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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Good to the Holy Spirit – and to us”
March 22, 2012

The earliest Christian churches had no Book of Order – yet somehow they managed to survive, and even to flourish. Imagine! They certainly did have their points of controversy, even of contention – so, how did they find their way forward without constitutional guidance? When necessity required them to find a new answer, rather than going into separate corners and proclaiming competing judgments, they came together to hash things out. It seems that coming together to study and pray their way through new challenges was in their DNA.

One of my favorite texts from those early Christian days is Acts 15:28, where the elders characterized the decision they reached in a matter of controversy in this way: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” By bathing their deliberations in prayer, Scripture, and theological conversation, they came to the conviction that they were being led by God, and not just by their own preferences.

Something similar happened to Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Mission Study Team as it met over the past year. Reams of data had to be considered, urgent financial crises loomed, and we faced the impossible challenge of coming together across myriad lines that seem always to divide the church – conservative and progressive, younger and older, long-timers and newbies, urban and suburban, small church and large church, black and white, ruling elders and teaching elders. How could we possibly agree on anything, let alone something as significant as the core of the mission God is setting before us? And so we began with urgency to make prayer and biblical reflection a major part of our gatherings – and things began to come together amazingly! As with the council of leaders in Acts 15, we too came to confess that “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us….” The order is important – we seek first God’s will, and discover only there a sense of deep agreement on the path we should follow.

Now we’d like to share with you the story of the mission plan that came together so remarkably for the Mission Study Team, and was subsequently endorsed three weeks ago by the Executive Committee. We’ve sent you a letter introducing it, but it’s still very much a work in progress, and your wisdom will be of critical importance in putting flesh on the new plan’s bones. We want to share with you what we have come to see as a life-giving way forward, but we want also to learn from you how we might make it even stronger.

To this end, the Mission Study Team and the Executive Committee have joined me in committing to meet with all of you who so desire, at various locations around our presbytery in the coming weeks. Our first meeting will take place before you get this letter, but you’ll still have several other opportunities to join us. We’ll also be presenting the new mission plan at the presbytery meeting on April 19 at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but that is not a good place for give-and-take because the meeting is too large for such interaction. So I urge you to come to one of these regional meetings if you are able, even if you can’t stay for the whole meeting (for the 1 pm meetings, bring a bag lunch at noon if you’d like to get started early around the table):

Relying on the Spirit’s guidance,

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

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