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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas! (It's not an endangered expression)

We had a lively discussion at our last Session meeting about the words "Season's Greetings." One of our Presbyterian Women circles had hung a piece of poster board in the narthex for members to write Christmas greetings to one another. A few Session members thought it should be changed to "Merry Christmas."

They pointed out that a church, of all places, ought to be where people are perfectly comfortable using the word "Christmas."

I'm quite sure the PW member wrote "Season's Greetings" in all innocence. She could just as well have written "Merry Christmas." She had no idea she was stepping into the middle of an ongoing debate about the so-called "War on Christmas."

Is there such a "war?" I have my doubts. I think the whole concept of a War on Christmas is something TV pundits dreamed up in order to boost their ratings. Of course there are secular contexts, like department stores, that have to be mindful of their Hanukkah shoppers as well as their Christmas shoppers! Most reasonable people never thought this was a problem until some TV commentator told them it was.

A friend of mine, David Leininger, addressed this subject in a sermon circulated online. He says it better than I could, so I think I'll just let him speak for me:

It has always felt good for me to say [Merry Christmas]. And, to be honest, I never worried much about it. I have tried to be somewhat sensitive and not extend the wish to my Jewish or Muslim friends. That would have made no sense, but I have never felt particularly reluctant to say it. Have you?

What brings it to mind is this bizarre concern that some people have been supposedly feeling in recent years about being prevented from wishing folks, "Merry Christmas." Apparently, it all started when somebody on FOX News started a "Christmas Under Siege" campaign noting that many businesses were not wishing shoppers, "Merry Christmas" upon the completion of their transactions, but rather something innocuous and non-specific like, "Happy Holidays." The ultra-right wing John Birch Society said the same thing in the 1950s calling it a conspiracy concocted by the Godless United Nations. Not to be outdone, Focus on the Family's James Dobson started something called the Alliance Defense Fund running a project with the motto: "Merry Christmas. It's okay to say it." Jerry Falwell launched a "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," with promises to file suit against anyone who spread "misinformation" about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces. He said he had 750 lawyers who were ready to pounce if, for example, a teacher were muzzled from leading the third graders in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Of course, those 750 lawyers did not come cheap, so your tax-deductible contributions were most welcome to insure the success of this important venture.

One of the FOX News folks, John Gibson, even published a book called The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Huh? I am a liberal, and proud of it, but the only thing I have ever plotted at Christmas is how to survive without going into bankruptcy.

Truth is, America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it and considered the celebration un-Christian. The concern that Christmas distracted from religious piety continued even after Puritans faded away. In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the devil had stolen Christmas "and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting, and swearing." 

Christmas began to gain popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication of Clement Clarke Moore's Visit from St. Nicholas and Thomas Nast's drawings in Harper's Weekly that created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. The new emphasis lessened religious leaders' worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and shooting and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism. And, we have been battling that ever since, with a notable lack of success -- and to the great relief of the nation's retailers who do their best business of the year just prior to Christmas.

These days, the "defenders" of Christmas are not just tolerating commercialization -- they are insisting upon it. Shop at the places that will wish you, "Merry Christmas," not just, "Happy Holidays."

Enough already! Christmas is just getting caught in the political crossfire. We are living in an America that, I am convinced, is not nearly so divided as some folks who have been exploiting us want us to believe. The vast majority of us agree on the vast majority of issues -- social, political, theological, whatever. There are some fringe issues about which we might disagree, but so what? We do not have to agree on everything to successfully live and work together -- ask any husband or wife. My advice is simply this: do not get caught up in these controversies. They are not worth it, they serve no purpose except to those who are trying to exploit them and us, and they certainly do not reflect well on us as Christians.

