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After Words

Being a highly personal account of the April 2008 Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting by the Rev. Dr. Mary Lee Talbot.

We gathered in the nether regions of the Hicks Chapel at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary on a perfect spring day to try to do the Lord’s work.  Moderator Kears Pollock brought us to order and opened the meeting with prayer. Stated Clerk Jay Lewis assured us we had a quorum and so we proceeded to worship God.

Acting Pastor to Presbytery Doug Portz preached. “As pastors, we have good days and bad days.  A bad day is when the church votes to make your day off Sunday or the youth director calls and asks if the church has liability insurance.  But it is a really bad day when, as a pastor, you have to admit to yourself that you don’t know what you are doing. When you feel you have no vision, no sense of direction, you say to yourself I’m busy but how do I lead the people of God?” 

After telling about a pastor that he counseled for a year who was asking these questions, Portz asked, “What an awesome calling we have and it gets more daunting everyday. What do we do – reinvent ourselves, borrow from secular culture?  We have a crisis of leadership. Our pastors are being taught all kinds of leadership models – therapeutic, enabling, bureaucratic, CEO style.  We have a crisis similar to Samuel’s with the people of Israel, the people wanted safety and stability and their answer to their fears was a king.  Give us a leader who will give us what we want, the people begged.  And God said give them what they want, even if they will regret it.”

“Scripture calls for spiritual leadership.  Henry Blackaby says this is ‘moving people onto God’s agenda,’ where God wants them to be, to seek God’s will and plan. We fool ourselves that we have to come up with the vision.  We have one: they kingdom come, thy will be done.  Jesus said I am here to please the One who sent me.”

Rev. Portz said at age 26 he was a pastor in search of a style. “And I did the rookie pastor thing and went away on study leave and came back and tried to imitate everyone I had just studied with.  Spiritual leadership also means we have to go deep to find out why God has called us to a particular time and place. God has not just called us to an office or session or pulpit, god has called us to lead.  I am excited about the big plan that God has for Pittsburgh Presbytery and when we seek after the heart of God we have energy, passion and meaning.”

The Hunger offering, which raised $1586.51, will go to a new program called Produce to People. Sponsored by the Community Food Bank of Allegheny County, it will provide fresh produce to 300-600 community residents.  One of the distribution sites will be the Pittsburgh Project on the North Side and four congregations have already volunteered to help distribute the food.  Call the Rev. Karen Battle at the presbytery office if you would like to help with food distribution.

The Revs. Rose Niles and Ellie Johns were seated as corresponding members.  They made a presentation later on the Theological Education Fund.  

The Rev. Dr. William Carl, president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, welcomed us and let us know that the seminary continues to increase its enrollment, especially from outside its traditional recruiting area.  He invited members of the community to a series of breakfasts at the Seminary to find out what is going on.

The Rev. Don Ewing took over the moderator’s job and Elder Carol Hunley moved the docket and consent agenda.  There was no new business.

By a vote of 112 to 95 we sent the overture on Universal Health Care Reform to the General Assembly.

In the Council report, presented by Elder Hunley, the Rev. Dr. Jermaine McKinley was nominated and accepted as a substitute for the Rev. Carmen Cox Harwell to the General Assembly.  Rev. Harwell needed to withdraw for family reasons.  We voted to let Dormont Presbyterian church sell its manse. 

The Rev. Mike Hoyt, chair of the search committee for the interim pastor to presbytery, presented a history of the committee’s work and then nominated the Rev. Robert Anderson.  We voted to accept him and Bob will start on June 15.  Bob teaches the interim ministry course at the Seminary and has been an interim executive presbyter. We later approved his terms of call.

A Search committee for the Permanent Pastor to Presbytery was named.  It includes ministers David Carver, Jean Henderson, Ted Martin, Carol Divens Roth and DeNeice Welch.  Elders include Gary Gallo, Franck Hancock, Cathy Nelson and Mary Evans. (The by-laws of presbytery call for nine members).

We passed the overture on Racism, Classicism and Justice that came to the Presbytery in December.  The overture was reworked by members of the African –American Clergy Caucus and members of Council.  It passed 113 to 98.

Elder Kears Pollock returned to the moderator’s position.

Stated Clerk Jay Lewis reported on the decision of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission on the matter of Bush, et.al. vs. Pittsburgh Presbytery.  This action began when the presbytery passed a statement on ordination standards in this presbytery.  The Rev. Randy Bush and others objected to the statement and filed a complaint.  There were three remarks that Stated Clerk Lewis noted. First, there are no departures from the fidelity and chastity standard.  Second, candidates must be examined on these standards individually.  Third, that to paraphrase or restate the Book of Order is confusing and unnecessary.  The full opinion is available on the Presbytery and the GA websites.

We elected Dr. Robert Gagnon (Freedom of Conscience) Ciewen King Smith and Steve Jordan (Heidelberg Confession) and elder Hal Sanders (Health Care) as Overture advocates to the 2008 General Assembly.

The Rev. Eric Dennis reported on the request of the Sheraden Community Church Administrative Commission to sell the building to another church body.  The request was voted in the affirmative.

