FILLED WITH HOPE, I AM WAITING

In this sacred Advent season of waiting and hoping I encountered an editorial written by John Wimberly (The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/22/14, pg 5) addressing a concern I have had for years.  My basic question:  Why don’t we give some of our churches more time before closing them?   John Wimberly says in his editorial:

The congregation I served for 30 years was almost closed and the building sold back in the 1970’s.  Thank God the congregation convinced the presbytery to give them more time for God to work through their ministry.  Today, Western Church is a vital, urban ministry where people worship God joyfully, children are educated and the homeless have been fed, clothed and given social services for more than 30 years…..thanks be to God that the majority of presbyters were in no rush to judgment.  They decided to wait with God for something to happen as Western Church.

I thank God for the urban church I served for 28 years, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan.  I am glad the church has an intentional transitional pastor, Rev. Jim Williams, working with this church and presbytery in helping this congregation determine their future.  I pray that the Presbytery of Lake Huron give this church time and resources to help them determine what God has planned next for them.

And thinking about church buildings, the church spends too much time worrying about real estate.  Let’s invest more time thinking about what we could do to maintain a Presbyterian witness in some of these buildings we decide to close.  I can name three former Presbyterian churches in Saginaw with buildings no longer under the Presbyterian umbrella that continue doing ministry in various neighborhoods (Grace, Washington Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue).

Buildings and dealing with church real estate is perhaps the one big obstacle in making the decision to close a church.  As John Wimberly continues to say:

When I see our judicatories selling off property (make that: congregations), I am profoundly troubled.  Unable to envision a successful ministry in the old Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, our presbytery sold the buildings in the early 1980’s to a coalition of community groups.  Today, the buildings house a thriving community center and a non-denominational church in one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods.  Others had and implemented a vision we lacked.

Again, I would hope that presbyters would consider holding onto these properties and ministries.  It is absolutely true that once a building is sold or torn down the opportunity for a Presbyterian ministry in that location probably ends forever.

It is my hope and prayer that some of the resources the Presbyterian Church invests in helping to form new congregations could be invested keeping some of our small struggling urban (and rural) church doors open.

I am waiting and hoping to see more of our urban (and small rural) churches find ways to keep their doors open.

Just Wondering

007Knowing that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is investing tens of thousands of dollars and professional staff hours with the “1001 New Worshipping Communities” initiative, I wonder where the funding and intentional staff support exists in helping thousands of small congregations in need of revitalization.   I know of dozens of rural and urban churches that could use more focused support from the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Are there others who share this concern?  Specifically, what is being done to help small struggling congregations deal with huge buildings that drain congregational resources away from evangelism and mission?  Who on the national staff is addressing the specific concerns of urban congregations?

Just wondering!

Have you discovered: Theocademy?

‘Theocademy’  (http://www.theocademy.com/) is one of the best kept secrets in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   I heard of this series of FREE instructional lessons a few weeks ago.   This Theocademy was developed by Rev. Landon Whitsitt in partnership with several synods and ten Presbyterian Seminaries – and I understand plans are being made to create more lessons.  While these two groups of lessons were developed for New Members and Ruling Elders and Deacons, I believe they would make for an excellent Adult Education series of lessons.   I look forward to viewing new lessons as they are developed.  And yes, as mentioned before, these lessons are FREE!

THE FOUNDATIONS OF PRESBYTERIAN POLITY

Are our PCUSA foundations cracked?  I sometimes feel the church is ready to collapse under the weight of numerous issues.   Is our polity working for us or against us?   Is our desire to always do things “decently and in order” get in the way of reconciling our differences?   What has happened to our celebrating diversity acknowledge we are not always going to agree on all of the issues?  Are the foundations, that have always held us together as a denomination, failing us?

So back to basics.    It’s been a long time since I took a formal class on church polity.  After forty years of ministry and regular use of the Book of Order, I would like to think I had a pretty good understanding of all three sections of our Presbyterian Church Constitution. 

