General Assembly – Day 4

 

Day 4 is always a day of committee work.  The Assembly breaks up in teams of 40-150 or so, and listens to reports, gauges the work that needs to be done, and charts a path forward.

This morning was spent listening – to God, to each other, to corresponding members.  I was asked to speak to a couple committees and did so.  One of the committees was Committee 8 – Environmental Issues.

The issue of divestment is coming up again.  We all have different thoughts on this, but it is clear the Fossil Free folks are very organized, complete with t-shirts and koozies and propaganda throughout the Exhibit area.  I have been hit up a number of times.  I think I was asked to speak to divestment because I am from Oklahoma, knee-deep on dependence from the energy companies – like Devon, Chesapeake, and Halliburton.  I spoke to our Oklahoma context, and the wind farms all around, but the reality of our dependence of the fossil fuel industry at every turn.

“Here we sit in this lovely air conditioning, brought to you by the fossil fuel industry” I told Committee 8.  “Instead of divesting us from fossil fuel companies and pretending to have a clean conscious, shouldn’t we begin by confessing our utter dependence on fossil fuels?”

I believe Climate Change is THE most important issue before the church today.  I also happen to question whether divestment is the right path.  So I shared that – mainly because there were 40 speaking for divestment and only 3 against.  I was one of the 3 to provide some balance.  The other two were Deb Meinke from Cimarron Presbytery (no relation btw) who is a biologist and a scientist, and then also Valerie Young from Synod of the Sun.

There are so many things coming before this committee on significant importance.  And what those are may be unclear at this time.  It will unfold in the next few days as we see what the committees pick up, adopt, reconfigure, and how they present it.

There are some internal stresses and strains – namely the per capita issue and funding of the national church, but also how to organize it.

Joe Meinhart serves on the Mid Council committee which usually reviews minutes and takes a chill pill.  But not this time, with some difficulties in one of our synods, and questions of how to resource them or form a team to go in and help in a more “industrial strength” kind of way.

Melissa Gill serves on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee which is dealing with Presbyterian/Episcopal relations and also wrestling with numerous Korean denominations and how/to what extent to respond to issues of peace in the Korean peninsula.

My buddy Michael Blair, a Uniting Minister from Canada, will be preaching at a prayer breakfast on Wednesday, and I enjoyed getting to renew our friendship yesterday.  I hadn’t seen him since we were together at the World Council of Churches event in Busan, South Korea.

It was a fun and relaxing day for me.  I resourced a committee briefly until more help arrived.  Then I moved from place to place, checking in with the Way Forward Committee, Joe and Melissa’s committees, and then speaking to the Environmental Issues committee.

If you have never been to General Assembly, you should come some time.  It is a great opportunity for togetherness.  In so many ways – in mission and service to the churches – it is our denomination putting our best foot forward.

I only hope we can continue that trajectory of transformational change and relationship-building thoughtout the week

-Matt

 

General Assembly – Day 3

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Sunday at the Assembly was a time to connect with the local churches.  Many of us took buses in the morning to worship with the many multi-cultural churches, multi-generational churches, and African-American churches within the St. Louis metro area.  Some went to First Pres in Ferguson, MO.

The coming together of different traditions was no more apparent than at the intimate, welcoming, warm and wonderful church of Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, a predominantly African-American church that had a lot more white faces than usual.  The energy was palpable.  The preaching was spot on.  Despite the small choir there, the singing was mighty.  The food was even better than the togetherness in worship!

And as the Assembly met in plenary in the afternoon, the spirit of our vast diversity in this denomination yet a deep commitment to togetherness continued.  We heard from mission partners around the world, heard from the Way Forward Commission, and got a taste of the issues on the horizon.

Our Stated Clerk challenged this Assembly – that in this time of internal struggle, both historic and present, in this time in the church when we have been all to slow to adjust and engage in transformative change, J. Herbert asked us to commit that this be a turnaround assembly for this denomination.  It can happen, he said, if we all commit to it, and embrace God’s vibrant new future for us.

As he said, I believe we are called to reform and not become the church of yesterday, not recapture the past, but to live into a vibrant new future.

Let me just say that with the “safe” election of our two co-moderators listed above, I sense a timidness to this Assembly.  I hope I am wrong.  I hope this Assembly is not one that falls short of the bold steps God is needing from us at this time.  Because if I am right, this will not be a turnaround assembly like J. Herbert asks, but a limp step forward when big bold jumps are needed.

Perhaps I am selling us short, but I do not sense a bold new step forward this week.  But just because this may be a sleepy assembly, needing to address the internal struggles of the church, it does not mean God does not have a vibrant new future planned for us.  It does not mean God isn’t planting important seeds.

As I wrapped up my Sunday morning routine, I turned my attention to a walk down to the Arch – the Gateway to the West.  It is big.  If you have been here you know.  It also has gone through a significant facelift to the surrounding grounds and a new Jefferson Expansion museum with a new entrance to the Arch which will open later this year.

I also walked through the Old Courthouse.

