Reflections

Day 100: Encountering Jesus on the Journey

October 8, 2012

           It has been a great 100 days. It is hard to believe how fast time has past when you’re having a good time.  I remain humbled and ever grateful to the Lord our God for this calling to serve the PC(USA) in the office of General Assembly Moderator, an office which I understand to be an extension of Christ’s call upon my life as a disciple of Jesus, a pastor, and a doctor of the Church.

            I wish to reflect on the exhilaration of this journey and share with you some of the initiatives that are underway.  Putting in place the steps and processes  of many of the initiatives that will unfold this Fall and into the coming two years took prayerful intentionality, strategic proactivity, creative collaboration, and dogged determination  hours within my election on June 30th.

            I pen this reflection on World Communion Sunday, on a return flight home from an exhilarating time with 200 world mission partners, personnel, co-workers, theologians, and  national staff for the Dallas II World Mission Consultation; more on that later.

            For those of you interested in the calendar synopsis, here’s how the last 100 days looked like:

TRAVELS

July:      

Presbyterian Women Triennial Churchwide Gathering @ Orlando, FL
House Fellowship Gathering of the United Presbyterian Church, Plainfield, NJ

August: 

Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

  • Immanuel Presbyterian Church @ Montgomery, AL
  • Presbytery mtg @ First Presbyterian Church, Selma, AL

Meeting with Synods executives @ Albuquerque, NM and leaders of Presbytery of Santa Fe

Meetings with staff at the Presbyterian Center @ Louisville, KY
and Presbyterian Foundation @ Fayetteville, IN

September: 

Presbytery of Tres Rios @ El Paso, TX

    • Project Vida @ El Paso, TX
    • Casa de Amiga @ Juarez, Mexico
    • Pasos de Fe @ Juarez, Mexico
    •  Ordination of the Rev. Ira Neal Locke @ First Pres, El Paso

Presbyterian Mission Agency Board @ Louisville, KY

Centennary of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Korea and the
Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea @ Seoul, South Korea – offered greetings
to both

  • Preached at the Hong Kwang Presbyterian Church, Seoul
  • Preached at the Myung Sung Presbyterian Church, Seoul

Preached at the 115th Anniversary of the Westminster Presbyterian Church @ Trenton, NJ, and celebrated commissioning of 2012-2013 residents of the Bethany House of Spirituality and ministry of Urban Mission

Cabinet

October:    

Private meeting with Dr. Condoleeza Rice @ Stanford, CA on ecumenical diplomacy

Address and open session with executives and stated clerks at

Fall Polity Conference @ Louisville, KY

Dallas II World Mission Consultation @ Dallas, TX

Address to National Korean Presbyterian Pastors Conference @ Somerset, NJ

NON-TRAVEL ACTIVITIES

Setting up “Unity with Difference” preparatory talks between conservative and progressive leaders

Consultative talks on establishing two Moderator Colloquia on a Liturgical-Missional Ecclesiology

Consultative talks on convening 2nd Moderator’s Convocation for Asian American Presbyterians

Consultations on a first-ever reunion event for the Young Adult Advisory Delegates to the 220th General Assembly

Numerous consultations on appointments for the Mid-Council Commission, Special Committee for the Belhar Confession, the Special Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies,  National Racial Ethnic Ministries Task Force, Special Committee to Review Funding for Theological Institutions

Moderatorial Work Group for a Global Initiative for Funding Theological Studies (for international students studying at PC(USA) seminaries, and exploring ways to support our seminarians and seminary faculties to do Global South/East engagements) – in partnership with Presbyterian World Mission, Presbyterian Foundation, Office of Theological Education

Moderatorial Advisory Group for Worship Planning for the 221st General Assembly (2014)

Invitations to prospective preachers for the 221st General Assembly (2014)

Consultations on Moderatorial appointments to General Assembly Nominating Committee for the 221st General Assembly (2014)

Numerous consultations with World Mission and ecumenical relations staff on international travel priorities

Recorded greetings to First Presbyterian Church, TN; Christian vocations project; Austin College; Church of Christ in Japan 62nd General Assembly

            My visit at the triennial Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women in Orlando in July gave me a deep appreciation of what I had  known about from a distance when I became involved in the national setting of the PC(USA) 16 years ago – PW is a “crown jewel” in the Church of generations of women who have and are dedicated to Christ’s mission here and around the world.  As they gave key emphasis to water,  educational, and poverty projects in Sudan and South Sudan, and engaged in Spirit-filled worship, PW was also discerning the way forward in the midst of several local PW chapters whose congregations were dismissed or in the process of being dismissed from the PC(USA).  How can lifelong friendships and relationships maintain, and, indeed, flourish when those PW chapters were in other denominations…this was a key question of that gathering.

