a journal of my journey

Posts tagged “PCUSA

Open Letter to the Presbyterian Mission Agency RE: Special Offerings

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

 

Special Offerings Announcement


Why Must I Go?

6531At 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.

 


What’s Next?

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.


Evil

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


Wonder

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.


Loyalty

Oath

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.


A FOOL….A FOOL!!!!

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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.


A New Day

The Presbyterian landscape has drastically changed in the last couple months, and quite honestly I am a bit lost and disheveled. It is no longer the denomination that I studied about in polity class, or went through the ordination process with. In many ways it is foreign to me. As I was driving to church this morning I was reflecting upon this. A little over three weeks ago Amendment 10-a was approved by a majority of the Presbyteries which removes the requirement for “fidelity in marriage/ chastity in singleness” for its church officers. A couple of days ago nFog (New Form of Government) was also approved and replaces the current form of the Book of Order. A lot of changes for a denomination that is known for not liking change. That everything has to be done in “decently and in order.”

While the church in its congregation level will most likely not change and continue to do what it always has done, on the denominational level an earthquake has occurred. There has been winners and losers. The landscape has changed in an earthshaking way. What is the response? Some may leave the denomination, or a deeper sense of polarization can occur. I hear of rumblings of some responses by groups within the denomination. Through it all we can be overcome by our own emotional or theological response to the issues.

The last nail has not been driven into the denomination and suddenly we are not totally inclusive. The rules may have changed by there still is a vast divide between among us. There is celebration and hurt, wounds and bitterness that have been caused by years of infighting. The great prayer that comes out of nFog is that a new and streamlined form of government arises, and mission can be done. While I disagree with a great many things in the nFog, it now is the new guiding force of what we are. As we move forward, hopefully together, my prayer is that we get back to what the church was destined to do. Be about the mission and glory of God.


Line in the Sand

Line-in-sand

The ongoing question these days seems to be… what shape will our denomination have in the future? Are we going to circle the wagons? Jump ship because we do not like where this is headed? Stay and fight for the denomination that we grew up with? Or something else? Clearly the line is drawn in the sand for some Presbytery’s and Churches. What is going to happen in the next year or so, I believe is going to rock the denomination to its core. At the current time the Presbyterian Coalition has the voting results on changing the wording in the ordination standards as 58-43. This is still with a number of Presbytery’s left to vote (such as mine).

What does this mean? Already we have seen the letters from a proposed new Presbyterian Fellowship and the counter in the Next Church Conference. In the past month my twitter feed has been ablaze with the voting results from different Presbytery’s as the results were announced and comments on such. Easily it can be said that tensions on all sides of this issue is rising. Some are seeing victory in sight and others are discussing options if the vote does not go their way. Regardless of which side is gains the majority of votes, we will see a shift in our denomination. For too long we have embroiled ourselves in the “big church” (aka the denomination) that we have not had a renewed sense of what OUR MISSION is? Is it to win political/ theological victories at the denominational level or is it something else? What are non-Presbyterian’s seeing or sensing about our church?

The future, if we choose the non-scorched earth policy (otherwise know as if I cannot win, no one will) is full of possibilities. In the past few years I have seen the renewed vigor of churches as they have looked at their purpose and sensed that it needs to be changed. Will the denominational politics cause the denomination to split? Who knows, but what I do know is that the church is being led in a time of change. We are asked to let go of what we have always done and embrace what God has called us to. I do not believe that the PCUSA as we know it is the box that we are confined to, but we are to evolve and engage one another in with God leading the way. The road is going to be bumpy and a few may not stay on our course but we need to have faith in what we believe theologically. Not jumping off at the first sign of something that we do not like.

A new generation of leaders are arising. They are not all in their twenties and thirties, but are rethinking the way that we have always done church. As these new leaders take shape and become more cohesive, I am excited to see where they will lead this denomination. What will their solutions be to the many problems in our small churches, evangelism, worship, and multiculturalism. But what are we doing to support, nurture, and develop them. They are coming out of contexts that are vastly different that the ones the previous and current generation of clergy had. Do we stifle their learning due to lack of flexibility of our seminaries or do not help shape them to lead in our churches? A time of change is coming. Our new clergy could be all Commissioned Lay Pastors, that have no formal seminary education, and serve small congregations to survive. Or other creative avenues that we are led to.

