General Assembly – Day 7

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Yes it was a big, long day at the Assembly.  Yes, there was remarkable things that passed – to our denomination taking a stand with immigrants, against the current administration’s policies, and so much more.  Yes, Joe’s committee made their report, Committee 7 – MidCouncils.  But it is the relationships that are formed that are the real power of the General Assembly.

Pictured above is Jimmie Hawkins and Catherine Gordon, of the Office of Public Witness in Washington DC.  At the far left is Sara Lisherness, who is in charge of the Office of Compassion, Peace, and Justice.  Sara and I go way back…to the World Council of Churches.  Jimmie and Catherine are much newer relationships.

A little background on Jimmie.  Yes, he’s a great preacher.  Yes, he is an insightful and incisive leader.  He is also willing to step in it!  Jimmie doesn’t have a passport right now.  And why?  He was arrested a few weeks ago on the steps of the Supreme Court for standing up against injustices in these dark times, and those which stand against PCUSA policies we have adopted.  I’m sure they will mail his passport back to him when they  done “processing” things in DC.  Jimmie makes waves…waves that need to be made.

He co-led the march the other day with our Stated Clerk, taking $47,000 of our dollars to the Justice Center to bail out many non-violent offenders.

Catherine works on the international side of Public Witness.  I look forward to connecting more with her and the important work of the Office of Public Witness of the PCUSA in Washington D.C.  Did you even know we had a D.C. office?  We do!

Jimmie and Catherine are two of the megaphones for God’s grace that we have, as we try to move into God’s Kin-dom and God’s Kingdom ever more fully.

I also had coffee with my friend Dennis Smith, a PCUSA mission co-worker in the Southern cone of South America.  Actually Dennis has been promoted and is in charge of all of South America now.  Holy cow!  He oversees the 9 mission co-workers in that part of the world, and works with the many ecumenical and religious partners in the area.

The Way Forward Committee made their report, and all their recommendations were adopted.  The way forward continues, and I sense there is going to be a significant shake up in the national office in Louisville within the next couple years.  There will be much more collaboration, and things are moving in a healthy direction.  That being said, it is going to be a difficult time for many as times of stress may continue, before they get better.

I am hopeful.  Hope for the way forward for our denomination.

May God continue to shed light on His Church, as we take on issues of divestment, environmental concerns, and so much more.

-Matt

P.S. Joe’s committee, Mid-Councils, usually is a pretty simple, straightforward committee.  This time there were some wrinkles, as they heard from some presbyteries requesting an Administrative Commission be formed, and with possible original jurisdiction.  It was voted for by the committee and the assembly.  Be praying for the Synod of the Covenant as they strive for health and wholeness.

 

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General Assembly – Day 6

IMG_0343.JPGYesterday the Assembly made it back into plenary.  The echoes of the march to the justice center rang in our memories and our ears, and many shared stories and reflections of the previous day.  The press coverage has also been quite remarkable, at least here in St. Louis.  I’m not sure what you all have heard or are hearing.

As we entered Plenary, Melissa’s committee made their report.  But before we heard from Committee 7 – Ecumenical Relations, we voted the Consent Agenda.  I was a little surprised that no one removed certain items from it for individual discussion and vote.  If some of these items would have been there 5 years ago they most certainly would have been taken off.

In short, it is a new day for God’s LGBTQIA people in the PCUSA.  The General Assembly unanimously approved two historic overtures (at least historic from the Covenant Network’s standpoint).  One affirms and celebrates the gifts of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the church.  The second affirms the rights and dignity of people of transgender, non-binary and people of varying gender identities.

I have been around this divisive church long enough to be very surprised by this.  Not by the fact that it passed, but that it was voted unanimously.  Things have certainly changed. It is a whole, brave new day for this church.

So back to Melissa’s committee and the Ecumenical things at work.  To me, this is the news-worthy elements of the day, although I doubt the press will pick up on these things.  This is part of the behind-the-scenes pieces of the Assembly that are so easy to miss.

This morning was an extraordinary Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast.  I say that because my good friend and colleague Rev. Michael Blair was speaking this morning.  He challenged us to shelve a lot of this “God is not at the Center….God is at the margins” talk.  As if the world still revolves around us?  It never did.  And God is speaking most profoundly in the Global South.  Even the talk of Center/Margins is ethnocentric and warped.  Instead he said,

“We have all always been on the margins.  Everyone of us.  It is God at the Center.  And God is also with us on the margins.”

