General Assembly Day Six (and a hint of Day Seven)

home stretchWe’re in the home stretch here in St. Louis, MO.  The 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) completed the 2nd day of plenary on Thursday.  As has been the practice since the Assembly convened on Saturday, June 16, we prayed and worshiped.  And as has been the practice since the Assembly convened, the commissioners and delegates have listened to, responded to, debated, and voted on the myriad of overtures that have come before the Assembly.

 

Some of the decisions that the Assembly made yesterday are:

In each instance, I have been moved by the diligence, energy, and commitment these faithful disciples of Jesus have given to the work placed before them.

As a mid-council leader, I am looking for and hoping to see ways in which we as the Presbyterian Church (USA) move into the 21st century, responding to the hurts and injustice experienced by our siblings in Christ.  How will we as part of the body of Christ take what has happened in this Assembly to guide and inform our activity in the world?  Will our faith expressions be enhanced? Will the Gospel of Jesus Christ be proclaimed in the places God has placed us?  Will the decisions that have been made this week, guide us to be more faithful, more generous, more compassionate, more trusting, more committed?

(Even as I write this, the Assembly is debating Fossil Fuel divestment.  You can watch the live stream here)

Advertisements

General Assembly Day Five

fullsizeoutput_4bHoly Moly!  The Holy Spirit was moving through the Assembly Hall on Wednesday!  We began the day with Ecumenical Worship.  The preacher was The Rev. Najla Kassab, President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.  She challenged all of us to seek unity “beyond the flesh”–looking beyond the human condition, beyond wealth or marginality, beyond a person’s physical appearance.  She challenged us to seek reconciliation even to the point of pain.  It seemed later in the day, the Assembly took her words to heart.

The afternoon plenary began with the Consent Agenda.  Items on the Consent Agenda are deemed non-controversial and can be grouped together and voted on all at once.  One overture in the consent agenda was 11-12 “On Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities”. The opening paragraph is:

Standing in the conviction that all people are created in the image of God and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all people, the 223rd General Assembly (2018) affirms its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of transgender people, people who identify as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities within the full life of the church and the world. The assembly affirms the full dignity and the full humanity of transgender people, their full inclusion in all human rights, and their giftedness for service. The assembly affirms the church’s obligation to stand for the right of people of all gender identities to live free from discrimination, violence, and every form of injustice.

IN THE CONSENT AGENDA!!!!!!!   IN THE CONSENT AGENDA!!!!!!!   IN THE CONSENT AGENDA!!!!!!!

But wait!  There’s more!!!!  Later in the evening, Committee 10 Mission Coordination presented overture 10-03 A Resolution on Determining the Need for an LGBTQ+ Advocacy Committee in the PC(USA). As a part of the debate, the amendment was offered to amend LGBTQ+ to LGBTQIA+.  Three things happened:  one the amendment passed by a vote of 442/78 and then the overture passed by a vote of 412/106.  And while that is amazing enough in itself, what happened in the course of the debate was the most heartfelt–a Young Adult Advisory Delegate (YAAD) came out on the floor of the Assembly as bi.  Immediately he was surrounded by YAADs and Commissioners and the hall erupted with applause.  It’s a good thing we gave our commissioners and YAAD Kleenex.

But wait!  There’s more!!!!!  The next “thanks be to God for the Spirit” moment was during the report by Committee 5–Mid Councils.  Overture 05-09 Commissioners’ Resolution: On the Challenge of Being Black in the PC (USA) was presented for debate and approval.  I learned that there are 441 African American congregations in the PCUSA; 71% of them are vacant.  This overture asks the church to:

 1.  Reaffirm the Committee on Representation requirements for inclusiveness as stated in the constitution (G-3.0103), paying careful attention to issues of inclusiveness and fair practices by the pastor nominating committees and committees on preparation for ministry.

    2.  Advise mid councils to follow the lead of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus in raising awareness of the declining nature of black congregations throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the lack of pastoral leadership, both current and future, for those congregations.

     3. Direct the Office of the Stated Clerk to respond to the presbyteries that the National Black Presbyterian Caucus has identified as not abiding by Committee on Representation Guidelines.

     4. The Office of the General Assembly is to report within one year to presbyteries and synods concerning the progress on this resolution and a full report to the 224th General Assembly (2020).

     5. Advise the Board of Pensions to analyze and report on the viability of African American Presbyterian Churches and the challenges of supporting installed pastoral leadership.

The overture was approved on a voice vote.

