Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Incarnation, To Make Sure We Understand

In the Dec. 10th issue of Presbyterian Outlook, Charles Hardwick writes, "It's a drag to have someone speak over your head...It can happen your first day of work when your boss forgets that you are entering new territory, or when your teenage grandchild helps you 'master' Facebook."  My head was spinning today as Jane, Janet, Leslie and I discussed using Google Drive as a platform for presbytery committee document sharing....  New committee members' eyes often glaze over during orientation as I slip into Presby speak.  Hardwick suggests that preachers sometimes numb people's minds with "ten dollar" words in their sermons.  

Yet, "every Christmas," he continues, "we remember that God wants to communicate with us in a way that lowers our confusion, rather than heightening it.  John Calvin called it God's 'condescending' to us--speaking at our level, rather than over our heads."  Charles Wesley's carol hints at this condescending miracle of the Incarnation.  'Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate deity, Pleased in flesh with us to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.'  Jesus comes all the way down from heaven to make sure we understand who God is."  

I give thanks for your desire to follow Jesus, and for your calling to minister to others.  In some mysterious, imperfect and incomplete way, God uses us to communicate who God is and to make God's love real to those we encounterAs we grieve the deconstruction of the institutional church from what we have known and loved, and await what it shall become, this is the essence of our calling on which to build.    That is to enfllesh the love of God for a particular people in a particular time and place.   To do so, we must reinvent our methods, just as those before us have done again and again.  Not so much to make ourselves relevant, as to make real and present God's love to people. 

God is so much larger than our understanding, so full of mystery and majesty, how can we not speak over people's heads?  That's God's work in and through and in spite of us.  We may not know the impact we make on others, but God does.  On behalf of the lives you have touched and hearts you've warmed with the grace of God this year, I thank and praise God for you and your witness.  To God be the glory.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Advent Hope

We close a Church year with Thanksgiving and the celebration of Christ our King.  I thank God for this presbytery and its many gifted leaders.  May God bless your ministries richly as we begin anew this Advent Season.  Your presbytery staff holds you in our prayers. 

I commend to you two resources to enrich your Advent devotional reading.  One is a daily Advent devotional based on the lectionary prepared by the Israel/Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) of the PCUSA.  http://israelpalestinemissionnetwork.org/main/component/content/article/1/239-daily-advent-devotional-2012  The second is a weekly Advent Devotion prepared by the Presbyterian Earth Care and is in their newsletter.  You have to scrolled down to get to it.  http://www.presbyearthcare.org/docs/PEC_Update_18.4.pdf

These two resources provide different lens through which to look, ponder, wait and hope for the coming of our savior.  Let them stretch you and broaden your vision to the meaning of Christ’s incarnation this year.

A Blessed Advent/Christmas,


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Celebrating Anniversaries

On your behalf, I brought greetings on September October 14 and 21 to four Lake Michigan Presbytery congregations celebrating anniversaries: Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids (60th Anniversary), First Presbyterian Church in Buchanan (165th Anniversary) and First Presbyterian Churches in Plainwell and Concord (175th Anniversary). Such celebrations are important. For Eastminster, the younger of these four, they still have the opportunity of exploring and recording their foundation stories with eye witnesses. These others with more longevity, discovered old treasures in their closets and storage rooms, and learned stories long forgotten of their founding members and the Spiritual DNA that has run through their history. They rebuild a bell tower (Buchanan), renovated the sanctuary (Concord), and learned that their forbearers made some adaptive decisions (Plainwell). Recognizing that the Plainwell community was growing several miles south of their building, the raised it, rolled it down the road on logs. They later built their present building, and during one significant renovation, turned their sanctuary around to face the opposite direction. Our forbearers did face challenges, recognized opportunities, and made bold strategic decisions to better serve their Lord. This is part of who we are. Praise be to God. May we boldly follow where the Lord calls us today.

Grace and Peace, 
John Best, General Presbyter

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Save the Date(s)!

