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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Why the Church?
October 21, 2010

Praying, Thinking, Living

This week I take a break from my series on the “Great Ends of the Church” to consider how we might freshly and fruitfully engage questions raised by changes to our Constitution proposed to us by the 2010 General Assembly. We in Pittsburgh Presbytery will vote on those proposed changes over the course of three meetings. The first voting meeting, concerning proposed changes in our current Book of Order, takes place November 18; the other two votes are scheduled for February and March.

Each time we receive from General Assembly the raft of changes it proposes we make to our PCUSA Constitution, we engage some form of study of those proposals. Such study is typically hosted by presbytery, and on controversial matters that keep arising before the church (so-called “hot button issues”) the conversations grow rather predictable, as people who are passionate about their position on a given proposal seek repeatedly to advance their case. This year I am encouraging presbytery congregations to focus more on local study of the matters coming before us, rather than relying just on presbytery-wide study events. To that end, we in the presbytery office have prepared a guide for congregational study.

The study guide intentionally focuses on broad questions first before digging into the particulars of the proposals. It is certainly important to dig deeper, but we need first to get a handle on the bigger picture before we engage the specific matters of any proposal. Our study guide includes web links to more detailed study guides of the Belhar Confession and the Revised Form of Government.

I invite you to gather in congregational groups to consider the questions in our study guide. If the group is larger than fifteen, it would be good to subdivide, so everyone has a good opportunity to contribute to the conversation.

Study sessions should begin with prayer – more than just a perfunctory “Bless us, Lord,” but an intentionally prepared time of shared prayer. It need not be lengthy, but when we gather in prayer in Jesus’ name, we have the promise that he is present with us. His presence is the thing we need most as we grapple with difficult questions.

Once we have been united with Christ and with one another in prayer, we are ready to do the hard work of thinking together to seek the mind of Christ. Each group will study the questions in the study guide as seems best to them. It would strengthen the discussion for participants to have had preparatory opportunity to review the study guide (which includes links to the proposed amendments). It would be especially helpful if each group sought intentionally to include people of differing perspectives on the questions at hand. When diverse opinions are expressed, consider asking someone who raises a contrary view to frame in their own words what they heard the other one say. We need to show ourselves ready to listen well and not just to speak persuasively, as we seek together to discover the mind of Christ.

Study sessions should close with a brief time of praying for one another as well as for the whole church’s life and witness. Finally, we leave our study time with the most important challenge of all – to live our faith in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel. All the study in the world is useless if all that it does is shape minds or influence votes. Until we have been transformed in the way we live with one another before the watching world, our prayer and study are fruitless.

Pray, think, live. When our discipleship is shaped and expressed through this multi-layered process, we are made ready for the mission of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the good news of God’s unquenchable redeeming and renewing love to a broken and fearful world.

For the sake of Christ’s mission,

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

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