Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Lower Burrell is quiet, too quiet

Carolyn Gavasto thinks the town is too quiet. So in order to shake things up, her store Next To Nature, is organizing a pajama party benefit for the Tarentum-based Alle-Kiski HOPE Center. Yesterday's Valley News Dispatch carries a story about the benefit event.

The Alle-Kiski HOPE Center is the local domestic violence center, offering a crisis hotline, a shelter, counseling, education, and advocacy.

Women who want to register for the pajama party can call the store at 724-339-3822. Next To Nature is located at 3293 Leechburgh Road, Lower Burrell and is a gift shop featuring a variety of pieces of jewelry, art, and collectibles. The store is divided into several rooms in which the goods are arranged thematically.

Sugar and Spice room in Next To Nature, Lower Burrell
For example, the Sugar and Spice room featured items for the kitchen, and the day I visited, coffee was made for any visitors.

Almost Heaven room in Next To Nature, Lower Burrell
The Almost Heaven room featured angels.

Pocketful of Posies room in Next To Nature, Lower Burrell
The Pocketful of Posies room room features dolls and baby items.

Next To Nature also has an online store.

While I was visiting at the store they were wrapping gifts that had been donated for the pajama party, and came across a cross with the inscription MMLJ. They asked me if I knew what it stood for. It certainly was not a traditional inscription on a Christian item. I hazarded a guess: "My Mother Loves Jesus."

They were impressed.

I was wrong.

A short internet search led me to the explanation. But what I am trying to figure out is why God would give a Christian ministry four words that "create an immediate response from God", and then allow those four words to be trademarked and copyrighted, limiting who can use them and where they can put them in making the grace of God available to others. Shades of the indulgences controversy of centuries ago ....

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wondering if answers will come out of the McDonald's 'Truth Tour'

I've blogged here and here about the communications between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and McDonald's, pressuring the restaurant chain to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in ensuring that tomato pickers earn an extra penny a pound.

Two PC(USA) News Service stories this week told about a letter writing campaign to McDonald's and a "Truth Tour" of the Southeast and Midwest by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

The CIW will ask McDonald's for the following:
  • The right to a fair wage, after more than 25 years of sub-poverty wages and stagnant piece rates;
  • The right for farmworkers to participate in the decisions that affect their lives, after decades of sweatshop conditions and humiliating labor relations;
  • The right to a real code of conduct based on modern labor standards, after McDonald’s and its suppliers unilaterally imposed a hollow code of conduct comprised of minimal labor standards and suspect monitoring.
I agree that the farmworkers are entitled to a fair wage and to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

When I compared the Socially Accountable Farm Employers code (the one described as "a hollow code of conduct comprised of minimal labor standards and suspect monitoring") with the YUM! code developed in cooperation with the CIW, I observed that the SAFE code was reasonable and even addressed some issues on which the YUM! code was silent. The YUM code is as full of language alluding to compliance with all applicable laws as is the SAFE code. Both codes intend to set up mechanisms for monitoring compliance. I don't see why one system of monitoring is more suspect than the other.

The major difference in my view between the McDonald's response and the Yum! response is that Taco Bell (one of the Yum! brands) actually is paying a penny more per pound for the tomatoes and is ensuring that the extra pennies get passed on to the workers. This part of the Yum! response achieves actual justice.

So I have some questions for the Truth Tour.

1. Why is McDonald's any more culpable for the "decades of sweatshop conditions and humiliating labor relations" than I am when I go to the supermarket and buy a pack of tomatoes off the shelf?

2. How can customers like myself ensure that the workers who pick tomatoes are paid fairly for the identifiable tomatoes we purchase?

3. With which vendor or vendors is McDonald's supposed to talk in ensuring that the farmworkers get the pay they deserve? (In the recent Taco Bell boycott, the CIW was asking Taco Bell to work with its main vendor Six L's in paying a penny more a pound and passing it on to the workers.)

4. Is the CIW criticism of the SAFE code any more substantial than the criticism that it "Did Not Originate Here"?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Is this a genuine Catch-22?

