Sunday, September 23, 2007

You could learn a lot from a dummy

Dummy representing "Pastor Bobby" in mock trial for presbytery permanent judicial commissions in the Synod of the TrinityYesterday I spent most of the day travelling back and forth between Pittsburgh and Camp Hill. At the Camp Hill Radisson the Synod of the Trinity was providing training for members of presbytery permanent judicial commissions.

The topic was "Sex, Lies, and Disciplinary Cases." Jay Lewis, the stated clerk of Pittsburgh Presbytery had organized a mock trial to help us think through a lot of issues concerning the Presbyterian judicial procedure and the conduct of a disciplinary trial.

The case was PCUSA v. Pastor Bobby. The accused was present in the form of a dummy with a Ronald Reagan mask. The other parts in the trial were played by ministers and elders from around the synod.

You can learn a lot from a dummy. One of the things I learned is that an accused who never takes the stand in his own defense can be acquitted if his counsel is a "sharp West Virginia dude."

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Crestfield

The welcome slide projected at the front of the meeting space for Pittsburgh Presbytery at Crestfield Camp, September 6, 2007I was one of many ministers and elders who attended the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery at the Crestfield Camp and Conference Center on September 6, 2007. It was a very hot summer day. I learned (well after leaving home) that this was an "air action day". In addition to the hospitality Crestfield extended to us through providing a meeting space and a delicious lunch, the staff of the camp reminded us to keep hydrated and they made available large quantities of cool bottled water throughout the meeting.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a good story following the meeting. For me there were six important things that happened in the meeting.

1. We worshiped God. The music for worship was outstanding, led by Elder David R. Brewton, Associate Executive Director of the East Liberty Health Care Center. I appreciated that Elder Brewton also taught us to clap. During worship we contributed $1509.97 to the Hunger Offering.

2. We continued to observe the bicentennial of Black Presbyterianism. The Rev. D. Johnnie Monroe spoke to us briefly about the Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association, which was making mortgage loans in the Hill District long before the Community Reinvestment Act established the expectation that banks would do so. Dwelling House's mission was the result of the vision of a Black Presbyterian elder, Robert R. Lavelle.

3. We held the first reading of the negotiated settlement with the Beverly Heights church. We devoted a substantial amount of time in the morning to asking questions about this proposed agreement with this congregation that has asked to be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. There were questions about the enforcement of a lien which the congregation would allow on its property to guarantee payment of a contribution of $250,000 to the presbytery, concerns about the lack of any requirement that the congregation pay past due per capita, questions about the reason for the separation, concerns that asking the congregation to make any contribution to the presbytery was unfair. Some members of presbytery were uncomfortable with the fact that they would only be allowed to vote yes or no on the negotiated settlement, and that they would not have the opportunity to amend it.

In response to the questions about why the congregation wanted to be dismissed, the pastor Rick Wolling spoke to the presbytery explaining the tensions with which the congregation had been living as a conservative church within a more progressive denomination.

4. The Council reported that the Presbytery had been victimized by a phishing attack, losing $85,000. I'd like to think that I am pretty savvy at spotting phishing attempts in my own email, but the con jobs are getting more sophisticated. Even a presbytery with otherwise good controls can be stung.

5.We saw God continuing to call individuals into particular forms of service within the PCUSA. We approved the oral parts of trial for John Creasy (Memorial Park Presbyterian Church), Thomas Moore (Southminster Presbyterian Church) and Marshall Jefferson Tindall (Southminster Presbyterian Church). John Creasy is going to be Associate Pastor at the Open Door. Thomas Moore is going to be designated pastor at the Emsworth UP Church.

Upon request, Mr. Moore demonstrated his ability to compose a sentence containing the terms "hypostatic union," "perichoretic," and "salvific." But the examination was not just a bunch of word games because we also heard from him how the reality of God's love could be expressed in ministry with people in need.

quilt with the message "The earth is the Lord's"6. I came upon a wonderful quilt. I don't know how long this quilt has been at Crestfield, but at this meeting I noticed it hanging in a hallway. The various squares have the images of leaves from different trees and plants.

I needed to see this reminder of the message of Psalm 24:1 ("The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein."). The fullness of the earth is not only a variety of trees but also the places in depressed communities where people make their homes; the small patch of real estate the Beverly Heights Church wants to continue to use for ministry outside the PC(USA), and the patches of real estate being used by the congregations that remain; the people who are willingly offering themselves in Christ's service, as well as the lost souls coming up with ever more creative ways to steal resources from others. It all belongs to God and deserves special care.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

(Pre)Judge Not

Photo of butterfly on russian sage amid red salviaThe final event of Tarentum's 2007 Summer Concert Series was a karaoke contest held last Wednesday, August 29. I was asked to be one of the five judges for the event. The other four judges were: Drew Jonczak, Tim Dugan, Diane Brooks, and Jeff Killian. Bucky Lojak was the DJ for the contest.

I was concerned about the format of the contest. I wanted to be especially sure that I was not going to be called upon to offer bitingly sarcastic public comments about the individual contestants. Some of my friends were (rightly) concerned that I was going to be subjected to some awful performances, so they encouraged me not to be a judge. But once I verified that the format would be one in which I would not have to tell the contestants why I rated them as I did, I decided to go ahead and be a judge.

There is always a risk of pre-judging experiences that one might have. I remember one of the comments someone made to me when they heard the lineup of Tarentum's summer concerts; it expressed the belief that this year's concerts would not be as good as last year's. I asked the commenter if he had heard any of the people being brought in, and got a negative answer. So what was the basis for the opinion? No answer. I was not able to attend all of this summer's concerts, but I can honestly say that I did not regret attending every one that I did.

Including the Karaoke Contest.

I was surprised by a lot in the contest. Of course my friends were right; I did hear some performances that were painful, but I also heard many that were quite good. The judges were all over the map in terms of how we responded to different performances. I was surprised by songs I had never heard, and by songs I had not expected to enjoy. When one contestant announced that she was going to sing "My Heart Will Go On" I was set to groan at hearing the Celine Dion song again but I was surprised when I discovered that I liked the performance.

At the end of the first round, we selected the top three contestants and invited them to do a second song. Although I had liked each of those we selected together, I would not have picked any of them for the top three if I had been the sole judge. And this time I was surprised by how much more I was entertained by each of the second songs the contestants chose.

The winner of the contest was Kevin Brown, who performed an energetic and engaging rendition of "Keep your hands to yourself."

It is very easy to predict that some things will happen that won't be enjoyable. But the surprises are really nice, and I am glad I was willing to be where I could experience them as well.

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