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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

General Assembly
Sunday, June 15, 2014

Detroit Dispatch Two

For Tammy and me, this Lord’s Day began in unusual fashion: breakfast with a side of bracing challenge by eminent theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Sponsored by the Presbyterian Foundation, the event was General Assembly at its best, as we heard a penetrating Gospel call that both comforted afflicted church leaders and afflicted those who are all too comfortable with the status quo.

As they did in Pittsburgh two years ago, visitors to GA scattered to join congregations across the metro area in Lord’s Day worship. In the congregation we visited, we heard Pittsburgh mentioned a dozen times from the pulpit – and they didn’t even know anyone from Pittsburgh was present! For them, it was all about Pittsburgh’s association with mission, as they heard from a global missionary with Pittsburgh roots, talked up the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and commissioned a large group of teens to come do mission work with the Pittsburgh Project. Along with being delighted by all this positive press for Pittsburgh, we were struck anew at how closely the church of Jesus Christ is knit together across the miles, in common witness to the transforming power of the Gospel. General Assembly reminds and energizes us to collaborate ever more steadfastly in Christ’s mission.

Through the afternoon and evening, GA’s primary agenda was preparing delegates for the week ahead, first by gathering them in plenary session, then by introducing them to the new Moderator and Vice-Moderator in a gala reception. Finally, they broke out into their various assigned committees for prayer, study, and group-building.

Each of the 800+ delegates is randomly assigned to one of fifteen committees, which meet for the first two days of GA to consider in-depth all proposals related to their area of focus (e.g., Peacemaking, Mission, or Marriage). After studying each proposal closely and listening to folk advocating its adoption or defeat, the committee makes a recommendation on that item to the plenary gathering. The last three days of GA are given to plenary discussions and votes regarding these committee recommendations. While most committee recommendations are upheld by the full assembly, sometimes the plenary vote is different from the committee vote, especially on matters over which there is substantial division.

This is a good system for gaining a fair hearing from all perspectives for every item of business. But as a church we want more than merely fair hearings; we earnestly seek genuine spiritual discernment for how best to move forward when we differ.

Whenever the church has faced difficult decisions, even from its very beginnings, it has convened leaders from across the church to listen to one another, pray together, seek the Spirit’s guidance, and advise congregations accordingly. (See Acts 15:1-35 for one of the earliest examples.) Jesus’ disciples still need to seek the mind of Christ together. Spiritual discernment is as much a corporate quest as it is a personal pursuit. This is, in truth, the heart of GA – seeking to discern together the mind of Christ. With the Spirit’s help, may it be so – to the glory of God!

Faithfully yours,

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

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