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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

When the Church Gathers
July 1, 2010

For the next three weeks, I will take a break from my series on a vision for Pittsburgh Presbytery, to send you dispatches from General Assembly frontlines. General Assembly meets from July 3 – July 10 in Minneapolis. I will send you brief daily updates from the Assembly, along with some broader analysis in the regular weekly newsletter.

Why do we gather in General Assembly? For the same reason we gather in congregations and presbyteries – we believe that in our gathering, the Holy Spirit is at work through the various members of the Body of Christ. All members of the body are needed to work together, if the church is to fulfill its God-given purpose. 

General Assembly is first of all a worshiping community. Ask commissioners what part of GA had the greatest impact on them and the most likely answer is “the worship.” When thousands of believers gather to raise their hearts and voices (and yes, some hands too) in praise with hymns old and new, led by the best of musicians, it seems that this must be a foretaste of heaven. 

But of course GA is more. There is a ton of business also at hand. GA handles its business rather like local congregations, only on a larger scale. Reports and proposals that were sent to the GA by lower governing bodies, mission agencies and commissioners are first of all considered by committees, which then make recommendations to the whole assembly, which then votes on those recommendations. Each commissioner/delegate is assigned to one of 19 GA committees, and the first three days of GA are given to committee work, before everyone comes together in plenary to vote over the remaining four days. The vast majority of committee recommendations pass without controversy, just as they do at session or presbytery meetings. But a few items address issues over which there are major differences in the church, and regardless of how the committee recommends the full Assembly act, the Assembly as a whole will make up its own mind after a period of discussion and prayer. We believe that as it seeks conscientiously to make up its mind, the Holy Spirit is at work guiding the body of Christ forward.

Any decision the GA makes regarding a change to our constitution has to be confirmed by vote of the presbyteries. So if you hear a report that the Presbyterian Church has decided to do this or that at GA, please remember that when it comes to major issues, GA doesn’t decide things for the church, but makes recommendations to the church that the church must then act upon.

This long process can be mighty frustrating for people convinced that God’s will is so clear that we should “just do it” and let the chips fall where they may. It is easy to grow weary of “waiting on God” while the church still struggles for agreement in discerning the mind of Christ. Can we trust the Holy Spirit to reveal all we need to know at this time, when we gather together in humility, prayer and a sincere desire to follow God’s will?

GA is exhausting because of the sheer volume of business, let alone the intense pace and long days. Pray for our delegate/commissioners, that they will have the stamina and good cheer they need to be able to deal gracefully with the mountain of work before them, and that the Lord will grant them clarity and wisdom in their voting. I invite you to join me in praying for them daily by name: Dan Beckstrom, Marie Bowen, Bruce Byers, Nancy Clifton, Karl Kennedy, David Lavender, Karl McDonald, Jermaine McKinley, Dan Merry, Rachel Rothenberg and Bob Titus.

When a family gathers, old tensions can easily resurface. But a healthy family works through those tensions to sit at table together and give thanks for one another. Let it be so for the PCUSA family as it gathers July 3-10 in Minneapolis for its grand reunion known as General Assembly!

Glad to be part of the family,


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


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