Each year, the Presbyterian Outlook hosts a luncheon on the first Saturday of General Assembly. The gathering gives participants an opportunity to hear from each of the candidates standing for moderator and listen to some thoughts from the editor on the critical issues facing the church. This year, the luncheon was held in St. Louis on June 16, 2018, and celebrated the Outlook’s 200-year anniversary. Here are the remarks from the event.
Jill Duffield, Outlook editor and publisher
Researching one’s ancestry seems to be in vogue right now. The ability to swab our cheek, put it in the mail and – “presto!” – discover the journey our DNA has taken that leads to us seems irresistible.
We long to know to whom we are connected, what hardships and triumphs they experienced, what kind of people are “our” people.
I have not sent my DNA to ancestry.com or 23andMe or any of those services. My sister, however, has done them all. She has also researched parts of our family tree.
Periodically, apropos of nothing, I get a barrage of rapid fire texts for her like these:
“So one of our ancestors who left the U.S. for Canada – an Abel Chadsey was fishing in Labrador ‘upon hearing that the British were making trouble for the colonies, he with his Quaker principles thought it best not to return to his native state but remained and settled in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.’ Interestingly, his father was a revolutionary war soldier.”
Brief pause as those little dots appear on my phone. Then:
“Abel’s much younger brother went into medicine and was a farmer who accumulated a fortune and stayed in the U.S.”
“Their grandmother was the Greene of Nathaniel Greene.”
“Nathaniel Greene was a Quaker and yet a general.”
“He was expelled from the faith.”
“The rest were in fisheries or blacksmiths.”
“All other branches very Scottish.”
Well, I think, good to know? I guess? What am I supposed to glean from this knowledge? How should I feel about it? Proud? Ashamed? Emboldened? Chastened?
How are any of us supposed to feel about the people who came before us, the ones we are so relieved to hear were “on the right side of history” and the ones who were decidedly not.
I was a history major in college. I did graduate work in Medieval church history, as is befitting for a Presbyterian minister of Scottish descent.
I value deeply knowing the stories and events of the past. Not to be proud or embarrassed, but instead to be put in my place, literally and figuratively.
I need the perspective of the long view. I need to know that when I think this is the hardest time or the most important time or the most perplexing time, that, in fact, it is not. This is simply: our time. Or, more accurately: all times and places are God’s.
I need to know that the Presbyterian Outlook– in whatever form, under whatever name – has faced financial challenges before and proclamations of its imminent death have been presumptions time and time again. I need to know that people of faith before me have lived in cultures where racism was rampant, where gender equality was more than elusive, where elected officials trampled on the vulnerable for whom they were entrusted to care. I need to know that in the midst of all of it Christians debated and argued, split and excommunicated each other, were among the leaders who exploited the poor, and justified that very exploitation with the Bible and the words of Jesus — and also that there were others who stepped into the breach for the sake of the least of these and at the cost of their very lives. I need to know the possibilities, the pitfalls, the promises and the potential of our choices, the real ramifications of our attempts at faithfulness.
Not to be chagrined or elated, but rather to be fully engaged, reminded that we are a part of God’s story of redemption, given the ministry of reconciliation, ambassadors for Christ who have been given the Holy Spirit and sent to the ends of the earth to be witnesses to the grace, mercy and love of God. I need to know that God works through limited, sinful human beings and that the work God does through us makes a difference.
I need to be reminded often that saying “Here I am, Lord” matters. Attempting to follow the will of God makes a difference, especially for those who are right now being trampled and humiliated, arrested and separated from their children, for those who languish in refugee camps, private for-profit prisons and on the streets in the shadow of luxury hotels. That, too, is why we need to know our history, to remember that justice and mercy must be pursued and defended.
This little magazine, in the grand scheme of the big God story, is not critical to the present and coming kingdom. But over the course of its almost 200-year history, it has participated in furthering the plot of God’s grand narrative. Now, let’s be clear, that may have been by way of a counter-example. I went to the Presbyterian Historic Society in Philadelphia and flipped through some copies of some of our predecessor publications and quickly thought I’d like to distance myself from some of the sentiments therein expressed. But then there are those chapters of the Outlook’sstory that remind me of the power of words, passionately and repeatedly expressed, grounded in and shaped by God’s WORD, to turn the course of history in ways that bend the arc of it toward justice. And that, as Tom Currie likes to say, ain’t nothing.