All I want for Christmas this year is grace -- just grace. The story of Christmas is, after all, at its heart, a story of grace. The coming of Jesus Christ into our world is the affirmation of God's unmerited favor to us. Look again at that little New Testament "postcard" (it's hardly long enough to be called something as highfalutin as an "epistle") to Titus: "For the grace of God that brings salvation ... Jesus ... has appeared to all ..." (Titus 2:11). Grace -- the essence of Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Alternate Utility Companies: Check Them Out Carefully

Here at Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church, we just received a visit from a congenial salesperson from an electricity provider that markets themselves as an alternative to Jersey Central Power & Light. She explained that her company, Gateway Energy Services, sends people like her around to check on what JCP&L is charging us, and to see if her employer can get us a better deal by providing a variable rate.

She explained that Gateway provides electricity wholesale to JCP&L and that we can save money by buying power directly from them. The discounts, she explained, would be "locked in" for two years.

While this was going on in the outer office, I started Googling "Gateway Energy Services" on my computer and quickly discovered a whole lot of consumer complaints. Some of them were related to "slamming" - changing a consumer's electricity provider when the consumer has not, in fact, agreed to do so. Others had to do with wildly varying rates, with those increases being absorbed by the consumer, not the company.

I'm no expert on these things, but it looks to me like this company would be inviting us to speculate with them on varying utility rates. Yes, they could save us money, under certain favorable conditions. Yet, if the conditions prove to be unfavorable, we - rather than they - would be assuming most of the financial risk.

I believe this is legal. But I also believe that, as business practices go, it's ethically questionable.

In the meantime, a church staff member had provided the salesperson with our JCP&L account number, which she entered into a tablet computer to show us the savings that would be possible.

We did not, in fact, agree to a change of service providers. We explained that the church staff does not have the power to make that kind of decision and asked the salesperson to provide a written proposal to submit to the appropriate Session committee. She grudgingly went out to her car and came back with an information sheet.

We subsequently called JCP&L and learned from them that, when a request comes to change a customer's service to an alternative energy company, their practice is to send the customer a letter, notifying the customer of the request. The customer then has seven days to get back to JCP&L and cancel the change before it goes into effect.

We'll wait and see what happens, but - based on what we've read about other customers' experience with this and similar alternative-energy companies - I think it's possible that we'll receive one of those JCP&L letters notifying us of a provider change request. We never agreed to that, but as long as the company has our JCP&L account number, they have the capacity to tell JCP&L that we made such a request.

We'll watch the mailbox and, should such a letter arrive, we'll immediately notify JCP&L that we have not authorized a change.

Should your church receive a visit or phone call from such a salesperson, my advice is to make no commitments, get everything in writing and not share with them your utility-company account number.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has a helpful guide to shopping for energy providers, that includes a list of specific questions to ask before making this kind of decision.

Clerks, please pass this column along to your Session's finance or buildings and grounds person.

Caveat emptor....

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Widows: Pensions for Cuban Pastors

Imagine going on a trip to track people down and give them tens of thousands of dollars. What a joy that would be!

But what a challenge it would be as well, if the place you're visiting is Cuba!

That task has been the passion of several very persistent staff members of the Presbyterian Board of Pensions for a great many years. It's a tale of knocking on the door of U.S. government bureaucrats again and again, for years, and simply refusing to take "No" for an answer.

An article referenced in a recent Board of Pensions newsletter tells the story. The heroes of the tale are Frank Maloney, a longtime Vice-President of the Board, and Ernesto Badillo, who made a number of trips to Cuba, even as he was receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

There was growing urgency to complete the task, because many of the surviving pensioners are now in their 90s. Were they ever to benefit personally from this money they'd earned decades ago - as opposed to simply knowing that their heirs might see it someday - something had to change, and soon.

Which is where Frank and Ernesto came in. Like the persistent widow in Jesus' parable, they just kept banging on the government officials' doors until someone finally took action.

The backstory here is that, until a few years after the Cuban Revolution that put Fidel Castro in power, Presbyterian churches in Cuba were part of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Cuba was part of the Synod of New Jersey, and Cuban pastors would travel here for Synod meetings. Their churches contributed money into the Board of Pensions, so their pastors would have retirement benefits.

