longer hear them.
Our hearts have broken so often, we cannot feel.
Our hope has been tried, and, we confess in sorrow,
has been found wanting.
There has been too much terror, and not enough answers
too many lost lives with too little time to grieve them all
too much violation of the ordinary and not enough glimpse of the holy to hold us fast.
But You, oh God: beyond our words, beneath our hope:
be the creative breath that orders our chaos
the mercy and justice that compels us to action
the Love that is stronger than death.
We ask you again, for we have nowhere else to turn—
Hold us fast, when we cannot hold on any longer.
Walk with us through the valley of the shadow
Turn us away from despair, that we may not grow weary in well-doing
Triune God, grant us liberté, égalité, fraternité:   …the liberty of your love that conquers fear and evil
…the mind of your Son, who did not consider equality with You a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself
…the fraternity of your Spirit, beyond our divisions, to bind us together as one family in your kindom of mercy and peace. Amen.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reflections from the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Nine

Celebrating World Mission.

In its report to the General Assembly, our office of World Mission both celebrated the retirement of mission co-workers and commissioned a new class of co-workers:

Retiring from active mission service:

  • Marta Bennett – 21 years
  • Tim and Marta Carriker – 38 years
  • Nancy Dimmock – 31 years
  • Farris and Thelma Goodrum – 33 and 26 years
  • John and Gwen Haspels – 41 years
  • Sadegh Sepehri – 20 years
  • Tim and Gloria Wheeler – 32 years
Commissioned to new positions of mission service:
  • David Cortes-Fuentes and Josefina Saez Acevedo, serving in Cuba and working with the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba in theological education
  • Charles and Melissa Johnson, serving in Zambia and working with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in agricultural development
  • Juan Lopez and Cathy Chang, serving in the Philippines and working with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to prevent human trafficking in the region
  • Noah Park and Esther Shin, serving in Egypt and working with the National Evangelical Synod of the Nile in theological education
  • Donna Sloan, serving in Malawi and working as a long-term volunteer with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in theological education

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Eight

And One Non- Action:

The General Assembly approved doing nothing about the place and role of Synods in our denomination. This is mind-boggling and very discouraging. After several, different mid-Council commissions and years of talk, study and debate, the strong forces of institutional inertia have taken control to make sure nothing changes.

Tod Bolsinger was the moderator of the first and the best mid-council commission years ago now. Their report was imaginative, creative, forward-thinking and bold; and was utterly dismissed and tossed into the trash by the General Assembly that year. Tod has written a good new book on church leadership titled, Canoeing the Mountains. Please read Tod's book. Let's talk about leadership in this new era.

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Seven

The Top Five Action Items:

The 2016 General Assembly is now adjourned. What was accomplished?

The easy election of a new Stated Clerk: The clear, first ballot election of our new Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson is an important leadership change. J. Herbert has served as the director of our denomination’s Washington office. Thus he brings a wealth of experience working with the national offices of our church to his new position as our Stated Clerk.

The Way Forward: Those of us carefully following the conversation leading up to the General Assembly were impressed by the list of overtures being brought by Foothills Presbytery all concerned with the internal structure and decision-making process of the General Assembly. I thank the leaders at Foothills Presbytery for pushing this important conversation although their overtures were not approved. Nonetheless, in true Presbyterian fashion, the General Assembly created a Way Forward Commission to study the structure and function our General Assembly. Please pay attention to the work of this team over the next two years.

Support for Palestine: Although profoundly complex and deeply divisive, the General Assembly spoke again into the Israel Palestine issue. The report that was adopted is important. Please see my blog article on it. Our Church needs, in my mind, to focus on supporting, encouraging and creating partnerships with Christians in Palestine.

The almost apology: The carefully worded statement from the General Assembly expressing sorrow, but not apologizing, for the way our Church has treated LBGT persons is important. See my blog article which includes that actual statement.

Directory for Worship: The easy approval of the proposed new Directory for Worship is vital. This is a constitutional issue on which our Presbytery will have the opportunity to vote. Please study the proposed new Directory for Worship.

Reflections from the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Six

A pastoral letter to our Church . . .

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a new season in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as witnessed by the actions of the 222nd General Assembly (2016). The body of 594 commissioners who gathered June 18-25 in Portland, Oregon, elected Co-Moderators Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston, and J. Herbert Nelson as the Stated Clerk. Both were historic, and both signal a new way forward for our church.

