For too long I have held my mouth shut, afraid to offend or draw negative attention to myself. That was my fault, as I did not speak as what I perceived as offenses came to my door and now into my house. The integrity of people that I respect has come into question as well as the movement that I believe is essential to spread of the Gospel. The last seven months since I was a Commissioner at General Assembly, I have proclaimed the need for continued connectedness of our denomination. That we are stronger together than apart, despite our deep divides. As many talk about the richness of our denomination, our denominational leadership shows that value quite the contrary.
Tonight I glimpsed the new advertising for the Special Offerings and it makes me feel that we have begun to cross the line. In some nice play on words and pictures of minorities that the Special Offerings support, we have projected a message quite the contrary. Why are we mocking or stereotyping minorities using phrases that express that they are using drugs or alcohol? Aren’t these the same minorities that the largest growing part of our denomination and we choose to degrade them? This is an outrage. As a minority Teaching Elder who has children that reflect the images the pictures, I am offended. The first images that my children can relate to, in a largely Anglo church, are hinting that Asian and Hispanic children are high and drunk? Shame on the PCUSA for believing that these pictures and taglines were acceptable for the denomination that values multiculturalism. I for one will advise my church and others to not use the promotional materials that are distributed due to the offensive nature of the advertising.
While I believe something must be done. It is time for the people of the church to have their voices heard. I do not support withholding from Special Offerings, simply because this offering supports the very people that are being exploited. I advocate for pulling this campaign and reevaluate how we value our diversity.
I became part of this denomination because of the richness, theological conviction, and being a part of something greater than I. Those ideals are becoming broken apart as attempt to do ministry TOGETHER. We are fighting against each other rather than enabling and encouraging the diversity of God’s Kingdom.
The Rev. Sean M. Chow
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church
Laurel Springs, NJ
At the last General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I was elected as an Alternate Commissioner. That was perfectly fine for me as I got to walk around the Assembly, attend the committees that interested me, and got to sleep in when I felt like it. As our Presbytery was accepting nominations for this year’s Assembly, I had made the decision to simply watch from afar. There was plenty for me to do in my own church and Presbytery, that I felt that I was a bit overwhelmed. The appropriate answer was “no”.
That was when a couple of my pastor friends started to engage me in conversation about applying to be the Commissioner this year. I began to ask myself a number of different questions. Why me? What do I have to offer? Isn’t there other people to serve besides me? To be honest, I didn’t want to be commissioner. The more I sat and wrestled with applying, the more it became apparent. I needed to do it, if the Nominations Committee chose someone else, that was fine.
It bothers me that our denomination is in flux, that many conservative churches are moving out. I can identify with many of the issues that concern them. While I would not consider myself a denominational loyalist, God is not done in the PCUSA. There are many areas that excite me about what we are doing. The connectional nature of our church causes me to shout with joy at what some churches/ groups are doing regardless if they are progressive or conservative church. Simply they are sharing and doing the work of God, and that is exciting.
What truly draws me to be a commissioner is that I believe that I should be a voice of a younger (even though I am not that young anymore) generation of Pastors. We have a different perspective and outlook. I even have a different perspective than my other peers. Sometimes we tend to be vocal on social media or at events but we are not actively engaged as much as we should on other levels.
As this journey toward being a commissioner from my Presbytery has just started, it is overwhelming. Recently, I attended the Commissioner Training event held in our area. Something has stuck from all the information that put out there. We were told we are not to vote as our Presbytery would want us to vote, but as the Spirit of God moves within us. It is easy to turn this whole thing into a church political event. Simply, we are a group of Presbyterians discerning together for God’s will for our denomination. Now we just have to listen.
The future is bright for the church. While many say that the church has lost its cultural relevance, its place in the world, and only see the crumbling “traditional” church; there is also so much promise.
