Saturday, June 28, 2008

General Assembly round up

Okay. Fidelity and chastity has been dealt with. (See previous post.) What else did the General Assembly do that will have an effect on us at Community Presbyterian?

Over 1,000 pieces of business went before the GA. Some of it was routine. Some of it dealt with important matters, such as electing the moderator, publicly supporting a two state solution for Israel/Palestine or nailing down details regarding the use of restricted endowment funds by the denomination, that will have little bearing on our life together as a congregation.

In a few cases the assembly's inaction mattered more than their action. The Assembly voted down a fifth denominational offering in support of international mission (I think they should have replaced the Pentecost or Peacemaking offering with the mission offering; I think a mission offering would greatly benefited our congregations and our denomination.), they sent a major revision of the Book of Order back for continued discussion, and they overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to change the definition of marriage from "man & woman" to "two people."

If we choose to take it seriously, the one thing that could affect our congregation more than anything else is the denomination's new two-year evangelism emphasis called "Grow the Church Deep and Wide." This emphasis calls for all congregations to adopt a three-pronged approach to church growth - numerical growth, growth in Christian discipleship and growth in congregational diversity. It sounds wonderful, it may even sound like "that's what we've been doing all along" but to take it seriously would require us to redefine how we do church. To take it seriously would require us to:
  1. Move beyond Sunday morning Christianity, engaging as a congregation in individual and group Bible studies, mission projects and outreach efforts so that we grow as Christians, deepen our faith and have more opportunities to invite our neighbors.
  2. Actively evaluate our congregation's relationship with our neighborhood asking: who are our neighbors? how can we best communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them? how can we serve or minister to them? how can we welcome them into our community? And then make changes based on what we learn.
  3. Experience the demographic changes around us as opportunities for ministry rather than reasons for fear and be willing to make changes in how we worship and fellowship to better include those who speak different languages or have different cultural backgrounds.
  4. We would have to turn some of our congregational investment outward even though it feels like we don't even have enough resources to survive.
It is likely this call to growth and discipleship will be swallowed up in the debate over "fidelity and chastity." I think our congregation would be better served by ignoring the debate over "fidelity and chastity" and make "Grow the church deep and wide" our objective for the next two years.

More on Grow Deep and Wide
More on the General Assembly Meeting
Previous post on the "fidelity and chastity" debate
Previous post about the new moderator

The official summaries are not yet online. I'll post a link when they go up.

GA Proposal to delete "fidelity and chastity"

Note: The following represents my (Pastor Fritz's) personal views and not an official point of view of Community Presbyterian Church.

Last night the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to delete what had become known as the "fidelity and chastity" amendment in the church constitution and replace it with a requirement that clergy live in faithfulness to their ordination vows. (Read the official news article) The debate now moves to the Presbyteries who must ratify the change before it becomes official. This is the third time in the last ten years that the General Assembly has proposed deleting the "fidelity and chastity" amendment; the Presbyteries voted down the decision both previous times.

I find that the General Assembly's decision has left me with mixed thoughts and emotions. I was a seminary student serving an internship here in Long Island Presbytery when the amendment was first passed. At that time I felt that the amendment stated the obvious, was a useful line in the sand, would be impossible to enforce and that the debate over it on the floor of the Long Island Presbytery was one of the ugliest and most unChristian experiences I ever had.

Over the last ten years my thoughts on the matter have shifted and matured. I have studied the Bible intently and believe there is no way that scripture can be interpreted to deny the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. I have worked closely with many gay and lesbian ministers (yes, despite the ban there are plenty of gay and lesbian ministers), have come to value their gifts for ministry and believe the church is blessed by them. I have also come to believe that our focus on the sinfulness of homosexuality at the expense of issues such as economic injustice, peacemaking, human rights, evangelism and the sanctity of marriage and family - all of which scripture spends much more time considering - may itself be sinful.

I have also come to see the "fidelity and chastity" amendment as exposing our hypocrisy. Why is it that we ban practicing homosexuals from ordination yet don't even pause when divorced individuals seek ordination or clergy become divorced during their ministries, yet scripture is much more explicit about the sinfulness of divorce (and prohibits remarriage) than it is about homosexuality? Why is it that we never ask ministers or elders whether or not they tithe, or keep the sabbath?

My understanding is that younger generations have a much more ambivalent view of homosexuality than older generations, which means that ordination of homosexuals is probably inevitable. I also don't think that ordaining homosexuals will somehow kill the church. The homosexual clergy I have had the pleasure of ministering with have only built the church up - they have never torn it down; I also don't think the church of Jesus Christ is that easy to kill.

I do not, however, relish the debate that will come and the hurt and pain that will result no matter what the outcome. I also do not yet know how I will vote when this amendment reaches the floor of Presbytery. Should the revision pass, I will miss the line in the sand for Biblical truth and integrity. I will not, however, miss the hypocrisy that line has revealed.

These are just my thoughts - in no way Gospel truth. Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment.

