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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

General Assembly
Monday, June 16, 2014

Detroit Dispatch Three

On Monday our GA committees got down to the grind, meeting all day and well into the evening to consider the proposals on their dockets. None of these proposals is unimportant, but some generate far more heat than others. If one were to judge simply by the decibels of discussion in committee deliberations, the Mid-Council and Middle East committees may be the most controversial ones at this assembly. The Mid-Council committee is considering a set of proposals relating to the future existence of synods in general and some presbyteries in particular, something internal to our organization; meanwhile the Middle East committee is debating matters far beyond our bounds, and how our passion for social righteousness should lead us to respond to the plight of Palestinian suffering in areas under Israeli control. How very Presbyterian to be highly impassioned about both internal order and global justice!

The Israel-Palestine debate at this assembly has been unprecedented in a number of respects, not least that former GA Moderators, who are traditionally in near-unanimous agreement when they speak to issues being debated by assemblies, are deeply divided over this matter. Unlike former pastors, former Moderators retain a seat at the table as long as they live; their input is solicited, and they are not shy about offering it. But on Israel-Palestine, this group of veteran church leaders, that is usually highly united, breaks sharply down the middle – and both sides have expressed their convictions eloquently and passionately in separate letters to the assembly. They agree on the need for a just peace for all, but disagree sharply on the best way to achieve that end. However the Middle East committee votes on any of the proposals it considers, we can be sure they will be again be argued strenuously by the plenary body before the assembly takes its final votes on them. Stay tuned!

On Monday I was privileged to report to the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee on a dialogue the PCUSA conducted over the past several years with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church – a dialogue for which I served as co-chair. Along with several of our PCUSA team, one of our Seventh-Day Adventist conversation partners was present. We had a vigorous conversation about how our denominations might work together more intentionally, learn from each other more readily, and understand one another more fully. The committee commended our work with rousing affirmation, and I thought, “This is General Assembly at its best!”

By the time you read this, we will have already hosted our traditional Tuesday morning Pittsburgh Presbytery GA breakfast, where we discuss what has been happening in our neck of the woods. Many who attend are former members now living elsewhere, who wonder how things are going at the old home place. I have lots of good news to share, of congregations and ministerial leaders working in deeper cooperation to fulfill the “Great Ends of the Church” (Book of Order F-1.0304). I will celebrate the wonderful staff that is working diligently and imaginatively in helping all members of our presbytery work together more effectively to God’s glory. And I will give public thanks to each and all of you, for all you have taught me about what is right and good and beautiful. We are better, infinitely better, for being together. Thank God for the wonderful gift of each other’s company in the journey of discipleship!

Tuesday is the final full day of committee deliberations. On Wednesday we dive into the real “meat and potatoes” of GA, as the plenary body begins three days of hearing, debating, and voting on committee recommendations. I will keep you posted about those actions as they are taken.

Faithfully yours,

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

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