Editorial, "Don't Penalize Success", Valley News Dispatch, Feb. 18, 2006, p. A8I'm still mulling last week's story and Saturday's editorial in the Valley News Dispatch.

I am well aware that the public schools need to care about how to get the funding that they need, and I resonate with the concern for how to make sure the young people in our community get a quality education.

But somehow the description of this Catch-22 sounds like the claim that people on welfare have a disincentive to getting jobs because then they would lose a source of income they have relied upon.

As I understand it, the Title I money is distributed to the school districts where there is actual need as measured by a number of factors. Success in education should produce results that change the level of need.

The article and editorial have pointed out a dilemma educators face. It would be a shame if educators experienced the current system of funding public education as a disincentive to doing their very best to help students succeed.

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A slight case of innumeracy

In the current WTAE story on voting down the International Baccalaureate program in Upper St. Clair you will find the astounding statement that:
The $80,000 price tag on the program is about one percent of the school's $50 million budget.
Where do these people learn to do math?

And if 0.16% of the school's budget might help to reduce innumeracy, is it really too much to spend?

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Tarentum Borough Council debates recreation issues

Tarentum Borough Council, Feb. 20, 2006The Tarentum Borough Council held a 45-minute open meeting on February 20, 2006. Two issues related to recreation became issues on which there was disagreement. After taking a number of other actions, the Council went into executive session. What follows is a report of the significant events in the public part of the meeting.

At the time of Citizen Comments, one resident raised a concern about too many people parking too close to the corner of Grantham and West 9th. Councilman Gutonski stated that there was a similar problem at the corner of Grantham and West 8th, and that when the weather improved the borough would paint yellow lines on the curbs of those corners to resolve the problem.

At the time of the Mayor's report, Mayor Wolfe restated his desire that the skate park should not be built in Tarentum. Council President Magnetta explained the status of the skateboard park project: the borough has not yet heard from the county whether the project can be moved to the alternate location near Dreshar Stadium, and the borough has learned that the CDBG grant has been cut to $104,032. President Magnetta recognized the presence of Jim Burn, a member of the Allegheny County Council. As the mayor of Millvale, Burn had included a skatepark as part of major riverfront redevelopment. He said that at the time they began the project they had some of the same fears that Mayor Wolfe had expressed, but that in the four years that Millvale has had the skatepark, the problems have not manifested.

The Council appointed Councilwoman Mary Newcomer as a delegate to the Allegheny County Council of Boroughs, and Joe Davidek as an alternate to the same council.

The Council voted to "pay Muir Construction [sic] per court order for Corbet St project in the amount of $33,943.31." It appears that the court order was rendered in a case titled "Murrer Construction, Inc. v. Borough of Tarentum". The case involved payments to a contractor that were withheld, as Judge Judith Friedman said, "for no valid reason." (Memorandum in support of order, Dec 23, 2005. Page 6f.) The payment with penalties and interest amounted to $15,214.56. The plaintiff's reasonable counsel fees amounted to $18,728.75.

The Council approved the appointment of Pete Varos to the Civil Service Commission. No answer was given to Councilwoman Sopcak's question why there were no interviews of the candidates who had expressed interest in the position.

After some debate the Council voted to give Dynamite Daycare permission to have a petting zoo and pony rides at their graduation ceremony regularly held in Riverview Park. The Council voted to approve the lease with the Highlands Little Leage for the 2006 baseball and softball season. The Council also approved the Highland Hose to use Riverview Park for the Tarentum Festival June 4-11, 2006.

There was some confusion at the point in the report of the Parks and Recreation Committee when Council President Magnetta asked the council to appoint a list of ten volunteers as a recreation commission. When Councilwoman Sopcak asked whether this group was intended to be the same as the Borough's Recreation Board, she received an affirmative response. She pointed out that under the borough's code in chapter 61, the Recreation Board was to consist of nine members who were elected to five year terms (after the initial board was elected to staggered terms from one to five years). The Borough's solicitor was of the opinion that the existing appointments could be terminated without cause, but will need to research the matter. The Council took no action at this meeting to set aside the existing Recreation Board. Council President Magnetta had expressed his intention at an earlier meeting this year to form a group of volunteers to help with recreation programs for the borough; it was unfortunate that no one had realized until this meeting that the group he wanted to form was to have the same purpose as an already existing group composed of people elected with specific terms.

