In 1959, shortly after his election, Pope John XXIII called the church council that became Vatican II. Pope John called for an aggiornamento, a bringing up to date, recognizing the church’s need to be relevant in a modern context. Sixteen documents resulted from the council. Those 16 documents addressed issues that included the media of social communication, ecumenism, non-Christian religions, priestly formation, missionary activity, the role of the laity and Christian education. (Striking how many of these we are wrestling with in 2015.) Ecclesiology was the doctrine at stake and reconciliation an overarching goal Pope John hoped to achieve.
Fifty years later, Vatican II still reverberates in the Catholic Church and, I would dare say, in Protestant circles as well. Those three years, two popes, and 2,500 Fathers (each entitled to bring with him his own theologian) ushered in a renewal that remains unparalleled in modern times. They brought about massive needed change as a result of facing head on the need for an aggiornamento.
I believe the PC(USA) needs an aggiornamento council. Could the 222nd GA be such a council? Is it possible that when commissioners gather in 2016 they might struggle with ecclesiology? What is the church? How does the church understand itself and its relationship to the world? Could a spoken goal be reconciliation? Perhaps they could consult more theologians and fewer parliamentarians. Maybe this GA could have less debate and more prayer and be the one known for its transformative worship rather than its close votes.
We are mid-way to GA. We have a year until we gather as a national church in Portland, Oregon. What can we do between now and then to bring about an aggiornamento council? Contentious issues won’t disappear. Controversy will continue to swirl. Financial challenges will remain. And yet, surely God is calling us to ministry and mission in the midst of all of this. How will the 222nd GA help local churches answer that call? How will those few days on the west coast amplify the Good News and further the making of disciples?
We have 12 months to seek God’s will for the next GA. We have 365 days to hone our hearing. Can we covenant together to enter into a season of preparation for the 222nd GA? Despite our disagreements, our more or less confidence in the process or even the people, could we unite in prayer? Agree to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Put our trust in the boundless power of the Triune God?
Our beloved Presbyterian Planning Calendar will soon be arriving. I humbly propose we use it as a guide to prayer. Don’t tear out those pages in the back. Use them as a breviary. Use the organizational directory as a missal book — pray for the staff, the ministries, those impacted by the mission of those ministries. Move on to our theological institutions and our colleges and universities — pray for the students, faculty and staff from Agnes Scott to the College of Wooster. Listed, too, are denominations with whom we are in full communion — pray God’s blessings upon them and then pray for those with whom we are not in full communion. (We are united in Christ with them.) Don’t forget to lift up the ecumenical and interfaith agencies working with the PC(USA).
Raise your voice to the throne of grace for each presbytery and for the commissioners who will be elected from them. Give thanks for the variety of gifts God grants and uses. Envision the flames and wind of the Spirit touching each person who will say yes to the call to serve in Portland. Take notes — there is a page for that, too! Take notes, make note, of the words, the visions, the biblical passages that come to consciousness as you pray. Share those revelations with the commissioners from your presbytery or be bold and send them to me and I will report back to you.
We have a year to ask God for the vision and courage to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads. Could the 222nd GA be known as our aggiornamento council? Let’s pray so, confident that through Christ all things are possible.
Grace and peace,