Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
Last week I spent a day preaching and connecting with the folks at a Heartland Presbytery meeting in Kansas City, MO. While I was there, the presbytery considered and rejected some difficult new business while also voting on an overture to the General Assembly that would give pastoral discretion to teaching elders serving in states where same gender marriage is legal to perform these marriages. The discussions were very civil and respectful, yet at the same time seemed painful for some and at least uncomfortable for many. The presbytery, like many others, is also concerned about congregations moving through discernment processes to leave the PC(USA). In meetings like this, it is easy to lose hope about the denomination.
Yet when Executive Presbyter Charles Spencer gave his report, he pointed to hope. Sure, he acknowledged the difficulties facing the church at all levels, but then he pivoted to exciting news. I was glad to hear his affirmation of the presbytery for being one of the top ten most generous presbyteries to give to the Presbyterian Mission Agency (where I serve), but even more important was his next point.
That was when he talked about the folks who are in the process of becoming pastors, and who are in their first five years of ministry. He spoke of their zeal, their theological commitment, their sacrifice, and their gifts for ministry. He reminded us that they do not just see a future for the church, but they are crafting their lives around the future that they want to live into and to create. He didn’t use these words from an old hymn, but my sense is that these emerging pastoral leaders give him “bright hope for tomorrow.” Indeed, it is God's faithfulness which calls these leaders to whom Charlie points as a sign of hope.
I think he’s right. While many of us bemoan the many (and I do mean many) challenges facing the PC(USA), we are missing the reality that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ (to quote another hymn), and Jesus is continuing to draw fresh ideas and creativity into the church, so that it can live out his mission in an ever-changing context.
I am part of a team looking at how the Presbyterian Mission Agency can develop transformational leaders (both teaching elders and ruling elders) who can lead change in congregations so that they more faithfully witness to their communities. Having a bright hope in the leaders who are even now committing themselves to serving the PC(USA) despite its challenges leads me to a bright hope for tomorrow.
After a four-flight, 26 hour, 14-time-zone-crossing journey from Busan, Korea, to Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina last week, I spent 48 hours last week working as part of the leadership team for next summer’s Montreat Youth Conferences. I am so excited to be preaching there for the first week next summer, and the purpose of this gathering was to build community and to plan for what is to come. The “Montreat Machine” has been doing these things very effectively for a long time, so I was the beneficiary of a lot of amazing collective wisdom.
I am still processing my visit to the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) over the last week and suspect that I will be for a long to come. The assembly is a combination of the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, the richest continuing education seminars that you can imagine, and the beginning of a bad joke (an Ethiopian Baptist, Japanese Presbyterian, and a Colombian Pentecostal walk into a conference room…). The fullness of the days and the amazing array of experiences and connections made it like the twenty-course meal I shared with a friend during my time in Busan.
One of the most stimulating parts of the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches for me has been the ecumenical conversations on renewal—a word which is often used, but rarely defined, in many Christian traditions. The conversation is headed toward a statement about renewal which will (hopefully) be adopted by the Assembly, but in this post I wanted to share some of the affirmations and challenges about renewal that surfaced in my small group with a Methodist gentleman from Nigeria and a Baptist woman from Ethiopia.
It has been an incredibly rich time here in Busan, South Korea, at the Tenth Assembly for the World Council of Churches (WCC), where thousands of delegates and participants and observers have come from all corners of the earth and many streams of Christianity to find partnership in ministry. The days have been full, with plenaries, Bible studies, workshops, ecumenical conversations, and business meetings. In an assembly like this, we try to focus as much as we can on our unity in Christ. However, that unity is much easier to embrace in the abstract than it is in the particular. I got a good reminder of this during a conversation with a delegate earlier today.
Yesterday I was in Atlanta for a meeting of the Special Committee on Funding Theological Institutions, a team which has worked since the last General Assembly (at its request) on the question of the best way for the denomination to raise money for the Presbyterian Church (USA) seminaries. There are seminary presidents, development professionals, members of the Committee on Theological Education, lawyers, a recent college graduate, pastors, and staff of the Presbyterian Mission Agency on the committee. We met at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA (just outside Atlanta).
This past week I have been in Princeton, NJ, for alumni reunion events and the inauguration of the seminary’s new president, M. Craig Barnes. It was a week full of interesting lectures by Robert Wuthnow, Elsie McKee, and Bob Dykstra, of connecting with folks from the seminary and the denomination, and of worshiping Christ in powerful ways at both the seminary and university chapels. I was struck by two of the charges given during my time in Princeton.
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit Ghost Ranch, NM, for the first time, for a meeting of the Presbytery of Santa Fe. The presbytery had invited me to come to facilitate the marriage study, which my colleagues in the Office of Theology and Worship had prepared at the request of the 220th General Assembly (2012). This study provides questions and resources from our theological tradition in order to understand what the church has said about marriage, and, by extension, what we might say about same gender marriage.
As I write I am flying home from an extremely thought-provoking conference at Montreat called “The Church in Purple.” It brought together speakers from the so-called progressive and conservative wings of the church, and asked them to think together about how we can be one church which lives in unity despite our blue/red differences.
Yesterday I was in Detroit for a meeting of the Association of Mid-Council Leaders (where they changed their name from the much more simian Association of Executive Presbyters, or AEPs). I went in order to talk with them about the small church residency program For Such a Time as This, and how presbyteries and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (where I serve) can work together to help small churches to thrive.