            The Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley gathered in the deep South in the city of Selma, AL in August.  As I do with all invitations from congregations and presbyteries, I have a 60-90 minute Q&A/town hall forum to have a family-style conversation, dialogue, and receive questions from anyone about any topic. There were a small handful of folks who asked about how and why the PC(USA) would discuss and debate the reality of same-gender civil unions and marriages. I invited those participants to engage in the conversation, as God’s people in all times and in all places have always done when seeking ways forward in the midst of internal and external realities that call for faithful responses in light of the Gospel witness.  The bulk of the questions and comments concerned the future of presbyteries, what new worshipping communities meant for them, how to be faithful in ministry with declining funds, and how to remain together in the midst of our differences.

            Vice Moderator Trinidad and I had marathon meetings at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville and at the Presbyterian Foundation office in Indiana. Preaching at the Center Chapel on the occasion of the commissioning of six pastors as part of the “For Such a Time as This” initiative from the Vocations office was an event of thanksgiving for God’s provision and direction. These six were folks who responded to Christ’s call to serve in small congregations, in contexts where transformation  needs to occur as a result of changing demographics and revitalization of ministry overall.  Meetings with staff colleagues and sharing our vision as well as hearing of the various programs from the national staff reaffirmed our mutual roles of being ambassadors for Christ in/to/on behalf of the PC(USA); that is continually directing the Church to the Lord Jesus, the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and how the Gospel witness is being expressed in tangible ways such as the 1001Worshipping Communities initiative, the new Glory to God hymnal, the equipping of Young Adult volunteers, racial ethnic and women’s ministries, World Mission, and so many others.  We also have a responsibility to share the stories of what’s going on in congregations, presbyteries, and from international mission partners with national staff so that all are apprised of what is happening throughout the Church. In all this, we were grateful for the faithful partners we have in the national staff.

            We took the occasion during our visit at the Center to host a reception in the atrium specially for the custodial and security staff. For over 14 years I’ve walked into 100 Witherspoon  time and again, and always felt secure and the working environment was always clean. This was a way for me and the Vice Moderator to say thank you to these women and men, these unsung, and, for some, unseen, colleagues, who enable those who serve at the Center to do so in clean, safe settings.

            I asked the Vice Moderator to attend the joint gathering of the Fellowship of Presbyterians and Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) in Colorado Springs while I attended a meeting with Synod executives in Albuquerque. He can share more about his experience at that gathering, but let me say the following: even as I was saddened at the formation of yet another denomination, and I know many across the church had a whole range of emotions at those developments, I believe that our Christian witness prompts us to dignify differences, treat one another with love even when we disagree, reminding those of us in the PC(USA) and in ECO that while the address may have changed, we all are still in the household of God, just in different rooms, as we pray for when the walls will come tumbling down and we will discover that our unity and our belongingness in the one family has always been there, even when such unity was not experienced or obscured by division, disagreement, and difference.

            My youngest son, Andrew, accompanied me to the Presbytery of Tres Rios in El Paso, TX. Ira Neal Locke (@mstrlocke on Twitter) became the Rev. Ira Neal Locke when he was ordained and installed as designated pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of El Paso on September 9. Two things about this trip stood out. Tres Rios Presbytery is truly and faithfully engage their context of El Paso as it borders Juarez, Mexico.

            The Presbytery is involved in an ecumenical ministry called Project Vida, in El Paso.  Project Vida grew out of Project Verdad, and provides a holistic ministry of health, education, housing, and economic development assistance for low-income communities in El Paso. If you want to know what missional means, Project Vida is a 501c(3) that is missional in every sense.  Project Vida started with a grew of folks a three decades ago asking local communities, “What are your greatest need sand what can we do?”  Since that time, they have served and continue to serve thousands. The Project continues to ask that  question  to the community, “What is your greatest need and what can we do to help?” to remain in touch with the community.  Half of Project Vida’s board is composed of those who are served by this ministry so its not a top-down , big brother  ministry; it’s a ministry of, for, and by the community.  The administrative office of Project Vida showcases green technology (water reclamation system, eco-friendly building materials, soon-to-be installed solar panels), that it will soon be designated with the Platinum-level LEED status, becoming the most “green” edifice of 501c(3), non-profit organizations.

