JH: Tell me about your first six months on the job.
GP: It’s been an interesting six months. Of course I started out with a trip to Cleveland clinic that kind of slowed things down a little bit. But that probably was the Lord talking to me. People have been supportive. I’ve enjoyed getting out to meetings with some different people than I usually am with, in some presbyteries and some other contexts, which has been good. I’m looking forward to the new year and to working together as a church.
JH: How’s recovery from your surgery going?
GP: Recovery’s just fine. My cardiologist just basically released me a couple weeks ago, and my cardio rehab ended two weeks ago, so I’m basically on my own, trying to be on my best behavior.
JH: Tell me, just in case some of our readers haven’t heard, what was the procedure, the surgery about?
GP: I had an aortic arch aneurism. They have known I’ve had it a long time, but it stayed below surgery size until this past year and then it went over surgery threshold, and away we went.
JH: Cliff Kirkpatrick carved out a reputation for being a leading ecumenist in the world, what kind of reputation do you hope to develop?”
GP: I think that’s not an easy question to ask going into a job. I hope, just try to be faithful every day to my calling. I try to be open to conversations with anybody. I try to constantly remind the church – at least hope to try to constantly remind the church – that our hope is in Jesus Christ and not our own abilities and powers. That’s what I hope I can focus on.
JH: Is there an emerging “Parsons Doctrine”?
GP: I don’t know that there’s an emerging “Parson’s Doctrine.” My philosophy, again, is to be open to all people, to try to ground what I do as Biblically as much as I can, and to be out in the church with people in worship. The Office of the General Assembly is here to serve. I’ll e-mail you our vision statement, you can pick some clues out of that.
JH: What hopes do you have for this new year?
GP: Well, I think we’re going into a difficult time not just as a church but in a real time in our country where are we going to have to examine what our real resources are, and the realization that all that’s gold is not really gold. And that goes for Presbyterians, too, to realize that our real resources are our faith and the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I think we’re going to go into a year when the need of people who are homeless and without healthcare and without jobs and without education is just going to be even greater, and the Presbyterians have had a long history of reaching out to people in those needs. We’re going to have to do that not just from our wallets but really from our hands and our hearts. As a church there’s just lots of exciting things going on out there as far as church development and in rediscovery of mission, and I hope that we can continue to do that through the year as we remain faithful to what God has called us to be as a church.
JH: Gradye, the two hottest issues in the church right now are ordination standards and church property. Anything you’d like to say to the church about them?
GP: The church is in the latest chapter of a long discussion the church has had about ordination standards that reaches back three decades. I hope that the discussions in presbyteries are discussions that lead to everybody being able to communicate with each other, because I think that’s the goal: how can we have these varied points of view and yet remain in church together, and I hope we can continue to find the spirit with which to do that. I think on the property issues we just need to continue as much as possible to stay out of the courts, to find ways to have respectful conversations about this, the way the General Assembly asked us to do, and I hope our office will continue to help make that happen, also.
JH: There have been reports of presbyteries tackling the property issue all the way from the Presbytery of South Louisiana saying you can pretty much feel free to go with your property to Heartland Presbytery, reinforced by GA-PJC ruling, that is really confronting those pastors in churches thinking of leaving with the possibility of defrocking or at least being pulled out of their pastorates. I know that your office, under Cliff Kirkpatrick’s authority, about a year ago came out with guidance urging staying away from the courts. Is there anything you would add to that?
GP: The General Assembly’s action on pastoral gracious separation is the motto we’re trying to follow. We are working on a proposed policy piece that would be at least an advisory piece on how presbyteries might go about setting up policies for dismissing churches. Some of our presbyteries already have such policies. I think that, in my experience with this – which is way too much – these divisions never happen just right down the middle. They always, I think Carl Sandberg said it, they split like ice. They split star-wise. Families get split. Friends get split. Neighbors get split. I think we need to do all we can do so that, if a church makes the painful decision to leave, and it’s painful for the church and it’s certainly painful for us, that we do it in a way that is a witness to Jesus Christ and for the long term good of the whole church.
JH: Any last comments to pass on to the Outlook readers?
GP: Another thing I neglected to say is that my other continual hope for the “Parsons Doctrine” is to continue to lift up the office of elder, to recapture the spirit of what I think elders are supposed to be in this church, and the whole shared decision-making that’s at the heart of what it means to be Presbyterian is partially based upon this effort of renewing the office of elder so there is a real parity of conversations and that we all really value the shared input.