When the Council went into executive session, the purpose was to hire a labor attorney to complete current negotiations with IBEW, and to hire a labor attorney for all future labor contracts.

Although there were some difficult points in this short meeting at which the discussion could have become rancorous, the council members remained civil throughout.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Just in case there was any doubt

photo taken during Super Bowl, 2006
Just in case there was any doubt, the reserved pastor did watch the Super Bowl, and was cheering for the right team.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wolverines are not devils

Poster in window, corner Fifth & Lock, Tarentum
Before the mystery gets too deep and confusing, the poster above was spotted recently in the window of a building in Tarentum that has appeared abandoned and vacant for years.

In a couple of weeks the store that will open in that building will be Superior Sports Cards, which is moving from the Highland Mall in Natrona Heights.

The poster was initially identified on the internet as a cartoon of Satan. I think there is a simpler explanation.

Perhaps the poster is a depiction of the graphic novel character Wolverine.

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 6. Overture to General Assembly

The meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on Feb. 3, 2006 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church had already gone past the expected time of adjournment when it took up one item of new business, a proposed overture to the General Assembly (here or here).

The overture had been written by Elder Robert Gagnon, who is a commissioner to that General Assembly and a professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The sessions of the Eastminster Presbyterian Church and the Elfinwild Presbyterian Church were supporting the overture.

I've discussed earlier my feelings that the proposed amendment to the PCUSA's constitution seemed unnecessary. The lateness of the hour did not put me in a better frame of mind to hear a different perspective had one been offered. The Presbytery's vote to give Elder Gagnon ten minutes rather than the usual three to present the overture was generous, but only served to prolong the meeting.

The overture was a response to an interpretation of Recommendation 5 in the Final Report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. Recommendation 5 has not yet been adopted, and its effect has not yet been determined; its critics claim that it will create "local option" giving each ordaining body the right to choose for itself whether it will ordain elders or ministers who are not in compliance with G-6.0106b. The arguments that Recommendation 5 would create such a local option are unpersuasive and contrary to explicit language in the Recommendation. The authoritative interpretation offered in Recommendation 5 only restates our existing polity to make it more understandable.

Moderator Carol Divens Roth ruled a motion to postpone the overture to the next presbytery meeting out of order, and the Presbytery upheld her ruling on appeal to the body.

During the course of the debate, Rev. Janet Edwards spoke to urge the Presbytery to follow a more excellent way that she asserted was expressed in the Presbyterian Hymnal. She invited us to sing hymn number 438.

We don't use the Presbyterian Hymnal at Central. The hymn number meant nothing to me. So I reached into the pew rack in front of me and pulled out the hymnal with curiosity. Turning to the appropriate page, I read the title.
"Blest Be the Tie that Binds"

Immediately my memories took me back almost 35 years. I was in Cooperstown, New York, standing in a familiar pew in the Cooperstown Presbyterian Church with my parents and siblings and friends around me. We were holding maroon Hymnbooks and singing the hymn that the congregation sang every time a new member was welcomed into the church. Nearby my sister was standing next to one of my high school classmates, and they gestured together to wipe away a symbolic tear at the verse that said, "And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear."

I suspect that there are some who would consider singing this hymn during debate to be a partisan demonstration. I'll admit that I joined in the a capella singing of four verses that summed up my affirmation that God has something better in mind for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) than endless debates about rules. I don't know how or when we're finally going to get it, but I am sure it is there for us.

The debate continued, with more counted votes on whether to extend debate, and eventually on the main question. The overture passed by 68-62, and will go on to the General Assembly.

Because Pittsburgh Presbytery has submitted the overture by the 120 day deadline before the General Assembly meets, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution will have an opportunity to review it and give advice to the General Assembly. This committee is composed of many of the best constitutional thinkers in our church, and is able to help the General Assembly understand what it is doing when it votes on amendments or interpretations of the church's constitution.