            We went into Juarez, Mexico, considered one of the most dangerous places on earth due to the extreme violence of drug cartel activity. Thousands have died, and many killings go undocumented, or when they are documented and the national government investigates, the documents conveniently go “missing,” as depicted in this vivid portrayal:

This painting is in Casa Amiga Esther Cano, a women’s shelter in the heart of Juarez. We were told that we stood in the most dangerous area in one of the most dangerous cities on earth.  The painting depicts a slain woman, who represents the thousands of women found mutilated and massacred outside the maquiladoras, the factories and facilities of transnational corporations that employ hundreds of low-wage Mexican workers. The voyeuristic eye in the upper –left corner of the painting represents the governmental authorities who saw and knew of the slayings, but did nothing to stop it.  Casa Amiga bravely assists with legal and health assistance, and provides up to 7 days of refuge in several undisclosed shelters; in some instances, they arrange for women and their children to seek asylum in other parts of Mexico, or in other countries.  The situation is so desperate that governmental authorities have labeled the female staff at the shelter, “lesbians,” accusing them of encouraging battered women  to leave their husbands.

            In the back of Casa Amiga are these murals:

These murals were made by rival youth gangs, who decided to call a temporary truce for several days. Youth are recruited as young as age 12. Several of those youth who made this beautiful art were later killed.

            The rest of the photos of this visit are here:

            https://plus.google.com/photos/108844161423642851208/albums/5786582110535571121?banner=pwa

            Pasos de Fe is a community center in a poverty-stricken area of Juarez. Several parts of Juarez have been abandoned due to the drug violence.   Pasos de Fe serves a neighborhood by providing a quiet place for children to do their after-school homework, or to do research in the computer lab. Their library has outdated books, such as encyclopedias from the 1960s and back issues of National Geographic. Pasos de Fe wishes to assist with the dental needs of the neighborhood, having received a donation of a dental chair and some rudimentary dental equipment; with no dental professional in sight, the equipment gathers dust and routine check-ups for families are a luxury, and where emergency dental care is handled at a hospital.

            Pasos de Fe has a sanctuary where they hope to have a pastor in the next 8 months and begin holding worship services.

            While church groups used to come to Pasos de Fe to assist, because of the news of the drug violence, in the last 3 years, only 1 group has come.  The leaders of Pasos de Fe wishes to let it be known that they are ready and willing to welcome any and all who wish to assist in their ministry. If you are interested, please be in touch with the president of the Border Ministries, the Rev. Dr. John Nelson, who is also pastor of the University Presbyterian Church in El Paso.

            Please pray for these communities and ministries. Please pray for Pastor Robert Mendoza Cruz, who serves “Principe de Paz” (Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church) in Juarez; his wife who is 8 months pregnant had to be admitted to the hospital.

            After Tres Rios and headed to Louisville for the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting for one day before leaving for Seoul, South Korea. The PMAB voted to begin the process of having Stony Point Conference Center in New York become an  independent, self-governing corporation. Through the very able leadership of Stony Point’s transitional co-directors, Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase, the Center is on a glidepath towards financial viability, sustainability, and, by God’s grace, durability for generations to come. This move by the PMAB enables the Center to take the necessary steps to implement an ambitious, but feasible business and governance plan that will be a win-win for the Center and for the PMAB.

            I’ve often said, as I did at the PMAB finance committee, that our conference centers are one of the jewels in the crown of the PC(USA).  Stony Point is one of those jewels. Historically a place where Presbyterian missionaries were trained and oriented before heading off to foreign missions, the Center is known for its commitment to work towarads non-violence, justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. The week of the PMA Board meeting, the world saw the graphic photos and harrowing news of the violent protests in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens,over the production of a U.S.-based film that depicted the prophet Muhammed in sacrilegous ways, it is critically important that there be communities, spaces, and places where mutual dialogue occur, where tensions can cool, and where a sense of shared community can be fostered; Stony Point is one such place and is a distinctive gift to/in/for the Church.

