The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is holding its General Assembly in Pittsburgh this week. I was privileged to travel to yesterday's opening festivities with a bussed group from a presbytery neighboring mine, thanks to a friend who got the two of us organized.
Herewith, some observations:
My friend and I, walking a bit downtown and enjoying the marvelous river views from the convention center, decried the fact that in our years at Pittsburgh Seminary, we never once made it to downtown Pittsburgh. I know that my younger seminary colleagues were able to take advantage of that wonderful city, but for those of us constantly commuting between seminary and our homes at a distance elsewhere, the city center only a few miles away was always just out of reach.
Cynthia Bolbach, our just past moderator, preached a terrific sermon. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she preached at my home church (a year ago?); since then, she has been diagnosed with and undergone treatment for cancer. I know a little about what it's like to be the recipient of a cancer diagnosis in the middle of what seems like an important episode in your life; I felt a particular affinity with Cynthia due to our mutual challenges of this past year.
It was fun to see old friends and new, some only briefly and some for extended conversations, and to worship with RevGal Marci Auld Glass. Marci has a beautiful singing voice and, as a commissioner, was in possession of the program booklet, so we were not completely in the dark.
The Revs. Craig and Glass
I now have copies of the sampler of the upcoming new Presbyterian hymnal, which is the subject of a personal campaign of mine at my church. If you are PC(USA), and if you know how passionate I am about sacred music (which I cannot sing myself but, whatever), and if I tell you that we have neither the blue nor even the red hymnal, you will understand my hopeful determination with respect to this venture.
I think I purchased only six books. Had I realized how deeply discounted they were, I would have gone for at least six more.
I have to admit that it was a lot of fun, after I got over the initial shock, to introduce myself to people as the pastor of a church!
Here's a report on what Cynthia had to say in her sermon. As someone who's had the experience of lively, giving, and prophetic churches, I was delighted with what she had to say.
"After the Old Testament reading (Isaiah 40:28-31, the theme of this Assembly), Mark 2:1-12 was read by the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, vice moderator of the 219th General Assembly. Bolbach then preached on the same text referenced in her platform speech as candidate for moderator two years ago. Her focus from the text in 2010 was on the paralyzed man, suggesting that the PC(USA) was the paralyzed one suffering fatigue over constant battles, uncertainty and fear over the effective proclamation of the gospel in the 21st century.
'Two years later, I have a different focus and a different point of view,' she said. 'I do not believe the PC(USA) is paralyzed … although we are light years removed from the 1950s during which denominationalism and church structure thrived, we are actively engaged and concerned with what God would have us do and be.
'At the heart of the gospel, at the heart of each community of faith that seeks to proclaim the gospel, is not structure or Form of Government. At the heart of the gospel lie disciples like these in Mark who are willing to take risks, willing to do whatever it takes to help others see Jesus. Not just [carry] those whom they like, but maybe even [carrying] those they don’t know, those they don’t like. Willing to go up to the roof, willing to cut a hole in it.'
She continued, 'Over the past two years, I have seen those disciples at work in every nook and cranny in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) … and over the past few months, I have felt those disciples. While struggling with cancer, I have been uplifted and supported by those disciples. Many disagree with me, but they have reached out to help me to the roof, and carried me to see Jesus….
'None of [our disagreements] matter without disciples who are willing to take risks for the sake of the gospel. Let’s not worry about process and structure; instead, let’s pray that we will be given the faith that Jesus saw in those disciples. Let’s commit ourselves to be those disciples who will take risks, who will carry others up to the roof….
'If we commit ourselves to lift someone we don’t know, someone we don’t like, we will soar on wings like eagles, we will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not grow faint because we will be helping people see Jesus. What more could we ask for?' ”