Thursday, May 29, 2008

Q and A with Moderator Joan Grey (part 2)

Joan Grey, present Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) is winding down her term and fulfilling her role as Ambassador to the church. She spoke at a recent meeting of the Cherokee Presbytery and opened the floor to questions. My notes are incomplete and may not be direct quotes, but I tried to record the sense of things as I understood it.

What is "Missional", and how is it happening in the PC(USA)?

I'll give you an example. My husband and I showed up at 4th Presbyterian in Boston. It's located in the kind of place that you aren't sure if you want your car parked on the street or not, really a bad part of town. We walked into a Bible study and found a man who looked homeless, very grungy and unkempt. Next to him sat a man in a business suit, and next to him a woman in batik. When we went to worship we saw that this was what the whole congregation was like. They were a true mix of the social strata, and everyone was accepted. I think that's what it means to be missional. For them it means they take anyone who walks in the door.It was a small congregation, about 80 people in worship. The service lasted for 2 hours, but it didn't seem to matter. We were so engaged in worshiping that we didn't notice the time

Missional means being porous to the community, inviting members to bring rheir gifts and use them. It looks different in each context, but I have seen it at its best in small congregations.

Are we going the way of Olde Europe (aging and dying)?

Don't count off "Old Europe" just yet. I sat with thousands of young adults on who attended hours of worship on concrete floors in the Taize community in France.

What we need to remember is that [growing the church] is up to us, if we are faithful. God does not need us. God wants us as partners. If we are not faithful, God will use someone else.

Where are we in terms of restructuring our denomination?

As a matter of process I can tell you that the Form of Government Task-force has done their work. Their proposal goes to the General Assembly this June to be voted on. If it passes it would then be sent to the Presbyteries for approval. After that it would come before the next General Assembly in 2010 to be ratified. So, any changes won't take effect before 2010.

The biggest difference is that it puts more power into the hands of the Presbyteries. I think that's a good idea. One thing my travels have shown is that what works in California may not work in Georgia.

This country has become more and more multicultural. What is happening in PC(USA) congregations?

If any of you have not been to the annual Multicultural Conference, you really should go. It's one of the most exciting things we do in this denomination!

One of the things I think we are learning from in the area of new church development and multicultural relationships is the value of our ethnic fellowships. These fellowships are enlivening their partner congregations. One of the issues, however, is finding appropriately trained leadership for these fellowships.

Over and over the Bible says to show hospitality to the stranger. I know that it is intimidating to some, but the ironic thing is that many immigrant communities contain people who are already Presbyterian.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Q and A with Moderator Joan Grey (Part 1)

Joan Grey, present Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) is winding down her term and fulfilling her role as Ambassador to the church. She spoke at a recent meeting of the Cherokee Presbytery and opened the floor to questions. My notes are incomplete and may not be direct quotes, but I tried to record the sense of things as I understood it.

What surprisingly positive experiences have you had while visiting congregations in the last two years?

The most surprising thing to me was to experience the vitality of some of our smaller congregations. These are congregations in communities where the population has shifted, and there is no hope of being the larger congregations they once were. What I found is a real honest attitude that said, "We know we can not be what we used to be. God, what can we do now?" I think these congregations are taking a very faithful approach to living and being the church.

Another gratifying experience was the chance to meet and talk to some of our missionaries. I found them all to be people of great character and deep spirituality, regardless of where they serve. I think they have much to offer our congregations, and I would encourage you to build relationships with some of them.

I also enjoyed meeting with various college ministry groups. I was surprised to find that young adults are actually exuberant about being Presbyterian. They want to get involved with the structures and be part of the decision making process. But let me tell you what they else want. They want an encounter with God. They want to make a difference in the world. And they don't care about your buildings and institutions. They don't want to be on an advisory committee or to be included because they could bring more young adults to you. They want authentic community. I don't think we are going to give them that. I believe that they are the ones who will reach out to themselves. I think we need to encourage them, get out of their way, and give them some money.

What is the long range plan for retaining membership in the PC(USA)?

We've lost 90,000 members since 2006. Some of that is congruent with other mainline denominations. Some of it is related to those congregations who recently joined the EPC or went some other way. This is a common question, and most of the time I get the sense that people are asking, "What's Louisville doing to stop this backslide?" The reality is that it's not their problem. It's yours. It's mine. The problem needs to be addressed in the hospitality of our congregations. What kind of barriers do we put in the way of new members? I can tell you that my husband and I were not spoken to in a number of congregations before I was introduced as the Moderator. Is there a fire in your church? I can tell you, and most of you could too, just by walking in whether or not there is a spirit of energy and enthusiasm or if you are just trying to keep the doors open. I think we Presbyterians need to learn how to invite people to church. How many of you have invited someone to church AND told them you would come by and give them a ride? (She was actually pleasantly surprised by the show of hands). I think every Christian needs an elevator speech. We need to be able to clearly say in 30 seconds or less why what we believe and why our faith communities are important to us.