Two upcoming events address Lake Michigan Presbytery goal of providing resources and opportunities for Spiritual Formation of our leaders. The first is “Connecting the Dots  Spiritual Formation Retreat,” November 2-3, led by Rev. Mary Van Andel, association pastor at Kalamazoo, First.  This retreat was planned by Evelyn Diephouse, Larry Slager, Dick Cushnie, and Mary Van Andel, Spiritual Directors who were identified and convened because of this goal.  For the retreat brochure see  www.lakemichiganpresbytery.org/retreat 

The Second event is our upcoming Presbytery meeting, November 13th, at Battle Creek, First. Graham Standish, our guest leader, is a pastor of a growing congregation, author, and speaker.  To learn more about Graham go to  www.alban.org/blessedchurch/theAuthor.asp#B1   or download our bulletin insert.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Communities of Mission Practice

Lake Michigan Presbytery’s September meeting focused on mission. John Petro, an elder at Kalamazoo, First, and I reported on our visit with Ho-East Presbytery, our sister presbytery in Ghana July 17-25. The Rev. Kari Nicewander, a newly commissioned PC(USA) mission coworker to Zambia preached a sermon, “I’m Still Hungry” at worship. Our offering will support her PC(USA) mission; Sarah Wildt, a Young Adult PC(USA) Volunteer; and the Cherry Street Park Mission local in Niles where we met. Presbyterian Mission provided the frame for our debate of a policy to guide us when a Session and congregation struggles with their relationship with the PC(USA).

In my last blog I pointed to 2012 as the 175 Anniversary of Presbyterian World Mission, and how it has adapted to shifting contexts. Here I want to share my shock when reading the beginning history of our mission enterprise in 1837. Judson Taylor, in this summer’s issue of Mission Crossroads, our denominational mission newsletter, wrote about the historic context of our Presbyterian Mission Board, organized in 1837. The General Assembly which launched the Mission Board that year, was the same General Assembly that split the church in its second schism. Early “in 1758” writes Talyor, ”The church ”saw the healing of the Presbyterian schism between the Old Side and New Side…” “Seizing the opportunity to promote Presbyterianism in western Pennsylvania, the synod employed army chaplains and ministers to work that area to establish churches among the new settlers….When the Synod of Pittsburgh was established in 1802, the new body passed a resolution committing itself ‘to diffuse the knowledge of the gospel among the inhabitants of the new settlements; the Indian tribes, and if need be among the interior inhabitants, where they were not able to support the gospel.’”

“The missionary spirit of Presbyterians in western Pennsylvania must also be seen in the light of the larger Protestant mission movement in the first half of the nineteenth century….The American Board of commissioners for Foreign Missions” was organized in 1810. “Though largely an independent mission society of the Congregational churches, the American Board was a non-denominational mission society, and many Presbyterians supported its work. The controversy at the General Assembly in 1837 was: do Presbyterians need their own mission board? The existence of the American Board raised an important theological question for Presbyterians. Can the work of mission be rightly relegated to an independent society (essentially a para-church organization), or should it be seen as integral to the nature of the church and therefore an enterprise of the denomination? Those who took the former view, it was argued, might see mission as something that individual Presbyterians and congregations can do on an optional basis. Those who took the latter view saw mission as the heart of what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ.”

“Overtures were presented to General Assemblies in 1812, 1828, and 1831 that called for the establishment of a Presbyterian mission board. The issue, unfortunately, became part of a new division of the time between the Old School and New School wings of the church. Those in western Pennsylvania who sided with the Old School also urged the General Assembly of 1831 to embrace a ‘conceptional change’ in mission thinking. When their overture failed, the Synod of Pittsburgh chose to create its own mission organization, the Western Foreign Missionary Society…The Western Foreign Missionary Society sent its first missionaries to Monrovia, Liberia, and Lodiana in the Punjab of North India (now Pakistan). The society also sent 21 missionaries to Native American tribes, and 39 missionaries to Liberia and India. “

“At the Philadelphia General Assembly of 1837 the theological dispute between the Old School and New School resulted in a second schism. The Old School wing adopted the Western Foreign Missionary Society as its denominational mission organization, changing its name to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions and moving the headquarters to New York. The New School denomination chose to continue to send missionaries through the American Board. However, by the time this latest division in the denomination was healed in 1869, the New School had already begun to support the denomination’s mission board.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Presbyterians arguing over the nature of mission! Passionately dividing and a generation later healing and reuniting? So it goes. FYI, I’ve been invited to join a consultation in Dallas this October on the nature of our mission over the next decade. I haven’t decided yet if I will attend. I have concluded, that we are called into communities of mission practice. Different communities will claim and carry out their divine call. Our challenge seems to be how different communities’ mission intersect and get coordinated. I think Jesus, the head of the body, has something to do with it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