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Yes that was a big flag, and it got me thinking – a lot of BIG things happened here in St. Louis, notably the Dred Scott Decision, which happened just down the hall from where I took this pic.  The Dred Scott Decision was one important ingredient which led to the Scott’s being freed (again) and led to the Civil War and the end of slavery.

What many may not remember is that the Dred Scott case did not get much press back then.  It was only years later as it came to the Supreme Court and added to the powder keg that led this country into civil war.

And so we come to St. Louis.  We gathered in plenary to set the tone.  And we headed off to committee that evening.

What does the future hold?  We may not know.  But we know WHO HOLD OUR FUTURE.  With God much is possible.  In fact, ALL things are possible.

-Matt

 

General Assembly – Day 2

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Yesterday brought with it many new relationships and excitement for the future.

My day began with the Young(ish) Mid-Council Leaders Breakfast that our Stated Clerk J. Herbert attended as well.  He spoke in a powerful way to us as denominational leaders and challenged us – that despite many of us not having pulpits to fill on Sunday, we nevertheless needed to TELL THE STORY and tell OUR story.  He reminded us that if we are to reclaim an evangelical fervor in our churches, we must re-connect not just with other generations, but with immigrant communities, and all those who see no hope.  And how?With  our own stories of God working in us – and how we came to faith.

As always, J. Herbert reminded us of the central aspect of what grew the early church – relationships and authenticity and STORY.

Opening Worship was an invigorating time of creative scripture reading, voices lifted up in praise and prayer, and some good preaching moments.  It has been a hopeful year with our two co-moderators and I am thankful and sad to see them go.  Worship was multi-cultural and multi-sensory, with brass, Native American flutes, and liturgical dancers.

Later that evening, the Assembly elected another set of co-moderators: Elder Vilmarie Cintron-Olivieri and Rev. Cindy Kohlmann on (I think) the 5th ballot.  After the first ballot, my friend Rev. Bertram Johnson and Rev. Eliana Maxim had an overwhelming lead from the advisory delegates, and a clear lead from the delegates, but failed to reach the required 263 majority to win outright.

Some may be surprised the votes swung to Vilmarie and Cindy with the required 263 instead.  Were they the safe choice?  That might be how the first ballot majority is feeling.  Bertram and Eliana would have been the first gay moderator and first immigrant moderator in our denomination.  They were clear about their desire to challenge the church to be more inclusive and to dismantle the systems and structures that prevent the Holy Spirit from working.

While I am sad for my friend Bertram, I am energized that we have a bilingual co-moderator in Vilmarie and an experienced and wise exec like Cindy.  They will do our denomination proud just as Bertram and Eliana would have.

The trans formative moment of the day for me however came in the Exhibit Hall, where conversations about Israel/Palestine were plentiful, like the one shown above at the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) booth.  I see many of our younger members truly listening when it comes to the issues in the Middle East, issues around immigration, and creation care and fossil fuels which all come to the forefront in this assembly.

This morning we turn our hearts and minds to the local congregations here in the host presbytery: Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.  I am off!

-Matt

General Assembly – Day 1

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Yesterday was a day of travel for many of our General Assembly Commissioners.

Early that morning the assembly hall was filled with people wearing red badges and black badges like me – red being those worn by General Assembly staff and support, and black badges worn by presbytery staff and support.  The stream of travelers coming in was endless, the registration booth almost always busy, and by the end of the day the hall was filled with folks wearing blue badges, the voting commissioners, including our own Joe Meinhart and Melissa Gill.

Joe is an OCU sociology professor living in OKC and pastor at Davenport.  Melissa is an attorney living in Norman and a ruling elder at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Norman.

While official business has not begun yet, and committees are not meeting yet, going to many of the pre-assembly events one can already get a sense of the “lay of the land” and a sense of what is coming.

Talk at my table at the Welcome Reception at 5pm yesterday was quickly filled with “What are your thoughts on all this talk of fossil fuel divestment?” and “What exactly would it look like for Presbyterian to truly care for creation?”

The picture above is the last reception of the day I attended, that of the Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterian Reception.  We heard from Bruce Reyes-Chow and Clifton Kirkpatrick, former moderator and stated clerk of the GA.

All 6 of those running for co-moderators were also there, introduced themselves, and spoke of what their leadership would look like (and yes, there was some politicking involved too!).  The Covenant Network is committed to LGBTQ advocacy, and I think it is fair to say all 6 candidates are a support of the work of the Covenant Network.  Brian Ellison is their executive director and a good friend of mine.  I am thankful for his leadership.  The More Light Presbyterians is a network of churches committed to the same advocacy.

In the picture you see all of us joining in laying on of hands and praying for those running for the highest office in the Presbyterian Church.

And so while this day prior to the assembly may seem like a lot of fun and togetherness, there are moments of seriousness, and already one of the major issues of the assembly is coming before us – choosing leadership of co-moderators and those who will speak for the denomination in the coming 2 years.