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

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sometimes it takes a while to see how a dream turns out

faded sign saying "Future recreation site for our children consigned to the recreation board by progressive governing leaders", Tarentum, PATarentum has such an odd collection of the old and the new, signs of impending death alongside signs of hopefulness. This small town is filled with paradoxes.

Near Dreshar Stadium one can find this weathered and faded sign promising that something will happen in the future. One might write it off as a long-bypassed statement of hopefulness, or a statement that was never updated to reflect the actual use of the site for recreation, or perhaps it is just a statement that the ultimate use of the site for the youth has not yet come to fruition.

I like the way Larry Seben started his article about the alternate site for the Tarentum skateboard park with an allusion to "Field of Dreams." The sign above appears near the proposed alternate site. Did the progressive governing leaders around when the sign first went up even imagine that there would come a time when skateboarding would be a popular sport?

Once upon a time the paint on the sign was fresh, and the letters stood out with much better contrast to the background, and the words announced a dream that someone had. I don't believe the "progressive governing leaders" expected the sign to remain once the area had been developed into a stadium with ball fields. But the sign did remain, and wind and rain and sunlight took their toll. And all the while the sign continued to announce that there would be something still to come in the future.

For me, the aging of this sign is a parable about a hope held for a very, very long time, and about a dream that might take a very long time to come to fruition.

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 5. Black History Month

The February 3, 2006 meeting of the Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church included a Celebration of Black History Month.

The guest speaker was the Rev. Jim Reese, a graduate of Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, currently the interim presbytery executive in Newark Presbytery. He spoke about offering the gift of having Africa as one's land of origin, reverence for ancestors, the desire for personal and group freedom, having an image and identity that cannot be destroyed, and the ability to accept diversity without becoming divisive.

Also during this meeting the Presbytery observed a remembrance for the Rev. Dr. LeRoy Patrick, who had passed away on January 12 of this year.

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

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Tarentum Borough committees deal with library and skatepark

Committees of the Tarentum Borough Council held meetings in the council chambers on February 13, 2005 at 6:30 PM. All members of the Council were present.

There was a question about how well the committee meetings were advertised. The issue has to do with a shift in stylle on the Council, and an attempt to save money on advertising meetings. At the previous Council meeting, tonight's date was stated as a tentative date being held for a meeting to deal with the skatepark, but statements had also been made that people would be told when the date was firm. Apparently, the borough notified the Valley News Dispatch, which included a notice of an "agenda meeting" in Sunday's paper on page C1. However, the listing of today's meetings in the Feb. 13 paper on page A3 did not include any reference to a meeting in Tarentum.

Council President Carl Magnetta invited Councilwoman Ginger Sopcak to conduct the meeting of the Library Committee first. It was reported that the state has cut the funding for the Even Start program, which focuses on family literacy. It is not yet clear exactly what the funding will be, but there will be a cut for this summertime program. The committee will meet again on March 13 to consider how to deal with this issue.

Council President Magnetta led the meeting of the Parks and Recreation Committee, which was intended to deal with the skateboard park project. Mr. Magnetta reported on a meeting with Allegheny County representatives on Friday, January 27, in which they discussed the possibility of changing the site of the proposed skateboard park. He explained that the alternate site on First Avenue is an underused ball field, the second one down from Brackenridge.

He reported on a number of items of correspondence. TREK Development, involved in the Tarentum Senior Housing development across First Avenue from the alternate site, in which they offered to donate services to develop drawings for the skatepark. Gibson Thomas, the borough's engineers, have written a letter to the Council of Governments explaining the proposal for the First Avenue site. The local Little Leage program also wrote to say that they had no need for the ball field. Apparently the borough engineers did not correspond as quickly with the Allegheny County officials as the borough had hoped, so at this time the borough is waiting to hear back from the county. Councilwoman Sopcak, under whose committee leadership the grant application had been submitted, voiced her concern that whatever happens with the change of location for the park should not be done in a way that risks Tarentum's losing the grant. Council President Magnetta stated that no actions were going to be taken until they heard back from the county.

