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Hope... because God is alive and well

In mid-January 2012, Moderator Cynthia Bolbach and a group of other ruling and teaching elders posted a video entitled, "Hope for the PC(USA)."  They invited others in the church to share with the church why we believe "this to be the beginning, not the end, of what God has planned for us."  What follows is my answer to that invitation...

I have great hope and conviction that God is alive and well and at work in this world in which we live. That was just confirmed in person as I sat at the corner coffee shop and had a conversation with the manager who has become a friend, who shared some of her own personal burdens, the help she gains from her recent faith, and her desire to follow God's leading in her work and life. That she had no church background or desire to know God did not stop God from pursuing and finding her. Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

I have great hope that God is alive and well and at work in the part of the Church called the PCUSA. I see it as I share stories with friends across the presbytery and across the country. For instance, I see it in my good friend's church - a "transformation church" that has struggled to cling to life, battled the prospect of change, and embodies new life in Christ. Despite struggle and tears, even accusations and opposition, I have heard and seen the Gospel of Jesus Christ SHINE through her and those remaining to become God's church in their neighborhood. I see our presbytery responding to a vision of becoming less about institutional maintenance (survival?!) and more about asking what God is already doing through the congregations of our presbytery. Despite resistance to change, guarding of territory, and fear of the unknown, I have seen the Spirit stir and move in and among our presbytery.

I am not ignorant or indifferent to the challenges before us. John Vest's recent "Pathos" post was piercingly truthful about the ways we fail and fall short. But my hope is not pinned to institutional "success," human merit, or theological position. Honestly, I have been disappointed by people all across the theological spectrum; I have also been greatly encouraged, challenged, and witnessed to by people all across the theological spectrum. People are people... and they sure aren't God. My hope comes from a conviction that God's ability to move, work, help, and save is not dependent on human success or faithfulness. That doesn't let us off the hook in terms of faithfulness or obedience, but it sure keeps me from becoming hopeless.

Finally, I have great hope because of my own congregation and ministry. And lest that seem obvious or self-promoting, that hope comes precisely because of my own keen awareness of my limitations and failures. One of the ways I describe our congregation is "ordinary people; extraordinary God" - and I mean every bit of that. There is nothing I would deem good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, Jesus-centered or wayward as Hell, in the denomination that I don't also encounter in my own congregation and my own life. And God keeps showing up, stirring us up, calling us back, cleaning us up, and sending us out under the Word, sealed in the Spirit, and following the Son.

Thankfully. Mercifully. Gloriously!

A Box of Crayons, the Mid-Council Report, and the Status Quo

John Vest, a member of the mid-council commission, recently posed the question of whether the General Assembly will embrace some of the change recommended in the mid-council recommendations or whether we will protect the organizational status quo.  I'm with John on that question and am hopeful that we will hear and respond to the good work and vision of the mid-council commission.  Here's how I answered one question about that report in the moderator candidates' booklet.

In the Mid-Council Commission report a great deal of the narrative spoke to the emerging shapes and forms for mid-councils. In your view, what do you find especially promising in the narrative and why?
Pastor to youth director 1:

I want you and the kids to have an incredible lock-in.  I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing, creative, and fun things you do with them.  Just remember not to break anything, to clean up afterwards and make sure that on Sunday morning we can’t tell that you were here.

Pastor to youth director 2:

I hope you and the kids have an incredible lock-in.  I’ll be praying for everything you do and can’t wait to tell the congregation about it.  Don’t worry if things get a little messed up.  I’ll remind them that it’s a sign that we’re doing something right!
There is an interesting parallel between the narratives of the report and our attitudes towards youth and young adults.  In both cases, established leadership wants things to flourish, but we often hover, ready to swoop in if things get out of our control.  There is a necessary tension between risking “failure” and risking “success”; perhaps we need to redefine both and change the conversation altogether.

I find great promise in the mid-council commission report because of a willingness to allow presbyteries to adapt from organizations that “regulate” everything within their bounds to Christ-connected partners that encourage, equip, and connect local congregations in their mission and ministry.  This is the same move we have been trying to make in my presbytery (Charlotte) for some time, as well as in the church I serve (where we seek to equip and partner with each member for ministry and mission).  For us, a key question has become,

“What is God doing in and around us
and how can we be a part of that?

Similarly, I am drawn to the creative language in the MCC report about a large canvas and a palette of colors for experimentation; but I’ve had the experience of giving children a sheet of paper and four crayons.  It invites creativity but can also limit it.  What if the Spirit moves beyond the canvas or paints with a color we have not defined?  Will we shut it down or call it “out of order?”  What if a new ministry or worshiping community forms that is “beyond the frame” we have drawn?  If it ends up not bearing the name PC(USA), what is that to us if it honors and serves Christ in the world?  Let’s bless it and give thanks that God has moved among us and out from us!

Finally, the report names a crisis of trust as “the single greatest threat to the vitality and future existence of the church.”  Indeed, I have found in my presbytery that challenges of money and ministry are only symptoms of underlying issues of trust and relationship.  I welcome the encouragement to create, envision and experiment; but we must also take seriously the invitation to build relationships and develop “theological friendships.”  The significant value of these relationships is, perhaps, a hidden jewel in this report that we dare not miss.

For the mid-council report in various forms and sections, see the page here.

Local Newspaper Article on Hope Lee

"Pastor Leads on National Stage"
Sarasota Herald-Tribune article on vice-mod candidate, Hope Lee
Steve Heisler - July 18, 2012

From Pennsylvania to Florida, the Rev. Hope Lee has made congregational redevelopment her specialty, and the ability to help churches thrive has her moving to a national role.

The Kirkwood Presbyterian pastor was selected to stand as vice moderator candidate with the Rev. Robert Austell as moderator at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) later this month in Pittsburgh. Austell, the minister at Good Shepherd Presbyterian in Charlotte, N.C., said he understands the crisis facing many faiths today.   [read more...]