The Revolution changed all that. The U.S. regarded Cuba as being behind the Iron Curtain, and so embargoed all financial transactions. Long after relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (later Russia) had normalized, the Cuban embargo remained firmly in place - as it does even today. Meanwhile, the pension payments from the 1950s and 1960s sat in designated accounts, earning interest.

The Cuban churches subsequently formed their own national Presbyterian church, independent of the U.S.A.

A few of us - including myself - have managed to travel to Cuba as part of presbytery-to-presbytery mission partnerships, and have been able to receive occasional Cuban visitors as sisters and brothers in Christ (as our government granted them permission to come, on a case-by-case basis). During my two trips to Cuba, I've been impressed by the strength of this vibrant, rapidly growing denomination. Since Cuba adopted its new Constitution in 1990, they have been free to pursue their denominational life in a country that now practices religious tolerance.

Speaking of widows in Jesus' parables, there's another tale he told about a widow. This one is the familiar tale of the widow's mite. The widow in that story contributed a small coin - all the money she had - to the Temple treasury, while a nearby Pharisee took great pride in giving a larger sum that represented only a small portion of his great wealth.

La Fernanda Presbyterian Church
This story also includes a tale similar to the widow's mite. An earlier Presbyterian New Service article tells the story of one of the retired pensioners, Maria Josefa Nunez, a Christian educator. When Maria - who is in her 90s - learned that she would be receiving a $30,000 windfall from the Board of Pensions, she decided to use the money to buy a house adjacent to the overcrowded house-church she attends - La Fernanda Presbyterian Church, near Havana - so they could expand to accommodate their overflow crowd of worshipers. Thirty grand sounds like a lot of money to us here in the U.S.A., but in Cuba - with its controlled economy where U.S. dollars are worth a good deal more than Cuban money - it's a huge fortune.

So, the tale of the widow's mite - or, The Widow's Might, as the PNS article puts it - takes on new life in this present-day context.

Praise the Lord for good news stories like this one!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Church With No Members?

A column I read today in The Presbyterian Outlook got my attention. Church-leadership consultant Tom Ehrich was writing about the declining popularity of church membership (“The New Age of Ad Hoc Connections,” Presbyterian Outlook, November 24, 2014).

While that may sound like bad news, he doesn’t think it’s necessarily so. It just reflects growing trends in the larger society against joining any kind of organization.

This is nothing new. Sociologists like Peter Berger have been telling us this for years. His famed bowling-leagues study documented how bowling has not diminished in popularity, although bowlers no longer like to join leagues and commit to being at the alley with their team one day per week.

The whole idea of “belonging” to a group just isn’t attractive anymore. Folks would rather go it alone, connecting with others in ad hoc ways as the need or opportunity arises.

“People are just living in different ways,” says Ehrich. “Not better or worse, just different. Wise church leaders will dial down the membership lingo and learn to offer a variety of venues, some of them ad hoc, where people can connect.”

As examples, he lists a number of brief-duration mission and service events churches have organized: packing seeds to send off to African farmers, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, delivering toys to needy children at Christmas, disaster-relief work, etc.

The membership rituals of the past hold little meaning, he goes on. “People today value groups and networks, but they want them to be free-flowing and ad hoc, centered in hanging out, last-minute planning and discovering new venues. This is an age of pop-up stores and restaurants.”

Could there ever be such a thing as a pop-up church? The Presbyterian Church is actually experimenting with such an idea, with its 1001 Worshiping Communities initiative. While not exactly pop-up churches, the new communities being fostered — based on informal gatherings in all sorts of places — do have something of that ad hoc quality. The idea is to experiment with new ways of being church together. Some of them may grow into recognizable congregations someday. Others may become something else altogether — but still a part of the Body of Christ.

Maybe Jesus himself provides a different standard. At the end of his Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the king says: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Not a hint, there, of letters of transfer.