Wait a minute!  Did I say “Three sections” to the Book of Order?  There are now four sections in our constitution.  With all the work we did in approving the (NFOG) New Form of Government, how could I miss the fact that we added a fourth section to our constitution?  The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, wrote a pastoral letter this past week  (July 10, 2014) reminding us once again of these “foundations” – to quote Dr. Sorge: 

The former Book of Order identified features of our foundation here and there, but did not lay them out anywhere in order  Our revised version now identifies our foundations as one discrete section among four, each identified by their first letter.:

  1. F – Foundations of our life together
  2. G – Governance of our life together
  3. W – Worship as the core practice of our life together
  4. D – Discipline that insures the ongoing integrity of our life together.

 Aha!   There is one quote I have used often in referring to these foundations.  Having served an urban church struggling with the decline in membership and resources we affirmed often:

The Church is the body of Christ,. Christ gives the Church all the gifts necessary to be his body.  The Church strives to demonstrate these gifts in its life as a community in the world (I Corinthians 12: 27-28):  The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.  F-1.0301

It’s time for me to check out the rest of these “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity”.   In outline form:   

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity

Chapter One

The Mission of the Church

F.1.01 God’s Mission

F.1.02 Jesus Christ is Head of the Church

F.1.03 The Calling of the Church

F.1.04 Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

 

Chapter Two

The Church and Its Confessions

F.2.01 The Purpose of Confessional Statements

F.2.02 The Confessions as Subordinate Standards

F.2.03 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Church Catholic

F.2.04 The Confessions as Statements if the Faith of the Protestant Reformation

F.2.05 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Reformed Tradition

 

Chapter Three

Principles of Order and Government

F.3.01 Historic Principles of Church Order

F.3.02 Principles of Presbyterian Government

F.3.03 Foundational Statements

F.3.04 The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Defined

 

I end this blog with the words of Dr. Sorge who said in his pastoral letter:

In a time when some folk wonder whether and how our beloved church can weather some storms we are currently facing, it is critically important that we consider the sort of foundation that can keep us strong all the way through.  Understanding the storm is important, but attending to our foundations is what will cause us to survive and to thrive today and tomorrow, to the glory o God.”

 Entrusting our lives to God alone,  

Amen

 

  

BECOMING MISSIONAL (Part One)

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At the heart of my ministry has been the call to be a missional church.  I hope this reaffirmation by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church doesn’t get lost amid the ‘hot button’ decisions made at this meeting.  The action item approved by this assembly is for the church to:

“join intentionally in God’s mission to transform our world and address root causes of societal injustices by following Christ’s example of service through faith, hope, love, and witness.”

I am wondering:  How are we doing?  Note at the end of this rational a listing of specific action items for churches to consider.

From the report to the General Assembly:

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a historical commitment to joining Christ’s mission in local and global communities and many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. The Presbyterian Mission Agency, in its 2013–2016 Mission Work Plan, has made engaging young adults through mission and volunteer service a priority and believes shaping multigenerational, faith-based relationships dedicated to service in local communities and the world will help the church better follow Christ’s mission.

 

For nearly 200 years, the Presbyterian church has served as one of the greatest forces for mission in the world. The church is called to minister to the immediate needs and hurts of people. The Book of Order states: “In the life of the congregation, individual believers are equipped for the ministry of witness to the love and grace of God in and for the world. The congregation reaches out to people, communities, and the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to gather for worship to offer care and nurture to God’s children, to speak for social justice and righteousness, and to bear witness to the truth and to the reign of God that is coming into the world” (G-1.0101).

 

Presbyterians have sought to be a mission-centered church from their inception and have a strong, unwavering belief that there is no other way truly to be the church. Many have discussed and written about the concept of the missional church in recent years. One Presbyterian scholar, Darrell Guder, has written on this vital topic for the church today. In his book, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, Guder and his colleagues provide key insights into the recent missional church movement.

