Thursday, March 13, 2008

Working through the storm

painting from the series "The Challenge of Noah's Ark" by Maritza MorganOver the last weekend I attended a six-day meeting (March 6-11) of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution of the PCUSA, in Louisville, Kentucky. I was in the unusual position of having been appointed to a vacancy on the committee by Moderator Joan S. Gray. The vacancy was created by the death of the Rev. George T. Adams. Subject to confirmation by the 218th General Assembly, I am filling Rev. Adams' space on the the committee (although certainly not his shoes).

The meeting was a positive experience, working with a small group of people who care deeply about our Presbyterian polity, and who are energized by discussions of what some might consider constitutional minutia.

While we were in Louisville, we started our meeting in a conference room at the Presbyterian Center. When the storm that ended up paralyzing the city started dump increasing amounts of snow, we moved our meeting earlier than planned to conference rooms in the hotel where we were staying.

It was rather ironic that many of the people at Central Presbyterian Church before my trip kept telling me they hoped I'd have good weather. My response was that the weather was going to be irrelevant because we would all be focused on our task. Even with the significant storm that blew through, that turned out to be true. Once we relocated there were a few conversations about where we would be able to find meals to be brought in to the hotel where we were working, but otherwise the storm outside had no real impact on us.

On Monday we were able to move our meeting back to the Presbyterian Center, as planned. And there we finished up our work.

In the lobby of the Presbyterian Center I noticed a series of paintings by Maritza Morgan. They reminded me of paintings I have seen in the lobby outside the auditorium at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's Hicks Chapel. The series in Louisville was called "The Challenge of Noah's Ark." The painting shown above is one that I think is entitled "The Flood", showing Noah with his family and all the animals packed into the ark, while the waters rise outside. I was struck by the depicted serenity of those inside the ark, who are shown as trusting that God is saving them from the flood. The claws of the bear are clearly visible, yet each of the creatures seems to be weathering the flood with a happy, peaceful attitude. This became a picture that I thought about a lot during the remainder of my time in Louisville.

I wonder what would it take for people in the Presbyterian Church to be so certain and so aware that we are being saved, that it would feel totally natural to be at peace with one another across the theological spectrum.

We ended our work on Tuesday before noon, having drafted all the advice we would have to give. We have already made sure that we didn't use the word "hermeneutic" too many times, and we think we caught all the misplaced commas. An explanation of the legal term "cy pres" will be made available in the appropriate report. After final proofreading the advice is going to be posted on PC-biz, where the commissioners and observors will be able to follow the complex collection of documents that will make up the business of the 218th General Assembly.

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Stushie said...

You wote: "I wonder what would it take for people in the Presbyterian Church to be so certain and so aware that we are being saved, that it would feel totally natural to be at peace with one another across the theological spectrum."

It's not the Constitution that needs amended, Stewart; it's our whole approach to interpreting scripture that has gone totally wrong. If we paid more attention to what is taught in our seminaries and by whom, we wouldn't be in this mess. The theologian luminaries are the ones who are provoking this - they should all serve a minimum of five years in parish ministry before they can teach our students.

I wish you well in your work on the Constitution. God bless your heart and head.

Stewart said...

I agree that amending the Constitution is not the solution to the deeper issues that manifest themselves in our church.

In my opinion, the best constitutional language we have on this topic is in G-7.0103: "The law and government of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presuppose the fellowship of women and men with their children in voluntary covenanted relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests upon the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love."

I'll think about your prescription of five years of parish ministry for our seminary teachers, but I'm not sure that it would solve the underlying problems of fellowship, trust, and love.