This past weekend I participated in our Presbytery’s Congregational Life Sunday in which I was part of a roundtable discussion on 1001 New Worshipping Communities. We took our participants to the coffee shop down the corner and simply shared what was on our hearts. Each of us we not called or led into leading something new, but we also shared that we can be supportive of those that are creating something new.
I love being given an open floor with people that dare to dream. Those that are not afraid to fail, trip up, or fall on our face. Honestly, that has happened to me in more than a few instances. While nothing concrete came out of our conversations, the best part was that we planted a seed. A seed that tells people to go to their own contexts and create. We are not going to tell you how it should work, rather tell us how it is going to work in your backyard. As our Presbytery struggles with how this works within our polity infrastructure, we are intent on being permission giving. I got asked a question yesterday about the possible competing nature of these projects. Competing over funds, priority, and what not. My response is what we do does not have a competing nature but one that works in collaboration. Where we care and give the best of ourselves to only to the project we are involved in but to bend over backward in helping those in process.
What’s next? Only God knows.
For the past twelve hours I have been thinking a lot about evil. It’s definition is vast but the byproduct is everywhere we look. Open up any newspaper, turn on the news, listen to what is happening foreign countries. It is hard to deny that evil permeates the world. From innocent children hurt to those that are willing to harm others in a race to power. Many times it makes me overcome thinking about the world that my children are now growing up in. No longer are they freely allowed to run free in a park or travel/ explore on their bikes. Those were simpler times. But those times also did not lack evil.
As I was thinking of what evil is, it often was the pumping up of my self and own ego at the expense of others. It is a conscious and deliberate decision to do wrong. While we often define “evil” as something more heinous than simply a white lie, the decision to do wrong is in our everyday. Each day we all have the option to do evil. It might be to cheat others out of something that was rightfully theirs or ignoring members of your family when they are in need. We do not like to think that we each participate in the evil in the world through our actions each day.
Too often we compare our evil or sins against another. That we are less sinless than another. Or thinking that I am a better person because of the amount of offenses that I committed today was less than person x. Realizing that any amount of sin keeps us aways from God, it makes no difference in how much evil we do. It all amounts to all of us falling short of what God wanted for us. But through Jesus we have been forgiven.
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faithin[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.- Romans 3:21-26
As today’s word of the day is wonder. I often think back to the book by Mike Yaconelli in his book Dangerous Wonder. It was one book, as a young youth worker, that shook me. I often ask myself if I have lost the wonder of faith, and simply lulled into a sense of boredom. Sometimes we are lulled into that sense of boredom. When we read our Bible without sensing, God moving in the pages. Or when we are in worship and the word roll off our tongues without any meaning behind them. I often long for the times of wonder, when I give all of myself to God’s will and not my own.
It was one of those snowfalls you never forget. Millions of white flakes filled the air, quieting the earth and swallowing the sounds. The resulting silence was thick with the texture that you could feel.
My nephew stood in the living room at the opening to our deck, a stranger to the snow, his two years of life about to be altered irrevocably. His eyes were blank, unaware; his body clueless; his mind about to overloaded with the electricity of discovery.
The moment arrived.
In a perfectly timed instant the deck lights went on, the camera started recording, the sliding door swept open, and a two year old was transported from the world he knew to a world he had never seen.
Wonder filled the air.
His eyes stretched with astonishment, as through the only way he could apprehend what he was seeing was for his eyes to become big enough to contain it all. He stood motionless, paralyzed. It was all to much for a two year old, too much for an any year old. He twitched and jerked each time a snowflake landed on his face, feeling it tingle as it was transformed from hostile cold to friendly warmth, caressing his face with tiny droplets of water. Just behind his large eyes you could see sparks fly from the crosscurrents of millions of electric stimuli overwhelming, the circuit breakers of his previously small world. His mind was a confusion of a strange, conflicting realities: white, cold, floating, flying, tingling, electric, landing, touching, sparkling, melting— causing an overload so great, so overwhelming that he fell backward- a slow motion landing in the billowy whiteness, the snow tenderly embracing him. He had given up trying to understand snow and given in to experiencing snow.