I'll post answers to the following when I have some more time, later on:
What is "Missional", and how is it happening in the PC(USA)?
Are we going the way of Olde Europe (aging and dying)?
Where are we in terms of restructuring our denomination?
This country has become more and more multicultural. What is happening in PC(USA) congregations?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We're all a little cracked

Her face held the burden of knowing,
Knowing her faults and fears.
Yet in her eyes was a fire,
A sense that in spite of these things she survived.
A sense that because of these things she had survived.
Still there was a sadness over the cracks in her vessel.
I smiled, seeing that we shared this knowledge of self.
Though hers was deeper, from many more years.
All I could say is that our cracks...
If we really believe in God's grace,
If we really believe our cup runs over,
Then our cracks are simply the means for grace,
To spill on and fill up others.
She laughed and said,
"I sure am spilling a lot!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Ood

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a big Dr. Who fan. In the last episode he goes to a planet of the slave race known as the Ood. When his human counterpart, Donna, asks if there was ever a time they were free or what are they like when they are born, the Dr. says he's never thought of it. When she remarks that a future human empire has been built on slavery, he says, "Where do you think your clothes come from?" I hate to admit, but I was stunned.

I'm still wrestling with that. Really I have been for a while. The reality of the matter is that our lives as US citizens are so intertwined with forced labor that we have no practical way of freeing ourselves. Most of us don't know because we don't think to ask. From clothes to car and computer parts we are consumers of slave labor. What to do...what to do?

Part of me wants to start a mass movement rejecting forced labor products. Maybe just start with clothing alone and start a movement of wearing forced labor free and/or home made clothes with a hand painted "Former Slave Trader" logo. Its a truly radical proposal for which I do not have the will at this time. Such a decision would impact every facet of every relationship I am a part of. But isn't that just the kicker of the gospel? It forces us to consider the unthinkable, to render care for our neighbor that is as great as for ourselves, to think of the survival of Burmese children as important as the survival of my own. And if we take it seriously it effects every aspect of our lives, again, and again.

The thing is, whatever we do in the face of the present darkness of forced labor, we must and can only do that which we love. If we make choices out of guilt or a sense of morality alone it will not last. We must search our hearts and find what it is that we love. For our loves befall us. Love that is real and true has at its source God's actions of love and grace toward us. We love as we have been loved. So that's the question I am wrestling with, and the one I leave you with today. With the issue of forced labor, how will we love those enslaved in the same way that we have been loved by God through Jesus Christ? What will we give up? What will we take on? How can we do any of this unless we count it as nothing but a joy to do so?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Question

I saw this on a card at the beach while on a clergy retreat. This and Matthew 7:7-8 are the inspiration for the title of this blog.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
- Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Life of a Front Porch

I've been at my family's cabin in NC this weekend doing some maintenance. My main job was to strip the deck for refinishing. In so doing we found layers of paint that brought out layers of life spent there. We decided not to sand all the paint away, but to leave a distressed look. The following will be posted in a frame on the porch. Incidentally, if anyone wants to rent the place you can find it here. It's a quaint, affordable getaway in Western NC with a creek in the back and Pisgah National Forrest land behind that. It's a little bit of heaven on earth. Anyway, here's the story...

Well, actually it’s my second life. In my first life I was flooring in a hundred year old pool cabana in Columbus, Georgia. After a time the pool was gone, and it seemed I was destined for dilapidation and disrepair. But a man named Bill changed all that. He tenderly dismantled me and brought me here, Stoney fork Cabin in North Carolina. During some recent maintenance my true colors were revealed, and they tell the story of my life. Some have found as many as nine layers of paint in various places. Some of those are from my last life (I haven’t been a blond in years). These are the ones that tell you about this life.

Bright Green is the color of grandchildren running past…
a grandfather making bows and arrows from sticks
and twine and teaching the art of building dams in the creek…
a grandmother making play dough from scratch,
and snacks with peanut butter and honey…
and older children coming in from camping in the woods.

Shades of Brown are the colors of beloved partners moving into their autumn years…
welcoming the day with devotion…
entertaining guests from Priests to missionaries, strangers, and friends…
and welcoming family in need off retreat from a world too busy for them.

Grey is the color of remembering loved ones whose lives have past.

The Wood Grain engraved with my history remains as an invitation to you. For your story is now part of mine…
Come and rest your weary bones (Matthew 11:28).
Come if you need a space to consider a new life (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
Come if you want to play in the woods and the creek (Psalm 104:24).
Come and welcome others to join you (Hebrews 13:2).

Search to see how many colors you can see! You may just find your own…