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Written by Gradye Parsons

Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.

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June 2, 2015

June 2015 - 815

The Confession of 1967 says:

The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity. (Book of Confessions, 9.37, emphasis added)

People like to use numbers to measure. Your doctor wants to know your blood pressure, your dentist wants to know how many times you floss, and your spouse wants to know on what temperature the thermostat is set. In the church we tend to count two things: how many members and how much money. In some sense we are counting how much have we gathered in our fold. But what if we counted a different measurement?

In the 2014 annual congregational survey, we asked this question: The Office of the General Assembly asks these questions to estimate how many non-members are being served or reached by congregations.

“During 2014, how many different individuals would you estimate that the members of your congregation served or ministered among as they carried out the various activities, programs, and outreach of the congregation including visitors?”

In other words, how many people did your congregation impact beyond its’ membership.

With 40 percent of congregations responding, the grand number was 3,462,288, or an average of 815 per congregation. Now considering that the average size Presbyterian congregation is 170 people, this is a pretty amazing measurement. If we were to multiply the 815 times all of the PC(USA) congregations, it would equal more than 8 million people. Roughly 1.7 million people serving 8 million people.

I don’t know what the drafters of the Confession of 1967 were thinking when they wrote the quote above. But I am guessing they were thinking that our true size is not how many people sit in our pews each Sunday, but what impact that worshipping community has on the world. By that measure it would seem we are being abundantly faithful.

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Tags: 815, confession of 1967, gradye parsons, monthly column, service, stated clerk


May 1, 2015

May 2015 - Do the holy work required to end racism

If you go to a university that is known for the song “Rocky Top,” then it would seem likely that you might study geology. Geology met my science requirement. So I have some understanding of how the earthquake in Nepal happened. The Indian subcontinent plate pushed against and under the Eurasian plate. The constant crashing of the two plates formed and continues to form the Himalayan mountain range. There is already Internet speculation on how the earthquake might have changed the height of Mount Everest.

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April 1, 2015

April 2015 - The big great surprise

[한국어] [Español] Well it seemed impossible even on March 22nd, but it does appear that Spring may arrive after all. Back in Tennessee we could still have a succession of mini-winters, but we soften the blow by giving them names like redbud winter or blackberry winter. In South Carolina, my son-in-law has already mowed his yard. In Chicago they still have their snow shovels working. We are in the same season but not in the same way.

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March 1, 2015

March 2015 - Bound together

There is something about snow that binds together a neighborhood. I noticed on my street that the first driveway cleared was the house of the widow of one of our more colorful characters. She never touched a shovel. People helped each other push their cars out of icy ruts. As our streets became more narrow, folks did the dance of who went first with some grace. Without any discussion we agreed to only attempt the hill at the entrance one at a time.

“The Brief Statement of Faith” says this:

The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,

sets us ...

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February 1, 2015

February 2015 - Questions open us to new possibilities

There is this space between the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday when we return to ordinary time in the church calendar. In ordinary time there are still plenty of extraordinary occasions. There is this general sense of leaning into the New Year. We get a lot of ordinary questions during these days. Questions such as “what is the proper order for committee reports at a congregational meeting?” Questions like “which is better, a pipe organ or electric?” Or, “can I count the Smiths on our statistical report even though they never joined?”

In a season where the church ...

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