Reasons to celebrate (Moderator’s column)

So much is happening which our denomination needs to know. So instead of my traditional narrative this month, I wish to share some bullet points to underscore the remarkable way that God is alive and well in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond.

Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • We have just received word that the two South Sudanese Presbyterian ministers who were arrested for their faithfulness have been released by the Sudanese government. This is wonderful news, and should be celebrated by all. Many of our PC(USA) people were involved in advocating for their release. Today they are home with their families. Praise God!
  • A new focus on how we as a denomination are facing issues of racism is taking hold. Unveiled at the Big Tent in Knoxville, Tennessee, the first weekend in August, the theme, “Ask Me Why You Matter to Me,” has taken on a life of its own. Our denomination is realizing even more than ever that we cannot just sit by and idly watch as racist acts occur. As white as we are as a denomination, we have been key leaders in supporting civil rights, human rights, and issues of justice for many years. It is part of our DNA. May each congregation, and each member, vow to speak up and be proactive in our support for fair and compassionate treatment for all of God’s children. And may our doors and hearts be open to new partnerships that will help to carry the load of justice.
  • Coupled with our new emphasis on racism is a new “partnership” that is unfolding between our denomination and the new and outstanding Broadway play, “Amazing Grace.” It was my pleasure to see this production the night before its official Broadway opening, and to meet the author of the book who also wrote the music. It is an amazing story of John Newton, a slave trader and owner, and the issues of injustice that permeated the world at that time (and still do in many ways today). Chris Smith, the author, and I are working together, along with some of our denominational staff, to see if this production might serve as a basis for conversation across the country regarding this issue. If you are in or near New York, I encourage you to see it. It is wonderful!
  • Dr. Cam Murchison, the former dean of faculty at both Columbia and Union Presbyterian Seminaries, is leading a process to see what our Presbyterian colleges and seminaries are doing in the area of climate change matters. Dr Jeffrey Sachs, famous professor at Columbia University in New York who is an international expert on climate change, has also offered to be a resource to us on this matter. As Dr. Murchison gathers information concerning what is currently being done, he will also be exploring possible ways to help us to explore more intentionally the curriculum in the institutions so that graduates will be equipped to help and respond in constructive ways to environmental changes. This is especially critical at this time before the World Climate Conference in Paris occurs in December.
  • The Reverend Mark Hofstetter, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New York City, is leading a group of prominent Presbyterian leaders (including former Moderator Bob Bohl, former President of Columbia Seminary Laura Mendenhall, Union Presbyterian Seminary President Brian Blount, former President of Ducks Unlimited Bill Straughan, and others) in exploring issues related to the funding of the Global Mission Program. More information on this will be forthcoming, but we are so grateful to these team members who are assisting in this effort. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will hear a report about this project at its upcoming meeting and will consider active partnership with the task force.
  • As a major typhoon takes aim on our brothers and sisters in Taiwan, where the Taiwan Presbyterian Church is celebrating its 150th birthday this year, we pray for physical safety, for minimal property damage, for maintaining the infrastructure of fresh water, bridges, and roads, as well as for the burden of inconvenience and possible job losses. May God hold them close. As Moderator, I am looking forward to celebrating with them at the end of October.
  • “Educate a Child” is a new program that is gaining momentum throughout the PC(USA). Let us look for ways to help carry on the heritage of our denomination as leaders in educating God’s children. Thanks especially to Eileen Lindner for her leadership in helping to roll out this critical opportunity to minister to the children of the world.
  • May we pray for the committees who are tasked with providing nominees to the 222nd General Assembly (2016) for the new leader of our Presbyterian Mission Agency, and also for the election of our Stated Clerk. These are critical positions in our church as we go through so much change and reformation. Likewise, may we find commissioners being elected from presbyteries who are willing to give of their time, talent, wisdom, and even courage as we head into a new season of the General Assembly.
  • And speaking of change. There has been much conversation around the church concerning our denominational structure—at the national level, at the presbytery level, and at the synod level. There have also been conversations about how we govern ourselves at the biennial General Assembly. Obviously we need to look at how we operate, and additionally we need to explore who we are and want to be. There are overtures already planned for introduction, and conversations among denominational level boards about these matters. I am grateful that the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, in accordance with our Book of Order, has taken on the task of helping us to explore how and where we need to go. A subcommittee is working now on a possible plan that could be implemented in the coming months, and help prepare the upcoming General Assembly to spend significant time in making some decisions that could have lasting positive impact on all of the above matters. That is good news.
  • Whereas we do not have the resources, money, or personnel to begin a new program, and the following has not been identified as the most important direction we need to take, there is a concerted effort on the part of some people to begin a support system across the denomination for people and their families who are dealing with cancer. Such a system would likely be informal, and may be expanded to look at other factors that contribute to cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Stay tuned, and let’s see how this might progress in ways that could minister to our flock who are hurting and grieving due to cancer, et al.

So many things impact our PC(USA). May we continue to ask God for guidance, support, and perseverance as we seek to do God’s will. And may we also hold in prayer those who are no longer part of our communion because of dissatisfaction. May God bless them as they seek to be faithful followers, and heal their anger and hurt with our compassion and mutual love of Christ.