Friday, December 02, 2005

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Bakerstown: 2. The God who shapes our present

"'There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will.' Who said that?" My friend Bob was sitting beside me on the sofa at Central Perk in Tarentum yesterday morning as he asked that question. "Someone important said that, but I can't remember who." He raised this question apropos of nothing we had been discussing, but merely because the quotation had come into his head. Not knowing the answer to the question, his voice broke with desperation at the thought that the day would end without his receiving an answer.

I was having a cup of coffee before returning to the church to get a few things done before I would drive my elder commissioner and an observer from another church to the Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting on December 1, 2005 at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown. I had to tell Bob that the quote sounded familiar, but my mind was a blank as to who said it.

If you are reading this article because you are looking for some hard news reporting about what happened at the Presbytery meeting, be patient. We'll get there. Just don't expect a blow-by-blow recounting of the meeting; you can read the minutes if you want that.

I am starting here because I, like each of the other 250 ministers and elders in attendance at the meeting, left behind a dozen unfinished projects and conversations, concerns that would be percolating in our heads while we gave our attention to the important work that we would do at the meeting. Each of these ongoing outside activities and dialogues might even inform how we individually view and respond to the business of the meeting.

The heart of the meeting was when we gathered for worship. We sang two great hymns, "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!" and "Come Sing, O Church, in Joy!" Samantha Bergman and Emma Joyce sang "Cantate Domino." The Chancel Choir sang "Advent Prayer" by Allen Pote. In response to Pastor Dan Merry's appeal for the Hunger Offering, the gathered presbyters gave $2,500.01.

And Pastor Jim Mead preached on "The Importance of Remembering or: Creating the Present out of the Future." He was talking about God's activity, and how God's great plans for us shape us in the present. He spoke about how memory assures us that God is trustworthy. This was a sermon about eschatology, the doctrine of last things, but Pastor Mead encouraged us to recognize how God is active in our lives today. He showed us from Ephesians 1:3-14 that we already know the end of God's plan for the ages. But God is at work creating our present to bring us to that future. He said that many congregational histories are written without mentioning God, and that where God is mentioned the verbs are mostly in the passive voice. He urged us to "Tell the history of your church with God in active verbs."

Instructed by the sermon, I see that the quote my friend Bob posed to me in the morning does not do justice to what is really happening. There a divinity that actually is shaping our present.

Little did I know that about four hours into the meeting I would be telling myself that the quote does not jive with reality in another way. I was certain that it was no divinity but rather a pew underneath me that was shaping my rear end from sitting far too long.

It is not that Pittsburgh Presbytery used time badly in this meeting. There were at least three issues that legitimately consumed a large amount of time. As far as efficiency goes, we used the consent docket very well. By my count there were 25 separate pieces of business on the consent docket and we accomplished them all with a single vote when the meeting was still 18 minutes young.

Hours later it is easy to forget that God had already guided us to accomplish a lot.

As we got closer to the end of the meeting Vera White would comment in prayer to the Almighty that "this was the longest meeting we can remember." (I've been to longer meetings, but I don't think any were here in Pittsburgh.)

There were going to be still more reports and actions as the meeting pressed on until a quorum call finally revealed at 6:52 PM that we were no longer competent to transact business. Outgoing Moderator Dave Carver apologetically exhorted us to prayer, concerned that the loss of a quorum might even deprive him of the authority to make his closing comments. It is my opinion that the loss of a quorum was no barrier to the things he wanted to say to us or to the things he wanted us to do. Robert's Rules of Order may have deprived us of the ability to transact business, but the presence of the Risen Christ wherever two or three are gathered gave us all the authority we needed to pray for one another, to exhort one another to hope, and to worship God. And so it was that the faithful remnant ended the meeting in grateful worship, the same way a much larger number had spent an important part of the meeting much earlier that day.

So I will try to follow Pastor Mead's advice now as I tell you what I think happened at the meeting. God was at work in the Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting, leading each of us into sometimes uncomfortable and prolonged conversations with one another around issues of power, the management and use of wealth, the stewardship of our citizenship, acceptance, belonging, and vocation. God received our praise and gifted us with energy, intelligence, imagination and love to use in God's work of encouraging, strengthening and inspiring congregations. The same God who holds the nations in derision gave us the gift of laughter and humor to carry us through the difficult times. Through the voice of the Presbytery God called a minister into service as our new stated clerk, and called many others into service on Presbytery committees and boards and in higher governing bodies.

That is my thumbnail version of what happened at the meeting. I need to confess that I am still processing what I experienced. My next articles will go into a bit more detail.

By the way, the quote about which Bob was asking me was from William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, scene ii, lines 10-11.

My other articles on this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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