“Making All Things New”

Isaiah 42:9, 43:18-19, Revelation 21:5
Written by Rev. Dr. John M. Best, General Presbyter, Lake Michigan Presbytery - a devotion for the 40 days of prayer for GA commissioners leading to the 220th GA

“See, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Isaiah addresses an exiled people in Babylon, and John, in Revelation, a persecuted early Christian community. The painful status quo was not an option! These prophets gave depressed exiles and persecuted disciples vision of “the new thing” God was doing. These prophetic words resonate with the church today as we discern what God is doing. Our newly revised Form of Government reclaims two old terms: “councils” and “ruling elders.” Councils, we learn, gather to consider important matters of faith. Ruling elders “measure the church’s fidelity of the Word of God.” The questions always before us are, what is God doing, and how can we align ourselves as partners joining in what God is doing.

Presbyterians are celebrating 175 years of Presbyterian Mission this year! Indulge me in my Forrest Gump like intersection with this history. I personally have witnessed the deconstruction and reconstruction of Presbyterian Mission three times.

My adult life began as a P.C.U.S. missionary to Brazil with my wife, Eileen, in 1977. We were the first married couple to ever be commissioned by the P.C.U.S. Mission Board where the wife fulfilled the requested position. I went along as the spouse. Chock one up for that new day of women’s empowerment! Moreover, we stepped into a paradigm shift/hinge of mission history. Just months after our arrival in Brazil, we gathered with 90 plus other Presbyterian missionaries for a Mission meeting. It was a lot like a Synod meeting. We discussed budgets, work assignments, and strategies. When we gathered the next year, it was for a spiritual retreat. The Brazilian “Mission Field” was turned over to the Brazilian Church, which after 1978 directed our mission work there. It was a painful, yet healthy hinge of history as over half of the missionaries were dismissed by the end of our term in 1980.

Twenty years later, I was starting up a pastorate, which had an ecumenical partnership with a congregation in the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. My presbytery had a 15 year history building a relationship with the Presbytery of Havana, and my congregation had just established a sister congregation with the Church in Guines. Only the General Assembly staff person told us our covenant relationship was up. Find a new partner! Right, like that was going to fly! Guess who won that one? Another hinge! There was no way we were going to walk away from our brothers and sisters in Christ who were isolated due to government embargoes. I traveled to Cuba six times over the next 10 years, and hosted Cuban guests as many times. I took part in the Guines Church’s Centennial celebration, and in the pastor’s wedding.

Today, the presbytery I serve has a partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Ghana. A Ghana Network exists to coordinate our mission. We meet regularly with our global partners, other Presbyterians connected to the Ghanaian Church, and the GAMC staff and mission co-worker in Ghana. Hunter Farrell, Presbyterian Mission Agency, Director of World Mission, gets it right! He envisions these three separate but intersecting and overlaying partners as Communities of Mission Practice. PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers work not only with our global partner host churches, but with our congregations and presbyteries who have partnerships as well. From this writer’s Forrest Gump perspective, this is the right adaptive change, perfect for this time.

As you prepare to gather as a council this summer, I commend to you our rich history of
Presbyterian mission. Adaptive change is not easy. It never has been. But if the new thing is
God’s mission, sign me up!

Prayer: Lord, bless our mission partners. May we learn from each other, and most importantly
partner with you in what you are doing as you make all things new! Amen.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

GA Divided on Middle East Peace Strategy

The question: how to seek peace in Israel and Palestine? Support long standing commitment to Israel and stand with Palestinian Christians who ask for our support by divesting in companies which profit from their opression! The GA voted 333/331/2 abstentions for the committee's minority repor's substitute motion to invest in peaceful initiatives instead of divesting and was later passed by a slightly larger margin. The majority report also called for investment. As there are other overtures concerning divestment which were to be answered by this overture, it is likely that the Assembly will take this up again in the morning.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Monday the GA committees went to work.  Here, George Hunsberger moderates the Theological Issues and Institutions, CE committee as Brian Blunt, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary present John Trotti for a life time achievement award.
On Sunday, we worshiped at local churches in Pittsburgh in the morning.  In the afternoon, in plenary, commissioners elected Gradye Parsons to a second term as Stated Clerk.  He ran unopposed, and without one question from the floor, was elected by a unanimous voice vote, all firsts in recent memory, and amazing, given the state of the church.  The GAMC gave a report, and many international guest delegates brought greetings.  Then the committees met Sunday evening to get oriented for their work and do some team building. 

