In Spirit and Truth is the blog of the General Assembly Committee on Representation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It will feature content written by the sixteen members of the committee, who are teaching and ruling elders from across the country, and our staff person in the Office of the General Assembly, as well as links and articles of particular interest. These blog entries are intended to prompt reflection and dialogue on aspects of expanding representation and supporting full participation in the PCUSA, especially at the assembly level. The ministries of advising, consulting, advocating, reviewing and recommending are vital to the life of the whole Body of Christ. Committees on Representation and/or their functions exists at all councils above session so from time to time we may highlight activities and insights from our sister committees on representation at smaller councils throughout the church. From time to time, guest contributors will provide content. Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Presbyterian Church USA or the General Assembly Committee on Representation.
Author/Facilitator Molly Casteel is an Assistant Stated Clerk and the Coordinator for Representation and Inclusiveness Services. She is a teaching elder (a.k.a. Minister of Word and Sacrament) in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary.
What are you giving up for Lent? That was the question. In fact, I will always remember a new friend's answer to that question. She proudly said, "Do you know what I’m giving up for Lent? I'm giving up celibacy," and before I could feel my ears turning red and my cheeks blushing she announced "I'm getting married!" The idea of giving something up for Lent may or may not be in our Presbyterian/Reformed ethos. We tend to say that our grace-oriented faith does not require our efforts to purify ourselves to please God. But instead, we respond to God's grace by loving God and our neighbor and adopting disciplines that reflect these cherished relationships. Some of our leaders, however, have taken very seriously this yearly opportunity to develop disciplines that help them to become better servants of Christ. They practice giving up certain foods, certain tendencies towards excess and even saying that this is their opportunity to give in to something better instead of giving something up. We see how the giving in to or giving up something voluntarily are willful acts in which we as individuals decide to effect changes in our lives. We are moved to decide and we are in control making the decisions and the changes. In these sense, the rewards of accepting a certain mode of discipline and accomplishing our goal produces growth and leads us into maturity. Our sense of identity is reinforced by the results of these changes and disciplines.
On the other side, there are circumstances in which external forces reach us and we are mandated to change. In those instances change is imposed upon us. When we are forced to change our feelings are various and sometimes contradictory. The loss of the familiar puts us in the path of grief. When things change they don't stay the same. As simplistic as this seems, it points to the fact that what was, the familiar and almost predictable, disappears and is no longer a reality. When our identity is based on a structure that surrounds us and this structure changes we sometimes feel like we are left with nothing. And very often our first normal reaction is anger. Anger is a normal response to an attack. When we are moved by external forces our normal reaction is to raise our guard getting ready to fight. There are many other emotions that play a role in the grief process. Fear, sadness, guilt, and regret, among others, which are natural energies that we feel, are designed to help us cope with the outside forces that threaten to move us away from the familiar.
In 18 years of working with hospice organizations, I have learned that grief is not a bad thing. Grief is the normal mechanism that allows us to navigate through transitions and times of uncertainty. Even though grief is a normal process however, it does not feel right. During grief, what seems most helpful is when people around us are able to listen to those of us who are experiencing the changes. It is at this moment that the human soul mostly needs to feel connections and non-intrusive support. It is very common for people to become less productive and find themselves totally drained of their energy, exhausted by the constant second-guessing and scenario plotting. Forgetfulness and lack of concentration are also frequently reported when dealing with transitions.
It seems at least curious to me that it is in the middle of the Lenten season that the leadership of the OGA gave up their beloved structure. For some, a deliberate decision, for others a changing force coming from the outside. The recent changes in the Office of the General Assembly lend themselves to the full expression of grief. For some, these changes come as destructive forces of what was familiar and comfortable and those mostly affected are possibly wondering what comes next. The thing about the structures and partnerships that surrounds our careers is that we tend to take them for granted. Like running water, for example, there’s a reason for the old saying, “You never miss the water until the well goes dry.” We can’t live without water, but usually notice our dependence when our supply is disrupted. We can say that we yearn for the old structures and the greater benevolence budget. We have lost what was familiar to us and in essence our relationship with the good faithful structure. The old structure was sort of larger than life and transcendent. Some even believed that it was divinely inspired. Some compared it to the shell of a turtle, that element that defined the identity of the turtle itself. And now it is gone… Some of us feel regret, some feel guilt, anger, righteous indignation, while others are just scared or depressed. The old structure of the OGA will be missed as a dying relative. The staff whose roles were clearly defined by that imperfect but familiar system will instinctively move very slowly into the new system and wonder where God is taking them now.
When our Lord Jesus went through the wilderness, He gave up food, shelter and safety. It was not an easy journey. He walked assured that God would sustain His life and lead Him to complete his mission. Because He had the goal to reconcile the world to Himself, He was able to continue despite the changes around Him.
The Rev. Héctor Rivera-Vélez was born in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. He was ordained as a Teaching Elder in 1992 by Mission Presbytery. Héctor served churches in San Antonio, Texas, until starting to work for hospice. He currently lives in League City, TX, with his wife Isabel, a Teaching Elder in New Covenant Presbytery. Elected in 2012 for a second term on GACOR, Héctor loves to sing and to ride his Harley Davidson.