Don’t worry so much about membership, Ehrich assures us. “Churches should ramp up their communications, so that when a need arises, they can send out a call for caring. Then just let people serve as they can, without imposing a membership expectation.”

But how, then, to measure our successes and failures? The answer, I suppose, is “We don’t.” At the end of the day, it’s not our successes that matter. It’s what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst.

What do you think? Is church membership growing obsolete? If so, what’s emerging in its place?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Goodbye, Peacemaking. Hello, Peacemaking and Global Witness.

A familiar feature of World Communion Sunday, for quite a number of years, has been the annual Peacemaking Special Offering. One of the changes made at this year's General Assembly was to broaden the scope of this offering, so as to add a "Global Witness" component. Now, we're being asked to promote a "Peace and Global Witness" offering.

I remember hearing about the change when I was at the General Assembly, but honestly, it didn't make a big impression on me at the time, what with all the other issues the commissioners were wrestling with. It hit home a couple weeks ago, when our church secretary brought me the bulletin inserts for the special offering, so I could choose which one we'll be using on each Sunday leading up to the offering.

They looked different. Not only that, but the name of the offering - Peace and Global Witness - is a mouthful.

It struck me that this change makes the offering much more difficult to interpret. What is "global witness," anyway - and what relationship does it have to peacemaking? Peacemaking is a fairly clear concept (even though we've had to work hard, over the years, to broaden people's minds about the many and varied settings where Christians are called to make peace).

Not so for "global witness." What is it, anyway?

I think I understand the reason for the change - even though the promotional information on the offering's main website page is none too clear. Previously, receipts from the offering (at the General Assembly level, anyway - there's always been some money retained by congregations and presbyteries for local work) have been disbursed by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. Now, a portion of the offering money will be used by the Presbyterian Mission Agency as a whole, for global activities related to peace and justice ministries.

You have to drill down through the web pages until you come to a pdf file of a "Leader's Guide" before you can find out much about the activities that will be funded under the woolly concept of "Global Witness." To get to the Leader's Guide, you have to go through a process that looks like you're ordering literature to be mailed out (perhaps at a cost), but in fact, clicking on the button takes you right to the (free) pdf file. Navigating this portion of the website, though, is far from easy.

This is a mostly bureaucratic change, a way of moving money around from one account to another at the national level of the church. The effect is to tap some of that Peacemaking money to cover deficits in funding our mission co-workers and other vitally-important global mission activities. It still fits the general definition, of course, so no one can really argue with it. But I don't think it's the greatest idea, and here's why...

Any change that muddies the waters of how special offering money is used makes the offering more difficult to promote in local congregations. "Peacemaking" we can describe without too much difficulty. "Peacemaking and Global Witness," not so easily. In the bestiary of special offerings, it's a multi-headed monster.

We live in an age when givers are eager to designate their gifts, to know exactly how they're being used. When special offerings are combined into these multi-purpose causes - an attractive option, in this age of declining mission giving, to those who read balance sheets in denominational offices - the descriptions of the offering lose their punch. They no longer sound "special," or specific, in their focus. We lose the advantage, the unique appeal, of a special offering.

It makes me wonder what sort of research the General Assembly staff did before recommending the change - whether they conducted focus groups of pastors or church members, for example, to find out what sort of name-recognition goes along with the phrase "Global Witness."

In the long run, I predict that decision will reduce the amount of money given, overall.

That's a pastor's perspective, anyway, from the front lines of mission interpretation. I wonder how much the Mission Agency folks considered that front-line perspective, when they made their administrative decision to recommend this change to the General Assembly?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Executive Session

Every once in a while, a council must go into executive session.

So, what is an executive session? It's got two basic characteristics. First, no observers are present. Generally, only the members of the body, along with their officers (such as the moderator and the clerk of Session) remain in the room. Sessions can allow certain invited guests to be present, but this is uncommon. Second, the proceedings are confidential. No one's supposed to talk to anyone else later about what went on (although members of the body can discuss those things with one another, provided no one else is listening in).