We are turning a corner in the PCUSA.  Thanks be to God!

General Assembly Day Four Part Two

Image-1

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is meeting in St. Louis, MO this week.  This is the 223rd time this denomination has done this–meeting, praying, worshiping, deciding, leading, listening–on behalf of the church for the good of God’s created world.  When the Presbyterians come to town, we stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and all around add to the local economy of the host city.  Yesterday, we did something we’ve never done before.  We left the comfort of the convention hall and literally took to the streets.

At opening worship on Saturday, the offering taken was dedicated to provide bail for people who have been prescreened for release.  We raised more than $47,000.  $47,000!!!!!!!  Presbyterians partnered with  The Bail Project, a community group that screens incarcerated individuals and seeks to help those whose bail is less than $5000.  I learned that jails are full of people being held on minor offenses who are unable to pay cash bail.  That I didn’t know this is embarrassing.  Cities and states that require cash bail is another form of oppression.  If you have enough money, you can post bail and then work and be with your family while you await trial.  If you don’t have the money, you stay in jail.

So, on Tuesday afternoon, about 500 Presbyterians walked from the Convention Center to the City Justice Center.  Once there, the money was presented to the coordinators of The Bail Project.  Over three dozen people will now be leaving jail.

It would be easy to pat ourselves on the back for this one.  And I have to guard against “feeling too good” about walking in the heat and being one of the marchers.  The truth is this is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ–embodying the truth of Matthew 25.

We are brothers and sisters with all God’s people.  Injustice exists based on race, gender, economic disparity, sexual orientation, country of origin, religious beliefs.  It is incumbent upon those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior to learn the life situations that so many people created in the image of God know as a daily reality.  And then to step out of our churches, out into the streets and do something about it in the name of Jesus.  Thank you 223rd General Assembly for the witness.

 

 

 

Image Source:  Presbyterians taking to the streets; June 19, 2018; St. Louis, MO; Mel Tubb via Guidebook

General Assembly Day Four

9183478A-7C33-4282-B0FA-F5A4C3B12518Committees are wrapping up their work today—some finished yesterday!  From Middle East Issues to Ecumenical Interfaith Relations to General Assembly Procedures to Environmental Issues and everything in between, the commissioners and advisory delegates have put in countless hours, untold energy and much prayer to the overtures that have come from presbyteries and commissioners.

I have listened to them, have marveled at their stamina and appreciated their honest and open conversation.

Beginning tomorrow (and until Saturday morning), the Assembly as a whole will act on the work these faithful committees have done.

And they thought they were having fun in committee?!  Let the wild rumpus begin!

General Assembly Day Three

fullsizeoutput_4bIt seems hard to believe that we’ve been here for three days.  As is often the case in these settings, I’ve lost track of time.  “What day is it?” I ask each morning and throughout the day–and I’m not even a commissioner!

One aspect of this GA that I looked forward to was reconnecting with friends, colleagues, seminary classmates.  Presbyterians coming together every two years you are bound to see people you’ve known for a long time and those you’ve met recently.  Having recently been a member of National Capital Presbytery, I knew there would be quite a few GA junkies from there.  One of them was Peg True.  Peg LOVED General Assembly.  She went every year, always excited about watching the workings of the church she loved.  She had mentioned in a FB post that she was glad I was going to be there and looked forward to seeing me.

General Assembly officially convened on Saturday with morning worship.  Earlier that day, I learned Peg had fallen at the opening reception the night before.  She was in ICU.  She died later that day.  It was not the way I wanted to begin General Assembly.

Peg was one of the first people I met when I moved to Arlington, VA.  She was one of those wise people everyone is blessed to have in their lives.  She spoke the truth; she challenged the status quo; she taught me not to take crap; she modeled kindness and grace and love.  She was one of the most welcoming, open, trusting people I have ever had the privilege to know.  When the Arlington church went on their wild and faithful journey, Peg was a staunch supporter and one of my greatest encouragers.  And every sentence, every movement, every word, every action was punctuated with her wry smile and bright lit eyes.  I will miss her.

That Peg died at General Assembly seems somehow appropriate if there can be an appropriate time to die.  She was in the midst of what she loved and what caused her heart gladness.  And while I am here this week, I will lift up her name and look at all this wild faithful craziness of the Presbyterian world through her eyes.

Wall Hangings

We really don’t care what’s hanging on your walls.  We care more about what’s hanging in your heart and spirit.

