U-C: What I See

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Good Presbyterianism from Las Vegas

Brothers and Sisters,

Just a quick note about a great experience I had two weeks ago.

I was invited to Las Vegas by a committee made up of folks from each of the churches there. The name of the committee was the "General Assembly Action Protest Committee," and their stated goal was to explore what might be done in response to some of the actions taken by the 216th General Assembly last year in Richmond. Specifically, they were concerned about some of the language in the resolution on the war in Iraq, the resolution regarding the decision to begin a process of "phased, selective divestment" of our stock from companies that are in some way supporting the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and concerns about the Presbyterian stance on abortion. Further, there were general questions about how an Assembly action gets taken, and whether our denomination too often or too easily steps over the line into furthering a political agenda. Basically, they wanted to cover all the "hot-button" issues.

Here's what I appreciated.

First, this committee started with a commitment to hear from people who were present at the Assembly and/or responsible for interpreting or implementing the Assembly's actions. That's how I ended up being invited to spend a day with them in Las Vegas. They made it clear that the purpose of the day was listening and learning, as well as sharing concerns that folks would come with.

Second, the committee had done its homework. They worked hard to educate themselves about what had taken place, and what the potential implications of the actions of the Assembly were. Then, they crafted well designed questions to get to the heart of their concerns. They shared those questions with me well before my arrival so that I would be well-prepared to respond to those things that concerned them most. Their questions were hard-hitting, but respectful and designed to elicit dialogue.

Third, they put together an agenda for a six hour series of events that would give us the appropriate forum for an in-depth discussion, and they did a great job of advertising the event. In the morning session, there were at least fifty elders, deacons, and pastors from their churches, and in the afternoon, close to one hundred and fifty Presbyterians showed up to participate.

Fourth, they crafted the agenda in a way that encouraged us to begin with what I (and we) are most excited about in the church. That part of the day was deeply grounded in scripture, and it was all about sharing our understandings about the exciting work to which God is calling our denomination.

Fifth, folks were inquisitive and respectful as opposed to combative. At the end of the day, we didn't all agree about every issue we had discussed, but we had dialogued in a way that respected our differences and sought honestly to listen to one another. If felt as if I came away with new friendships and a solid foundation to continue to learn from one another.

There's a lot to be excited about in our denomination. I'm grateful to these new friends in Las Vegas for their investment in seeking to follow Jesus and build the church.