This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

GA220 + Day Two.

            Sunday.  I drove two friends to worship at a new, experimental church to the west of here, in East Liberty.  (They had phones giving them directions which got us fantastically lost… but we got there.  And back even.)  It’s called The Open Door.
            It has been a long time since I have been in a church service where I was arguably the oldest person in the room.  It’s not just that I’m getting older.  But how often do we find a church where everyone in attendance appears to be well under 50?  I didn’t mind the lack of air-conditioning or the poor acoustics; the service was informal but dignified.  Clearly, they have a warm and close community.  Perhaps 60 people were in attendance, with small children and babies around the edges.  The music was a single guitarist accompanying some traditional hymns, the words of which, and most of the rest of the liturgy, were projected on a screen.  The preacher spoke eloquently and informatively about the Kingdom of God in the teachings of Jesus.  We celebrated communion to a Celtic liturgy.  It was wonderful.
            This happened around the corner from a positively, almost grotesquely, huge Presbyterian church.  I understand that that church, East Liberty, is doing good, missional things in the community.  That is certainly commendable.  But the future, I think, is in places like the smaller gathering I attended.
            Later I went to a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church, in downtown Pittsburgh.  This was a bombastic mausoleum of a monstrosity, with prominent American flags, and stone furnishings that would take a nuclear bomb to move.  It was dark, with pictures of former pastors hung around the area behind the massive pulpit.  And no air-conditioning.  Clearly they are not interested in ministry in the 21st century.  (I can overlook the lack of air in a small, poor, start-up community.  But in a church that must have a huge endowment, and is clearly not making anything like a green statement, it is simply irresponsible.  It positively shouts: “Don’t come here in the summer!”)

            The afternoon Assembly business began with the election of a Vice-Moderator, which is usually a formality.  Not this year.  Neal’s chosen Vice-Moderator, it was revealed a couple of weeks ago, had performed a same-sex wedding last spring.  Same-sex weddings are not permitted under our current rules.  I disagree with that prohibition.  And it is one of the major controversial issues before this Assembly.  However, it is not so much the rule-breaking that is a problem for me, as the mealy-mouthed way she sort of admitted it and sort of didn’t.  Her signature is on the license, which is pretty clear.  Neal’s response was weak as well.  Something about being able to stick with someone you disagree with.    
            My view is that she should have either not done it, or done it and affirmed her conscience on the matter.  But the apparent equivocation offends everybody. 
            In any case, the Assembly elected her by a 60-40 margin.  Whether that is predictive of how other votes will go, I don’t know.

            Later I went to a meeting about “Next Church,” at that facility I talked about above.  Next Church is a gathering of Presbyterians to move forward and develop new ways of doing things, apart from the institutional structure.  It makes me nervous that this is funded and instigated by some very big churches and their pastors.  I fail to see how there is any creativity to be found in these places which are so thoroughly invested in the status quo.  But I understand that their meetings are attracting some other folks.  It remains to be seen if these large churches continue to support Next Church when it moves in directions that threaten their status and privilege, as it must if it is to accomplish its goals of finding new ways of doing things.  If we have a future it is not going to emerge from well-endowed institutions with well-paid clergy.  Most of them are often more concerned with protecting their own turf and perks than with supporting innovative and experimental ministry initiatives.  We’ll see.  

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