 

Guder and his colleagues discuss three themes that are important to this proposal: the shift the church must make, the purpose of the church, and the role of denominational structures. Guder argues that to be missional the church must “move from church with mission to missional church.”[1] Most churches articulate a commitment to mission and have a mission program. If they are large enough, they likely will have a specific pastor devoted to mission. Many churches support several overseas missionaries and are probably contributing money and service to a local mission, homeless shelter, or food bank. In this construct, mission is seen as one of the many activities and programs of the church. The purpose of the local church is not to be what Guder calls “vendors of religious services and goods,”[2] with mission merely being one of a myriad of programs. Rather, doing mission is central to what it means to be the church. This is the shift that the church must make.

 

The second major theme in Guder’s work challenges the very definition of what it means to be the church. Guder argues that it is “a new understanding of the church as a body of people sent on a mission.[3] The church is thus not only a body that gathers for a worship service. The church is also a group of people organizing together so they can serve the community around them most effectively. The purpose of gathering is to be sent. Guder states, “The public worship of the mission community always leads to the pivotal act of sending. The community that is called together is the community that is sent. Every occasion of public worship is a sending event.”[4] To be a missional church, worship is driven more by what must happen after the service.

 

What it truly means to be the church, according to Guder, is “the people of God who are called and sent to re-present the reign of God. This vocation is rooted in the good news, the gospel: in Jesus Christ the reign of God is at hand and is now breaking in.”[5] For Guder, the focus of the staff and the commitment of the resources are directed toward helping people to re-present Christ to their neighbors in their everyday lives. They do this through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues. The activities of the church should model these forms of everyday interactions. Guder writes: “The ecclesial practices are never esoteric or supernatural but involve ordinary human behavior: joining and sharing, eating and drinking, listening and caring, testing and deciding, welcoming and befriending.”[6] To do this effectively, the church must know its neighbors and understand what things they care about, so as to cultivate authentic, genuine friendships.

 

This initiative seeks to inspire Presbyterian congregations to reach out to their communities through acts of service that lead to connectivity with local communities and demonstrates the love of Christ to their neighbors such as:

 

•      Every congregation would determine a number of volunteers and volunteer hours they would commit to their community and fulfill that commitment for the year.

•      Adopt a community in need of refurbishing in the U.S.

•      Actively engage youth and young adults in volunteer opportunities.

•      Support young adults and others called to serve in God’s mission in the U.S. and abroad.

•      “Re-presenting” Christ in their everyday lives through normal, day-to-day interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues.

•      Support the Living Missionally initiative in prayer.

•      Actively engaging at least 1,000 PC(USA) congregations each year (2014–2016) to focus on becoming “Missional Churches” through acts of service in communities around the world.”

 

[1] Darrell L. Guder, “Missional Church: From Sending to Being Sent,” in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, ed. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 6.

[2] George R. Hunsberger, “Missional Vocation: Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God,” in Missional Church, 108.

[3] Ibid., 81.

[4] Guder, “Missional Structures: The Particular Community,” in Missional Church, 243.

[5] Guder, “Missional Church,” in Missional Church, 15.

[6] Inagrace T. Dietterich, “Missional Community: Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,” in Missional Church, 181.

 

PCUSA is not BDS and is pro-Israel!

John Bell, pastor of the Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, does an excellent job in describing the PCUSA Divestment issue.

John Henry Bell's Blog

The Presbyterian Church USA has been accused of being influenced by and aligning with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and of taking action that is anti-Israel and pro-Palestine. This is simply not true. Most commissioners that I talked to had never heard of BDS. None that I talked to had read “Zionism Unsettled” and found verbal summaries of it to be disgusting. The PCUSA has long been a supporter of Israel and will continue to be. I am deeply sorry the action has been misunderstood, misinterpreted and has caused pain for our Jewish friends. Speaking for the vast majority of Presbyterians at the General Assembly, I can clearly say there was no malice intended. We too seek peace, justice and reconciliation.

This is a summary of what the General Assembly 2014 actually did (for more detail read: PCUSA Divestment):

The 2014 PCUSA General Assembly APPROVED a resolution…

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