The Rev. Steve Lytch, moderator of the Administrative Commission on Memorial Park church, presented the report of the commission.  The presbytery was not allowed to amend the agreement and it voted 132-82-5 on the settlement agreement and by voice vote dismissed the congregation to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  Council is working on a time for presbytery to have a forum on the “crisis in the presbytery and how we might respond to it.”

On a motion from the Rev. John Lolla, the presbytery extended it thanks to the Rev. Jay Lewis, the Rev. Dr. Doug Portz, Elder Kears Pollock, the Administrative Commission and the Council Negotiating Team for the work they did on getting a final agreement.

In the report of the Acting Pastor to Presbytery, Dr. Portz reiterated the desire of presbytery to have convocation to understand the issue we discussed around the Memorial Park decision and to understand what is at stake.

Pittsburgh Presbytery has entered into an agreement with seven other presbyteries to offer the “First Call Program.”  There will be monthly meetings within the presbytery and three regional meetings during the year.

There will be a pastor’s retreat on May 19-20 on a model of friendship led by the Rev. David Carver.  June 6 is Pittsburgh Presbytery Day at the Pirates.

The Rev. Don Dawson, chair of the new church development ministry team, introduced Chu Toan Thang, pastor of the Pittsburgh Vietnamese Presbyterian Fellowship.  The group started in December 2007 and has 62 members and at least 35 in attendance.  They are using one-on-one evangelism, relationship ministry and discipleship training to grow.  Pastor Toan has set a goal of three years for them to become a chartered congregation.

The Rev. B.J. Woodworth reported on the ministry at the Open Door.  They had their fourth annual meditations on the Stations of the Cross at the abandoned PNC branch office in East Liberty.  Each year the congregation has invited artists to contribute a piece of art about one of the 12 Stations of the Cross.  (I went this year and it was a fantastic show.) They have 70 covenant members who have made vows to be part of the missional practices of the church. They are involved in a soccer program with other churches and are reaching 80-90 kids. The Rev. John Creasy talked about the East End Blitz that helped rehabilitate houses last summer.  It has become Open hands ministry.  Michael Stanton, a candidate under care of this presbytery, is in charge. They are also beginning an urban farming initiative in Garfield and are already thinking about planting another church.

The Rev. Jeff Eddings from the Hotel Metal Bridge Faith Community brought us up to date with their journey.  After losing the building they had been using the last four  years, the community accepted the invitation of the Presbytery Church of Mount Washington to use space their while they searched for a new home.  They found new space in an old bar (Taco Loco) and they will use this new space as their ‘missional lunching pad.”  Rev. Eddings noted that people in the neighborhood are happy that the congregation is staying on the South Side.

Elders Betty Angelini and Becky Little reported on news from Crestfield Camp.  The camp is celebrating its 60th birthday this year.  They will have seven weeks of camp starting on June and their theme this year is “Sacred Space: La Frontera.”  There will be Day Camp at 15 churches this summer.  There will be three retreats in May: Celtic Spirituality with Rebecca Cole-Turner; Youth Leadership with Ted Martin and the pastor’s retreat with Dave Carver.  Angelini announced the winners of the camp awards for 2007. The coveted Marshmallow Award for the church that sends the most number of campers went to Olivet.  East Liberty and Valley View earned the Graham Cracker Award and the Hershey Chocolate Award went to Bull Creek and Glenshaw.

Elder Nancy Cochran talked about the work of CityReachers and the campaign to distribute 400,000 Bibles to the city of Pittsburgh on September 9.  The Bibles will cost $2.50 a piece and churches who donate $2.50 for each member on their rolls will be listed as a sponsor on the packet.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will be a partner in the distribution effort.

The Revs. Ellie Johns and Rose Niles presented awards to churches in the Presbytery who have donated to the Theological Education Fund.  For the past 19 years, congregations have been challenged to donate 1% of their local operating budget to the fund to help our theological seminaries.  A total of 85 congregations in Pittsburgh Presbytery have contributed in that time but the following were given an award. 

Bellevue – 16 years
Bethel – 8 years
Bull Creek – 1 year
Crossroads, Monroeville – 17 years
Ken Mawr – 13 years
Northmont – 16 years
Pleasant Hills – 1 year
Shadyside – 18 years
Sharon – 13 years

The nominating committee put forward the Rev. James Tinnemeyer for the Response Team and the Rev. Dr. Doug Portz for the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Foundation.

The Rev. Lance Chapman presented four people to move from inquirer to candidate.  These included Karla Klockenteger-Shaw via telephone call to Southern California, Michael Stanton, Derrick Weston and Dana Wilmot.  Matthew Haberman completed his trial of ordination and will be ordained.

Elder Earle Wooding brought a motion from the Committee on Ministry to dismiss the Administrative Commission at Dormont.

There were a total of 138 minister and 126 elders and 75 churches were represented by one elder.  There were 30 visitors.

Moderator Kears Pollock gave the resolution of thanks and closed the meeting in prayer.

And so ended another day.  The next meeting is June 5 at 1:00 PM at East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Mary Lee Talbot, Ph. D.

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