Monday began with worship and a keynote by Brian McLaren.  Then they launched into their work, hearing overture advocates, from resource persons from the Constitutional Services, and those who signed up to speak for or against overtures.  They adjourned last night carrying the pain of the church and the world on their hearts.

I interviewed a couple more ministers for open positions in Lake Michigan Presbytery;  joined my Middle Council leader colleagues in further conversations with Brian McLaren; then floated among the committees observing.  I ended the day processing the day with Jim Hegedus. 

We begin Tuesday with worship!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

220th General Assembly, Saturday

All of Lake Michigan Presbytery's commissioners arrived on Friday. Our YAAD, Theresa Larson was stranded in the Detroit Airport because of a canceled flight, but got to her hotel at 3:30 a.m. this morning! She met another YAAD who was scheduled for the same flight, so she had company. Jim Hegadus, Eileen and I started the day with a Middle East Peace Breakfast. Speakers advocated for our role as peacemakers and bridgebuilders and against PC(USA) Divestment which is recommended to this GA. Then the commissioners participated in Riverside discussions: round robin small group presentations on topics that will be addressed by the assembly. This was an opportunity for commissioners learn about, discuss in table conversations and engage in topics other than those they will engage in their appointed committees. Jim and I also attended the Presbyterian Outlook Luncheon. The four moderator candidates were introduced and had a chance to address the group. It seems the Assembly couldn't go wrong, as the four are all strong candidates. Then the Assembly convened with a grand opening worship at 1:30, with I'm guessing 7,000 worshipers. One bus came from as far as Buffalo for just this service! We sang old stand by hymns: "Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty," and "I Greet Thee, Whom My Sure Redeemer Art." Calvin's lines seemed to jump off the page, "Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness, no harshness hast thou and no bitternes: O grant to us the grace we find in thee, that we may dwell in perfect unity." Cynthia Bolbach preached a power sermon on Jesus' healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) calling us to be those disciples who bring the paralyzed to Jesus. Then a newly commissioned song for this occasion led us to holy communion, "Wait for the Lord" based on Isaiah 40:28-31, which is the theme of the Assembly, "Walk, Run, Soar!" In the morning and then after worship, while the commissioners were being oriented and welcomed by the host Pittsburgh Presbytery, I was at the Face to Face interviewing persons interested in the position opportunities in Lake Michigan Presbytery. At this evening's plenary, they thanked the outgoing moderator and vice moderater, and elected a new moderator for this assembly. On the fifth vote, they elected Neal Presa, they youngest candidate, who is pastor of a multicultural congregation in Middlesex, NJ, and member of Elizabeth Presbytery. He is also an adjunct professor for worship at New Brunswick Seminary. In presenting himself in official materials published by the OGA, he lifted up the witness of Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic, "...but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well," as a conviction he believes. He is a Filipino American from Guam. In comparison with other assemblies, there was little to no organized campaign booths for any of the candidates, no buttons, hats or flyers. The only vestiges of the old election campaigns was a few supportive tea shirts worn by supports. The Assembly was bless with four strong candidates. There was little shifting in voting until a stretch break and then prayer before the fifth vote. Interestingly, Presa and his choice for Vice Moderator come to assembly with different views of marriage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

McBain Church Closing

The First Presbyterian Church in McBain gathered for the final time on June 24, 2012.  The congregation was organized in 1888.  Worship was led by Rev. David Weber, whose message, based on Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25 and 1 Peter 2:1-10, called the congregation to remember who they are, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation."  Then followed a decommissioning service.  The Honorable Don Scheper, Mayor of McBain, shared a proclamation of appreciation, the Rev. John Best, General Presbyter, gave thanks for their witness, and the Rev. Linda Male, chairperson of the Administrative Commission, formally received the Session records.

