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Speaking with Bruce Reyes-Chow

Former Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow recently sent four questions (and a 5th wildcard question of our choosing) to the moderator candidates for response. My responses are included below and links to the other candidates' responses follow.

Knowing that being Moderator/Vice-Moderator will require a great deal of time and energy from you and your community, why give in this way to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

    I believe God has called me to stand. I am blessed with a supportive family and congregation that see themselves as part of that calling. When I shared with the church elders, deacons, and staff, their first responses were about how they could fill in and carry on. For years, we have sought to be faithful with a little and have seen God open doors and call us (all) further out in service and witness. I am humbled by the confirmation of these dear ones around me as well as by the enthusiastic support of my presbytery.

    Part of the ‘why’ also has to do with timing, gifting, and passion. I believe the PCUSA faces challenges and opportunities unique to this time and culture and that God has gifted, called, and impassioned me for those challenges and opportunities. For a number of years I have been working in my congregation and presbytery to draw our attention to the world God loves, and have found that to be a unifying and compelling vision. I understand that vision not to be the latest fad or plan, but the very heart of evangelism, witness, mission, and justice. I joyfully and passionately find myself running after Christ and, with others, being the Church in the world.

    I believe we must lift our eyes and hearts beyond our walls and remember our first love and call to be winsome witnesses to the grace and mercy of God in and among the world God loves, and endeavor to encourage, inspire, equip, and accompany all I minister among in that journey.

If someone were to ask you, “Why should I bother going to church?” how would you respond?

    I believe that all kinds of people (not just church-types or “Christians”) are interested in connecting with God. I think it’s something built into us, to long for something and someone much bigger and more lasting than ourselves. I’d like to invite you to come try church with me because I believe that you will find connection with God. I’m not saying that because we have the corner on truth, because we’re Presbyterians or because we teach some special brand of Christianity. I say that because I believe God wants to connect with you. The whole God-thing isn’t about being good, creating a good philosophy or religion, or attending a church obsessively. If the God described in the Bible is true, then God is not waiting around for us or hiding from us, but IS seeking us out in love.

    At the church I am a part of we believe the Bible is God’s love-letter to the world and we get together to seek God around that message. And you know what? God shows up. It’s not mystical or spooky; there are no sparks or screaming people; there is no giant voice from the sky. But if you asked just about anyone who comes to our church, God is here. It’s a very special place full of very special people. We aren’t perfect – far from it. But we are all seeking the same thing – connection with a God whose story is one of loving and coming to us… all the way down to where we are. Look around some more… think about it… take a chance… come see us.

    Check out some more thoughts here:

Choose one item of business or issue that will be coming up at General Assembly and share your perspective.

    For sure there will be “hotter” issues coming before the General Assembly this summer, but I believe the most significant one will be the future unity and witness of the PCUSA.

    Our institution is aging and showing it. We must be willing to flex, adapt, and learn. I commend the mid-council commission report as a START in this direction. I also commend the conversations among the NEXT conference and the Fellowship as twin stirrings about where the church could head. In each case, there is risk of being side-tracked.

    Our community is fractured. We must graciously… graciously… seek healing or release-with-blessing. I’ve helped author dismissal policies that seek either outcome, with our public witness to Christ as paramount. I urge the church to choose this route and not a more destructive path. We cannot afford to cling, fight, or curse one another in this fractured state.

    Our debate is polarized. I have modeled and will hold out theological friendships as an example of a way forward in Christ. Interestingly, my conversations in those contexts range deeper and wider than any pronouncements ever made at a microphone. In our efforts to boldly profess our Christian convictions, we too often exhibit far from Christ-like behavior. We can do better; we must do better.

    The Church is not our own; may we be reminded of Whose we are and there find grace and vision for the future.

What are a few things that most people would never guess about you: interests, adventures or...?

    I am a life-long musician (since age 4), but a kind of strange one. I’m not a performer. I CAN perform, but it’s not what fuels me. I like creating and I like helping others create. My dad taught me the “Boogie-Woogie” and how to improvise, and fourteen years of classical lessons and improvising in rock and jazz bands later, I went to Nashville as a session musician, learning to generate any style of music on demand. Along the way I picked up guitar, drums, bass, and audio engineering, and… a call to ministry. It’s made for an interesting mix and much soul and church-searching to find the right mix of ministry. But as much fun as music and recording and Nashville were, seminary and pastoral ministry were even better.

    So, I’ve found two primary fits for music and ministry. One is in worship music. One of the biggest challenges in worship music (whether choral, praise team, instrumental, or in-between) is the struggle to turn the focus away from self. As one who is not a performer, writing and leading worship music has been a perfect fit because my very task is to direct people’s attention and worship Godward. Secondly, I’ve been able to use my gifts and resources to help younger (and sometimes older) amateur musicians record or flesh out musical ideas in a way that hopefully encourages and blesses them and those to whom they minister. Our congregation has turned into quite a creative hub as musical, then visual and dramatic arts have flourished.

