After using the April Synod Mission and Ministries meeting for a retreat in which we reflected upon the synod’s foundational text Isaiah 43:19, the Commission went back to business the last weekend in June. We began with the unveiling of our new synod video, which in many ways is an expression of the Isaiah text. If you haven’t had the chance yet to see our new website or the video, go take a look and see the new things we are doing.
For a first discussion and vote at General Assembly our overtures did very well. The overture proposing to amend the Book of Order so that Sessions can ordain Ruling Elders for service beyond their congregation such as in a presbytery or a synod received much discussion both in committee and on the GA floor. This overture which opens up who is welcome at the governing tables or higher councils clearly resonated with YADs, clergy spouses who currently cannot serve on many sessions and therefore cannot serve on any mid-council, and those engaging with immigrant fellowships and new worshipping communities. The overture lost by a slim margin and then was referred by an Assembly voice vote to the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA).
1) And now, the number-one thing this Assembly did was to complete the process of adding the Belhar Confession as the twelfth confessional document contained in the Book of Confessions. While this was pretty much a foregone conclusion — since more than three-fourths of the presbyteries have already given their required assent — still, it is of great historic significance. After the positive vote, theologian Allan Boesak of South Africa, one of the authors of the Belhar Confession during the apartheid era, addressed the Assembly. He ended his remarks by saying, “We may not know what tomorrow may bring, but I know this: tonight, we have overcome. I know this: because of Jesus, we shall overcome. I know this: whatever may come in our world, we shall overcome.” In a moving moment, the Assembly responded by spontaneously breaking into song, singing — what else? —“We Shall Overcome.”
A message from Thia Reggio, our Synod Moderator:
Suddenly, there is death in the midst of life. Again. There is pain, shock, grief, too much familiarity, and too little hope of change. Then come the labels, the meaning making, attempts to understand, but more than that, attempts to create distance between ourselves and the shooters, between ourselves and the dead. Some will blame the victims, some will demonize and dehumanize the killers. The truth is that human beings died and human beings did the killing. What is needed to bring peace is not another story that explains away our own connection and lays blame far from our doors. What is needed is self-reflection followed by clear action from within our own shared humanity. Whatever we have been doing is not working. Whatever side of the conversation you have been on, it is in the freshness of this new wound that there may be a new opening to let God's voice into it. For just one moment, listen for a new word because no one is immune to violence in a world that greets news like last night's shooting with the words, "Not again." Until we commit ourselves to making those words a reality, we cannot say we have done enough.
Lima first came to the United States to assist another pastor in his ministry. He quickly discovered, however, that in many communities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Brazilian immigrants lacked a church home. They had worshiped as Presbyterians in Brazil, but now they weren’t able to find a Presbyterian, Portuguese-speaking congregation that understood the unique challenges and opportunities they were facing. Their only option was to go to a church of another tradition, but they weren’t comfortable, Lima says, with the theology or worship.
Our first retreat for the Northern NY Committee On Ministry Network was a great success. We met in Albany, NY over the weekend of May 20th. We had participants from all five of the presbyteries in the network (Albany, Cayuga-Syracuse, Susquehanna Valley, Northern New York and Utica), and some guests from other presbyteries close by as well. It was such a benefit to be in the same physical space as one another and to put faces and stories to our ministry settings.
I hadn’t realized what I was really headed for was a visit into the homes of our Korean sisters and brothers. As we wandered the streets of Seoul each scene was filled with stories. As we walked through Moongil’s childhood neighborhood, he shared stories of his life; some were so very similar to my own boyhood remembrances and some very different. The story sharing drew us closer and the joy deepened.