The future is promising… as long as we do not get caught up in ourselves and remember the point. The point is:

 Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is

necessary for its mission to the world, for its building up, and

for its service to God. Christ is present with the Church in both

Spirit and Word. It belongs to Christ alone to rule, to teach, to

call, and to use the Church as he wills, exercising his authority

by the ministry of women and men for the establishment and

extension of his Kingdom.

G-1.0100b (Book of Order)


For Such a Time As These

Crossroads

I am new to this whole position. That being a pastor (an ordained one) in a congregation that looks at me quite differently than my previous ones. That is my current church is truly jarred by what happens on the denominational level and have suffered through some of the consequences of such actions or inactions depending on ones point of view. Earlier this week a letter arrived in my email. One that was sent to a number of pastors throughout the denomination. The context of the letter and the official PCUSA rebuttal are linked below.

I got a message from a friend, that is not a pastor, and asked if I have seen it. What was I going to do? Me? A newly ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament? Maybe pretend that I did not see it and bury my head in the sand. Beyond that, what was I going to do. As any good man does… I asked my wife. Simply what do I need to do or simply push it under the rug. My wife’s suggestion was that maybe it was time for me to take a stand for what I believe in. And I am taking a stand? Not by pushing it into people faces but simply by being me. People know what I stand for and there is no need to antagonize another or poke them with a stick. I don’t think it is any secret what I believe but I don’t need to engage in a conversation that will simply make another mad or turn them off. The most rich times of my life were in seminary engaging others that I did not agree with and trying to understand their context in the issue. My life and understanding is much fuller because of those times. 

Basically, in many ways we could be the beginning of the last chapter of our denomination. Sure we have lived with churches leaving in the past, such as the New Wineskins. While some have left there are others that have chosen to stay in communion with the denomination. What the letter from these churches state is that there needs to be a new way of doing things, that we are at a pivotal crossroads. A crossroads that could could lead to the end (of what we know as the PCUSA) or a renewed missional paradigm. I do not think that the PCUSA will be destroyed if the exodus of the 45 or more churches happens. It is just that the diversity and richness of the denomination becomes a little smaller. In fact the church that I grew up in has just voted and was graciously dismissed from the PCUSA, and that grieves me. 

Throughout Seminary and the ordination process the connectional nature of the church has been hammered into me. That no matter how big or small the church is, how diverse our congregation, vastly different our worship styles are, or how different our views are; we are a connectional church as long as we subscribe to some “essential tenants” of the Reformed faith. While some may take liberties on defining what those are, for the most part we agree on a number of essential tenants from baptism to the confessions. If not we would have found ourselves in other denominations or not one at all. It is with these guiding principles and polity that bring us together instead of repelling us. 

These past years have not been easy for anyone on either side (left, right, or middle). What I have come to understand is that we have begun to dislike people simply because of their beliefs and not because of THE PERSON. We have been reduced to labels as conservative, liberal, from this Presbytery or that, and not as a brother or sister IN CHRIST. While I do not necessarily agree with everything that is going on in the denominational level I do understand that I need to treat each other as Christ would treat them. Is it time to leave this denomination: absolutely not. I have had my choice for the past five years prior to ordination to leave, as I studied, prayed, and searched the PCUSA is what I believe in and called to. Sure there are problems and I would love to be a part of a new missional focus of it, as it reaches into the world and not worrying about what another church or Presbytery is doing. I must believe and act as if God is working within and through this denomination.

Just my two cents.  

Open Letter to the PCUSA and “White Letter”

PCUSA Response


Installation

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So I guess I am really an Associate Pastor here. This past Sunday I was installed at St. Paul’s as a Pastor. As I was preparing the service, I felt it was going to be anticlimactic. Probably since I was just ordained a couple months ago and had yet to feel really connected to this Presbytery. My parents had flown out from California and that was book-ended by two major storms. What I found was quite the contrary.

