General Assembly 222
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August 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

GA Links

PCUSA leaders have issued the post-General Assembly letter to the church, (CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD) ideal for use as a summary for sessions and congregations.


July 13, 2016, 5:40 PM

Reflections from GA

To quote our new Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, “We are not dead ... we are alive, we are reforming and we are transforming this world, one person at a time.”

This captures the heart of the message I would like to bring back to all of us in Lackawanna Presbytery.

We are living in the midst of a reformation as we prepare to celebrate our heritage in the last reformation.

All of us are aware that the church we grew up in is transforming before us. In the near future the following is likely to be true for most of us.

            Worship and prayer will always be at the center of our faith but our Sunday morning worship service is likely not to be the place where we see the greatest number of people.

            Those who seek to join us are likely to look for things we are doing in the community and for the needs of others than they are concerned about the details of our faith statements. But, they are eager to learn about our faith stories and what we trust.

            They are also looking to be included in all parts for the church’s life.

Our tradition, our polity and God’s vision of a beloved community in Christ all lead us to do these things.

In Portland, I saw God at work in ordinary people who took very seriously their role as those called by Christ to move in the areas of the world’s greatest needs and opportunities.

As members of the Presbytery of Lackawanna, God in Christ calls us as well.


Peace in Christ,


July 1, 2016, 3:43 PM

Portland Weird

So here I am, at once energized and exhausted, at GA on the eve of its conclusion. A new stated clerk, a first-timer, wondering how I can possibly decide, from my experience here, what to share with you in my turn at blogging.

During this week in Portland I have been stuffed with salmon, plied with coffee, and filled with ideas. I constantly alternate between my roles as clerk, administrator, elder, and pulpit supply as I listen and absorb. I have notes to digest relating to each role, and an overnight flight home that will give me a chance to begin that process. Mostly I have tried to focus on what lessons I can bring back for our churches. Here are a few thoughts that stand out from my jottings:

  • I miss my cat.  Whether GA was a once-in-a-lifetime event or a regular jaunt, whether that jaunt was near or far, many folks expressed great hardship in leaving families, pulpits, and businesses, in some cases losing pay and precious vacation time, to spend eight days in assembly (the maximum business model is five,) not including travel. Suggestions included several opportunities to create a more efficient, constructive, and cost effective experience that might enable a greater number and variety of participants. The theme of reforming vs. resisting plays out like this in our churches every day, when we fail to recognize that women are no longer available for morning circles; workers are often unavailable for daytime committee meetings; families are not always available on Sunday mornings, and it is the church that needs to adjust, because not adjusting is costing us big time.  


  • Welcoming is not a bad word. We are more alike than we are different. We agree more than we disagree. There are those who seek to divide and to exclude – I can pick them out by their RFFs (Resting Frown Faces.) Seriously though, choosing to focus on our differences weighs us down. The overwhelming positive atmosphere in this convention center can translate to all of our churches, making us vigilant in recognizing and focusing on the Christian spirit we are called to share with each other and the world.


  • Leaning toward spiritual, not religious. As I am intermittently surrounded by groans (but only a little head-banging) through bogged-down, top-down business, it is easy to see why our demographics are against us in this respect. There is a frustration with every level of church bureaucracy, and a perception among onlookers that the church is preoccupied with rules, regulations, and preservation of its infrastructure rather than spiritual pursuits. Changing that perception is a big job (As Elvis would say, a little less talk, a little more action!)


  • I am an old boy/girl.  The election of a new GA stated clerk was lauded as a nod to experience, wisdom, and popularity – all good traits for the position. There was a general scoffing at an opposing candidate for, well, opposing, but also as lacking in those traits. I admit that I mostly shrugged at the situation, appreciating the Vin Diesel quality of the old boy’s voice as he went on about reformation and figuring the younger boy would have another chance eventually. Yet I did feel a nudge of discomfort that the latter’s message that the church needs a focus on current communication and technology (which garnered him a higher percentage of the Young Adult Advisory Delegate vote) was countered in other decisions that were made on the floor this week. Reformation requires relevance.


  • We are not dead yet. As I have heard it put many times during my years in presbytery service and at this assembly, we are reforming, not dying. Reforming can be painful, but it should be invigorating and not hand-wringing. A positive attitude is emerging, new church communities are forming, and approximately one-third of the delegates on the assembly floor at every GA are young adults! These death-defying circumstances should be working for us, but when my neighbor leaned over and rolled his eyes at another YAAD coming to the microphone, I had mutinous thoughts. Lately, whenever faced with the attitude that change will happen “over our dead bodies,” I can only say, “Exactly.”


