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A Letter from the Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

But I Have Called You Friends
May 10, 2018

On Thursday, May 3, 2018, Pittsburgh Presbytery gathered at the Glenshaw Presbyterian Church at 4:00 PM under the leadership of its Moderator the Rev. Dr. Trent Hancock, and Senior Vice Moderator, the Rev. Steven Werth.

Well, you might say, that’s not very exciting news! (Sorry Trent and Steve!) The four annual gatherings of the whole presbytery are nothing very new. Our Branch system is well along in its sixth year. Among Presbyterians, plenary meetings following numerous committee and commission meetings are nothing very newsworthy.

We do tend to make the news when we argue with one another about the hot-button issues of the day. We make the news when our fellowship is broken by churches, pastors, and members departing from our family of faith. Often, they leave out of a sense that those of us remaining in the PCUSA have parted ways with the truth of Scripture.

I am in my thirty-eighth year of ordained ministry. I began attending presbytery meetings forty years ago when I enrolled at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A conservative estimate of the number of presbytery meetings I have attended is 160 +!!

I have attended the General Assembly officially three times: once as a “page” running committee errands, once as a seminary delegate, and once as a voting delegate. I have been a Commissioner to the Synod of the Trinity for three different terms, and I am currently a Synod Commissioner.

If I could estimate the number of meetings I have attended at every level of the church, including session meetings in the congregations I have served, I am guessing the number may be close to 1,000 meetings!

Imagine! If we spend a third of our lives sleeping, I may have already spent more than a third of my waking life in meetings! All this is my way of saying that I appreciated and was blessed by the new format for our May 3rd meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Glenshaw Presbyterian Church. If you missed it, or if you have given up the habit of regular attendance, I would invite you to “come and see” or at least prayerfully consider some of the changes that were made. The new format, based on the Six Great Ends of the Church, was an experiment. If it is popular, it could be repeated.

Fortunately, by my own informal polling of those who were at this meeting, -- the Ecclesiastical Committee, our Stated Clerk, our Moderators, the Glenshaw hosts, and our presbytery staff -- hit a home run!

We kept to the docket, shared a meal, laughed and had good conversation, and...and!…we did not have the midway exodus of presbyters that often makes the final attendance report sound laughable.

I would love to hear what others thought who were there. But these are the changes that I really appreciated:

One of the lectionary readings for May 6th was from the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, verses 10-17. Jesus is praying for his disciples and for his fledgling Church in the making. Jesus teaches as he prays to his Father on their behalf, and on our behalf:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends….
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

I believe with all my heart that a new day is dawning for the Church of Jesus Christ, and the PCUSA, and Pittsburgh Presbytery.

A fresh breeze is rising in new candidates for ministry and in New Worshiping Communities. Existing congregations are finding ways to share resources and be creative in common ministries. Faithful people of all ages are remaining steadfast in a rapidly changing and often mean-spirited time.

A new way of doing our presbytery business last Thursday renewed my hope in all of you, my friends in Jesus Christ.


The Rev. Dr. Beverly W. James, Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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