When the Installation Commission was formed I was asked who I would like to be in it. Since I pretty much knew no one… it was simple “I don’t know”. Well my Senior Pastor assembled a few names that I picked through and it turned out to be pretty awesome. I have connected pretty well to some of the Pastors in our Presbytery and my Installation is definitely going to be memorable with a new and renewed connection with some (Rev. Katie Mulligan was the Youth Director at Goleta Pres more than a few years ago and through Facebook).

What made this service most memorable was the amount of people from the congregation that came out on a Sunday afternoon to affirm my position with them and their support for my family. It was moving as part of the Presbytery’s Litany was to support and provide for me. As I was reading the twitter feed of my service later that night (yes, my installation commission and another in the congregation was tweeting) I was reminded that only installed ministers the congregation pledge to support. In todays age there seems to be more and more ministers that ARE NOT categorized as installed. These are supply, interim, and designated pastors. While I believe that many congregations do care for their pastors even when they are not installed, to put it forefront in an installation service brings a deeper sense of commitment.

I was moved by the many people that made the installation something special… thanks. The final hymn was for Jacoba, Sam, and Sandy. Back to ITM days.

Sean_Chow_Installation_Service.doc

Presbytery voting ballot

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Nfog and belhar confession


Reflections From a member of the APNC

Now that I am actually ordained and got a job it is quite interesting to hear from some of the members of the APNC (Associate Pastor Nominating Committee). This whole process was very long and arduous from both sides. Me, in searching for a position and submitting over 80 PIF’s (Personal Information Forms). The APNC, received over a hundred applications in the course of six months. 

At times I was incredibly frustrated by the process in searching a call. Why were they not calling me back? Why did I get rejected? What was I doing wrong? Now from this side I had the opportunity to see what a nominating committee went through. While I was struggling so were they. It seems like they were not arbitrarily tossing PIF’s out (as I felt sometimes) but were in fact prayerfully discerning who they were going to choose. Out of my conversation I realized there were several areas that concerned them about anyone.

1. Who really was this person?

As our PIF’s ask us several theological and church questions it does not truly reflect who we are. In fact, we can shape wording to both liberal and conservative congregations. In our references, we are told to put up to six references. These could be anyone. While many put Presbyterian contacts, how well do some of them know us. In fact, the APNC got the brush off from references more than once. 

In the search to find the real us, they went online. It is not very hard to find me on the internet. I have a facebook, myspace (that I never use), twitter, linkedin, and blog. This does not discount the post such as denominational items that have me marked. As I searched my name on google and added PCUSA I am listed eight times in the first ten search results. Apparently I am pretty easy to find. In those search results one could get a very good idea of who and what I am; all the good, bad, and ugly. They even got a sense of my spiritual development and maturity in faith.

 

2. What is there experience level?

It was once told to me that I have to “put in my time”. That was that in order to move my way through the denomination and ordination that I would have to “do time” or serve wherever I was needed. Through my ten years I have served as an elder, elder commissioner, nominating committee member, presbytery council member, and a myriad of other committees. At times it was not necessarily what I wanted to do, but was slowly entrusted in what I wanted to do and be a part of. Too easily was we are in the ordination process we take our Presbytery as a necessary evil in that we have to adhere to the many policies and hoops that they want us to do, instead of embracing it and being nurtured by it. As I left my Presbytery I was giving a strong look because of the belief and trust the Presbytery had put into me.   


Ordination thought

I was searching the internet for some ideas for my installation and ran across a newsletter for the now Rev. Isaac Chung’s new church. I was intrigued by what his pastor wrote on ordination from a Reformed perspective.

Ordination holds opposites in tension.  It sets individuals apart for a particular purpose, but calls them to carry out ministry in community. For pastors in particular, ordination rises “from below” – an act of  the whole church, carried out by the presbytery, in order to choose and propose the candidate – and “from above” – a gift of  God bestowing both skills for pastoral ministry and a recognition of dependency upon the Holy Spirit for their use.  It is both the culmination and the beginning of  the call to ministry.  While God first calls individuals to a life of  service, the church then confirms this inner calling, through Committees on Preparation for Ministry, Seminary, and even Pastoral Nominating Committees.  Ordination, then, serves as the culmination of  that initial call, with installation marking the beginning of  service in the calling community. 