There was a question about where most of the Tarentum skateboarders live. The question matters because pedestrian (or skateboard) travel between East and West Tarentum is far less than ideal. Mr. Magnetta was of the opinion that because most of the population of Tarentum is in the First and Second Wards, it was likely that most of the skateboarders would be from East Tarentum. Ms. Sopcak was of the opinion that most of the skateboarders who had been present at the last Council meeting were from West Tarentum. At tonight's meeting there was only one skateboarder present, and she was from West Tarentum. Unfortunately, no one has solid data as to how many skateboarders live on each side of the divide. In my opinion, the real long-term issue for Tarentum is finding a way to improve safe, non-vehicular access between the two sides of the borough.

Mr. Magnetta stated that he wanted to identify three skaters to work on developing the design for the skatepark. He asked Ms. Sopcak to contact Jeff Revilla of Blank Skate Supply to get telephone numbers of Tarentum skateboarders to the borough office.

The Parks and Recreation Committee will meet on March 13 to select three Tarentum residents who skateboard; the committee can then do some work before or after the Council meeting on March 20, and then meet again on March 27 to move the process along.

Following the committee meetings the Council went into executive session.

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Friday, February 10, 2006


torn ticketWow! The young people at the Highlands Middle School have put together a wonderful production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.

The folks at Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum are rightfully proud of each of the people connected to our church who participated in the show. Elena Egusquiza-Miller shone as Cinderella. Verne Bergstrom played the coachman and a fruit vendor. Renee L. Shreffler (our congregation's organist/choir director) was the director. At the Friday show we had a good turnout from Central to support our young people and friends.

Everyone in the show was well-cast. Julie Victain as the step-mother, Hannah Nycz as Portia, and and Taylor Pastovic as Joy were entertaining as the badly-behaved family that everyone would want to see passed over. Ben Gaschler as the King, Natalie Ehrlich as the Queen, and Ross Nelson as the Prince brought us into the behind-the-scenes anxieties of a family putting together a party for an awkward purpose.

I've heard that Jeremy Fox, who played the Chef, is considering a new career or at least thinking of cooking a meal for his mother.

The ten Maidens (featured dancers) included Taylor Swartz who has helped with Central's Vacation Bible School.

Cookies with the Cast, following Cinderella, Highlands Middle School, Feb. 10, 2006The sets were well-designed and the stage crew worked smoothly and speedily between scenes.

Following the show the audience was able to have "Cookies with the Cast" in the school cafeteria.

The second and final show will be Saturday, February 11, 2006, at 7:00 PM at the Highlands Middle School. Be sure see it!

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 4. Of aardvarks and hippopotamuses

depiction of Christ, chancel of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, PittsburghWorship was an important part of the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on February 3, 2006 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church.

We sang "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord" from the hymnal. (Do I dare to identify this as my favorite "Yale" hymn, written in 1800 by Timothy Dwight, the eighth president of Yale College?)

Pastor Jim Mead preached on Philippians 1:12-18. His sermon was entitled "Christian Community: Whose Reality?" Near the beginning of the sermon he told a one-liner from a TV show:

What do you get when you cross an aardvark with a hippopotamus?
I don't know, but you'll see a lot of strange people at the wedding.

He explained that Christian community is of those whom Jesus calls into community, and that we are invited to participate in a reality God creates, not one we create. Describing many issues along which Presbyterians are polarized he said, "I don't want to be in a church that doesn't include some of my sisters and brothers who vote differently from me on some of those issues."

Table prepared for Holy Communion at Shadyside Presbyterian ChurchAs our communion hymn we sang "The Church's One Foundation", and then participated in the Lord's Supper by intinction.

The Hunger Offering received at this service was $1023.

We also sang a new hymn, "We Look Outward, God of Blessing!" which was written by John Dalles in honor of The Rev. Carnegie S. Calian.

"We Look Outward, God of Blessing!"
(to the tune of Beecher)

We look outward, God of blessings, as we seek to serve and teach!
Guiding learners, leading leaders; help us, God, extend our reach!
May we join with Christ in doing, deeds of kindness, acts of care!
Aim us higher, peace pursuing: This, our promise! This our prayer!

We look inward, God of ages, Your great gift of joy to find!
You delight life's serried stages, You enlighten humankind!
Jesus, fill us, Jesus lead us, till Your freedom all may know;
Thankfulness, that You provide us, is for us to share and show!