            Being a part of our PC(USA) delegation to Seoul, South Korea was a great delight. This was my third visit to South Korea.  Having married into a Korean family where both of my parents in-law were born in North Korea and, for my mother in-law who escaped into South Korea when she was a child, this particular visit was a special one. Preaching at one of my best friend’s congregations, the Hong Kwang Presbyterian Church in Seoul, and being welcomed by that 2000-member congregation was a visit I will never forget. Power in prayer, passionate in singing, a clear confidence in the power of the Gospel to transform lives – these were hallmarks of Hong Kwang. Preaching at the historic Myung Sung Presbyterian Church, the largest Presbyterian congregation in the world with over 80,000 members, was a humbling experience, and to which I give thanks to God for their vibrant witness in South Korea and around the world as they are a sending congregation, supporting several hundred missions and ministries around the world.  Visiting with students at the Presbyterian College and Theological Seminary  and seeing the legacy of faithful missionaries such as the late Samuel A. Moffett, Christ’s call to serve and equip women and men in every generation continues.  Offering prayer  for healing and reconciliation at the Joint Security Area chapel near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 38th parallel where North and South Koreas (formerly known as “Chosun” when the peninsula was undivided) are demarcated was a powerful experience; I have posted that prayer on my Facebook wall. Then seeing up close the actual DMZ, where soldiers from the two Koreas literally face one another, ready to pull out their pistols at a moment’s notice, separated only by a simple wooden plank, with surveillance cameras and recording devices monitoring your every movement and word – I saw the sad results of what happens when human desire to separate and divide takes root and harden.  Note that the present vibrancy of the Gospel witness in South Korea began  in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

            Some of the photos of this visit are here:

            https://plus.google.com/photos/108844161423642851208/albums/5792516155000138209?banner=pwa

            Going from Korea to the 115th anniversary of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, NJ, to also join in the commissioning of six residents of the Bethany House of Spiritualty and to join in celebrating the more than 25 years of faithful ministry of the Urban Mission Cabinet – this brought home that across the oceans, the Gospel witness continues in powerful ways that faithfully engage community contexts.

            Addressing and then hearing from presbytery executives and stated clerks at the Fall Polity Conference gave me the opportunity to share with them the two bucket lists of my tenure: the “Unity with Difference” preparatory talks, on how we can dignify our differences grounded in the already-accomplished reconciliation by the triune God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and a needed churchwide conversation on ecclesiology grounded on the worship and mission essence of the Church’s identity.  The Vice Moderator and I also used the opportunity to explore ways in having presbytery executives and stated clerks more visible in the essential advisory roles they can play at General Assemblies.   In the open conversations, we heard from presbytery execs and stated clerks the great stresses they are under in providing care, support, and leadership in challenging contexts where resources are diminished/diminishing, conditions are in flux, and in some places, where congregations have been dismissed to other denominations or ecclesial expressions or are in the process of doing so. We heard loudly and clearly the need to assess the role of General Assembly, that in the midst of the 200+ items, how can prioritization occur so that what is considered in the Assembly be those items that enrich congregational ministries. Additionally, how can discernment and decision-making occur that is not crammed in one week of meetings, but that additional time/space be provided weeks (or even a few months) before an Assembly convenes to begin to consider business items, or, at the very least, have discussions employing various technologies to connect.

            The Dallas II World Mission Consultation  brought together hundreds of mission partners, mission co-workers, mission organizations, and national staff to discern movements for Presbyterian mission for the early 21st century that accounts for the changing landscapes of our globalized world.  Strategies and values that were developed positioned Presbyterian World Mission to faithfully respond to the three Critical Global Initiatives named by mission partners:

            -The causes of poverty, particularly as it affects women and children

            -Reconciliation and peace in contexts of violence and war

            -Proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ

The process and substance were of an Open Space model that enabled fluid participation and contribution. It was appropros that the culmination of the consultation occurred on World Communion Sunday, as we give thanks to God for the common faith and common mission which we share.  The Consultation rightly recognized that the mission paradigm that the operative paradigm of a bygone era focused on geographical expansion that often elided the distinctiveness of particular cultural identities.  With migration and globalization in multi-dimensional, pluralistic landscapes, what is called for is a missionary posture that combines confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a humility to receive the lives of all that we meet.

            In this journey over the last 100 days since my election to serve Christ in this way, I go back to the accout of Luke 24 where Jesus met those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He then joins them and the other disciples for a meal. The Gospel tells us that when he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, “then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

When Jesus meets us, dines with us, nourishes us, gathers us, and sends us to testify in words and in works what we have witnessed and heard. I am humbled and truly grateful in every encounter where I have seen and heard our Risen Lord among us. As I sit down and break bread with communities across the country and around the world, I see the face and life of Jesus Christ.