 The central act of  ordination is prayer and the laying on of  hands.  It has been said that in this act, the candidate is overwhelmed by two conflicting feelings – a strange burden and a strong support.  In those hands the weight of  the church’s faith, the witness of  the saints, presses down.  Yet in those same hands, the candidate is upheld, given that which he or she does not have through education or natural inclination.  It is truly a mystical event.  

Finally, the pastor is a leader, but this role only arises because of  those whom he or she leads. Martin Luther said that “there is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests… except for the sake of  office and work, but not for the sake of  status.”  If  it were not for the laity, there would be no need of  pastors, and the work of  the church would collapse before it began.  We are all part of Christ’s work, and are called as such.  As Luther said, “we are all priests, as many of  us are Christians.” The question, then, is not “Am I called to ministry?” but rather, “To which ministry am I called?”  In the Reformed tradition, pastors are called to preach to the congregation, in the name of Christ, so that the congregation may preach to the world in the name of  Christ.  

 


Presbyterian geek

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Wonder why?


Ordained minister day one

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Thank you/ introduction notes. What happened to email?


PCUSA Pensions are secure

I am spending the weekend here in Sterling, VA at a New Church Pastors Discernment Conference with the PCUSA. More to come on this later…. At dinner tonight I was checking my email when I get this email, that caused not only me but the pastors around me to laugh:

PC(USA) Pensions Are Secure

You’re receiving this email because of your relationship with The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Please confirm your continued interest in receiving email from us. 
You may unsubscribe if you no longer wish to receive our emails.

Dear Plan Members:
 
The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is aware that there may be some concerns about the state of the Balanced Investment Portfolio given the current market conditions. The Board would like to reassure its members that pension benefits are secure. Robert W. Maggs, Jr., President and Chief Executive, has issued the following statement:
 
“The Board of Pensions Balanced Investment Portfolio experienced a negative 15.3% return for the nine months ended September 30, 2008. Investment markets continue to decline in an unprecedented global credit crisis. The Balanced Investment Portfolio is well diversified. While short-term performance is disappointing, we believe that prudent diversification will enable us to meet our long-term return expectations. Pension benefits are secure and our retirees and Plan members can expect to see their pension checks on the first of each month, just as they have in past months and years.”
 
This message has been sent to all active and retired Plan members who have an email address on file with us.
 
For additional information, please visit Pensions.org to review the statement issued by Rob Maggs on September 16, 2008
. ”
 

After more than a few of us have been worried about the stock market, it did not really trickle down to us at the conference. Well, maybe, but was not a major focus. I pictured in my head all the phone calls the Board of Pensions probably have gotten. This matches an email I got earlier in the day that was from my Credit Union that pretty much said the same thing. Silly question: Didn’t IndyMac and Wamu issue similar letters before they were taken over by the government.

And this is a good reason that I have really not started my 503b account (non-profit version of a 401k). I do have some but not much… sorry creditors!


What to do?

In the past couple of weeks I have watched as the impact of the General Assembly decisions start to hit close to home. This has come up in conversations that I did not expect them to come up in, and each startled me. First off from the people that it came from and the reaction of these individuals. I admit I have been having trouble coming to terms of the entirety of what is going on. Through my own discerning process, some of the issues I have come to my own decision. But it is not only me, a candidate for ministry and a leader in my local church that is debating the issues from the previous General Assembly. Our own Presbytery early this year formed a Task Force to deal with some of these issues both theologically and its impact within our Presbytery. At the next Presbytery meeting we will be setting some time aside to discuss this. Our Session last night and in prior meetings have discussed what the implications meant to us as a whole. It seems that the denomination is getting riled up. In some ways I am excited that no longer is there a “them” and “us”, that some meaningful dialogue may take place.

What i am most grateful for is the Jack Haber the editor of the Presbyterian Outlook has put together a group of editorials to each group. I found them fascinating.

