I 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.
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.