There can be minutes of an executive session, but if there are minutes, they must be kept elsewhere than the regular minutes, because no one is allowed to see them but the members of the body. When it comes time to approve those minutes, the body must go into executive session a second time to do so.

Most Sessions find it easier simply not to pass any motions while in executive session. They talk about what they need to do, then go out of executive session and immediately pass whatever motions are needed. The action they have taken, then, is public, but the reasons behind the action are not.

It's hard to imagine a situation in which a body would need to pass a motion while in executive session, because it's hard to imagine implementing anything that's secret. Generally, the discuss-in-executive-session, then vote-in-regular-session procedure does the trick. Robert's Rules does allow for motions in executive session, though, just in case.

So, when should there be an executive session?

The short answer is, "as seldom as possible." Especially in the church, where transparency is generally the ideal.

Yet, there are situations in which it's a valuable option. Such as discussing delicate personnel matters. Or pondering how to respond to a member who may need ecclesiastical discipline. Or setting a range for bidding on a piece of real estate, when it's not to the church's advantage for a seller to know how high the church is willing to go.

If there are no observers in the meeting-room to begin with, a formal executive session may not be needed. The clerk simply needs to take care to limit what goes into the minutes (although motions must always be recorded). Yet, even if there are no observers to ask to leave the room, an executive session may still be useful, if only to impress upon the Session members the need for confidentiality.

Just one more useful item in the parliamentary toolbox.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summary of General Assembly Action on Divestment

The following summary was put together by members of the General Assembly Mission Agency staff:

Summary of General Assembly Action on Divestment

The 221st General Assembly (2014) voted by a narrow margin to divest from three U.S. companies— Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola Solutions—whose products are used to further the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The assembly’s vote was 310-303.
     o These non-peaceful activities are inconsistent with the church’s socially responsible investment policy. The church does not believe it should profit from the occupation.
     o Caterpillar provides bulldozers used in the destruction of Palestinian homes and for clearing land of fruit and olive tree groves.
     o Hewlett Packard provides electronic systems at checkpoints, logistics and communications systems to support the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as business relationships with illegal settlements in the West Bank.
     o Motorola Solutions provides military communications and surveillance systems in illegal Israeli settlements.
     o The church’s committee on socially responsible investing has been engaged with these companies for more than a decade urging change in these corporate activities with no results.
     o This action is not divestment from Israel; the church has other significant investments in Israeli organizations which it will maintain.

     o The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is explicit in:
     - Affirming the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders.
     - Advocating for the right of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, free from threats or acts of force.
     - Declaring that this action does not indicate alignment with the overall global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
     - Regarding Zionism Unsettled, the assembly declared that the publication does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) but that it will continue to be available through the online store.

     o In the past year, the church has made several positive investments in economic development in Palestine.
     o The measure also reaffirms the PC(USA)’s commitment to interfaith dialogue and partnerships
with the American Jewish and Muslim friends, and with Palestinian Christians.

Charles Wiley described it in this way:
     o “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are trying to love two neighbors at the same time. In the midst of these two loves, we are compelled to speak for justice for what is occurring in the occupation. We refuse to choose between these two neighbors, even if our specific choices are difficult for one of our neighbors to understand.

Summary of General Assembly Action on Marriage

The following summary was put together by the General Assembly Mission Agency staff:

Summary of General Assembly Action on Marriage

The 221st General Assembly took two actions regarding marriage:

1. The first was an Authoritative Interpretation allowing pastoral discretion to conduct
same-gender marriages in states where such marriages are legal. This went into effect
immediately on conclusion of the General Assembly.
     o The action that passed by a vote of 371 to 238.
     o Teaching elders are empowered to use their discretion in performing marriage
ceremonies, including civil unions permitted by the law and have the
responsibility to assess the readiness of a couple to be married.
     o This action expressly does not require that congregations, sessions, or teaching
elders perform civil unions or same-gender marriages. Congregations and their
sessions still have the right to decide what happens in their facilities.