Today will be Opening Worship, and then one of the major tasks – selecting those co-moderators.  Committees will also get formally oriented, before they move into committee work for a couple days.

I hope you can join us for the Live Streaming of Opening Worship at 11am Central, and also the selection of co-moderators at 7pm.  I have seen the bulletin and ate dinner with some singing in the choir.  By all accounts it will be a moving worship experience.  I encourage you to join us:

Live Streaming: https://ga-pcusa.org/

 

 

Preparing for GA

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Today I am off to St. Louis and to General Assembly!

I barely got away too.  Last night I was surrounded by standing water, stopped drains, and a plumber.  AAhh, the joys of home ownership!  But off I go, with good friends in charge of Bentley and the house.  Be praying for them!!! Between the cursed house and the crazy dog, I pray they don’t have their hands full.

So my Morning Reflections take a turn, and as I mentioned a couple posts ago, I will be providing some highlights of our assembly here as part of my Morning Reflections.

The 223rd meeting of the General Assembly will take place Saturday, June 16 through Saturday, June 23.  There are several resources a person can use to stay connected to all that is happening at GA.

The first is THIS BLOG of mine, which will provide a firsthand account from me and other presbytery leadership.  It will be a little bit of DAILY HIGHLIGHTS, a little bit of firsthand BEHIND THE SCENES, and I hope lifting up some of the extraordinary and wonderful things that our denomination is involved with, well past what may get splashed on the front page of a paper.

GA NEWSPAPER

  • The GA 223 newspaper can be received electronically this year.  Sign up here.

LIVESTREAMING

  • Opening Worship – Saturday, June 16, 11am (Central time)
  • Moderator Election – Saturday, June 16, 7pm (Central time)
  • Information here

OTHER OUTLETS

See you in St. Louis!

-Matt

God with Us

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Eccles. 8:14-9:10Gal. 4:21-31Matt. 15:29-39

Today in Matthew, Jesus cures many and feeds many more.   We follow a God who stood in our midst and doled out grace.

These stories go well beyond Jesus showing compassion for the people around him.  They testify to the fact that, for we Christians, God is not far away and aloof from us. God stands with us, beside us in our broken and troubled and suffering world.  Paul reminds us that nothing in existence can ever separate us from the love of God, revealed in Christ.

In our Core Foundations class on Sunday, and in the coming weeks we will continue to explore that our faith is not one of easy answers and unrealistic solutions.  Jesus entered life and died on the cross for us, showing us that in whatever we experience, in whatever may trouble us, in whatever distress or threat we feel, we need not fear because God is in it with us. God will lift up in our midst what we need to make it through, because God is good.

I encourage you to join us for more weeks of studying BEING PRESBYTERIAN IN THE BIBLE BELT.  Sundays.  9:30am.

What we learn in today’s story is that in whatever crisis or issue we face in life, in whatever trouble may come our way, the power of God’s love will provide what we need.  From the midst of the Body of Christ, God will lift up the resources to accomplish his loving purposes.

These stories are reminders.  We pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God may give us daily bread.  We learn in these stories that it is we who are to be involved in, not only the receiving of daily bread, but in the giving of it too.

A good image of this is in the context of the Lord’s Supper, especially when we pass the bread around in a circle, or when we serve each other in the pew.  In that image of receiving bread and then turning to share bread with the person to our other side is the reality of God’s gracious action within the meal: each person is fed solely through God’s grace, but each person also plays an important role in making sure God’s grace continues with the others gathered there.

May these stories of curing and feeding enrich and enliven your day.  May they also be reminders that you play a part in God’s inbreaking kingdom.

-Matt

General Assembly is Coming!

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As many of you know, General Assembly is coming!  This is the every other year meeting of the national church governing body, called the General Assembly.

As a mid-council leader, and the only one here in Indian Nations Presbytery, it is my duty to attend and support the work of the committees and commissioners.

As a pastor as well as a mid-council leader, it is my deep desire to connect the work of the General Assembly with every Oklahoma Presbyterian, to see the church at work, and see how the work of the presbytery, synods, and General Assembly filter into our lives together.

And so these Morning Reflections will take a pivot.  I will most likely turn into a social media butterfly, and through Twitter mainly provide daily reporting from the floor of General Assembly.  Sometimes the news media picks up on the weirdest things.  I hope to provide a little bit more realistic reporting than the national media, and tie you in to work of the Assembly that may not get splashed on the front page of a newspaper, but is highly important for our lives together, from new denominational leadership to world issues like creation care will all be under consideration.  There will also be a daily Morning Reflection of the daily highlights.

Feel free to follow me here for the daily summary through your subscription to Morning Reflections.

Follow me on Twittter: @mattmeinke

You may also want to look for news at the Presbyterian Outlook: pres-outlook.org

If you are a real GA junkie, you can always go to: ga-pcusa.org and pc-biz.org which is how the commissioners connect to all the business of the assembly.  There will be a live-stream of floor debate as well.

I will leave Friday.  Be praying for me, and all those involved in our General Assembly.

-Matt