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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

General Assembly
Friday, June 20, 2014

Detroit Dispatch Seven

Friday night at GA is always a challenge for even the most stalwart and dedicated – not to mention the rest of us! We’ve been working hard and long, and still the summit of our great business mountain seems impossibly afar off. Yet we persevere, because we believe God has called us to this place to do this work, and we want to give it all that is within us to give. And so we stick with it, even as our bodies and minds are wearier than we could have imagined possible. Finally we reach the peak, the last overture having been considered, the final vote complete. Last night that happened just in time for the Moderator’s gavel to strike adjournment precisely at the stroke of midnight.

I tell this story because it reveals the tenacious perseverance of these commissioners and delegates. They gave their very best to this task – spiritually, mentally, and physically. They prayed hard, studied hard, and worked hard from the very beginning of the assembly. They did nothing rashly, halfheartedly, or carelessly. They acknowledged their need for and sought out the help of the Lord at every turn.

The final vote outcomes made no one completely happy, including me. But even when the votes went differently from what I would have wished, I did not doubt for a second that the commissioners and delegates were voting with good hearts and persevering dedication to serve the Lord well in the votes they made. Each of them had more than one experience of “losing” the vote, but they did not give up or check out. I’m thinking especially of our own ten commissioners and YAAD, to whom we owe great gratitude for their persistent, resilient work on our behalf for the sake of Jesus; but I also include the hundreds of their colleagues who kept their dedication and passion strong throughout a grueling week. We all could well learn a lesson from them – keep going strong even when things don’t go the way we’d like. They have given us a shining example of what it means to live as Paul counsels all of us: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Friday’s schedule included two votes we were watching especially closely. First, the assembly voted by a razor-thin margin of 310-303 to divest from three American companies providing materials and services supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine. A similar measure was defeated by just two votes at the last GA. Together, these votes reveal just how divided the church is on the best way to press for justice for oppressed people in the Holy Land. Because this vote was being watched so closely, I have prepared a digest of related votes and the full text of the divestment resolution here, in which the assembly sought to avoid any appearance of anti-Semitism or anti-Israeli intent.

Second, later Friday evening the assembly voted by a large margin to approve Pittsburgh’s overture asking Presbyterians to respond to the plight of Christians being persecuted in Egypt, the Middle East, and around the world.

And so the 221st General Assembly nears its end, with only some non-voting business and closing worship remaining on Saturday morning. In some respects this GA was more dramatic than most assemblies, as the body adopted some highly controversial actions regarding the nature of marriage and our engagement with the Middle East – actions that earlier assemblies had rejected. We may applaud those actions or be appalled by them; but in either case, they change nothing about our call to love God, love one another, and fulfill together our Lord’s Great Commission. At the assembly, one thing that kept setting all this controversial voting in its proper perspective was the assembly’s regular, vibrant, Christ-centered worship.

I remember a saying from when I was just six or seven years old: “The family that prays together stays together.” The slogan was intended to promote family devotions at home, but I would like to take it further and deeper, to include the whole family of God. When we worship together regularly, we cultivate the resources we need to stay together amid our disagreements, be they great or small. This assembly was a visible demonstration of how daily engagement with one another in singing God’s praise, hearing God’s word, and partaking together in Christ’s body and blood can motivate God’s people to stick together through thick and thin, love one another truly, and work with each other diligently and wholeheartedly in the power of the Spirit.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit! Amen!

Yours always in Christ,

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

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