WILD CARD: Answer any question you want, one that someone has yet to ask or choose from some that have been asked here:

    Claire Worthington asked specifically how I voted on NC Amendment 1. What is more pertinent to the PCUSA General Assembly is WHY I voted as I did.

    NC Amendment 1 was not just about banning same-sex marriage, but defined marriage in the civil sphere and declared “marriage between one man and one woman the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Public debate was heated, simplistic, and often unhelpful.

    I’ve appealed for better communication for the sake of community here:

    This summer the PCUSA will be asked about a Christian definition of marriage. I do believe Christian marriage to be correctly defined as one man and one woman, covenanting before God and the church.

    However, with NC Amendment 1 voters were asked how the STATE should view marriage and domestic union. I do not believe that the civil definition of all “domestic legal unions” must or should be restricted to that of one religious perspective. Further, I do think Christians have an obligation to bear witness to God through generosity and kindness in the public sphere rather than through imposition of Christian belief. To curtail legal and civil benefits to my neighbors for the sake of asserting a Christian definition of marriage was something I was not willing to do. Moreover, I am willing to explore supporting legal and civil benefits for my neighbors, recognizing that there is a difference between the spheres of church and state. I voted against the NC amendment.

Other Candidates respond:
Randy Branson * Sue Krummel * Neal Presa

Speaking With the Outlook

The Presbyterian Outlook recently sent four questions to the moderator candidates for response.  My responses are included below and links to the other candidates' responses follow.

Outlook: In your opinion, what is the most significant matter coming before this General Assembly, and how do you propose that the assembly respond to it?

Marriage equality? Divestment? Restructuring Mid Councils? Amending our confessions? These are all significant matters, but I believe the most significant matter before us is not in an overture or special report as such.  The most significant matter coming to the Assembly is the same one that lives in our presbyteries and congregations; it is the division among us. And the division in our fellowship has an even more significant consequence — the compromise of our mission and witness for Christ.
In the questions that follow, I will propose how the Assembly might respond to what I believe is a crisis, but I believe the first step is naming and facing the crisis and each of us taking responsibility for our part in it. Truth and justice are vital, but without a living, breathing Christian unity, I believe we have become like the clanging gong of 1 Corinthians 13.

Outlook: What do you believe are the causes of conflict in the PC(USA), and what do you hope this General Assembly will do to help bring resolution?

The problem is not that we disagree but HOW we disagree. Our language is extreme: “apostate … hateful … schismatic … hell-bound … liar … heretic ….” We compound language with behavior, withdrawing into camps and isolating ourselves from one another. I believe we have misidentified our “enemy.” Our enemy isn’t the person who votes differently; that differently voting person professing faith in Jesus Christ is family. Our true enemy, so says Scripture, is not flesh and blood at all. What do I hope this assembly will do? Like the talk you will hear of “missional church,” I’m not sure what we will do is the right question, but rather who we will be. Who will we be to each other? Who will we be before the Lord Jesus Christ? Who will we be as one part of the authentic church? Who will we be as witnesses before the watching world?

Outlook: In your opinion, what is the most urgent need in the PC(USA) over the next five years?

Our lack of unity is the underlying issue for the PC(USA). It bears a terrible fruit and that is a poor witness to the watching world. I believe our primary mission is to worship and serve God in the world. In order to do that with grace, truth, justice and love, we must cultivate the “fellowship of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” God’s story, from beginning to end, is a testimony of God pursuing a broken world in love. We are called to be part of that, from the Good News we share to the acts of mercy, kindness and justice that we do. A winsome, evangelistic, mercy-filled WITNESS to God’s redeeming love is our most urgent mission. We need to get re-focused on being the church in the world for God’s sake and glory (It is our chief end!).

Outlook: What are your goals for your moderatorial years, and what strengths do you bring to the task?

As moderator of the PC(USA) I will model the kind of unity that doesn’t sweep debate or dialogue under the rug, but invites it in the context of mutual respect, friendship, and shared mission.
I cherish friendships and ministry partnerships with folks who don’t vote (or look or think) like I do. I invited one such colleague, the Rev. Kate Murphy, to be the lead-off presenter opposite me for our presbytery’s debate over Amendment 10a. We not only spoke respectfully and passionately to the issue, but demonstrated to our fellow presbyters what an honest conversation between friends in Christ can look like. That same year the presbytery asked us to serve as moderator and vice-moderator of (the) presbytery’s council. My significant hope is that we can grow in maturity and unity to more faithfully serve and honor Jesus Christ in the world.

Other Candidates respond:
Randy Branson * Sue Krummel * Neal Presa