It was a moment of wonder.
We live in weird times within the Presbyterian Church. Those feelings of weirdness comes as the PCUSA struggles to find its identity in a post 10-a world. For some background, our denomination has removed the cause in its polity requiring “fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness” in its ordination standards. Basically removing sexuality from hold ups in ordination. As the church has struggled with this you can find some churches moving away from the PCUSA to ones with a more conservative slant. There is a more complex discussion about this but that is not the subject that I would like to focus on.
A couple of weeks ago at our monthly Associate Pastor group we discussed the churches leaving. The crux is that we, as Associate Pastors are in an interesting place. What were we to do or act if our Senior Pastor and Session were to discern that the PCUSA was not the place for them. This is strictly hypothetical and no church represented are even thinking about leaving (to my knowledge). The question was what would happen to us. On one had we have a sense of loyalty to our congregation that we serve. They are the faces of ministry and the place that we are called to. They are the ones that we share joys and sorrows with. The John and Jane Smith’s in our congregations are the ones we mentoring to an abiding faith. Can we easily walk away?
On the other hand we are not members of the congregation but of the Presbytery. Does our loyalty stand with our congregation or our Presbytery which is an extension of the PCUSA? At what point does our loyalty break with the PCUSA and to go to the local congregation? Through the five years of seminary, through the ordination trials, mentoring by CPM, and numerous other places we could have easily chosen another denomination. While we were dancing with whether we were Presbyterian the PCUSA was deciding about us. In the end we both chose each other. As we were frustrated about the length of the process, we endured. Our ordination vows make us distinctively reformed and Presbyterian but at no point do we bow and chant “PCUSA PCUSA”. But we are here because we believe in it.
While we each have to discern where we are called to serve and where God’s leading us. Some of the Associate’s said that it should remain with the PCUSA since we are not members of the church, but this is strictly a polity issues. What does happen when a church leaves? Are we obligated to follow? It is for each pastor that is placed in that situation to decide for themselves. Are we PCUSA for life? As there are many churches in flux there is bound to be Teaching Elders (pastor’s) that are asking these questions. There are no answers, but I do know mine.
For the past couple of weeks I have been contemplating in my head where my next step in life is. Not leaving my position or anything, but where am I called to in the next step of my journey. What is it that I am to do next? Is it to start a new ministry, be a part of change, go back to school, or whatever it is. With that I have spent more than a little time praying and contemplating what that may be. Then I was flipping through my twitter feed and came across this blog by Steven Furtick. It is a reflection on 1 Samuel 13:13:
“That was a fool thing to do,” Samuel said to Saul. “If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he’ll do the choosing. When he finds him, he’ll appoint him leader of his people. And all because you didn’t keep your appointment with God!”
Wow. Those are some striking words. The word “fool” appears over three hundred times in the Bible. Calling one a fool is not what it means in our society, where we assume the other cannot think of any other name to call us and is very minimally critical. The meaning comes in several different ways. 1. Simple minded 2. Those that do not posses wisdom 3. Deliberate sinner 4. Maliciousness 5. Pursuit of own desires 6. Thoughtlessness. Basically you get the idea. It is one that puts our own ambitions in front of what God has called us to be/ do.
The verse continues to say that if we had kept the plan that God had, God’s plan would have been fulfilled. Instead we are being replace. Uhhh…. I don’t want to be called a fool and replaced. I don’t want to be in a place that God says:
If you had faith then I would have __________
If you had vision then I would have __________
If you had a heart for me then I would have __________
If you cared about __________
If you had __________ then I would have __________
I am starting to get an idea of what God is calling me to. Things that break my heart. Anger and disappointment between fellow people of faith. The words that I have been struggling with are those that I took a vow to in my ordination. How will I further the peace, purity, and unity of the church. As I see this denomination becoming fractured, what is God calling me to be a part of? Only God know and I definitely do not want to be called a fool.