The business decisions made by the body also were transformative for the 1,572,660 members and 9,642 churches of the PC(USA). The work wasn’t easy, and involved careful deliberations. Collectively, the body acted on nearly 100 overtures by discerning the will of Christ.

Among other things, we now have a new addition to our Book of Confessions – the Confession of Belhar. It is the first of our confessions that comes from the global south. And, the PC(USA) has a new Directory for Worship; and Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Procedures. God is truly guiding us to be more faithful and just to all of God’s creations.

Much discussion has been taking place around the identity and purpose of the denomination, and this week the assembly voted to create a 12-member Way Forward Commission “to study and identify a vision for the structure and function of the General Assembly agencies of the PC(USA),” and a 15-member 2020 Vision Team to “develop a guiding statement for the denomination and make a plan for its implementation.”

To quote Stated Clerk-elect J. Herbert Nelson, “We are not dead ... we are alive, we are reforming and we are transforming this world, one person at a time.”

Looking outward, the assembly voted to engage in selective, phased divestment from fossil-fuel companies through the PC(USA)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, and re-affirmed a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine.

Please know this is only a snapshot of the actions taken, and just a glimpse at where God is leading this denomination. Complete business actions can be viewed at

We are, brothers and sisters, in a new season. It’s exciting, but also a little scary. Yet in the midst of it all, take comfort that God is still guiding and controlling all – and we need not fear. God is calling us to hope, and to God be the glory!

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

The Reverend Denise Anderson and the Reverend Jan Edmiston
Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly (2016)

Ruling Elder Tony De La Rosa
Interim Executive Director, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Friday, June 24, 2016

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Five

Social Justice Committee: Item 11 - 05

Very important words:

After a careful and long time of selecting the proper words, the paragraph copied here was approved by the General Assembly. This language does not include an explicit "apology". The question about whether the church should apologize was central to the debate around this issue. The original overture from New York City Presbytery was an explicit apology. This is not a constitutional issue, and this language is not intended to be added to the Book of Order. This is simply a statement approved by the General Assembly. This compromise language passed 463 YES to 51 NO:

"Followers of Jesus Christ know that no person can claim divine favor through personal merit, but only by the grace of God. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) acknowledges that actions we and our members have taken over the years have at times led God’s beloved children who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the PC(USA).  We deeply regret that, due to human failings, any person might find cause to doubt being loved by God. We affirm the God-given dignity and worth of every human being, and renew our commitment to ‘welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed [us], for the glory of God.’ [Romans 15:7]"

Reflections of the meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Four

The NEXT Church Report: Denominational Listening Campaign around Transformational Mission

In addition to the "We Gather at the Table" church-wide survey which was inspired by Moderator Heath Rada, there is another resource that should be widely considered. The NEXT Church sponsored a series of listening visits across the denomination and their report is now available on their website. This report is very important. The conclusion of the direct connection between "congregational vitality" and "missional engagement" has become a foundational truth for the church today.

These discussion questions quoted from the NEXT Church report are vital:

Questions Going Forward 
● What does denominational participation mean today? 

● Where are the spaces to work through foundational questions that are not about voting? (Questions such as, what is mission? What is the role of the presbytery?) 

● Is mission the threshold/entry space that worship was in previous era? If so, what resources exist (or need to be created) to help integrate education and spiritual development through mission, if that’s where people are engaging first? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on the Meeting of the 2016 General Assembly: Part Three

When We Gather at the Table: A PC(USA) Snapshot. Item 04- Report

            Many of us will remember that General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada, during his years of service since 2014, initiated a church wide “conversation”. This project became a comprehensive survey seeking input from across the church; in the end 3,427 Presbyterians participated. A full report has been written, summarized and provided to the Way Forward Committee at this year’s General Assembly.

            The concluding section of the report identified several “segments” or “clusters” within our church. “While these ‘clusters’ are informal and fluid, their identification may aid us in viewing the diversity within the PC(USA).” This discussion is interesting, giving us a helpful snapshot of our church today:

Segment 1: Purposeful Progressives (35%)
Segment 2: Disappointed and Discerning (19%)
Segment 3: Family Facilitators (15%)
Segment 4: Rooted and Resolute (10%)
Segment 5: Not categorized (21%)

            With which cluster do you associate? Within the church, do you regularly have serious conversation with people from other clusters? Do you consider this kind of wild diversity within the membership of our church a good thing for our common life, or a burden?

            The full report, including descriptions and definitions for each of these Segments is included in When We Gather At The Table, found as Item 04-Report within the Way Forward Committee on PC-Biz.