                                                Mike White, 8/26/17

 

I recently have completed a most excellent adventure.  Over the past 10 months, I have been a part of Cohort XI of the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program (or NLDP as we call it). The vision of the program “is to foster the growth of a new vanguard of engaged neighborhood leaders in the City of Cleveland who are prepared and committed to creating progressive change in a variety of areas throughout Cleveland and the region.”

I applied at the suggestion of my husband who saw their ad in a local neighborhood paper.  “This might be a good thing for you as a new resident to the area,” he said holding the paper out to me.  I will confess some hesitation—would they “take a chance” on a relatively new person?  What could I offer as a “newbie”?

I applied, interviewed and was accepted.  Our first gathering was Saturday, August 26, 2017.  And one of the first things Mike White said to the 23 of us gathered was “We really don’t care what’s hanging on your walls.  We care more about what’s hanging in your heart and spirit.”  I took that to mean the accolades or pictures with “famous” people.  I started thinking about what was hanging on my walls.  (as an aside, I only have what I would consider to be one “famous” picture—and it’s not even on the wall, but on the bookcase—a picture with Emily and Don Saliers taken at a Cathedral College course many years ago).

What is hanging on my walls and does it represent what is hanging in my heart and spirit?

There’s this picture:

IMG_6686

A view from the balcony at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Charleston, SC

I spent a summer and a year with these good people while I was in seminary.  I learned a lot about what it meant to be a part of faith community as a leader.  They were very gracious and very patient as I “tried on the robe” of ordained ministry. What I learned there continues to influence and shape me.

 

There’s this picture:IMG_6687

Looking out on the Sound of Iona

Iona is my “thin” place—that physical place where there is not much space between this world and divine. Iona is the only place I have audibly heard the voice of God.  Time there with people there continues to ground me.

There’s this picture:IMG_6688

My brother-in-law gave this to me one Christmas.  I collect nativities and this is the only one I have that is painted.  That he thought of me and then put to paint to canvas is breathtaking.  I see it every time I walk in my office.  It always brings me a sense of calm.

And then there are these two:

IMG_6690

Before this gig in Cleveland, I had the honor and privilege to be the pastor at Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA.  Through an intentional discernment process, this community of disciples gave up their building so others could have a place to live.  The Washington Postcovered part of the journey.  From my perspective, they were stories too good not to keep.  Each time I see these, I am reminded of what discipleship, trust, risk and faith looks like.

A community that welcomed me, allowed me to fail, learn, and grow…

A place that is holy and divine and, in its setting, enables me to more clearly hear the voice of God…

A representation of the incarnation, the riskiest thing God ever did…

A community willing to discern, listen, and act…

I think my wall hangings capture my heart and spirit.

And the Countdown Begins

In a little over three weeks, the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will convene in St. Louis, MO.  This biennial event brings together Presbyterians from all over the country for worship, conversation, decision making, reconnections, new connections and long times for sitting and listening.

I had the privilege of attending the 218th General Assembly (2008) as a teaching elder commissioner from National Capital Presbytery.  This year I’ll be attending in my role as General Presbyter for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve.  While I have a pretty good knowledge of what happens at GA, attending in this capacity is a new one for me.  And in all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I’m supposed to “do”.

One thing I am committing myself to is the support and encouragement of the commissioners from PWR.  I am grateful for their sense of call to this particular form of ministry.  I am awed by their excitement and willingness to give a week of their life to this work.  They deserve daily attention and “thank you so much” at every turn.  We will commission these 5 souls at our Presbytery meeting next week–praying over them and gifting them.  It is my hope that all who consider themselves a part of this Presbytery will extend to them gratitude and prayers.

There will be much more to chew on, think about, respond to as we are in the midst of the week.  For now, it is enough to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all those attending as commissioners and praying God’s Spirit will blow through them as God leads all of us into that Divine future.

 

 

Non-Emergency Work

Once again, the Presbytery of the Western Reserve took to the streets!  Actually, we drove to Ashtabula, OH and set up shop at Harbor Perk coffee shop for the day.  Because we have a brilliant office manager, we are able to be mobile.  Our office phone is on our cell phones and any document we need to access happens by logging into a secure network.

This is the second time we’ve held office hours in Ashtabula and I will confess, I wondered if it would be as “successful” as the last time.  The last time, we were “busy” from 10 – 4.  And by “busy”, I mean we had people come by the entire time.  We heard stories and fielded questions.  We received suggestions, compliments and complaints.  It was time well spent.