All of these little papers that are part of our DNA saw themselves as called to proclaim the gospel in their time and place, addressing the pressing issues of their day, calling upon Christians to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads and participate in the story of salvation history of which they were a part.
That’s our call, too. Not so that in the future our children and grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren will look back and be glad to claim us, but so that through our witness, small and genuine, passionate and persistent, proximate and no doubt flawed, they will know that following Jesus Christ matters, that being a disciple is not about sitting back and analyzing, but about walking behind Jesus and beside one another. My hope is that future generations will flip through our pages and think: They sought to be faithful – not effective, not successful, not righteous – but faithful to Jesus Christ.
At the end of the day, that’s our mission: past, present and future. And in our family tree we have fighting Quakers, if you will. People whose professed beliefs did not find expression in their tangible actions. We had an editor who espoused temperance and sold ads that encouraged alcohol consumption. We had people who advocated for the right things for all the wrong reasons. We had Presbyterian women who sent money to missionaries even as they thought it pleasing to God to keep our retreat and conference centers segregated. We had editors who were eloquent on the page and irascible in person. We had writers who were committed to their congregations and neglectful of their families. We were, and are, a mixed bag of glorious and lamentable, often on the same page and in the same person.
And yet, God worked through us, like God worked through Sarah, Jacob, David, Peter, the woman at the well. I could keep going, right? The Spirit gave words to speak and ears to hear and interceded when we couldn’t or wouldn’t listen and that’s why we are bold enough to continue this work: not because we are good or righteous or powerful, but because God is good and righteous and powerful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That is why we will not be silent in this, our chapter of God’s story. We will seek to speak the Word entrusted to us, humbly and fearlessly, knowing that it will not return to God empty. Limited as we are, we will, as our very first ancestor publication did, “seek the reach of the cross and the vision of Christ.” That’s the only way we will be found faithful and that alone is our mission.
Sharon Blount, Presbyterian Outlook Foundation board chair
On behalf of Foundation Board, I want to express our sincere appreciation for your support. We couldn’t do this work without you. So, THANK YOU!
This luncheon is particularly important because it comes at a time when we’re celebrating our 200th anniversary. In 2019, the Presbyterian Outlookwill mark 200 years of service to the church and its leadership. We’re excited about celebrating our 200-year history, but we’re equally excited about the future of the Outlook. What happens to the Outlook going forward will depend largely on the decisions the board and staff will make over the next several months, but it will also depend on you and the support that you continue to give us. If you’re wondering what that support might look like, I’ve got a few suggestions.
One of the best things about birthdays – especially really big birthdays – is all the great presents you get. And for me the best way to ensure that you get really great presents is to make a list of what you would most like to have and then share that list with all your family and friends, thereby ensuring that they don’t have to stress about what to get and you don’t have to pretend to like something you really didn’t want to begin with. So here’s a list of really great presents the Outlookwould love to have and we hope you will love to give.
First and foremost, we ask for your prayers. Pray for the staff here at GA. Not only our full-time staff, but all of the additional writers and reporters Jill has brought on to make sure you have everything you need and know everything you need to know during your stay here.
Pray especially for the full-time staff. We have a very small group of people who do an amazing job bringing you information, stories and resources to help you with your ministries. They do a lot with very little and we welcome your prayers as they do this very rewarding but challenging work.
Pray for our board of trustees. We will be making critical decisions in the coming months and would welcome your prayers for strength and wisdom as we move forward.
Secondly, if you aren’t a subscriber please consider becoming one. (You can subscribe here.) You can get us in print or digital formats, or both. If you’re already a subscriber, spread the word. Encourage your friends and colleagues to subscribe or consider giving a subscription as a gift.
Last but certainly not least, we ask for your monetary gifts. (Donate now.) One-time gifts are most welcome, but we would also love for you to consider adding us to the list of charitable organizations that you support on a recurring basis. Your gifts help us to continue and enhance our mission, which is to provide you with relevant and impactful resources for your ministries so that together we might live into God’s plan and purposes for our lives.