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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

"The Long and the Short of It”
January 28, 2010

When I graduated from college, I attended a special reception inducting new graduates into the alumni association, and presenting us with a coveted mug. The only way to get this mug was to be a graduate of our college. It was the most expensive mug I ever acquired, and I keep it in a very safe place to this day. At that reception, the elderly Dean took me aside to offer me his last crack at sage advice. Whether it was my awe at being inducted into the fellowship of the mug, the gravitas of an elderly Dean, or my heightened baccalaureate wisdom, I don’t know, but for once I remembered what my teacher said: “Never sacrifice long-term values for short-term gains.”

I was reminded of this pearl of wisdom at this week’s Council retreat. We considered together the challenge of declining membership that many of our congregations face. Even though Pittsburgh Presbytery’s per capita giving has increased dramatically over the past fifty years, overall presbytery membership numbers have plummeted even more dramatically (from 130,000 in 1960 to 38,000 currently – a significantly steeper decline than the general population decline of Allegheny County). Each new pastor in this presbytery – including me – feels the pressure of hopes that their arrival might reverse that decline.

It is mighty tempting to do anything and everything possible not to disappoint. It’s not so hard to adopt strategies that promise rapid gain. They may even succeed. But in our zeal to gain new members, might we forget some of our long-term values?

I firmly believe God has better days ahead for us than we can possibly imagine. Retrenchment and decline are not the final words over us. But the way forward into God’s future does not require us to turn our backs on the bedrocks of our heritage. “Never sacrifice long-term values for short-term gains.”

As we seek to be more vital witnesses to the Good News of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, attentive to the new winds of God’s Spirit that are blowing among us, let’s never forget these bedrock values of our tradition:

For the sake of the Gospel,

Sheldon


The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery


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