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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

The Power of Collaboration
October 29, 2015

We are amid a series exploring the ways in which presbytery plays a critical role in the church’s capacity to carry out its mission faithfully and fruitfully. We began by looking to the “Great Ends of the Church” (Book of Order F-1.0304) as a working summary of the church’s mission, and followed with conversations about presbytery’s critical role in the church’s work of proclaiming the gospel authentically, assuring the welfare of God’s people, working cooperatively to glorify God rightly, and keeping faith with the One who is Truth itself. Today we move to the fifth of the “great ends” – promotion of social righteousness.

I was privileged to serve as chair of an ecumenical dialogue between the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that met annually from 2007-2013. We shared freely with each other our deepest passions and challenges, probing honestly where our theologies and practices differ, while also celebrating how much we hold in common. One of the things that our Seventh-Day Adventist partners highlighted as a Presbyterian strength from which they have much to learn is our commitment to seeking justice systemically and socially. They are deeply committed to striving for personal righteousness, but (they said) we helped them understand the importance of seeking righteousness in corporate political and economic spheres as well.

Promotion of social righteousness is something that most Presbyterians need little prompting to engage. It is written deeply into the heart of our mission sensibility. Nearly every Presbyterian congregation, from smallest to largest, is involved in ministry to the needy beyond its walls. Congregations do not need reminders or resources from presbytery for this to happen.

Until recently, presbytery served a significant role as administrator of regional social justice ministries. Most congregations contributed substantial funds to the presbytery’s mission budget, trusting that presbytery’s perspective was broader than that of any particular congregation, making it best suited to establish and coordinate regional mission work. That pattern has been upended over the last thirty years, as congregations have chosen instead to contribute directly toward their preferred mission agencies.

One of the primary means presbytery now uses for promoting social righteousness is its ministry teams. Any group of people from our congregations that wishes to pursue a particular focus in social witness can apply for recognition as a presbytery ministry team. Ministry teams educate and mobilize congregations and their members to support specific social justice causes. Currently, Pittsburgh Presbytery has several ministry teams that gather to further our understanding of and engagement with ministry related to social justice concerns: Peacemaking, Amos 5:24 (racial reconciliation), Hunger, Lazarus (utilities payment assistance), Great Commission (global mission), International Partnership (Malawi and Sudan), Sexual Minorities, Black Caucus, and Self-Development of People. Descriptions of these teams are available on the presbytery website, and they are open to all who would like to participate.

Social righteousness is promoted more effectively when congregations work together than when they work singly. One of presbytery’s primary tasks is to nurture relationships between congregations and their leaders so that they can more effectively do mission work jointly. The power of our congregations joining in mission was evident three years ago when much of the northeastern seaboard was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Most of our congregations wanted to help, but they didn’t have enough resources to send a team to the coast to participate in relief work. We had just begun working with presbytery branches to develop relationships between congregations and their leaders in several regions of our presbytery, and several small congregations in our north branch came up with the idea of sponsoring relief mission trips together. So they pooled mission volunteers, one or two from this church and that, and quickly had more people ready to go than they had vans to take them. Working together gave congregations the capacity they lacked on their own to engage in a ministry of social relief that was critically necessary.

Do you have a dream for some kind of social justice ministry that seems unattainable given the resources available in your congregation? Bring the dream to us at the presbytery office, and together we can seek a way to harness the power of congregational inter-relationships to help you do what you might not otherwise imagine possible. Because we are a group of congregations that work together in promoting social righteousness for Christ’s sake, we can do so much more than we could ever accomplish individually.

Working in concert with you,

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

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