The fallout from Presbyterian actions involving the Middle East continues to rain down.
On Nov. 11, the denomination announced that it no longer employs two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national staff members who traveled to the Middle East last month and were involved in a controversial meeting with Hezbollah, a group that the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization.
Gone are Kathy Lueckert, who as deputy director of the General Assembly Council was considered part of the top level of the denomination's leadership, and Peter Sulyok, coordinator for the past dozen years of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
In announcing the departures, John Detterick, executive director of the General Assembly Council, did not make it clear if Lueckert and Sulyok resigned or were fired -- or say precisely why they no longer are PC(USA) employees, citing in a written statement their right to confidentiality.
But the Hezbollah visit, made during a two-week fact-finding tour by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy -- a visit that also included high-level meetings with political, human rights and religious leaders around the Middle East -- had provoked strong and immediate criticism both from Jewish leaders already angry with the PC(USA), and by some from within the Presbyterian church.
Presbyterian-Jewish relations have been tense since the General Assembly's decision, last summer, to begin a process of phased, selective divestment in some companies doing business in Israel, in protest over Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people.
The idea goes something like this.
A small congregation, in need of a new pastor, looks at new seminary graduates -- a pastor seeking a first call would be just fine with them.
A student, eager to dive into ministry, is delighted with the idea too.
The congregation needs a pastor; the pastor needs a job.
A match is made.
Except here's the problem: a lot of the time, it doesn't work like that at all.
People familiar with the system say there are multiple, serious problems with the path that students take during and after seminary -- problems that are often frustrating for students and churches alike.
Some students don't move into the inquirer and candidacy process quickly enough, or don't pass their ordination examinations, so when they graduate they're not ready to take a call to a church.
More than a few people go to seminary, but don't want to go into parish ministry, or don't want to serve the kinds of churches that have the most vacancies -- small congregations in rural areas or little towns.
The United States has always been a religiously pluralistic place — now, more so than ever, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion.
In a recent lecture series, Ammerman described how she sees things lining up — saying the United Stattes now has eight major streams of religious leanings, what she referred to as eight points on the compass.
These are cynical times, and this is supposed to be a season of hope.
We have the president of the United States flying off in fierce secrecy at Thanksgiving to greet the American troops in Iraq — an unabashedly Hollywood patriotic moment — followed almost immediately by more deaths of more soldiers far from home.
Wise men from afar, angel visitors to shepherds in the night, a child cradled in a manger — through what lens shall these stories be viewed? Are they to be placed in the same mental file with "The Legends of King Arthur" or are they events with names and places that occurred in human history? Are they viewed as fact or fiction?
"Make them stop! Make them stop!" That's my younger daughter's advice to the people in our town who fired up their Christmas lights and decorations, even put up their trees, well before Thanksgiving.
"Don't they know they're rushing the season?" my older daughter asked.
Note — Since this story was posted on Oct. 21, we have received an e-mail from Alex Metherell, whom we attempted to reach last week but did not receive a reply. His response is as follows:
"Your report gives the impression that we have the 50 signatures needed to call the special meeting of the 214th General Assembly. In fact, we have 25 signatures (13 elders and 12 ministers) representing 19 presbyteries and 11 synods. All of these came from the e-mailing I made to about 70 commissioners. We still need to get another 12 elder commissioners and 13 minister commissioners. I have now sent out via regular mail a call to all 554 commissioners," wrote Metherell.
It’s been a distressing, violent year since hijacked planes plunged into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The months since then have brought a whole crop of pain around the world — suicide bombings in the Middle East, retaliation in Palestinian villages, war in Afghanistan, Hindus and Muslims attacking one another in India, a Russian plane filled with children falling from the sky, to name just a few. And, in the United States, economic news so bad that almost everyone knows someone who’s lost a job.
When Norman Blessing retired and moved to Florida about four years ago, he joined First church in Sebastian because it was the closest Presbyterian church around. He had no intention of launching what one observer has characterized, in a letter posted on the Internet, as "the last great battle" of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
This is the gist of what 14 trips to Cuba have taught Bill McAtee, a retired presbytery executive from Kentucky. In Cuba, where for decades the practice of Christianity was discouraged, "they have done so much with so little. And we have done so little with so much."