2. The second was a recommendation to change language in the Book of Order to indicate
that “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man
and a woman.”
     o The Book of Order change requires the approval of a majority of presbyteries
within the next year.
     o The action that passed by a vote of 429 to 175.

Both decisions came with much discussion and prayer on the part of the General Assembly

We continue to be in dialogue, both in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and among our
international partners. We will not end relations with a mission partner because of differing
opinions and pray that those who may disagree with this action will remain in relationship to
continue the work of the church.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tips on Talking to the Media

Wendy Bailey, our Regional Presbyter, has posted some excellent advice on speaking to reporters. Experience has shown that, as the General Assembly makes some of its more controversial decisions, pastors may find themselves contacted by newspaper reporters and other media people, to get their views on the issue.

Publicity is good for local churches, and most pastors I know are more than happy to get the names of their church in the news. In this situation, however, it's important to be precise and thoughtful in replying to questions. Off-the-cuff responses can be easily misinterpreted or taken out of context.

So, it's a good thing to think in advance about what to say. Wendy's best piece of advice, in fact, may be that it's OK to ask the reporter to call back a few minutes later, to buy yourself a little time to formulate a response or scribble out a few rough talking-points for yourself. (Don't wait too long, though, because the reporter probably has a deadline looming.)

Please remember, too, that Wendy and I are more than willing to talk to reporters, if you want to refer them to us. You may also want to suggest that they talk to one of the Presbytery's commissioners to General Assembly. Monmouth's commissioners this year are the the Rev. Doug Chase, Brick; the Rev. Barbara Hicks, Lakewood Hope; Beverly Marsh, East Brunswick; Jim McGuire, Point Pleasant; and Young Adult Advisory Delegate Peter Stelljes, Yardville.

Now, here's Wendy's advice:

As we prepare for General Assembly, it is not unreasonable to expect that commissioners or pastors or presbytery leaders will be called upon to interpret the actions of the Assembly or explain what’s going on.  We will do our best to keep everyone informed of the many happenings of the assembly here on this blog … but I thought it might be a good time to share some tips I’ve put together for dealing with reporters and the media.
There are many times in which leaders in congregations and pastors will be called by the media for comment or information. Whether it’s a crisis or disaster in your congregation or community, an opinion on local politics or social issue, or a decision of the national or regional church, there are tips to make the interview more effective.


Depending on the issue, you may or may not be the best person to speak to the reporter. If your congregation is dealing with a crisis or emergency it is a good idea to identify one person who can answer questions and interview with the media. If you are not that person, it is appropriate to say something like, “I understand you have a lot of questions, the best person to speak to is …” and then give them the name and contact information for that person.


If you are the right person to speak, but you are not prepared to talk to the reporter when they call, it’s appropriate to say something like, “I will be happy to talk to you, this is not the best time, I will call you back.” You will also want to ask the scope of the story and ask yourself if there’s anything else you need to know from them in order to prepare. Find out, too, when the deadline is, so that you can reply in a timely manner. Then gather your thoughts, facts and information before calling back.


Reporters are all working on very quick deadlines. Be sure you get back to them as soon as you can. If you miss their deadline, or they move on to someone else, the story will be told without you. If you get back to them right away, even to explain what is keeping you from giving the interview right away, you will be establishing a good rapport with the reporter which will help you in this story and the longer term relationship.


Prepare the message you want to get across and make a list of talking points. Remember that although the reporter is gathering a story, you are the one who is telling it. Tell it the way you want it reported.


Think of the words you want to use to explain the issue or situation, but keep your points simple and concise. Remember that electronic media are looking for sound bites … seconds, not minutes, and newspaper reporters and bloggers are looking for quotes. Give them to them. Make their job easy. Most reporters are writing for a large and diverse audience, so this is not the time to use “church-ease” “presbyterian-speak” or show off your post graduate vocabulary


Be sure that you understand the question that you’re being asked and be sure to answer that question. The question may help to suggest ways to focus or phrase your response.