Since then, I have made a concerted effort to be more present in Ashtabula county—our far eastern boundary.  We have 8 churches there; all in various stages.  Some have installed pastors, some are led by commissioned ruling elders, some have no staff at all save for volunteers.  Each congregation has a different story to tell and there has been some renewed energy among these 8 faith communities in coming together to share in ministry and mission.  How can they work together for the good of the county?

Because I know more people in these churches and they have, I think, a better sense of the Presbytery, I wondered just how many folks would show up on Tuesday.  The day started strong; people came that had not come the last time.  Conversations were happening at three different tables.  Around 1 p.m. we took a lunch break.  After lunch, it was just the three of us (me, our brilliant office manager, our amazing hunger action advocate).  We had brought “work” with us—computers and iPads appeared; notebooks were laid out on the table; bookmarks were taken out of books.  For a bit we each were absorbed in our own thoughts, our own emails.  And then I said, “So, was today successful?”  And we decided it was.  And it was even more successful because of the smaller numbers.  Because the Presbytery had been present in other ways, people didn’t feel compelled to come see us that day—and I choose to believe, it’s because they know we’ll be back—yes, for another mobile office day and for other times as well.

Leaving the coffee shop, our brilliant office manager (whose name is Josh, by the way) and I decided that the way we spent the first part of the day was the most important work we do as Presbytery staff.  He summed it up nicely by saying “I’m a connector.”

A while back I mentioned to our Stated Clerk that I really enjoyed writing these blogs posts and yet, I hadn’t written one in a while. “That’s because,” she said “it’s not an emergency.”  So much of what I do does in fact seem like an emergency—either to me or to someone else.  The coffee shop day reminded me that connectional work is really what this work is all about.  And making (and taking) time for that is will be my focus moving forward.  (that and the occasional blog post)

A Week to Breathe

A while ago, I was reminded yet again that I am no longer in parish ministry.  It was the beginning of November and I had not been, since September, planning for the Advent and Christmas season.  For the past 25 years, my year operated on the liturgical rhythm—a rhythm that was as much a part of me as breathing. As my eyes danced across the calendar, another awareness hit me—this was a year I relished in the local church, a year when the Sunday after Thanksgiving was NOT the first Sunday of Advent. This was a week to breathe.

While you can take the woman out of the parish, you can’t take the parish out of the woman.  For good or ill, I come to this Presbytery work with the heart and soul of a parish minister. I look at mid council work with the eyes of a pastor.  And as I realized that Christ the King Sunday came after Thanksgiving and not before, I will confess a bit of jealously welled up in me.  The faithful and dedicated pastors in the Presbytery of the Western Reserve have a week to breathe; how wonderful for them and how melancholy for me.

I’ve not yet found the rhythm that is akin to breathing in this mid council work.  Truth be told there are days that stretch into weeks and I wonder “how do I mark this time?”.  In the midst of a conversation with our stated clerk, I said “I haven’t written a blog post in quite some time.”. “That’s because,” she said “it’s not an emergency.” And there is some truth there. A lot of this work can be defined as immediate—if we’re faithful to this work, we are quick responders. And not just in an emergency sense (although that it is part of it), but in the awareness sense—of being tuned in to congregations and clergy as they seek to be the people God wants them to be in the places God has planted them.  That “tuned-in”ness requires movement and a nimbleness.  And I don’t yet have a vocabulary for that rhythm.

Part of what I do in this work is support and pray for the pastors and congregations in the Presbytery.  As I realized the presence of this week to breathe, I sent the pastors an e-mail which included this prayer from Cloth for the Cradle from the Iona Community.  This Advent, this will be a part of my breathing as I continue to look for the rhythm of this work.

Open our eyes

Open our eyes, Lord, Especially if they are half shut because we are tired of looking, Or half open because we fear to see too much, Or bleared with tears because yesterday and today and tomorrow are filled with the same pain, Or contracted because we only look at what we want to see.

Open our eyes, Lord, To gently scan the life we lead, the home we have, the world we inhabit, And so to find, among the gremlins and the greyness, Signs of hope we can fasten on and encourage.

Give us, whose eyes are dimmed by familiarity, A bigger vision of what You can do even with hopeless cases and lost causes and people of limited ability.

Show us the world as in Your sight, riddled by debt, deceit and disbelief, Yet also shot through with possibility for recovery, renewal, redemption.

