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.