Mid Councils Newsletter | September 19, 2016
I was in a discussion recently with a number of people from various national agencies of the PC(USA) about vital congregations. As we were talking about some statistics for not only PC(USA) congregations but for all congregations in North America, we were all sobered by the numbers. Most congregations last for about eighty years and about 80 percent of all attempts to revitalize congregations fail. Then we started to talk about the kinds of things that keep us from being able to change as congregations. Of course we named things like buildings, traditions, certain people, etc., that weigh us down.
I had a vivid memory of some training I got many summers ago when I went to camp in far northern Minnesota. It was quite the operation to get there. I went with one friend from Peoria. Her mother accompanied us part of the way. She flew with us on Ozark airlines from Peoria to Minneapolis. This was in the days when these regional airlines were like local trains so there were several stops on the way there. We stayed overnight in a hotel and then Sally and I took a bus along with the other campers the rest of the way to a camp outside of Bemidji, Minnesota. We stayed there for four weeks. My two most vivid memories are of being really homesick and of my grandparents driving up to visit me. It is a two-day drive from Peoria. They drove all that way and were allowed to visit with me for one hour in the parlor of the camp director’s house. I always tell people that this is where I learned to be a grandparent.
But as I sat in that meeting the other day another memory came back. It was something the camp called “drown-proofing.” We canoed a lot in the lake, which is part of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. We used both regular-sized canoes and the big, wooden war canoes that can really build up a lot of speed when you have sixteen people paddling—even sixteen people with skinny little twelve-year-old girl arms!
Before we were allowed to do this canoeing, we had to pass our drown-proofing class. They had us wear our swimsuits and then put a full set of clothing on over it—jeans, t-shirt, socks, sneakers. We were then taken out (not very far) in a canoe with an instructor, given instructions about what to do, and purposely tipped out of the boat. The task was to swim under the boat and flip it back over. Then we were instructed to put all of our clothes, except our swimsuits, into the canoe before trying to climb back in. We had to get rid of all of that now superfluous and heavy clothing before attempting to get into the canoe. We were also told that if we ever found ourselves in a situation where we were in the water and there was no boat available we were to shed what we didn’t need—especially our heavy, water-soaked shoes—in order to better be able to swim to shore.
I wonder if we need to be teaching our congregations—and our mid councils—about drown-proofing. What do we need to shed so that we can get ourselves back into the boat or safely to shore? What is weighing us down, especially those things that we no longer need?
One of the very small rural churches I served tried to do just this. They had a tradition of a potato doughnut sale that had brought in needed revenue. It had been quite the production—bringing in pounds of potatoes, paring and boiling them, mashing them, making the doughnuts, and then frying them in lard one morning so that the community could come in and buy them. I never saw it done. By the time I got there in the early 1990s, they had stopped doing it a year or two before. They really did not have the people power to do it and people were trying to eat in a more healthy way. The market for deep-fried mashed potato and flour balls had dried up.
There was one woman who just insisted that it should be done again. She went so far as to buy huge tubs of lard and put them in the church refrigerator. But the “drown-proofed” church stayed strong. They had shed those heavy, lard-fried dough balls and they were not going back! Can you be as strong in not taking back up the things you have shed?
Lenten Reflections on Belhar is a devotional book currently in production that will be ready late 2016. Congregational Ministries Publishing has shared an introduction written by Allan Boesak.
WALKING WITH GOD
Belhar Lenten Meditation
Between the years 1982 when the Belhar Confession was first conceived and written, and 1986, when it was formally adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, the apartheid regime, in response to the growing, determined, internal resistance and the prophetic witness of the church, declared the first of two states of emergency, with blanket impunity for all sections of the police and the army on top of the array of draconian legislation already in place. The results were a devastation: 40,000 persons in detention without trial, 40% of those children under 18; countless banning orders and house arrests; the routine hunting down and torture of activists; political assassinations and almost daily killings of protesters in the confrontations in the streets. Our people were slaughtered. There was not a single community in our church that was not touched by this disastrous state of affairs in one way or another.
In this context the church confessed her belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, and accepted the costly grace of discipleship in a new commitment to unity, reconciliation and justice. It was also a call to a new obedience: not just unity, but the foundationality of it; that we were obligated to “give ourselves willingly and joyfully to one another.” Not just reconciliation, but its inescapability: the truth that for Christians, reconciliation is not an option among other options, where we weigh the risks, consider the probabilities for success or failure, and then, with cautious optimism feel free to choose the path more feasible and manageable; it is an obligation, a calling, a ministry entrusted to us by God in Jesus Christ.
