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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Making Pilgrimage
June 12, 2014

The Bible contains numerous stories of people journeying to holy places. Sometimes specific places where folk have encountered instances of special divine intervention are enshrined, such as when a monument is erected where Israel crosses the Jordan into Canaan. Other holy places are memorialized by giving them special names, such as “Bethel” meaning “house of God,” where Jacob dreams of the ladder into heaven. Once the Temple is built, it becomes the singular holy place where God’s people gather to rehearse the stories of their salvation. The faithful from far and wide make pilgrimage to the Temple at Passover whenever possible, a tradition observed by Jesus, even when it leads him straight into the hands of those intent on killing him. As pilgrims converge on the holy Temple, they are given a specific set of songs to sing as they approach the Temple Mount. These songs are called “Psalms of Ascent,” comprising Psalms 120 – 134. As God’s scattered people come together once again, they are provided with these special tools designed to prepare them for their gathering.

The Psalms of Ascent begin with these words, “In my distress I cry to the Lord,” and culminate with “May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” They declare both our urgent need for God’s help and our good hope for each other. They supplicate the Almighty and bless the fellow-traveler. They are the bookends of pilgrim prayer.

As our beloved church makes its pilgrimage this week to General Assembly in Detroit, I invite us to be intentional in embracing both of these prayers – a cry for God’s help in our distress, and a declaration of blessing to all who are gathering. Most of us are not going to Detroit personally, but our representatives are going on our behalf, and I urge us all to pray this way with them as they go.

The General Assembly is, of course, a place for decision-making. Some of the decisions before us are difficult, and many among us hold differing convictions on what the best outcome might be. But let us not forget that our assembly in Jesus’ name is so much more than a deliberative or political gathering; it is a time of pilgrimage to join God’s people from far and wide to proclaim God’s mighty saving acts. As we pray ourselves “up the mountain” to our gathering place, I invite us to do so with these wonderful ancient tools God gave our forebears thousands of years ago. Along with the “bookends” mentioned above, let us pray everything in between, the whole set of Psalms 120 – 134. Then let’s pray them again, and again. Remember – Psalms are meant not just to be mumbled privately, but to be sung aloud so others can hear! These are resolute public declarations, not mere private hopes:

“My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121)
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122)
“May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126)
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127)
“I have calmed and quieted my soul.” (Psalm 131)
“How very pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” (Psalm 133)

As we pray our way to the Assembly, let’s hold specifically by name those who go as our representatives: Revs. Carolyn Cranston (Pittsburgh Seminary), Janet Edwards (Community House), Johnnie Monroe (honorably retired), Paul Roberts (Eastminster), and David Thornton (VA Hospital); Elders Elsie Knappenberger (St. Andrew’s), Deacon Dressing (Pleasant Hills), Louise Schoppe (Ken Mawr), Ann Strong (Sewickley), and Lenore Williams (East Liberty); and YAAD Faith Bailey (Hampton).

If you’d like to follow what’s happening at General Assembly, you may do so at www.pc-biz.org, where all business before GA is posted and updated as actions are taken. I will be sending you a brief daily email to report on what’s happening at the Assembly, as I have done in previous years. Please keep in mind that not everything you see in the media is necessarily complete or accurate; I pledge to give you as trustworthy a picture of GA events and their consequences as I can.

Off to General Assembly,



The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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