A view from the inside looking outward, or is it from the outside looking in?

A view from the inside looking outward, or is it from the outside looking in?

Sisters and Brothers,

Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

March began with a gathering of the Synod Stated Clerks to read one another’s minutes for 2014 and 2015 in preparation for their review by the General Assembly in June.   It is always interesting to me to learn what is going on in other synods, as recorded in their minutes.  We all seem to do things differently, but we are all working toward the same end. That end being to serve our Presbyteries and, through them, our congregations.  It was exciting to read of the Synod of the Northeast taking the opportunity to forgive the debt of a Native American church in its region as an act of reconciliation. This act of reconciliation witnesses to our need to seek the forgiveness of our Native American sisters and brothers for our past sins and the way we, the Presbyterian Church, treated them and dismissed their spirituality in our attempt to bring them the Good News.  It was uplifting to learn of the commitment of the Synod of Mid-America to raise up new leaders to serve the Presbyterian Church from within the communities of our sisters and brothers of color.  They are doing this by initiating an intern program whereby for two years a person or persons of color will “shadow” the Synod’s executive and learn how mid-council’s serve God’s people.  And these are but a couple of examples of the extraordinary work and ministry that our brothers and sisters in other parts of our country are doing.

A few days after the Synods’ review of minutes I joined with our sisters and brothers, as I previously reported,  from our four presbyteries who will be serving as commissioners and delegates.   This group will be meeting again in May to discuss the issues with which they will be grappling during the 222nd General Assembly.   It is an exciting time and our commissioners and delegates seem enthused about the prospect of service to our denomination.

No sooner had we bid farewell to our commissioners and delegates as they returned to their homes than I was on a plane and headed for Louisville, KY.  The purpose of my visit was two-fold, one to meet with my colleagues on a national Committee of Counsel as we prepare for a hearing/trial in early April before the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission.  The other part of the visit was to participate in a meeting of the Governance Task Force of the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This group has been charged with completing “a comprehensive review of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) governance model” and bringing “final recommendations to the Board’s September 2017 meeting”.  What was clear to me in this conversation was our commitment that we were not just about re-shuffling the deck chairs, but trying to create a structure of governance that was flexible and responsive to the church and to the changing nature of its vision as we move into the future.  I know this will be a difficult task, fraught with all kinds of pitfalls and roadblocks.  But I also know that as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) moves into the future we must be agile in our governance such that we can respond to change and yet that can affirm and bolster those commitments the General Assembly has made to its people and others throughout the years past.  In my mind, the question is how do we create a table where all are invited, where all participate in setting the table and where the menu can be changed to respond to God’s purpose while also making that table small enough to be flexible and responsive.  In a church that purports to value diversity, actually creating a structure of governance that reflects that diversity, not just by making sure all have a place at the table (as we currently operate) but by ensuring that those at the table have voice in the decisions which must be made and that reflect in our actions and decisions the diversity of the church and our commitment to that diversity. This is not an easy task.

Finally, on March 17th we loaded up two buses, one in Phoenix and one in Albuquerque, with Synod commissioners and other partners in our Synod’s ministry and  made our way to our meeting place in El Paso, Texas.  The bus trips actually provide us with opportunities to get to know one another better, to laugh and enjoy one another’s company.  On Friday morning, after a late start, we tended to the business of the Synod.  During this meeting, we honored our former Synod Moderator, Rocky Mackey; we bid farewell to our sister, Sallie Watson, as she prepares to embark upon a new journey as the Presbyter of Mission Presbytery in the Synod of the Sun;  and, concurred with the Presbytery of Baltimore’s overture to the General Assembly to apologize to our Native American sisters and brothers for our past sins visited upon them, though with all good intent; but sin nonetheless.  We approved a Memorandum of Understanding with Menaul School to provide scholarships to legacy students In need of financial assistance with the hope that we can make an impact on young lives and perhaps help raise up well-grounded and well-educated leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

On Saturday morning, we prepared to close our meeting by travelling to the Mexico/U.S.A. border at Anapra Crossing, worshiping our God and partaking of the Lord’s Supper with somconrad-fencee of our sisters and brothers from Mexico who joined us from their side of the fence.  Thanks to the efforts of our PCUSA Mission Co-Workers on the Border, our sister Amanda Craft and brother, Omar Chan, assigned to Pasos de Fe, all arrangements were made and clearances from Border patrol obtained.  It was a moving experience for all who were able to attend, as we recognized our oneness as Christian brothers and sisters and the false separation represented by a 12 foot high fence that physically divides us.  In our hearts, and I pray in our actions, we recognized that we have no borders between us and that we must work to dismantle the false border represented by a fence that seems to separate us.  We are all God’s people, united as the body of Christ, through Christ and in Christ.

It was interesting to me and many others, that our trip from the hotel to Anapra Crossing was supposed to take 30 minutes and instead took over an hour and a half.  But we were comfortable in our big luxury bus, as we crossed from Texas to New Mexico and back to Texas with no incident, other than a lot of traffic caused by a shut down of I10 as it winds through El Paso.  No one asked us to prove our citizenship status, we had plenty of water, we had toilet facilities available on the bus, the seats were very comfortable and the air was conditioned well.  Yet, we were also aware that many of our brothers and sisters daily make treks across the frontier, in the heat, blistering their feet, encountering oppressive heat and too often thirsty only to find themselves, if they are fortunate enough to survive the trek, unwelcomed and maligned.  These our sisters and brothers make the trek because they seek asylum from oppressive governments, institutions and, sometimes even their own neighbors, families and friends, they find themselves unable to provide even a meager existence for themselves and their families and they seek a better life for their loved ones.  What sin is there in that?  How can we as sisters and brothers in Christ, children of the same God, not find a way to open our hearts, our homes and our borders to these our sisters and brothers?  Are we not supposed to be hospitable to the stranger among us?  Are we to deny from the least privileged of God’s children what we would never think to deny our own children?

Having celebrated the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, let us recommit to treating all God’s children with respect, sharing with all God’s children our love and offering all God’s children our hospitality……let us rejoice in the resurrection and commit to share the Good News through word and deed and to offer that Good News with respect and in love.

He is Risen!   He is Risen, indeed!


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