Belhar is a call to justice as at the heart of discipleship. That God (the God of Jesus of Nazareth, not the false god that blesses slavery, apartheid, genocide, exclusion, and oppression), is a God of Justice, and that God calls the church (that is, those of us who call upon the name of Jesus and seek to follow him as his disciples), to follow God in this. That the church must therefore stand by all people in any form of suffering and need, (no excuses, exceptions, or compromises), which means that the church must witness against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. That the church as the possession of God, (not the possession of the privileged and powerful, the strong and the loud-mouthed, the racially exclusive, the arrogant and the self-satisfied) should stand where God stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged.
In our Synod that day, the elder who prayed after our acceptance of Belhar, prayed that we may become a church committed to walk with God. We might not have known exactly what that walk meant or where it would take us, but today we know a little better:
Walking with God is learning to read the heart of God, to hear the voice of God in the cries of the victims of our ferocious and destructive sinfulness, and in so doing to understand what Yahweh requires. And that cannot be done but in utter humility before God and before the ones we have hurt and damaged through our arrogance, greed, injustice and love of violence.
It is walking with God through Egypt, seeing and knowing both the oppressive, heartless might of the Pharaoh and the pain and suffering of God’s people. (Ex.3:7) It is standing in the midst of the slaves, counting the blows, bending under the weight, feeling the pain. It is understanding the power of the Pharaoh and the mercilessness of his slave drivers, and it is ‘to come down’ to rescue, to liberate, to end the violence and the suffering. Walking humbly with God is walking from the brick-making yards through the palace gates to the throne, telling the Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’ It is breaking down the wall of resistance between the will of the Pharaoh and the longing of the people, between the power of the Pharaoh and the cry for justice. It is acknowledging the difference between making bricks for the Pharaoh and breaking down the walls of hatred, enmity, and exclusion.
Walking with God is walking with Jesus, restoring life to the bodies of the abused, making the wounded whole, healing the sick, touching the untouchables and nullifying the power of the Untouchables; empowering women to their rightful place, weeping with those who mourn, releasing the life-giving power of God’s love, challenging and confronting the powerful on the doing of justice and mercy, in their temples and their palaces, giving notice that the reign of God has come.
Walking with God is to stand where God stands, to fight for whom God fights: the poor, the weak, the defenseless. It is to have the courage to know that trepidation before the might of the powerful is overturned by the fear of the Lord and the love of Christ. It is to understand, unequivocally and with a clarity that is both humbling and liberating, that justice is what Yahweh requires.
Walking humbly with God means being humbled by what we see, by what we are doing to others, by our capacity for harm and destruction in what we are wreaking upon God’s creation. Walking with God is learning to let the Holy Spirit have her way, to let us be astounded by what we can do in God’s name, for Jesus is Lord.
Allan Aubrey Boesak
Application season for the 2017-18 Young Adult Volunteer year begins October 1st! Spread the word to young adults you know who would benefit from a transformational year of service and follow the YAV program on social media @yavprogram. For further questions, please contact Blake Collins (email@example.com). Thanks for your help and continuing to invest in young adults in the church!
Be sure to mark your calendars and share these dates with others in your mid council. All of these events will be in Louisville.
Moderators Conference: October 28–30.
Association of Mid Council Leaders (AMCL) and Association of Stated Clerks (ASC): October 28–30. (If you need more information about these organizations or would like to join, please contact Jeff Hutcheson in San Francisco about AMCL and Doska Ross in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii about the ASC.)
Stated Clerk’s Polity Conference: October 30–31. This conference will end the evening of October 31.
Also PLEASE TAKE NOTE. If you have attended the Polity Conference before then you know that there is a price break for the first two people from a mid council who attend. In the past, this was assumed to be the stated clerk and the executive/general presbyter. With all of the changes in the way presbyteries are organized, there were some questions about this last year. This summer all mid council stated clerks will receive a request to let the Office of the General Assembly know who will be the two people designated to receive this invitation.
New Stated Clerk Orientation: October 26-28. For more information or to register, please contact Diane Minter (firstname.lastname@example.org).