Open Letter to my Conservative-Evangelical Friends

Open Letter to my Liberal- Progressive Friends

Open Letter to my Centrist- Ecclesiast Friends


The Ups and Downs of the Last Week

So days are good and others the bottom just falls out and that just seems to be the story of my life. On Friday I found out that I got accepted to the PCUSA’s Potential New Church Development Discerment Meeting. It is pretty cool since you need to be accepted in order to attend. Somehow they chose me. Do they realize who I am? Some yahoo from southern California who is so out of the box that he probably would drive a “regular” congregation crazy. The middle of October will see me flying out to Virginia to see if I have the “right stuff”. Knowing me they will think I am whacked and stamp me “insane” and put me on a flight home. All joking aside, I am excited about the prospects of exploring this potential of mine with someone less biased then myself and wife. One does not magically get a NCD or anything, but is deemed a potential NCD pastor by the PCUSA and get to put it on my Presbyterian resume.

Also it was the weekend of the ordination exams. Well, lets just say that it did not happen. Due to a US Postal Service error, the test did not arrive. With that I was just outta luck. Can you say take it in January? After being frustrated beyond belief, I was told by a mentor friend of mine “praise God”. Uhh… did he not hear my story well enough. Do I have to put more emphasis on it? No, it was simply a reminder to praise God in all situations, both good and bad. After sucking it up, I realized that it was a good thing in the end. More on that later.


Go Big or Go Home

Don’t you hate it when all logic tells you that you should not do something, but faith and urging of the Spirit tells you quite the contrary. Yesterday our Session sat and pondered our future as a church. We could continue along and be satisfied with the status quo. Logic tells us that we can get by as a church that way, there is nothing wrong with our little niche we have created in Ventura County. Or we can feel the prompting of the Spirit and acknowledge the doors that are opening before us. It came back to a simple theme: Go Big or Go Home. That theme puts us in a scary place one that may put our very survival as a church at risk, but we are doing what we are called to. How many churches actually get to that point where their survival is on the line in doing the work of Jesus? I can say honestly not many… or at least in the PCUSA. While many non-denominational churches come and go… where they do leave it on the line, in the Presbyterian Church I would say that it is a rarity.As we plan to go big or go home, please keep us in your prayers. A verse has been circulating among the elders today that says: “They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” Exodus 29:46 (NIV)While many can consider us to be stupid or reckless, isn’t that what God calls for us to be in response? Far too often we get rocked into a sense of being complacent and we do not become what we are called to be. That is agents of change and reconciliation in the world. I actually quoted our esteemed moderatorat the Session meeting (and it shows I am a geek). “Nothing is too hard or too wondrous for God.” This definitely going to be a time where we discover who we are. I am excited to tell the story of our church in a couple of years, how God moved this congregation and not us.Pray for us on this journey that we are about to undertake. It is exciting, no doubt about it.


Is everything Win or Lose?

Jenn and I took several sessions in martial counseling several years ago. It was in a time when I was transitioning out of a church into a seminary. We were worried that the stress could put problems into our marriage and open up conflict. With that knowledge we decided to go to marital counseling on order to strengthen our communication within our marriage among other issues. The times that we went were alright, besides the rather lame exercises we were told to do. But something arose out of it. MY COMPETITIVE NATURE. Your thinking that counseling is not a win or lose exercises, apparently you are not in my head. I often joked who would win or lose in the session. Did I look better than her or was she the better one in that session. I even joked that if I began to lose, I would use the scorched earth policy, which means that I would foul the waters so bad, no one would look good. “If I was going down, so was everyone else”. Needless to say this idea did not sit well with my wife.As I was thinking of this tonight, I was thinking of the church. That we often look at many philosophies, ideas, or ministries as win or lose. And if we start to lose, everyone is going down with me. As I reflect on the previous couple of weeks it saddens me as individual churches and organizations square off against one another in attempt to get their point of view across. We do not need to live in a win or lose world on issues within our denomination, but most of all we do not need to create an atmosphere that is uninhabitable for everyone. Often we forget some of our theology, that has been in my head lately. The Kingdom of God is here but the full realization of it has yet to come. We, the church are the current embodiment the Kingdom, until Christ comes in full glory. Please do not destroy it.


Integrity

Well, we are in the midst of full days of General Assembly. After having the commissioners delegated to different committees to deal with different issues, we are now in full swing of the assembly. Some issues have arisen that are interesting from the new revision of the Form of Government to the commending of the proposed study of the Heidelberg Catechism.