This sounds like it shouldn’t need to be said, but if there’s bad news or a bad situation, it’s ok to acknowledge that. Be direct and authentic about the situation and how you feel about it


Most reporters, even those focusing on religion, have no idea how churches operate, let alone the Presbyterian Church. Be prepared to explain even the most basic ideas to them, respecting their competency in the process.


Again, this shouldn’t need to be articulated, but it may be that the natural response is to say something snarky or argue with the reporter. Don’t do this. Always remain respectful.


If there is a story brewing that you know you will be called on, don’t hesitate to make the first step by creating a press release or calling your local reporter. This gives you the ability to shape the story. You can even suggest headlines that better capture the mood and ideas that you think are important about the story. The more work you do for the reporter the more likely the story will run as you would like.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Live Internet streaming of the General Assembly

Live streaming of the 221st General Assembly, meeting in Detroit, Michigan from Saturday, June 14 through Saturday, June 21, is available online on the PCUSA website.

A pdf version of the summary of the General Assembly schedule can be found here.

Only plenary sessions (meetings of the whole General Assembly) will be streamed. That means the only streaming on Sunday, June 15 will be from 2:30-4:30 pm, and there will be no live streaming at all on Monday or Tuesday, June 16-17, because that's when the General Assembly committees will be meeting.

Most observers have found that the most interesting time to watch live streaming is on Saturday evening (June 14), when the new moderator will be elected, and, later, on Wednesday evening (June 18) and all day Thursday and Friday (June 19-20).

It's not clear at this time when the various committees will be reporting. although this information will be available later in the week on PC-Biz. (Search for "docket" under the Explorer tab, or search for the Bills & Overtures Committee report (which recommends docket amendments).

In past years, the most controversial items have been scheduled for Friday afternoon and evening. If there are more than 2 or 3 controversial items, one of them may be scheduled for Thursday as well.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Hole in the Roof

Anyone who's been watching this blog has undoubtedly noticed there's been a long gap with no new posts. My last post was in October, 2013, just days before I ended up in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism in each lung. Various complications ensued, which led to several hospitalizations and a rehab stay of well over than a month, all told. Then, I had a lengthy period of recuperation at home, during which I was on disability. I returned to my church and presbytery duties a few weeks before Easter.

It's been a whirlwind since then, catching up. My breathing still isn't back to 100%, but I continue to progress.

I thought I'd restart this blog with a couple of photos that have a story behind them.

The first one you'll see is an exterior shot of the Morning Star Presbyterian Church in Bayville. I've been involved with that church since its inception in the 1990s, supporting and encouraging the Rev. Myrlene Hamilton Hess and her late husband and co-pastor, the Rev. Ed Hamilton, as they went about the challenging work of church-planting.

I was honored when they asked me to preach at the congregation's chartering service, as Morning Star officially became a congregation. I preached a sermon called "A Hole in the Roof," in which I told the story of a church that kept an opening at the apex of their dome, as a symbol of the importance of staying open to new things the Holy Spirit may be doing in their midst.

I didn't think too much about that sermon until several years later, when I again attended a worship service at Morning Star for the dedication of their building. I was astonished when Myrlene told me the church had a cupola because of my sermon!

She explained how the concept of a hole in the roof had been an enduring theme in their congregational life. When it came time to design the building, they told the architect they wanted to keep a hole in the roof somehow. His suggestion was a cupola, providing borrowed natural light while still keeping the rain out.

The second photo is an interior shot of the church sanctuary, looking up towards the cupola.

I told Myrlene I'd seen all sorts of things happen as the result of sermons I've preached, but never before have I had a sermon result in architecture!

It was all very gratifying. We preachers don't often know much about how our sermons impact our listeners - especially Presbyterians, who can be a pretty reticent bunch at times.

How is it for the church you know best? Do you keep a hole in the roof, so you can remain open to the Lord's leading in mission?