First, McBain Church building

 Elders Bob Marcus, Sandy Moffit, and Rev. John Best by church sign

From left to right, Rev. Linda Male, Elder Sandy Moffit, Rev. David Weber, Rev. John Best, Elder Bob Marcus

220 GA

The 220th General Assembly convenes June 29th at Pittsburgh, PA.  Commissioners from Lake Michigan Presbytery are Elder Sharon Brinks (Forest Hills), Elder Ron Hayes (Jonesville), Elder Janet Magennis (Holland, First), Rev. Jeff Garrison (Hastings, First), Rev. James Hegadus (Jackson, First), and Rev. George Hunsberger (Western Theological Seminary).  I will be accompanying them and writing a daily blog.  You can also follow events at https://www.pc-biz.org/ClientHomePublic.aspx  Please pray for the work of this Assembly.  

Following the Assembly I will be taking a few days of vacation, then traveling with John Petro (Kalamazoo, First) to Ghana July 17-25 to visit our partners there in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ho Presbytery. I will be back in the office on Monday, July 30.  May God Bless you in your summer activities.

Yours in Christ,

Saturday, April 14, 2012

220th General Assembly Commissioners

Congratulations to George Hunsberger, who has been selected as moderator of the Theological Issues, Institutions, and Christian Education Committee for the up coming 220th General Assembly this June 29--July 9. Dr. Hunsberger is a faculty member of Western Theological Seminary, a teaching elder in the P.C.(U.S.A.) a member of Lake Michigan Presbytery, and one of our six commissioners to this assembly. Our other commissioners are Sharon Brinks, elder at Forest Hills PC, Grand Rapids, Jeff Garrison, pastor at First, Hastings, Ron Hayes, elder at First, Jonesville, Jim Hegedus, pastor at First, Jackson, Janet Magennis, elder at First Holland and stated clerk of Lake Michigan Presbytery. They were commissioned at the April 14th meeting of Lake Michigan Presbytery. Let us join in holding them and the commissioners from the other presbyteries in our prayers.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What difference do I want to make?

Ever ask, what difference do I want to make? What outcome do I want to see from my efforts and the use of my resources? What is God doing in my community, and how can my congregation and I join God in it? Kudos to Linda MacDonald, pastor of North PC, Kalamazoo, for her work with ISAAC, (Interfaith Strategies for Advocacy & Action in the Community). At its annual banquet, ISAAC honored Linda with its Tenth Anniversary Award for serving as co-convener and founding president from 2001-2005 and for her ongoing passion for justice for the least of these. Kudos to the North (Kalamazoo) and Westminster (Portage) Presbyterian Churches which are founding covenant congregations. Having listened to their Kalamazoo neighbors, ISAAC wants to end street violence in Kalamazoo. With this outcome in mind, they identified David Kennedy as a leader in addressing urban violence, and invited him to Kalamazoo for consultation and as key note speaker for their banquet. Read a news report about his visit and speech at Seeking God's leading, Sharing God's love, Shining God's light transforms lives and communities. Let's make a difference!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Making All Things New

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19

Making all things new is our Presbytery theme for 2012! We face all sorts of change, which annoys, frustrates and frankly scares us. Sessions, presbyteries, denominations, families, city councils, state assemblies and national governments are all challenged with the task of thinking through tacit assumptions of the ways we have always done things, because some of what we are accustomed to has diminishing effects. That is hard work! Gil Rendle suggests, that “norms outlive the people who develop them: Norms being the hidden rules, the unspoken assumptions, the learned behavior that governs how ‘we do things here.’” We live in a different context, than that which shaped the GI, general issue, generation, where, one size fit all, to meet the challenge of the common good. Rendle suggests a working principle, that “the economical response to differences is regulation,” no longer serves us well in a new context of consumer values and pure segmented markets. He points to Dykstra and Hudnut-Beumler’s observations of denominational evolution: From constitutional confederacies (1780’s), to corporations, or at least organization that live out of a corporate model (1830s through 1960s), to regulatory agencies (1960s to present).1

In our new form of government in the Book of Order, the PC(USA) has begun the shift away from such an identity. We will still need boundaries and guidelines, which each Session and Presbytery must determine. The new thing God is doing among us is yet to be perceived, to take shape, but the language of covenant community or fellowship appears again and again in the Foundations. Still living with the old patterns, yet open to the new, our Committee on Ministry (COM) finds itself in the conversation of thinking through old mandates and how then shall we live. There was much wisdom in our familiar ways, but how can we apply that to where and when it is appropriate. It’s a godly chaos, so bear with us, and join us in the conversation!

