Monday, July 12, 2010

My Time in the Exhibit Hall and Connecting

As I was in Minneapolis, I kept thinking I should be blogging ... but the time would get away from me, and I kept meeting and seeing new people to connect with.  I am not a polity-wonk or GA junkie, but I love spending time in the Exhibit Hall.  I spent almost a full two days just hanging out there, running into people I knew from other presbyteries, GA staff, etc.  And I would sit and have long conversations with a number of folk ...

This year I spent a lot of time at the PCUSA Church Growth booth, connecting with Philip Lotspeitch and Ray Jones.  We shared what was new in our presbytery and what was happening around the country ... nothing much new to share with you, though I am conversing with Philip about doing a national NCD conference here in Houston sometime next year.

Mission Insite had a booth in the Exhibit Hall and I spent one afternoon catching up with Peter and Chuck about the newest innovations being offered our congregations through this demographic tool.  In case you aren't aware, our presbytery was one of the first to sign on with a contract to Mission Insite ... if you want demographic information on your community this is the place to go.  All the information you need to sign on is on our website. The great news is that soon every congregation will be able to plot their congregation members on the interactive map and have a visual representation of where their members live.  If you'd like to get your congregation plotted, just drop me an email and I'll get you started. 

Mary Marcotte and I spent one afternoon being introduced to a new assessment program for congregations facing an indefinite future.  It's called New Beginnings.  At first blush, it seems very comprehensive, solid, and intentional.  We both volunteered to be trained as consultants/assessors for other presbyteries as we discern its usefulness with our own presbytery and the congregations here as then imagine different possible scenarios for their future.

Having heard Phyllis Tickle speak to the middle governing body representatives, I was intrigued by the challenges virtual worlds were facing the church.  In passing she mentioned a facebook friend of mine, Neal Locke, and his venture at starting a PCUSA congregation online in Second Life.  First Presbyterian Church of Second Life has been meeting regularly for a little more than eight months now.  I spent a couple of hours one afternoon picking Neal's brain about the challenges and realities of new church development in a virtual world.  The avatars who worship on Sunday evenings all represent a Real Life human being, many of whom are meeting Jesus and developing life-changing relationships online through this ministry.  Call or email me if you want to chat more about this ... it's absolutely fascinating!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Last Night in Minneapolis

As we close out the General Assembly, there are new groups at the convention center. As I walked into tonight's proceedings, the man walking near me said, "They don't look like Presbyterians." And he is right. There are now a bunch of Yu-gi-oh players here - mostly older teens, as well as a triathlete convention. As I look at the Yu-gi-oh players, I wonder if they attend church anywhere, as they are the demographic that we are missing in the congregation that I serve. Yet, if they were to walk in, I wonder how open and inviting my congregation would be.

That is one of the struggles for many congregations. For as much energy as the Young Adult Advisory Delegates give to the GA, I wonder how many congregations actually have people in that demographic to serve (17-26). Our two (brothers) are attending the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, coming up in July. But they are the two high schoolers that we have. How do we find a balance between the traditions and music that the older generations prefer and what appeals to the younger generation, especially when one has 50 or so in worship?

That continues to be a struggle, and I imagine that I am not the only one who pastors a congregation with these issues. I so wish we could finally get past the "sex" stuff, but I fear that it will mean that many of my pastor friends might be moving on - and many friends in other congregations will follow.

