Tuesday, December 11, 2012
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 encounter. As 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
Sunday, November 4, 2012
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,
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
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/
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
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
Thursday, July 5, 2012
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
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
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
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
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
“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
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.