I served on the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee, which dealt with the question of divestment from fossil fuels. Many Presbyterians believe faithfulness in our stewardship of creation requires this step. Our presbytery concurred in an overture to this effect. At the same time there were commissioners from Texas, for example, who expressed concern that many members of their congregations would feel personally blamed if the Assembly took such measures. More than one of these presbyteries is already reeling because of steep membership losses in recent years. Another member of the committee was herself the spouse of a coal miner. The committee did recommend divestment, though the Assembly adopted the committee's minority report, which I signed, calling for limited divestment and targeted reinvestment in alternatives to fossil fuels.
When the Assembly resumed plenary sessions, hearing and acting on committee reports, the pace was grueling, with business on the longest day lasting from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Interesting as so much of the business was, it grew to be too much.
When I returned to Statesville and to our church office, I felt as if I had stepped from one world into another. I faced immediate pastoral concerns, something of a backlog from my time away, and we were dealing with details and inconveniences of major renovation of parts of our physical plant. What was the connection between these concerns and the life of the larger church, with its highlighting change, increasing diversity, A Thousand and One Worshiping Communities, a new way forward - under the impact of losses in membership and resources - and Vision 2020? Indeed, during the Assembly itself I had sometimes wondered about the connection between these matters and congregational life in places where we still feel challenges in recruiting volunteer leaders - elders, teachers, youth advisors, and mission volunteers - as well as paying bills and keeping the doors open. I will say outgoing moderator Heath Rada stressed the importance of our church’s congregations, the need to support them and provide resources for them, the locus of mission on the ground.
Our stated Session meeting early that very week helped me think further about these things: one of our elders, Sloan Goforth, unprompted, had planned a devotion on the Belhar Confession. David Parker, an elder from our congregation who, endorsed by Salem Presbytery, had stood as a candidate for co-moderator of the Assembly, shared something of his experience. We found deeper interest in our experience than I might have anticipated. I realized many commissioners in one way or another must have been experiencing the same thing, trying to share the experience and to bridge whatever distance there is between the highest and lowest councils of our church. We plan to continue sharing the experience as an adult track of our Vacation Bible School next week.
What's worth sharing?
- It's worth sharing that visionary leaders are finding new ways of being the church and calling people to become disciples of Jesus Christ (I say this from my perspective as pastor in a church where traditional worship still commands loyalty).
- It's worth sharing that, thanks to mission connections around the world, we are in partnership with more than four hundred evangelical congregations in Egypt. We heard of Presbyterian churches in such places as Iran, Iraq, and Syria, where a church has recently been struck by a missile but continues its worship and witness.
- It's worth sharing that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is blessed with amazing and gifted leadership. Besides those I've named above, let me offer what seemed a random encounter. With presbytery delegations seated alphabetically, Salem was next to Seattle. The commissioner on my immediate left, whom I had never met before, was a Microsoft corporate lawyer who had completed an M. Div. with Fuller Seminary, having just left his longtime employer to finish CPE before he seeks a call. He chaired the Way Forward Committee, which presented important proposals the Assembly adopted. I share this example not just because there's great leadership elsewhere but because we have gifts and talents to share from First Presbyterian Church of Statesville and from all the congregations in Salem Presbytery. As moderator of Salem Presbytery I encourage pastors and other leaders to identify prospects who might help lead and serve in the larger church; as a pastor I intend for my part to do the same.
- Steve Scott, Pastor, First Presbyterian, Statesville, NC