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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Now What?
March 24, 2011

Every couple of years the PCUSA goes through the ritual – voting as presbyteries whether to ratify the amendments to our Constitution proposed by the General Assembly. It takes months for all the presbyteries to vote, so by the time the voting is done, there is a bit of an anticlimactic feeling. But during the months of voting, especially on controversial measures, the sense of being in the heat of struggle can remain highly elevated. This has been and continues to be a season of high anxiety in the PCUSA as a whole, as well as in our presbytery, because of the gravity of the proposals on which we are voting.

Amid the raft of constitutional amendments on which presbyteries have been voting, three stand out as having an especially significant impact on the church, if they pass – adoption of the Belhar Confession, replacement of the “Form of Government” in the Book of Order with a new and leaner one, and new language for ordination standards that replaces current language stipulating chastity in singleness or fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman. What would happen to our congregations and presbytery if any or all of these measures pass?

Now that our votes have been cast in Pittsburgh, it is time to engage in-depth conversations about how the landscape of our life together might shift should any of these measures be adopted by the PCUSA as a whole. I would like to offer myself as a conversation partner with any and all who want to talk about the impact of these changes on our presbytery.

This is not an empty offer. I have already scheduled a round of lunchtime conversations (similar to what we had last year) at seven locations strategically distributed around the presbytery. The first conversation is on April 6, and the last on June 15. You can learn about the various locations and dates here. You may attend any of them that you wish, though all things equal, it would be ideal for you to attend one that is close to you, to strengthen friendships with your nearby colleagues. I’m calling these conversations “Table Talk,” modeled on Luther’s theological conversations with his colleagues around table fellowship. I will discuss the “Now what?” question at each event, as well as any other items you might want to raise. These conversations are important not only for their subject matter, but also as vehicles for us to cultivate wisdom together as we discuss matters of real significance to our life and witness.

In addition, presbytery’s pastoral staff is ready to meet with your session, if you’d like us to engage the conversation with your elders. Don’t hesitate to give us a call.

The votes are cast in Pittsburgh; in one sense, for us the drama is over. Yet in truth the heavy lifting lies yet ahead of us, as we seek to respond faithfully to the challenges that will come our way should any or all of these measures pass nationally. The national vote may well be different from the Pittsburgh vote. That will be a difficult pill for some to swallow, but we are bound in covenant community to continue walking together even when the majority disagrees with us, if our conscience permits.

The importance of engaging these difficult matters together cannot be overstated. The Preacher reminds us that in times of struggle, “Two are better than one … [and] a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) If ever we need one another, it is in times like these.

Your partner in holy conversation,

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

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