Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In View of What's Not Seen

An Inkling
I’ve not read much about St. Cuthbert, but I just came across an interesting story.  In 651, while serving as a shepherd boy, Cuthbert awoke in the night, gazed up at the sky, and saw a stream of light piercing the darkness, as choirs of angels came down to earth and took back with them a soul of great brightness.  The next morning Cuthbert learned that their beloved bishop, St. Aidan, had died nearby at the very hour of Cuthbert’s vision.  Cuthbert left his shepherding for a monastery, and some years later took Aidan’s role himself, this vision having launched him into his calling.
What is a vision?  It’s when God draws back the curtain on what we ordinarily don’t see – the realities beyond our sight.  Thus the name “vision.” 
The story reminded me of just how much goes on beyond my sight.  Yet in most ways on most days I make my decisions according only to what I see with the eye.  And I do so fancying myself a “realist” – one who decides not by wish or fantasy, but according to the facts at hand.
Hmmm.  But if it’s only what I see at the moment, then how much of a realist am I?  And how wise are my decisions?
It’s part of what the Hebrews writer is getting at with his description of faith as the “conviction of things not seen.”  The realist who has met Jesus decides with that not seen in view.  Life works much better that way.  And it prepares our eyes for when he does draw back the curtain…

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Mid-Course

An Inkling
It’s time for an update in our consideration of whether to change our denominational home, as we have some new pieces coming into place. I’ll try to make it brief, but don’t count on it!
First, where have we been?  In the long perspective it’s fair to say that for many years St. Giles has found herself out of synch in various ways with our denomination (the PCUSA).  Some of you remember in years past when the Session considered whether we could continue to serve the Lord faithfully in this setting, and each time they decided that we could and should.  And so we have tried to serve well and be faithful.
In the middle of 2011 some significant changes in denominational standards prompted the Session to ask afresh whether that season of God’s calling for us to be part of the PCUSA is over.  With detailed study of the changes, four congregational forums, dozens of conversations with individuals, and lots of prayer and discussions themselves, the Session determined in October that it was time to request the presbytery to enter conversation with us about the possibility of dismissal to a new denominational home. 
It took the presbytery a few months to organize their response, but now that response has begun, which brings us to the new pieces I want to describe for you. 
First, presbytery told us that our conversation with them about dismissal could not go very far until we had a denomination in mind to which we wished to be dismissed.  So our Denominational Affairs Team, led by Larry Moffett, and the pastors got busy investigating the possibilities and dialoguing with the Session.  Two possibilities seemed reasonable, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), of which Hope Church is the only example in Richmond, and a new denomination being formed, which has now been launched and named as the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (a mouthful that we’ll abbreviate ECO).  Having read their eyes out, interviewed officials, and visited meetings of these two, the Denominational Affairs Team and the pastors recommended to the Session that ECO is a better fit for St. Giles.  While that has not been a simple determination, since both could well be fine places for St. Giles, they are enthusiastic in their preference for ECO.  (For those of you who want to study the details yourself, you can see the articles with various links in our E-News.)
On Monday evening the Session received that ECO recommendation with a good deal of enthusiasm themselves, but delayed a decision for two more weeks until a couple of things could happen.  One, they have asked the Denominational Affairs Team to provide them with some more detail about ECO.  And secondly, they wanted to have another congregational forum, this time to let the congregation hear directly from the Session about why it is particularly excited about ECO, and to respond to the Session with their perceptions and questions.  The Session will then complete their consideration and make a decision on its recommendation about to which denomination we’re asking presbytery to dismiss us. 
The ultimate decision on whether to go and where to go can come only by congregational vote, and that is still some months away.  That vote will come after the congregation has had a season to consider the Session’s recommendation, and to be in dialogue with representatives from the presbytery.
Which brings us to a second new piece of this process, one which came into place this week too.  Presbytery has formed a “Listening Team,” whose members have been chosen for their skills in listening, mediation, and conflict resolution.  Their role is to discern what we’re thinking about this, seek to resolve our concerns, and if we are persisting in our desire to be dismissed, to report that back to the presbytery.  We don’t yet know all of the pieces by which they will carry out their role, but it will surely consist of meetings with the Session and conversations with the congregation.  If they report back to presbytery that we are determined to carry this consideration of dismissal farther, then presbytery will appoint them or others to be an “Administrative Commission” to talk with us about possible terms of dismissal.  That will take some months to play out, and we are currently making plans for the Session’s first conversation with the Listening Team.
One of the provisions in the presbytery’s guidelines for their process with us is that the Session and pastors should not continue to discuss with the congregation whether and why we should leave the PCUSA – or at least not to have that discussion outside of dialogue with the Listening Team.  The Session did have enough of those conversations with the congregation in the summer and fall to determine that St. Giles really did need to commence this conversation with presbytery about whether to be dismissed.  Taking even just that first step took a pretty good sense on the Session’s part that dismissal to another denomination could well be what God would have us do.  But, as Presbyterians, we believe that our congregation does not discern God’s will best apart from the larger expression of the church.  So the Session intends to enter that process, and encourages the congregation to do the same, with diligence and full openness to how God might use it to guide us.
The Listening Team will want to hear from us what led us to begin this conversation with presbytery in the first place.  And we need to hear from them their perceptions of the PCUSA, St. Giles, and our discernment process to this point.  All of that will ultimately lead to a congregational vote, and if the congregation votes to request dismissal, to a presbytery vote in response to our request.  Our congregational vote will include the request to be dismissed to a particular denomination, and what that would mean for our property.  (The PCUSA constitution says that we hold our property in trust for the larger church.)
Third, we now have some people assigned by the presbytery to be our Listening Team, for whom we can be in prayer.  They are:
·      Beverly Bullock, Teaching Elder at large in the Presbytery, and the Listening Team Leader
·      Charlie Summers, Pastor of First Church, Richmond
·      Rebekah Johns, Pastor of Bethlehem Church, Mechanicsville
·      Leigh Anne Ring, Ruling Elder and Certified Education, River Road Church, Richmond
·      Martin Walker, Ruling Elder, Three Chopt Church
·      John Flournoy, Ruling Elder, Tuckahoe Church.
This will not be a simple duty for them, and so we want to be in prayer for them.  Pray that we will be used by God to bless them, even as they seek to be used by God to bless us.
And fourth (you’re getting near to the end – hang in there!), the Session has scheduled a congregational forum to share information about ECO and EPC, and to hear perceptions and answer questions.  As stated above, we will not be addressing whether and why to leave the PCUSA.  That matter will now be discussed in tandem with the Listening Team.  But presbytery does want to know where St. Giles intends to go if the congregation and presbytery finally approve.
That forum will be held during the Sunday School hour, 10:00 a.m., on March 4th, in Patterson Auditorium.  There will be no adult classes that day.
I told you to be ready for a long one!  Those are some of the pieces falling in to place just this week.  Please be in prayer.  If inclined, check out the ECO and EPC websites listed in the accompanying article.  And come with questions and perceptions you would like for the Session to consider as they make the recommendation to the congregation of which denomination best suits St. Giles.
Thanks for your partnership in serving the Lord here at St. Giles.  It will be interesting to see what he does with all of this!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Tongues" in Worship