And lest we fail to distinguish vision from fantasy, today, tomorrow, this week, Open our eyes to one person or one place,Where we—being even for a moment prophetic—Might identify and wean a potential in the waiting.

And with all this, Open our eyes, in yearning, for Jesus.

On the mountains, In the cities, Through the corridors of power and streets of despair, To help, to heal, To confront, to convert, O come, O come, Immanuel.

Flirting with Rescue

fullsizeoutput_3b

On a recent trip to Alexandria, Nick and I ushered at Signature Theatre for A Little Night Music.  I will confess I did not know the show nor did I know that a particular song was from the show—I just thought it was all Judy Collins.

It is a delightful play and the cast is fabulous. There is humor and wisdom on stage.  Longing and pent-up frustration also appear.  Fredrik and Anne have been married for eleven months and she is still a virgin—the reality of which accounts for some of the humor and pent-up frustration.  Fredrik takes Anne to the theatre to see a play staring Desiree Armfeldt.   Fredrik and Desiree, once lovers, find their paths crossing again. A backstage tryst leads to an invitation to spend the weekend in the country.  After a somewhat disastrous dinner party, Desiree ascends to her bedroom to mend the hem of her torn gown.  Fredrik finds her and in one of the more poignant scenes deep love and longing is expressed.  It is in this setting that Desiree sings—“Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair?…” She pours her heart into the words and Fredrik watches with intensity.  And before she sings the last verse, Fredrik says “Desiree, I’m sorry. I never should have come.  To flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved…Do try to forgive me.”

As Fredrik left the stage, I leaned over to Nick and repeated the line “To flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved…that’ll preach.”

And the next day, it was—preached that is.

While Nick and Sassy are still living in Alexandria, that is also home.  And so, when I’m home with them, I usually worship with Nick.  He is a member of the most awesome Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church.  The Sunday after seeing “Night Music”, Fr. Tim preached.  Drawing on Jeremiah 20:7 – 9 and Matthew 16:21 – 27, he challenged those in the sanctuary to fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “We have domesticated the gospel,” he said “wanting it to be something that makes us feel good and gives us comfort.”  And yet, if we are serious about being disciples of Jesus, he went on to say, we have to recognize that the gospel demands much from us—a way of life that is counter cultural. And then he addressed DACA and Charlottesville and the necessity for white people to have serious and intentional conversations about race, conversations that lead to systemic change. We cannot, he said, think talking about these things is enough. We have to act. And the line came back to me—to flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved.

The events of Charlottesville and the aftermath continue to hold my attention—and rightly so.  As I read the newspaper and listen to the radio, scroll through my Facebook feed and talk with friends, it seems to me there is some flirtation going on.  Yes, we can remove statues of Confederate soldiers and rename streets.  But if we do not have serious conversation about how we got here and why this happened and what to do next, we are flirting with rescue.

Flirtation is surface; salvation requires a deep dive. Pulling down statues is surface. Coming to terms with white privilege requires a deep dive. Renaming streets is surface. Dismantling systemic racism requires a deep dive.

As a part of my new work as General Presbyter for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, I am getting to know my new city and surrounding areas.  I learned of, applied for, and was accepted into the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program.  This program seeks to develop diverse leadership abilities of Clevelanders who are committed to creating a city and region that works for everyone.  Their vision is to foster leadership that is committed to creating progressive change.

This is not flirting; this is deep dive. And it got real deep real quick this past Saturday when we ventured into the arena of character based leadership.  One example we considered was the Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV.  If you haven’t read his story, you can read it here. As we discussed his actions and what it said about his character, one person in the room said, “Anybody white willing to speak out against racism is going to lose something.”

Changing this part of our life together is more than mere flirtation.  This requires time, energy, courage, vulnerability.  This requires a confession of fear and moving forward anyway.  To dismantle the racism that exists is going to be a long haul and at times I wonder if we’re more comfortable with flittering—I know I am.  Am I willing to lose something?  Am I willing to be changed? Am I willing to be uncomfortable and challenged so that all people who call this country home are given respect and dignity?  Am I willing to risk my privilege so that all people who call this country home can sleep safely at night and during the day live full and unencumbered lives? God, I hope so. And even as I write this, I am aware there may be much in the preceding questions that are cause for naiveté—and so I ask for correction and insight.

In the end, all is well for Fredrik and Desiree. The flirtation gives way; salvation seems possible.  I’m hoping the truth on the stage will impose itself into my daily living.

Image:  A favorite picture hanging the office which is only flirtation without action