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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

General Assembly
Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Detroit Dispatch Four

Many years ago when I was looking at church profiles while seeking a new call, I was struck by how many churches listed as one of their best features “strong committees” or something like that. We love committee structures and processes because they are so, well, orderly. I love them too, but fear that too often we see them as ends rather than means. A church that celebrates its committees is always in danger of celebrating means rather than ends. We don’t have “Great Means of the Church” but “Great Ends,” after all!

I mention this as our committee work at GA is wrapping up. Media reports sometimes give the impression that particular committee decisions are already settled GA actions, when in fact they are only means to get business before the whole body, with recommendations from those who have studied the original proposals in some depth. Sometimes the whole body follows the committee’s recommendation, and sometimes it does not.

On Tuesday, GA’s committees adopted recommendations on two of the most closely-watched proposals before the assembly. The Committee on Middle East Issues recommended (though with substantial dissent) that the full assembly pass a resolution of selective divestment from American companies doing business in Israel, while reaffirming our commitment to Israel’s right to exist and to a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis. And the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage recommended (also with substantial dissent) that the church make room for same sex marriage for those congregations and pastors who wish to celebrate it. The latter recommendation came in two parts – first, that churches and pastors be granted that option immediately as a permissible variance from our Book of Order; and second, that the language in our Book of Order that defines marriage only in terms of a man and a woman be amended. Any change in the Book of Order would need to be confirmed by majority vote in at least half of our presbyteries in order to become effective, a process that would take a year to complete.

Committees adopted recommendations on many other significant matters. I highlight these two only because they are especially high profile issues. I should also note that the committee on Peacemaking and International Issues voted to recommend that the assembly adopt Pittsburgh’s overture on the church’s response to the plight of Christians suffering sectarian violence around the world.

What the full assembly will do with committee recommendations is anyone’s guess. Rather than indulging in speculation, I invite us simply to pray for the full assembly as it considers over the next few days whether to adopt the many committee recommendations.

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of meeting for breakfast with a number of Pittsburgh Presbytery commissioners and friends, where we celebrated the good work God is doing in our presbytery. Then in the evening I met with our commissioners to review their work on committees, and to prepare for the assembly’s plenary meeting that begins later today. They have worked long and hard already, and their spirits are strong, but there is much that yet lies before them. Please continue to uphold them in prayer!

Meanwhile, our worship together continues to afford us joyful inspiration. As in years past, I have been asked to play piano for the assembly during some of the “song breaks” we take amid plenary deliberations. I suspect that we’d do a better job of being the kind of people God has called us to be if we’d do a little more singing and a little less arguing. I’d go even further – I’d wager that a body that sings well is more likely also to debate well and to decide well. May we be a singing assembly!

Yours in Christ,

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

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