Yes, worship wars continue ... but do they mask the underlying issues that we really don't want to talk about? Lord, do we need to start having Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments in the church? How do we attract new life in our congregations today? Who are the kids in our 'hood? And how do we engage them?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Fair and Fluid GA – Mike Cole

As I prepare to leave to drive home to Houston and reflect on this GA, two words come to mind: fair and fluid. As this GA worked through a myriad of issues and overtures, it has sought to be fair to all concerned. That doesn’t mean that I agree with every action or that every action of the GA is balanced the way I’d like to see, but it does mean that the commissioners tried their best to take all perspectives into consideration in making decisions. Yes, we’ll have another vote on G 6.0106b but the GA vote was fairly close. No, the GA didn’t re-define marriage, but they did commend two study papers representing very different perspectives to the church. No, the GA didn’t refuse the report from the Middle East Study Committee, but they did significantly improve it to make relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters less tense. Yes, the GA voted to denounce Caterpillar, but they didn’t vote to divest. Yes, GA voted to move forward with translation corrections in the Heidelberg Catechism, but they do so in consultation with other Reformed bodies who are also working on a more accurate translation. Yes, GA approved sending the new Form of Government to the presbyteries for a vote, but they did address many of the concerns raised during the period of study. Yes, the GA did approve establishing a commission for Middle Governing Bodies, but they made sure that the commission would be working in response to initiatives from middle governing bodies rather than initiating actions themselves.

This was also a GA that desired to be fluid and flexible. The new Form of Government, the Commission on Middle Governing Bodies, the study papers on Christian marriage and civil union all point to a GA that wants the denomination to be more nimble and adaptable to our rapidly changing context. I see these are positive actions which will enable us to become more missional and transformational in structural ways. There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but the actions of the GA give us a framework for doing God’s work together.

Early Departure and Final Thoughts

Some of us are having to leave MN before GA adjourns tomorrow; the commissioners, however, are still hard at work and this will be another exhausting day for them. Please pray them a gracious measure of energy and discernment.

As I leave, I want to share a word of appreciation for the beauty of the churches in downtown Minneapolis! They are beautiful old buildings, of various stone, and their proximity to the Convention Center provided us with images of strength and grace, wherever we walked! To the Lutherans who welcomed us with banners and the other congregations who prayed for us as we met, we give thanks to God!

As for the congregation of Westminster Presbyterian Church, a block from the Convention Center, may they soon have a time of rest and renewal! We praise God for their warm and engaging hospitality! This church flung wide its doors to provide space for meetings, for meals, for prayer, and for renewal through daily offerings of music to entertain, and to soothe troubled souls. I was only able to attend one lunchtime concert -- a duo of Celtic harp and Irish whistles. What a treat for all who were there.

I didn't get to see the statue of Mary Tyler Moore (i.e., character Mary Richards of that old sit-com), but I can attest that Minneapolis IS a city where one feels like throwing a hat in the air, smiling and dancing a bit!

Mike Cole and our commissioners will close out this blog as the GA winds down today and adjourns tomorrow morning with worship. Let me remind all who read this that the presbytery is holding a special called meeting on Sunday, July 18 (3-6pm @ Pinecrest PC) to hear the report of the GA Commissioners, and to engage in a time of conversation together. I hope to see you there! (dkp)

GA Approves a significantly revised report from the Middle East Study Committee – Mike Cole

The GA approved a report from the Middle East Study Committee by a vote of 82% to 17%, after major revisions were made to the report during the committee consideration. The most egregious and unfair portions of the report were removed during the committee meeting, creating a monitoring committee which would solicit four pro-Israeli and four pro-Palestinian narratives of approximately equal length and scholarship to be included in the report. This action also commends “The Kairos Palestine Document” written by Palestinian Christian leaders for study but not endorsement. The GA does endorse the document’s emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy and reconciliation.

GA votes not to Divest but to Denounce Caterpillar - Mike Cole

On Friday morning, the GA voted 66% to 33% not to divest but to denounce Caterpillar. This action will keep our denomination in conversation with the corporate leadership of Caterpillar.

GA refuses to reconsider Thursday night's action on civil union and Christian Marriage - Mike Cole

The GA voted 60% to 40% NOT to reconsider the action taken on Thursday night including the majority and minority reports on civil union and Christian marriage as a study document for the church. Thursday night's action also answered all the overtures previously sent to GA on issues of civil union and Christian marriage.