            May each day and every moment be times for you to engage in what  writer Barbara Brown Taylor aptly describes, to be “detectives of the divine.”  Praise be to God indeed.


August 8, 2012

Water Thicker than Blood:
On The Lord’s Prayer

 After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.

                                                                                                 -Jesus Christ, Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)

            You might be like me, or I might be like you. My mother and my maternal grandmother taught me at the earliest time I can remember the King James version of our Lord’s Prayer.  There’s something enduring about the KJV English, the majestic eloquence that lends to an easily memorizable form. I have vivid memories of the joint adult and kids’ choir of our Filipino American congregation as me, my cousins, parents, aunts and uncles belted out our best voices to sing “The Lord’s Prayer” with gusto.

            Ours sons heard the Lord’s Prayer, KJV, as infants. Every night, wherever we traveled, or wherever I traveled, we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  We took up the challenge that my friend Bill Carl III, president of Pittsburgh Seminary, shared in his book The Lord’s Prayer for Today. As Bill taught his children the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, we as a family memorized the Prayer in Greek. By age 5 and 4, respectively, Daniel and Andrew could pray in Greek. We then added the Latin and Spanish versions to their memory.

            So, last summer, as part of my sabbatical, we traveled to Europe and visited this beautiful cathedral in the city of Reims, France:

Reims Cathedral

We joined 400 liturgical scholars from around the world, and the bishop of Reims for a prayer service.  Here we are sitting in the chancel area inside the cathedral:

Prayer service in Reims Cathedral

Mind you, Daniel and Andrew were the youngest in this group, and our family brought the 0.01% of racial ethnic diversity in the crowd. During the course of the prayer liturgy which was conducted in Latin, the presiding bishop invited the assembly to join him in praying….guess what? The Lord’s Prayer. And guess what lingua franca?  Yep, you guessed right. In Latin.

            As Daniel and Andrew heard the first words “Pater noster. . “ (Our Father. . .”), their eyes widened. Then the prayer continued. “Pater nater qui est in coelis/Sanctificetur nomen tuum/. .” And on and on it went. There were my two boys, praying along the others, the prayer of the family of God.  If some Orthodox metropolitans were present and prayed in Greek, my sons would know how to accompany them as well.

            Following the prayer, we debriefed in that chancel, in a whisper as the bishop continued the service, and my sons realized the years they had been learning the Prayer and the number of nights we learned together the Latin version, here they were, in another country, and joining strangers for the family.  They knew they were part of a family larger than themselves, larger than our family unit. Now, they felt it and saw it before their eyes.

            They’ve heard this prayer every Sunday at Middlesex Presbyterian Church in our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, at baptisms. Almost every children’s sermon at our congregation engages the children with the sacraments, to drive home the point that, indeed, water is, indeed, thicker than blood.

            When we are welcomed into the family of God in baptism and the covenant community prays the Lord’s Prayer, the Holy Spirit is joining us to Jesus Christ and to the baptized community in all times and in all places. Always. The Holy Spirit who transcends time and space, and who is in time and space, mysteriously, truly, and really unites us to one another and to the triune God. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is our family prayer, “Our Father in heaven.”

            Note:  Who is the One who is praying with us?  Jesus taught and teaches His disciples.  Our Lord is praying with us, lifting us, joining with us to pray. Jesus prays to the Father, as we, members of God’s family, are praying with our Lord, our Savior, our Brother.

            Sisters and brothers, receive this eloquent observation from the late Karl Barth, as he described the community praying the Lord’s Prayer in baptism:

As the baptising community and those whom it baptises make this prayer together, they look into their future after baptism, very conscious that it will all be a dark and cloudy future. They know the hazards of the way they will tread. They realise that they are no match for them. But the very act which they venture in obedience to God’s command, the act of baptism as such, is the overcoming of all worry about this future and hence the act of the most calm, assured and cheerful hope in which they take this first step of the Christian life, just because and to the degree that it is prayer directed to the God who waits for them there in the person of Jesus Christ, and who has already come to them from thence in His person.”