  • Portland is weird. This city has declared its identity with pride to a level of preening over its weirdness. Like folks who brag about how humble they are, its effected grunge can be a little annoying. How can you consume that much caffeine and still be so laid back? The Christian identity we project can be just as contradictory. Can we be recognized, or are we as hypocritical as a Portlandian bypassing a recycling bin when we say they will know us by our love? As I recognize Presbyterians around Portland (at least those who sport those handy zippered name badges outside of the convention center) I can’t help but wonder if we are doing a good job representing our faith.


Some of these lessons are new and some are reminders for me, and I hope there is something you can relate to in my rambling. In addition to sharing enjoyable time with Virginia, Harry, Alex and Melissa, Jim and I have family and friends in Portland, and we were grateful to visit with them. While we were away, at home there was a close family death and a friend’s medical emergency, and being surrounded by those folks was a comfort beyond words. Since showing love is the most important lesson, I speak for your entire team when I offer love and thanks to and for the co-workers, families, caregivers, house/pet sitters and garden-waterers who made our trip to Portland possible!


Marge Zeigler

June 26, 2016, 8:25 AM

Thursday Worship: Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgell

During worship today I had the honor of listening to Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill deliver a moving sermon entitled “Difference Makers.”  The entire sermon revolves around the parable of the Good Samaritan (found in Luke 10:25-37). Rev. Ridgill preached with beautiful illustrations for almost 30 powerful minutes developing the 7 verses pertaining to the parable.  It was so moving that I was able to visualize the half dead naked man lying on the road and pictured this person observe two people purposely avoid him as he lay in distress, not knowing if he would die  because no one cared.  Figuratively waiting with the gentleman along that dusty road and experiencing rejection was moving, but in a troubling way; and then the Samaritan presented and lent assistance to the weary half dead naked traveler, which was deeply moving in that a Samaritan stranger finally showed love for a neighbor in distress. 

This threw me into a tailspin, making me question where I stand on showing love in a real way to my neighbor(s). I know I am a sinner and accept that, but am I a hypocrite too?  This is, somehow, harder to digest than being a sinner. Rev. Ridgill really made me think; the sermon  was beautifully presented and left me beaten down, but joyful in that I was moved and more thoughtful about this precious parable.

When leaving late this evening, a pack of tired Presbyterians crowded onto a train stop and, after a long wait for the train, pushed and piled into the train leaving Presbyterians with needs to either wait for the next train or be last to board an over packed train.  Maybe this parable sets the bar too high for us.  Even if it looks easy to identifying our neighbors we may refuse to see them.  My hope is that if I continue thinking about my neighbors and serving them it will become second nature and I will get it right more than I get it wrong. It is comforting to realize that God accepts us in our messy ways and will always help us when we ask for help in prayer. Rev. Dr. Ridgill: thanks for making me continue to think.


Harry Skene, CRE

June 24, 2016, 4:31 PM

Sunday Worship in Portland

Today I attended church at St. Andrew's church in Beaverton, OR. It was a nice bus ride over to the church from the convention center, my hub for the week with most of my activities centered at there. I chose St. Andrew's as I rushed through the registration process with a representative from GA. I knew nothing about it except that it reminded me of the old course in Scotland home of my namesake family.

The pastor Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell made comforting welcome remarks where he invited us to all turn our phones off, and be unplugged and enjoy the silence while we worship God. The service went on and before or after the third scripture reading he addressed us again.  This time he thanked the congregation for welcoming him with the knowledge that he is an openly gay pastor. He noted how difficult it had been to preach God's word while hiding who he really was. 

The sermon, Why "In Christ Jesus" Matters was well done. He started by asking us to think of what comes to mind when we hear the word sanctuary. Somehow despite being In a sanctuary, I thought a safe place. He then went on to describe the sanctuary in which we were sitting. Then he began talking about the shooting at Pulse in Orlando and discussed more the issue of hate (not terror) and focused on the issue of GLBT and the bigotry that segment of the community feels and how Pulse and other gay bars are their sanctuary and haven a place where they can feel safe.  He also noted the same for those in bible study last year at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlotte  SC where a white separatist shot and killed those in bible study who were mostly black americans. They too were in their safe place. 

Pastor Webb-Michell brought light to a very important social justice issue we all need to face.  It was moving.


Harry Skene, CRE

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