We look back, God of creation, not with sorrow or regret,
But with deep appreciation, for the days none will forget!
Give us all a holy yearning, to embrace what we receive,
Boundless blessing, love and learning: Ours to hold! Ours to believe!

We go onward, God of Glory, grateful for your witnesses;
All who clasp and claim Your story, with compassion's selflessness!
Give us their determination! May we live as salt and light;
Light to banish trepidation. Salt to season with delight!

We look forward, God of Heaven, to a time beyond today;
For the hope that You have given, points to the ascending way!
As our faith forms each endeavor, may our acts, this world restore;
Grant us, God, to waver never: We go forward evermore!

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

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 3. Welcome to new roles and responsibilities

During the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on February 2, 2006 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church, the Presbytery welcomed a number of individuals into new roles and responsibilities.

Early in the meeting the Presbytery installed the Rev. Carol Divens Roth in the office of Moderator, and the Rev. Denise Mason in the office of Senior Vice Moderator.

As part of the installation service, former Moderator David Carver reminded the Presbytery of anagrams he had shared earlier. Last year we had learned that an anagram of "Presbyterians" is "Britney Spears". This time he reminded us that an anagram of "Presbyterian" is "Best in prayer"; he explained that this was not a hubristic comparison of the Presbyterian Church to other churches, but a statement that we were at our best when in prayer.

The Presbytery approved Twyla Boyer for ordination for her ministry as Temporary Supply at the Hampton Presbyterian Church; we similarly approved Robert Walkup for ordination for his ministry as chaplain for HCR Manor Care. The Presbytery approved the call of the Rev. Randall K. Bush as pastor of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church and the call of the Rev. Jeffrey J. Potter as pastor of the Parkwood United Presbyterian Church.

We also were introduced to the Rev. Karen Battle, Director of Justice Ministries and Mission, and Sharon Stewart, Director of Disciplemaking and Spiritual Growth.

The Presbytery commissioned Pastor Jim Mead to his sabbatical, encouraging him to use his time for renewing rest.

A special part of the meeting was the retirement of the Rev. Dr. Carnegie Samuel Calian. Within the Presbyterian Church the retirement of a minister is not so much a time of saying goodbye, as it is a time of recognizing that one phase of a person's has come to a close with the expectation that the individual will continue to exercise his or her gifts in new and creative ways through the church. A number of speakers told about the ways God had used Dr. Calian to call people into their own paths of service. The whole Pittsburgh community is aware of Dr. Calian's contributions to church life in the region.

God's introduction of each of these individuals into new roles within the Presbytery makes us a new community empowered for mission.

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

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Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 2. Overview

Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Feb. 2, 2006The meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church on February 2 was a long meeting, running one and a half hours past the anticipated time for adjournment. Needless to say, much happened in the meeting during the five and a half hours that we were together.

At the previous meeting Pastor Jim Mead had encouraged us to tell the history of our church with God as the subject and active verbs. It feels presumptuous to claim to know what God was about; all I can bring to the task are my partial awareness of the Biblical witness to what God is doing in the world and my perceptions of what I saw happening. But here is my thumbnail attempt at a summary of the meeting.
God was at work in the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church blessing the beloved community with an awareness and appreciation of the many gifted and dedicated fellow-servants who have led us and worked alongside us. God brought new colleagues into our midst and gave us opportunities to establish pastoral relationships through which the broken will receive healing and lives will be changed. God spoke to the blessed community through the written and preached Word, and welcomed us to the feast of the Lamb of God in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Moderator Carol Divens Roth in pulpit of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Feb. 2, 2006As the meeting began, Moderator Carol Divens Roth reminded us that the day was Candlemas, on which we recall the presentation of Christ in the Temple forty days after his birth. The same day is secularly observed as Ground Hog Day. She stated her prayer that both Pittsburgh Presbytery and Punxsutawney Phil would see the light. She urged us to look around the room and see if we could identify a single person for whom Christ did not die.

The Rev. Dr. Craig Barnes brought greetings from the host church, telling us "How wonderful to have the Presbytery at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church without us being in trouble."

