Friday, June 24, 2016

And here Shelley the Nerd finally was able to sneak away and visit the famous Powell's Books, a four-story city block bookstore famous here in Portland.  Happy Shelley.

Reconciliation and Community

My blog posts have switched to morning entries, because I'm just too sleepy at night once our days are over to write!  Yesterday (Thursday) I was struck by the spirit of reconciliation that is a part of this General Assembly.  That might relate to our early adoption of the Belhar Confession, which has a focus on justice, reconciliation, and unity.  Several of the overtures that came to this GA were amended in committee to take them from their strongly-worded, "it must be this way" tone, to statements that acknowledge that we have a wide variety of views within our denomination, and that we truly want to make space for variety, even while working on unity.  And mostly those amended overtures have passed with that reconciliation tone.  Now, we are humans, and may I dare say as a Reformed theologian, sinful humans (!), so that does not mean there have not been a few grumpy comments made here and there, but I really and truly have been struck with the attempt of these commissioners to be community, to work together toward unity, and to do their work rooted in the love and reconciliation we all have in Christ.  Another piece of that might be the worship we have shared, and the moments of interruption in our business for us to pray together about our work and other needs in the world.  And we have used parts of the Belhar Confession several times to confess our sin, to exclaim our gratitude to God in Christ for the love poured out in Christ, and to be reunited in the Holy Spirit in the language of justice, reconciliation, and unity.

Last evening our Presbytery of the Miami Valley delegation went out to dinner together.  We had a delightful time...good food, good conversation, some good laughter, and that spirit of community was with us.  Perhaps I should say that the Spirit of community was with us!  Then we went back to the meeting for our evening session.  Please know that your four elected commissioners are working very hard. Today (Friday) is the final full day, with sessions this morning, this afternoon, and this evening, and then there is a morning session tomorrow.  Please continue to keep Gidget, Marvella, Richard, and Sandy, our commissioners, and Larry and myself here as support staff, in your prayers! 

Many thanks to the Rev. Karen Cassedy who is here with us, helping and listening well, and who took this photo at our dinner last night:
Blessings, dear friends!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

From Committees to Plenary

Wednesday afternoon we moved to the plenary meetings of the General Assembly, where it is now the job of the commissioners to vote on all the overtures coming from the committees.  We've heard so much over the past few years about how our churches are shrinking, and how we are having trouble attracting young members, so I was struck by one of the ways votes are taken by the whole body of the GA.  GA has commissioners from all the presbyteries, but it also has "Young Adult Advisory Delegates" (YAADs) from the presbyteries.  The YAADs were very involved in the committees where they had voice and vote, and they have voice on the floor of the plenary sessions.  But in the plenary sessions, their role is "advisory."  So every time the body comes to vote on a motion, first the YAADs vote, their results are announced, and the commissioners are told "you have been advised."  That means that when our elected commissioners are voting on all the motions, they hear first what our young members, high school and college students, have to say, then they vote.  I am so glad to see all these young people here, and I'm so happy that we take their views on where Christ is leading us seriously.  The commissioners still vote their conscience, based on what they believe God is calling them to do, but they get to know what our younger members think.  At the first plenary I went to yesterday, I heard several YAADs come to the microphones to speak their views for and against the motion on the floor.  If we truly want to attract young people into our congregations, then this kind of respect for them and their views is important.  It gives me hope for the future of the church.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday Gentleness

Today was another day attending different committee meetings, and once again, I was struck by two things.  The first was the acknowledgement that all of us are different, with different views, and that when we are considering issues of social justice around the world, there are people on multiple sides of all the issues, and all have sinned and all have done good.  There was talk of the need for humility as we struggle with knowing how to make statements longing for God's justice to become a reality for all people.  People talked with passion for their own positions, but I heard respectful passion.  And that relates to the second thing that caught my attention: there was a real attempt by the committee members to be gentle with each other, and for acknowledging that any statements they produce for the full General Assembly to vote on need to include a respect for gentleness in how we approach one another around the world.  I heard commissioners acknowledging their own positions with humor, and heard their fellow commissioners supporting them as people, even if they did not agree with their positions.

Again, this is giving me hope for our church.  From our congregations to presbyteries to synods to the General Assembly, we are not all going to agree with each other on everything, and if we come to the table with humility about our own humanity and can treat each other with gentleness and respect, we can build true community.  What a gift that could be to our mission partners around the world, and indeed, to everyone from our own communities to the people of the world!

Tomorrow afternoon we move from committee meetings to the full gathering of all the commissioners to vote on the various overtures.  I offer a prayer that the love of Christ I wrote about yesterday, and the humility and gentleness from today, fill the work that we do as the larger body.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Deep Concern for Love

I have been struck by two things at the GA committee meetings I attended today.  The first was how much the commissioners cared about the fact that all people are loved by God, no matter their race or background, and should be loved by and in the church.  One person even took that to the point of encouraging us to invite people into our lives and our churches, not simply letting them know that it would be OK if they showed up.  Invite folks!  The stress on the love of Christ for us kept coming up.  And it is related to the second thing that grabbed my attention.  Some of the issues the commissioners were considering involved spending denominational money.  Many people wanted to make sure that when we spend money, we are spending it in ways that show Christ's love.  These two things together made it a pretty amazing first day for me here at the meeting, and it made me feel good about who we are as Presbyterians:  we are people who want to show the world the love of God in Christ in who we are and in all that we do!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Starting Monday!

I will not arrive in Portland until late Sunday night, but will begin visiting the committee meetings and plenary sessions on Monday, so watch for some of my thoughts and reflections probably starting Monday evening.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Watch this blog for some of my reflections about the 222nd General Assembly.  Shelley