An Inkling
As I write I’m just back from a Pastors’ Breakfast.  We reviewed the joint worship service that we had in November, looking toward another service next November.  I thought the service came together well, but some reported complaints about the music, specifically that they didn’t hear any of “their” music.  And this despite the diligent efforts to have something for everyone!  It was a reminder to me of how robust is the legacy of Babel.
Do you remember the Genesis 11 story?  It describes one of the legacies of our broken world.  In our sin we rarely find common purpose, but even when we do try to do something together, confusion and miscommunication all too often set us apart.  And that’s when we all speak the same language – “so to speak!”
Gratefully the scripture has a story that gives a preview of God’s answer to babel.  It’s in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came upon the early church at Pentecost, and everyone gathered in Jerusalem heard those newly Spirit filled people in their own languages – Babel reversed.
The day will come when the Lord will gather his people from all nations to himself.  Then the babel confusion, remedied in promise on Pentecost, will be finally reversed.  And in the meantime we can all give ourselves to becoming multi-lingual – if not in a full ability to speak other languages, at least in learning to speak more than one language in worship. 
In the power of the Spirit might we not learn to sing “their” music and to pray “their” prayers?  Our native tongues in worship will remain the language of our hearts.  But we can become multi-lingual as a sign of what God’s about.  It’s part of what a Pentecostal people do.  And it’s good preparation for heaven!