In adopting the docket, the Presbytery added as new business the overture prepared by Elder Robert Gagnon. No other new business was added.

Only seventeen minutes into the meeting, the Presbytery made most of the decisions necessary for the day through its use of the consent motion. Fifty-one important actions were included in that consent motion. By doing so much of the non-controversial business through the consent motion we were free to spend more time and attention on God's activity in the life of our community.

The Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church gave a powerpoint presentation about their outreach program "Off the Floor Pittsburgh". As part of Pastor Jim Mead's report, Rev. Don Dilley reported on the Verona United Presbyterian Church's youth program "Almost Home", which had initially received opposition from local government, but has now established itself as a positive outreach to the local community.

We conducted the meeting in the midst of a time of Steelers' fever. As Pastor Jim Mead presented his report he reminded the Presbytery that he came from the Pacific Northwest. To allay any concerns about his current loyalties, he opened his jacket to show that he was wearing a black shirt with a gold tie.

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

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Shadyside: 1. Preliminary observations

I have been reviewing the papers in advance of the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church on Feb. 2, 2006. Many of the papers look like the normal business for a meeting of this Presbytery.

There is an overture "On Amending the Section in the Form of Government Treating 'Freedom of Conscience Within Certain Bounds' (G-6.0108b) to Safeguard the Amendment Process." For the life of me, I cannot figure out from the text who is proposing that the Presbytery send this overture to the General Assembly. I don't find in the reports of the Presbytery Council, Committee on Ministry, or Committee on Preparation for Ministry any sign that any of these bodies are proposing the overture, or that they have reviewed it. (The two named committees are the ones who would be the first in a presbytery to have to interpret and apply the amended language if it were added to our Form of Government.) So, I have some big questions about the origin of this overture, and about the genuineness of the alleged urgency to amend the Form of Government. I don't like business appearing from anonymous sources. [See update below]

The amendment that is proposed in the overture uses somewhat clumsy language to add what appears to me to be a tautology to the already existing paragraph. I think it is saying that "shall" means "shall", or that mandatory provisions are mandatory. I don't get it, and I don't see why statements that say nothing new should be added.

I also have some questions about whether Pittsburgh Presbytery has consulted with the Office of the General Assembly about this matter in accord with the Standing Rules of the General Assembly, A.3. That standing rule obviously applies once a presbytery is considering an overture to the General Assembly. It is unclear to me exactly when or why Pittsburgh Presbytery began to consider sending such a proposal. [see update below]

Tomorrow I will learn more about this overture.

One of my other preliminary concerns for most meetings has been the issue of directions to the meeting. The provided directions look usable for me. Maybe I am not as much of a newcomer to the area as I once was, but at least I know where the Highland Park Bridge is, and I think I have actually driven by the host church. So the trip to the meeting looks like it will be uneventful (at least for me).

One of my passengers tomorrow will be a member of another church who is very interested in what is happening with the Pittsburgh Presbytery Foundation following on the actions at the last meeting. I have explained to her that administrative commissions report in writing to the presbytery. The papers for this meeting published so far do not include any information about the Foundation, so I am not expecting anything about the Foundation to come up.

One of the anticipated highlights of the meeting identified by Pastor Jim Mead is the observance of Black History Month. The Rev. James Reese, whom I have heard before, will speak to the Presbytery.

Looks like an interesting meeting tomorrow.

Update 02-02-06

I have had a conversation this morning with the Rev. Jay W. Lewis, Stated Clerk of Pittsburgh Presbytery, who has informed me about the origin and consultation process that has taken place concerning the overture. The overture was written by Elder Robert Gagnon (Bellefield Presbyterian Church), one of the Presbytery's commissioners to the General Assembly. Some sessions of churches have signed onto it as well.

There has been ongoing consultation with the Office of the General Assembly and it was agreed that this matter had not been raised recently, nor was a similar overture coming to this General Assembly. In addition, the Committee on Ministry had a special meeting to hear a presentation concerning this overture. The Committee on Ministry is not making a recommendation either for or against the overture.
My other articles on this meeting: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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