“I believe we are not dying. We are reforming and becoming the church that God wants us to be. Every now and then, you think about that Kool-Aid that does not taste good until you stir it up a little bit. We’re being stirred up now by a spirit that calls us to be the church we have to be in the 21st century, and until the stirring is over, it will not have what is needed to taste as good as it should. But it will taste good. Just keep stirring, find the right answer, and keep walking by faith.”
With these words,J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USAcalls us from lament to hope. Elected to a second-term by the commissioners of the 224th General Assembly, meeting last week via Zoom, J. Herbert Nelson’s words challenged commissioners (along with all of us who identify as Presbyterian) to consider how we are stirred by the the Spirit, so more of the world can ‘taste and see that the Lord is good!’
Here are a few of the ways the Spirit stirred the church, through the General Assembly.
Stirred, as commissioners elected Co-ModeratorsElona Street-Stewart and Gregory Bentley. Street-Stewart, a ruling elder and the synod executive for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, is the first Native American to serve as moderator. Bentley, a teaching elder and the pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama, is African American. Choosing the image of a Sankofa bird standing in the Mississippi River as a symbol for their work and call, the co-moderators explained that the bird flies forward while looking backward. As co-moderators they hope to “bring the best of their cultures … to make the church better.” They lifted up the momentum and resources gathering steam through the denomination’sMatthew 25 initiative,which emphasizes building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.
Stirred,as we respond to the on-going threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hereis a statement “On Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic” that was adopted by the General Assembly. The statement calls us to be guided by the evidence of science and by our deepest values, as people of faith.
So, weseek compassion and justicefor those most vulnerable, whose lives and livelihoods have been put at even greater risk by this pandemic,we mournour collective losses andlamentour life-altering circumstances,we pray and we advocatefor our children and youth, for those facing economic hardship, for the sick and those who work in the medical field, and for those who live in places already struggling with poverty, exploitation, and inequality,we seek wisdom for leadersat all levels of government and in all sectors of society whose decisions impact us all,we imagine creative waysto continue our lives in God, and our Presbyterian witnesswhether we are able meet in person, or not.
Carlisle Presbytery, may we be stirred togive thanksto God, for we have been called into the church of Jesus Christ for such a time as this. May we continue to follow the way of Jesus, caring for those most vulnerable among us as we discern faithful responses to these social justice, economic, and spiritual challenges. The commissioners of the General Assembly have asked us to set aside Sunday, October 25, 2020, Reformation Sunday, as a day to be unified and strengthened through prayer, as a denomination responding to these challenges.
Stirred, as we engage the on-going and equally toxic threat of our racial pandemic. The General Assembly adoptedthis declarationentitled, “On the Church in This Moment in History - Responding to the Sin of Racism and a Call to Action.”
The statement affirms that Black Lives Matter and calls all Presbyterians to repentance, both personally and corporately, for the role our predominantly White church played in history and continues to perpetuate today, in systemic racism and sustaining white privilege. It calls us to listen the voices of people long silenced and to use our voices and influence to seek racial justice and reconciliation, to dismantle structural racism, and to heal our marginalized communities. Items of business that offer starting points for this work were to come to this General Assembly, but have been referred to the next General Assembly for action. However, this GA has called all of us to take up this work, even now. The Stated Clerk has added his signature to thisOpen Letter of the Poor People’s Campaignand the letter is commended as an educational tool for Presbyterian congregations.
Carlisle Presbytery, may we be stirred to express the Gospel imperative to love God, neighbors and ourselves by making anti-racism work core to our mission.
Stirred,in spite of/because of financial challenges. In the uncertainty and unpredictability brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Assembly adopted a unified budget. Instead of a budget divided into two parts, per capita and mission, the budget for the next two years reflects combined revenue and expenses, funded through the generous per capita and shared mission giving of Presbyterians.
The assembly approved a General Assembly per capita rate of $8.98 per member for 2021 and 2022. This is a three-cent increase over the current rate. As we look ahead, we do not know how the financial impact of the pandemic will ripple through all levels of the PC(USA). This unified General Assembly budget was built with enough flexibility to allow the denomination to respond to ever-changing conditions. Meanwhile a Special Committee is looking into new funding models for the PCUSA.
Carlisle Presbytery, may we be stirred to continue the generous giving for which we are known. The giving of our congregations remains strong. And thanks to your generosity working through our connectional system, we have received $13,000 from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance which is helping to fund emergency COVID-19 initiatives of several of our congregations. And thanks to Small Church Leadership grants from the Synod of the Trinity, we’ve funded Zoom for some of small churches. In this loop of giving and receiving, God continues to provide abundantly more than we can ask or imagine!
Stirred…to a strong, interesting and powerful faith that draws others….to a sanctified imagination that walks in ways Jesus did….to a resilience that is willing to try what hasn’t been tried…to a bold witness that lives outside of our buildings because it lives in us!
Carlisle Presbytery, when we electedGraham Fowler, Ron Martin-Minnich, Pat Butler,andCheryl Bettsto serve as General Assembly Commissioners, we thought we were sending them to Baltimore, for a traditional GA. Instead, we sent them into the first-ever digital General Assembly. To do the work of the church in this way requires patience and fortitude, along with trust that God continues to lead us, from lament into hope.
We thank them for their service. We look forward to hearing the stories of what the Spirit stirred in them and until the stirring is over, may we give thanks to God for the love that fills us and spills from us, as we live the gospel, in these days brimming with challenge and opportunity.
Cheryl D. Galan, interim Executive Presbyter
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