And as Paul put it in Romans 3: 5: hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us .
Of course the words of a television show are for advancing the plot. They can shape a moment in time. But in the life of faith hope is NOT a tease. Hope provides us the means to shape reality.
General Assembly News
The first ever digital and virtual General Assembly is continuing to meet. Last Saturday they elected new co-moderators, Ruling Elder Eleona Street-Stewart and Teaching Elder Gregory Bentley. She is the Synod Executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies with offices in Minneapolis and he is the pastor of the Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. The Assembly continues today and you may watch a live stream on Facebook at the Spirit of GA page or on the Assembly site. Please hold all commissioners and delegates in prayer, especially those from Cherokee Presbytery: Ruling Elder Nancy Bertrand and Teaching Elder Elizabeth Lovell Milford.
Rev. Milford shared her reflections on the initial gathering in an email to the Heritage church:
As almost 800 people joined our Zoom call, I was launched into a new way of being, called to embrace a virtual assembly and find God in the midst of technology. And it didn't take long for the Holy Spirit to give me goosebumps and remind me that our God cannot be bound by geography or technology, but rather weaves in the bits and bytes and code to reveal a powerful presence and continued call. And thanks be to God for the prophetic words of our Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, who named those "shoulds" and helped me move beyond them.
"Don't be sorrowful for sitting in front of your computer having to listen to this. Don't feel you've lost anything in time. Because it's not our time. God owns time, and I am convinced that we are called here to this time, because God has chosen us; chosen us, the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be the ones that lead the way. Not deserving of it, but God chose us, by grace. That's why we're here."
What To Do Next
As I have shared before, several churches in Cherokee Presbytery are finding their way to have in-person worship gatherings. Each Session determines the time and procedures necessary for this to happen.
Many Sessions have formed task forces or teams to work through the variety of needs and requirements the pandemic presents. This is the Presbyterian way - that we might find our way together in the ministry of God in Christ.
Some Sessions have determined that it is not quite the right time to meet in person. The virus is still there - and will be for some time. One of our pastors, the Rev. Catherine Renken of the Kirkwood Church and her family, have become ill from it. Other churches have had members, staff or friends who have become ill. Some church families have experienced death caused by the COVID-19 virus.
As your Sessions make plans for the future, keep you focus on the purpose of the church: to be the body of Christ in the world. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) captures these in The Great Ends of the Church. They are useful points to reflect on:
The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
The maintenance of divine worship
The preservation of the truth
The promotion of social righteousness
The exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world
— Book of Order (2017–19), F-1.0304
Getting From Here to There
As we move about in this time, we need to think not just about where we are now, but where we will be in the future. Brian Heron, Presbytery for Vision and Mission of the Presbytery of the Cascades in Oregon, share some good thoughts about ministry in the "Gig" economy. Almost half of the churches in his Presbytery are not served by installed pastors. This is the same reality we know in Cherokee Presbytery. He proposes several questions for minsters, Sessions and congregations to consider as they move forward in determining how to be faithful in the calling to be God's people together.
There are many other challenges that we are all facing. It is easy to follow the Dowager's dictum that Hope is a tease . . . But we have tools beyond television script writers - as witty and challenging as they may be. Rev. Milford concluded her reflections about the beginning of the General Assembly with the following paragraph. They are good words for Cherokee Presbytery to be reminded of as well
In the midst of all that is changing right now, and in a world that is not how it "should" be, I also have a prayer for the church, that as individuals and as a congregation and as a [Presbytery and] denomination, and even the church universal, we can discover ways to feel the power of God's presence with us, and to listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit who continues to call and remind us that we have been claimed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, the head of the church, who will not abandon or forget us, but instead lead us into abundant life. May it be so.
In these unrelenting and unforgiving times:
- May the Peace that passes understanding enfold you
- May the Grace we need surround you,
- May the Hope we find sustain you,
- May the Thanks we have transform you,
In Christ may we find:
- the harmony of God’s creation,
- redemption for all people, and
- the ability to live together through the power of love.
Joel Joel L. Alvis, Jr., Ph.D.
Mission Coordinator and Stated Clerk