Michael stated that as part of a healthy ecumenism and part of a true building of relationships that:

“It is not the case that we are the Church in the world.  It is the God of mission that has a Church in the world.  So, the question is what is God up to in God’s world?”

It may seem like theologically splitting hairs, but it is not.  It means EVERYTHING.  It means once and for all outgrowing our stereotypes and prejudices, and embracing all denominations as being directed by and full of God’s Spirit.

We then moved into an Ecumenical Worship service which was led by the President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches a Lebanese/Syrian Christian who shared very powerfully.

In Melissa’s Committee much of which was adopted in the consent agenda, one of the most exciting and celebratory parts of their report, and one of the things that makes Melissa most proud is the forging of new partnerships, like the covenant relationship being fostered with the significant Indonesian and Minahasah-speaking members of the church, and the move toward officially being in covenant relationship with the Gereja Masehi Injili di Minahasa denomination.

It is truly an exciting new day for so many corners of God’s Church.

There was also an overture from Mission Presbytery originally on mental health that passed. #Breakthestigma was the hashtag that blew up my phone late into the night.  Truly an encouraging and exciting day.

Today is another day of the full Assembly meeting.  Let us hope and pray we can build on the strong and unified start we had yesterday.

-Matt

General Assembly Musings

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I hope you all are finding your day to my daily reflections on General Assembly.

Day 5 can be found at: https://mattmeinke.com/2018/06/20/general-assembly-day-5/

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General Assembly – Day 5

IMG_0299Tuesday of the General Assembly is both one of the most relaxed days, but also one of the most interesting.  Committees wrapped up their business, and as is the case, some finish before others.  So many are looking for things to do.  Other friends are stuck behind, serving on committees with hefty agendas and going long into the night trying to finish.

I sat in some of those committees in the morning.  Some were “stuck in the weeds” as it were, like the Way Forward Committee.  I’m not sure we will ever find our WAY FORWARD.  By day’s end the clouds had broken, I hear.

I say it was one of the most interesting, because I also sense that we are finding our voices.  Presbyterians are getting louder.  Frozen Chosen no more.  I sense us stepping out and finding our voice when it comes to systemic injustice.

Knowing this dynamic of Tuesday’s flexible time, our Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, had asked the Assembly to engage in a bit of raising their voices.  That is exactly what Tuesday was.  $47,000 had been raised during the offering time of Opening Worship, raised to be used to help end the injustice of the Cash/Bail system.

IMG_0292And so we marched, gathering first in the Assembly Hall at 3pm, and many of us marched to the Justice Center in downtown St. Louis.  We raised our voices demanding Bail Reform, armed with our $47,000 dollars which we used to bail out as many non-violent offenders as we could.  It was an encouraging and empowering time.  It was also hot.  98 degrees I think.  But there is steam gathering.  We are finding our voices as a denomination, armed and ready to fight systemic injustice wherever it is – yesterday in the racist, unjust system of cash/bail.  This problem is particularly relevant here in St. Louis and Ferguson that has been ripped apart by racial inequalities.

IMG_0300Many of us had engaged in a noon-time rally for Immigration as well.  And so I sense us finding our voice.  No longer is General Assembly a time to remain in the frozen air-conditioned convention hall, but a time to engage with the community.

J. Herbert also took some time on Tuesday to respond  to the Trump administration’s new policy of separating young children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.  He issued a statement from the Office of the Stated Clerk condemning the policy:  “What has this nation become?  How have we wandered so far from Jesus’ kind admonition, ‘Let the little children come to me…'”  He also criticized the Justice Department’s stated use of the policy as a “deterrant” to immigration and accused the administration of cherry picking scripture, saying that using Romans 13:1 to argue for “obeying the law” which ignoring the higher scriptural demand of Romans 13:10 that “love is the fulfilling of the law” is just blatant misuse of the Bible.

I hope and pray our voices will continue to get louder.  We need to step up and speak out.  I have had enough being quiet.

Wednesday brings with it a new day.  We head back into plenary.  Committee recommendations end, and decisions about the way forward begin.

-Matt

 

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