The Heidelberg Catechism was mistranslated in certain areas in it and several wanted to relook at the translation and make sure that it was done right. In many languages there are several different words to express love while in English there is a very limited vocabulary. Several people spoke for it saying that a “mistranslation would be an injustice to the integrity of the confession.” While I agree that a correct interpretation of this catechism is needed, it falls into some serious areas. One of the areas that arises is over the word “homosexuality”. It currently reads:

 Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

A. Certainly not! Scripture says, “Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.”

 

This potential word change arose some serious issues. While some believe that by removing it would be a start of a slippery slope of the ordination of homosexuals, others may have another agenda. While I agree that by the removal of certain words people may see that as a coming sign of the future, but that is not why it needs to be done. One simple word is my answer: integrity.


Waves of change for the PCUSA?

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Last night after a a couple of hours of debate, speeches, and questions and answers the PCUSA has a new moderator. A moderator is one who help lead and guide the Presbyterian Church for the next two years. Sitting in the SFTS section of the gallery I watched as a frenzy of excitement built around Bruce Reyes-Chow. As his name was read a loud chorus of cheers erupted around me. It was as if the Anaheim Ducks had won the Stanley Cup, again. Sorry Sharks fans had to say that since we are in the middle of San Jose.I have been following this election for several months, ever since I got invited to Bruce’s Moderator Facebook page. While I do not agree with some of his views there are many more that I do agree with. At lunch yesterday a classmate and I were talking about the election. Would it be a status quo vote or would the commissioners look to something more? There were the candidates that would definitely fit the Presbyterian mold. Instead they elected a young, urban, techno-geek, ethnic, New Church Development Pastor. What that means is up for debate. But I can tell you what i think it may mean. That the denomination as a whole is looking for something new, and Bruce represents that. A handing of the torch to the next generation. As I listened to Bruce I became excited about the denomination all over again. I won’t go as far as Michelle Obama saying that I am proud of the PCUSA for the first time in my adult life. But I sense a change in philosophy. One toward bracing a missional/ triune theology. That God called us to be sent into the world for reconciliation.The ten million dollar question is this a catalyst moment or a flash in the pan moment for the denomination. It is my prayer and continual prayer that this is a moment that launches a new way of thinking for the PCUSA.


Now inclusiveness makes sense…

So I am a bit off. Last semester in my Confessions class we really got into the need for inclusive language within the church. This includes changing words within Bible translations and even from the puplit/ worship service. Last year a report called the Trinity Report was released by the PCUSA. It was adopted by the General Assembly as a study material but was not adopted to be a theological reflection for the Presbyterian Church. This document became one of the many issues that is splitting the church today. It seeks to enlarge our understanding of God, but many hold fast to traditional thought sand reflections. I too am one of these… at least until lately.One of the its main charges of the report was:The document speaks of “inclusive” language for the people of God and “faithful” language for God, language that plumbs the depths of scripture for rich and varied imagery. Such “faithful” language for God affirms classic trinitarian doctrine while seeking fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the triune God. All theological reflection involves words and language, and so we must grapple with the limits and possibilities of language for God, but this was not the primary charge to the task force. The General Assembly asked for faithful and constructive theological reflection that could help the church renew its faith in the triune God. (Lines 84-89)Looking at its charge and duties does not sound like anything heretical. It just looks to expound the way we look at God. My stance until recently is that is is just a bunch of liberal, feminist, enviromental, ect…mumbo jumbo. Making me adjust words in my papers and such so that everything is “politically correct”.  I often argued that God IS the father of all. Why should we need to change that? Just so that people feel included. Isn’t that changing the essence of the Bible and our faith? Where does that stop or does it?That is when it hit me earlier this summer. I mean really hit me. It was in a sermon that I was listening to by Francis Chan. He described how can someone with a bad image of what a father is truly understand what God wants to give and do for us. If we have/ had a bad fatherly image how can we see God wanting to protect us, enable us, and want to love on us? We can’t. It skews our theology of God. For many it could be impossible to see God in a “traditional” God the father way, but that should not exclude us from the best way possible in understanding God and his depths in others. While others may refer to God as mother and other adjectives I am beginning to understand why and that God is not encased in our meek words but his understanding goes beyond all words.While I don’t pretend to even know more than the surface on this subject, there is one thing that I do know, no matter our history God wants to include each of us into His plan.