For more on the General Assembly, check the next post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Songs of Praise - Psalms

All summer we're talking about the history of church music during Sunday morning services. We're also singing our hearts out. Here is some of what we sang last Sunday:
  • The Doxology: the words date back to Thomas Kens 1695 hymn: Awake, My Soul and With the Sun. The tune, OLD HUNDREDTH was written by John Calvin's friend Louis Bourgeois to accompany a setting of Psalm 134 in the Geneva Psalter (1551)
  • This is the Day - a contemporary setting of Psalm 118 by Les Garrett
  • All People That on Earth Do Dwell - a metrical setting of Psalm 100 by William Kethe which was linked to Louis Bourgeois' tune for 134, thus giving that tune the name OLD HUNDREDTH
  • The King of Love My Shepherd Is - a metrical setting of Psalm 23 set to ST. COLUMBA, an old Irish tune. The tune is named for St. Columba, who brought Christianity to Ireland and was the first to report a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Henry Williams Baker, who paraphrased the Psalm was reported to have quoted the third verse on his death bed.
  • Clap Your Hands - a contemporary setting of Psalm 41 by Handt Hanson and Paul Murakami

John Calvin Paraphrase
When we sing the Psalms, we sing the very words of God himself. Our words are God’s words, our breath God’s breath and through us God exalts his glory.

Pastor Fritz Sermon Quote
People may not have read the Bible, they may have never heard of Jesus Christ, but they knew God and they felt the call to worship, to sing to the Lord with cheerful voice, to come before him and rejoice.

PC(USA) Elects a New Moderator

Finally the PC(USA) has elected a blogger as the moderator - the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow. This guy spawns more web sites and blogs than kids (he has three kids.) More importantly to me is that as a new church development pastor he understands what it means to live as a "missional church" - the understanding that we are missionaries in our own communities, living out God's word in our daily lives and reaching those who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ on their terms, not ours.

This excerpt from his acceptance speech underscores Bruce's missional philosophy:
If the church responds to these realities by stepping out in faith rather than clinging to survival, just imagine what our church could look like in this new day, this new world, this new time, this new opportunity to be Christ in the world.
  • To be a church family that thrives more on the nature of our relationships than the number of dollars or members we report;
  • To be a church family that is joined together by the covenantal bond of Christ rather than the contractual relationship of property or pension;
  • To be a church family that sees God’s best in one another before being so sure of our human worst.
  • To be a church family that cares more about being faithful than being right;
If we, the church, can embrace these ways of being and these ways of interacting, I have no doubt that we will be able to live into a future in which we are a vibrant and inspiring presence in the world.
We'll be hearing a lot more from Bruce over the next two years, but check him out on all these links:

Bruce's Moderator web site
Web Site of Mission Bay Community Church, the new church development Bruce pastors in San Francisco
Bruce's personal web site & blog
Bruce on YouTube
Bruce also has a face book page, for those of you who are members of that online community.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Food Drive a Great Success

Many thanks to everyone who came together to make our third annual Community Food Drive such a great success.  We knew that rising food prices were causing more people to rely on the Long Island Council of Churches Feeding Center to make it through each month.  We were afraid, however, that those same rising prices would limit our neighbors' generosity.  On Saturday morning, however, the food came pouring in from Malverne, Lynbrook, Valley Stream and elsewhere around southwest Nassau County.  

When each person selected some cans or boxes of pasta or baby food and put it out on their curb, they joined us in ministry and mission to our community.  Together we filled both a mini van and a pick-up truck to capacity with food.  Over the summer demand for food rises because kids no longer have access to free lunch.  Thanks to everyone who participated, the Feeding Center has a head start on the rush.  Thank you. 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Why We Care About Feeding Our Neighbors

The partnership between Community Presbyterian Church and the Long Island Council of Churches Food Pantry stretches back many years. Currently we collect a food offering on the third Sunday of each month, send teams of volunteers each Thursday and hold the annual Community Food Drive at the beginning of each summer. The early summer collection helps the food pantry meet increased summer demand at a time when donations drop off.

The imperative to feed the hungry and care for our neighbors who are poor runs throughout the Christian and Jewish scriptures. It is a basic ethic, a core value of Christianity. For me, that imperative is most clearly expressed in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. The people are gathered, they are hungry, food is scarce and Jesus commands his disciples: "you give them something to eat." They were hungry, they had no food, they needed to be fed. There was no income check, no survey regarding who had eaten lunch or breakfast. Jesus just ordered the disciples to feed them. Their order is our order as well.

Hunger in our community is real. Just last week I received a call from a family in Lynbrook - the wife was disabled, the husband had just lost his job and they have four children. The Long Island Council of Churches has been seeing its client lists grow: elderly with high medical costs, those employed in low wage jobs, those squeezed by variable rate, sub prime mortgages, and lately those affected by high gas prices and increasing food costs. As a congregation most of us are blessed with food on our tables and enough income to buy extra groceries on occasion for our neighbors. We were honored to help the family in Lynbrook. We are honored to be one of the largest donors by congregation size to the food pantry.

So I hope you will join with us in following Jesus' mandate to "give them something to eat" by bringing some non-perishable food by the church (12 Nottingham Road, Malverne, NY) on Saturday, June 7 between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. And if you are reading this from afar, buy extra groceries and drop them off at your local food pantry or soup kitchen. And while you are there, find out about volunteering.

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