                                 (Church Dogmatics, IV.4, pp. 209-10, emphasis is mine)

Whenever we pray our Lord’s Prayer, we re-covenant with one another what we promise to one another since we prayed that prayer for the first time. We know our journey of faith will, indeed, be hazardous, cloudy, dark, and uncertain. We re-covenant that even with our visible and felt divisions, because Jesus Christ is the One who prays with us, stands beside us as we pray, it is He who makes true what we utter on our lips and in our hearts, “OUR Father” (Lat. Pater noster; Gr.  Πάτερ ἡμῶν; Sp. Padre Nuestro)

But even when we re-covenant, or when we fail to live up to what we prayed, the basis of our covenanting and the basis of our family unity, is the same basis that allows us to say truthfully, “Our Father.”  The basis, the source, the origin, the keeper of the covenant is Jesus the Christ.

It is He who covenants with us, and holds us fast to Himself and to one another and to “Our Father” through the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God!


July 17, 2012

ON UNITY WITH DIFFERENCE


I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

                                    -St. Paul the Apostle, Ephesians 4:1-5 (NRSV)

The 220th General Assembly has adjourned. The votes have been tallied, the plenary floor debates are completed.  We are still, and have been, and forever will be, a divided Church. But, we are still, and have been and forever will be, a united Church.  Huh, you ask? How can we both be a divided Church and a united Church, at the same time.

In the apostolic letter to the church at Ephesus, as with all of his letters, St. Paul premises  his exhortations in the reality that the covenantal God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob, Esther and Ruth, who is fully and finally revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and whose revelation to us of this reality is guaranteed in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is one: one God, one Father of all, one Lord, one Spirit.

Notwithstanding the visibility of our divisions through the color bar graphs of the vote tallies, the numerous substitute motions and minority reports, and the divergence of perspectives expressed in our debates, such visible expressions of difference does not, in any way, diminish the unity which is already ours in the triune God.  Only the triune God can be completely uniform and unanimous; that is the very nature of the triunity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is on the basis of that indissoluble unity of the triunity of God that our unity is based. Only the triunity of God can bring about visible unity and visible reconciliation when the differences we hold eclipse the oneness we already have been given by God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The other day, I was richly blessed by a visit with my “arzt mutter” (doctor mother), my academic advisor during my Ph.D. studies, Dr. Heather Murray Elkins of the Drew Theological School where she serves as professor of worship, liturgy, and the arts.  I am always blessed in her company, and this was a specially good time to fellowship following my election as Moderator. I shared with her how I wish to facilitate churchwide conversations on “unity with difference.” True to our love for the Church’s liturgy, she shared with me this liturgical piece:

Heather Elkins’ Communion Set from
Ewha University

 

She obtained these four elements while teaching at the premier women’s school in South Korea, Ewha University, during the tragic September 11, 2001. She noticed these pieces in the back of an art room at the university and she asked the professor about it.  The professor sold it to Dr. Elkins with one condition: she had to promise to tell the story of the pieces and their aim.  The egg-shaped container holds the communion elements, but is in the shape of a stone and an egg: a stone akin to that which blocked the entrance of Jesus Christ’s tomb to remind us of death; an egg because from an egg emerges new life, new hope, and new possibilities.  The stone pillar with the ancient Chi Rho symbol designating Christos or Jesus Christ is inscribed on a fragment from the former Berlin Wall that demarcated West and East Germany. Both the round platen (bread plate) and the round cup designate the Eastern sense of the completeness of an offering/gift as depicted here:

When the cup is offered, as is the Eastern sense of hospitality and welcome extended to a neighbor and friend, the cup placed atop the pillar means: “East meets West” or “North meets South” expressing the hope that North and South Korea will be reconciled into one peninsula.

Professor Elkins shared this story of the hopes for reconciliation in preparation for my upcoming moderatorial trip to Seoul in September as part of a PC(U.S.A.) delegation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, and to offer the word of hope for reconciliation in that country.

But Professor Elkins and I also shared and prayed over this story for my hope during these next two  years as Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  How can we live into a vision for the Church, not one where the human tendency is to haul into Church courts those with whom we disagree or to seek endless legislation as if rules and regulations will resolve our tensions, but rather a vision where we live together as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) with the very differences we find so insurmountable to overcome, or the very differences we find so grating upon our theological and ecclesial sensibilities?  Can we become a Church community where our differences are dignified, where those differences become God-given opportunities for loving our neighbor, taking up our cross, serving the least of these, and meeting those whom we perceive as our enemies and opponents at the Lord’s Table, praying the Lord’s Prayer, singing praises to our one Lord, and discovering the refreshing reality that we have been and always will be one because of the God who is One in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.