17 Mar A View from the trenches
Greetings Sisters and Brothers in the Synod of the Southwest and beyond,
As February began, I engaged in my first meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Governance Task Force. I was invited to join the Task Force as one of the two non-PMA folks on the committee. The other non-PMA person is Al Puryear, an amazing gentleman with a history of the PCUSA before and into reunion of the UPCUSA and the PCUS. My history with the PCUSA picks up where Al’s leaves off through the present. I guess we are the institutional memory (spanning over 40 years) which PMA thinks it needs as it tries to set a path and direction of how the PMA will govern itself in a flexible and efficient manner. Of course, the issue of being flexible and efficient necessarily will require that such governance be responsive to the changing demographic of society and the commitment of the church to diversity. We met again in early March to continue our conversation. It is anticipated that this process will take at least 18 months.
Soon after, I was off to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary to attend the annual board of trustee retreat. It was an exciting time during which I learned about how the changing demographics of society and the need for change in the church are being addressed. APTS is positioning itself for the future needs of the church and society by bringing onboard a faculty that is diverse both in its cultural background and in its subject area emphasis. We were reminded during worship that “walls are not the answer” and that we must allow our “gaze to lift us higher than ourselves.” In fact, one of the newer faculty members, the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Browning Helsel will be the guest presenter in Ghost Ranch this coming August as we host our 20th Biblical Kaleidoscope, the topic of which will be “Preaching when race matters.”
No sooner had I returned from Austin than Ash Wednesday was front and center. At the Ash Wednesday service that I attended, my pastor, Trey Hammond, emphasized that the Lenten practice of giving up “things” was probably misplaced. He said we should instead give up actions and attitudes, such as being judgmental, greedy, anxious, critical of others, apathetic, discouraged and angry and replacing those actions and attitudes with compassion, hospitality, patience, kindness, engagement, hope and love. I took that to heart and hope I can set those negatie actions and attitudes aside and replace them with positive actions and attitudes and perhaps, just perhaps, if I strive to reset myself for 40 days, it just might stick. It is certainly worth the effort.
In an attempt to “fast”, I attended a Bible Study led by the Rev. Dr. Judith Todd, based on the 7th lesson in the Presbyterian Women’s 2016 Bible Study the subject of which was Streams of Mercy: Forgiveness. It was a powerful study and I was amazed at the depth and breadth of Judy’s compassion, understanding of the Biblical text and patience with those of us less learned in Theology. What a wonderful reinforcement for my 40 days of “fasting”.
A few days later I attended the Winter Meeting of the Presbytery of Santa Fe. On the first afternoon of the meeting, the commissioners gathered to consider a number of Overtures to the 222nd General Assembly and whether the Presbytery should concur. The most exciting discussion, however, among many interesting and exciting conversations that day, was when we considered concurring with the Presbytery of Baltimore in asking the General Assembly to offer an apology to our Native American, Alaska natives and native Hawaiians for the “pain and suffering that our church’s involvement in the Indian Boarding school system has caused [recognizing that] [i]n our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ, our hearts and minds were closed to the value of your spirituality”. This is an apology long coming and I rejoice at the possibility that the PCUSA will adopt and offer this apology as part of our need to be reconciled with our Native brothers and sisters. And I am proud of my brothers and sisters in Santa Fe for concurring with this overture.
As the month came to an end, I joined my sisters and brothers who serve on the Synod’s Finance & Property Committee as they continually seek to be faithful in the care and use of the Synod’s financial resources. Of note, they chose to reallocate, as we have done for many years now, the Synod’s investment in the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program to be counted toward the investment of churches with PILP loans so that they may benefit from participation in PILP’s 1% interest rate rebate program. Faithful as this group is, they also authorized funding to enable the commissioners from our four presbyteries to become well oriented about the process and issues before the 222nd General Assembly, to do so together and to thus become as prepared as anyone can be as a General Assembly commissioner. I am particularly grateful that the Rev. Jim Collie (HR), a GA junkie, helped lead the conversation and share, with some kibitzing from the Rev. Chuck Proudfoot, his knowledge of and wonderful stories about life at the General Assembly.
I ended the month attending a synod-wide training of the Permanent Judicial Commissioners of all four of our presbyteries and the Synod. It was led by Laurie Griffith from the department of Constitutional Services of the Office of the General Assembly. The PJC members of the Synod gathered in Phoenix and the PJC members from our four presbyteries joined in by Go-To-Meeting. Again I am reminded of the connectional nature of our church and the energy and synergy that can be created when we join together in common endeavors.
Thanks be to God!