The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity in our new Book of Order begin with a statement of God’s Mission. “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune god—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people”(F-1.01.) Wow! I’m so glad it isn’t all up to me! Thank God that God creates, redeems, sustains, and transforms. Transformation is a God thing! The gospels are full of transformation stories! The oppressive status quo is challenged. Lives are changed! The Foundations boldly confess that God in Christ “transforms all things and all people,” which includes you, me, and the church… And that “the mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church.” It appears that we are not called to a status quo keeping business. Spiritual practices, and rituals are fine, but the gospel must touch people’s lives. If we are going to join God’s radical transformation agenda, than the transformation begins with me and you. So my question is, how are you, your congregation, and your community being transformed?

At our presbytery meeting Saturday, Elder Flor Fatzke told her incredible personal story of transformation. She grew up in Mexico and met a group from the Holt congregation, when a mission team of the church visited her village. Because of the stewardship, friendship and love of a family in the Holt church, she got an education, came to Michigan, studied more, got married, and is now a young elder in the church, fully engaged in its life and mission. Her “This I Believe” statement witnessed to a life transformed, a family transformed, and a congregation transformed! Rev. Kirk Miller, pastor of Holt, First also told of the congregation’s development of a second alternative worship service and how they went about it. Transformation takes unique form for each situation. Thanks be to God!

George Hunsberger, professor at Western Theological Seminary and member of LMP, led presbytery in a discussion of the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity at Lake Michigan Presbytery’s meeting Saturday. Thank you, George! He framed some questions for small group discussion, which could be used with Sessions and small groups in your congregation. He would also welcome invitations to explore the Foundations with your church. During a report back time, one group questioned, “Isn’t it presumptuous of us to say what God’s mission is?” Maybe so, but isn’t this the calling of the church: to discern what God is doing in our particular context where God places us, and to join God in it. God is doing a new thing. Can we perceive it?

1 Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches,” by Gil Rendle, Abingdon Press, 2010, p.69. See also Multi-Generational Congregations: Meeting the Leadership Challenge, by Rendle, Alban Institute, 2002.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Shared Center

I heard a great sermon this morning on Philippians 1:1-11. Paul’s salutation to the saints in Philippi, express my sentiments toward the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Lake Michigan Presbytery.

“Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel” (Philippians 1:2-3).

Gil Rendle, in his book Journey in the Wilderness, identifies four paths of learning for mainline churches these past years. We’ve focused on church growth, church transformation, clergy development, and learned some things, but the fourth path, on which we now need focus is our identity and purpose. It is no surprise that one of the major changes in our Book of Order this past year, is the opening Foundations section. George Hunsberger will be helping us explore the Foundations at our February 11th presbytery meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Holt. I encourage you to read the Foundations in preparation for small group discussion.

Rendle writes, “Differences and diversity that now live embedded in both mainline congregations and denominations make full agreement on identity and purpose impossible….A major learning of the wilderness, however, is that the opposite of multiple, and often competing, differences that have now divided us in our denominations is not a singular identity but a shared center….In many ways, large congregations are microcosms of a denomination. They are large systems with central leadership and structure but with multiple expressions of ministry held by widely diverse constituencies…Yet in the most vibrant of these large congregations, these differences live side by side with one another but are united in ministry…“The point is that everyone in the congregation does not need to live at the center, but the story of the congregation that does live at its center is known, and people, from whatever their particular perspective or interests, can see themselves in the story and stay in connection and in balance around the story. Multiple and different relationships are managed by allowing individuals their differences but inviting them to connect to the same core identity and purpose (p. 43-44).

How do the Foundations provide us a shared center? For your sharing in the gospel, I give thanks to God.

Grace and peace to you.