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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Where is Your Bed?
January 27, 2011

As I write, I am watching with some envy as movers unload our new neighbor’s belongings into their recently purchased house. Many of you know the house well – it borders our parking lot across Allegheny St. from our offices. When it came up for sale I found myself wishing I could buy it. Beautifully restored, it’s a great place to live, and so close to work. It even has a fenced in backyard for our dog.

Wishful thinking is a fun indulgence, but far too often it assumes that I am the center of things, that meeting my needs is the ultimate good. Might we be susceptible to such fantasies not only as individuals, but also as congregations?

The home that Tammy and I did buy took into account a far more significant condition than our own convenience – we thought about what would be best for our family. In years long past, that would have meant making sure we’re in the best school district for the children. Coming to Pittsburgh, we had a different issue – we needed to find a stairs-free house for my parents near to our own. We were stunned to discover almost no stairs-free houses among the hundreds of MLS listings in Allegheny County. Ultimately we found it necessary to opt for new construction, and we love our new home.

The value of our living on the same block was brought into vivid relief over the past week, as we dealt with the effects of my Dad’s ice-slicked fall, concussion, and significant cranial bleeding (“subdural hematoma”). Not only did we spend several days shuttling back and forth from the hospital with Mom – she needed help at home in Dad’s absence, and the need for help continued after Dad got home. Dad is home and stable, blessedly free of many of the effects that often attend such injuries – and we thank you all for the many prayers, calls, and cards that mean so much to us. Still, Dad is forbidden to drive or undertake physical exertion for the near future. Thankfully, we are nearby enough to extend them all necessary help in the hour of need. We can be truly helpful in emergency because we made sure that we set up house with our larger circle of relationships in mind. We established life conditions that enable us to promote wholeness during the hour of special need.

I was recently asked in a Sunday School class, “I know what we do for presbytery – serve on committees, contribute finances, and so on. But what does presbytery do for us?” I quickly rattled off the list of services presbytery officers and committees provide in times of need, from mission assistance to conflict resolution to pastoral transition guidance. Then I went deeper – presbytery seeks to foster relational conditions that ready us to work for wholeness the minute special needs arise. We don’t have to rush in from a distance as an external emergency response team. We cultivate a covenant life together so that when the need for help arises, all is in place to meet such needs as a healthy family system.

Five years ago we made the difficult family decision to move my parents from their long-time home on the west coast to live near us. There was no presenting emergency, only the conviction that if we are near each other, we are far better prepared to face critical situations when they arise. This week we have reaped the benefit of that move, in spades.

What are we doing to foster conditions among ourselves as congregations and congregational leaders that will promote wholeness when any of us is in need? Perhaps a first step is to own the truth that when we speak or act in a way that increases distance between us rather than drawing us together, we hurt ourselves as well as hurting one another. And, even more significantly, by such actions we deny the gospel of reconciliation that we proclaim with our lips. When we tear each other down, we lose the evangelical credibility necessary to fulfill our slogan, “Vital congregations bringing people to Christ.”

They just moved the bed into the house across the street. Much as it would be nice to live there, I’m glad that my bed is on the same block as my folks’ house. Where is your bed?

At home with you,

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

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