General Assembly Day Three

General Assembly


It seems hard to believe that we’ve been here for three days. As is often the case in these settings, I’ve lost track of time. “What day is it?” I ask each morning and throughout the day–and I’m not even a commissioner!

One aspect of this GA that I looked forward to was reconnecting with friends, colleagues, seminary classmates. Presbyterians coming together every two years you are bound to see people you’ve known for a long time and those you’ve met recently. Having recently been a member of National Capital Presbytery, I knew there would be quite a few GA junkies from there. One of them was Peg True. Peg LOVED General Assembly. She went every year, always excited about watching the workings of the church she loved. She had mentioned in a FB post that she was glad I was going to be there and looked forward to seeing me.

General Assembly officially convened on Saturday with morning worship. Earlier that day, I learned Peg had fallen at the opening reception the night before. She was in ICU. She died later that day. It was not the way I wanted to begin General Assembly.

Peg was one of the first people I met when I moved to Arlington, VA. She was one of those wise people everyone is blessed to have in their lives. She spoke the truth; she challenged the status quo; she taught me not to take crap; she modeled kindness and grace and love. She was one of the most welcoming, open, trusting people I have ever had the privilege to know. When the Arlington church went on their wild and faithful journey, Peg was a staunch supporter and one of my greatest encouragers. And every sentence, every movement, every word, every action was punctuated with her wry smile and bright lit eyes. I will miss her.

That Peg died at General Assembly seems somehow appropriate if there can be an appropriate time to die. She was in the midst of what she loved and what caused her heart gladness. And while I am here this week, I will lift up her name and look at all this wild faithful craziness of the Presbyterian world through her eyes.


Wall Hangings

Worship Study Prayer

We really don’t care what’s hanging on your walls.  We care more about what’s hanging in your heart and spirit.

                                            Mike White — 8/26/17

I recently have completed a most excellent adventure.  Over the past 10 months, I have been a part of Cohort XI of the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program (or NLDP as we call it). The vision of the program “is to foster the growth of a new vanguard of engaged neighborhood leaders in the City of Cleveland who are prepared and committed to creating progressive change in a variety of areas throughout Cleveland and the region.”

I applied at the suggestion of my husband who saw their ad in a local neighborhood paper.  “This might be a good thing for you as a new resident to the area,” he said holding the paper out to me.  I will confess some hesitation—would they “take a chance” on a relatively new person?  What could I offer as a “newbie”?

I applied, interviewed and was accepted.  Our first gathering was Saturday, August 26, 2017.  And one of the first things Mike White said to the 23 of us gathered was “We really don’t care what’s hanging on your walls.  We care more about what’s hanging in your heart and spirit.”  I took that to mean the accolades or pictures with “famous” people.  I started thinking about what was hanging on my walls.  (as an aside, I only have what I would consider to be one “famous” picture—and it’s not even on the wall, but on the bookcase—a picture with Emily and Don Saliers taken at a Cathedral College course many years ago).

What is hanging on my walls and does it represent what is hanging in my heart and spirit?

There’s this picture:


A view from the balcony at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Charleston, SC

I spent a summer and a year with these good people while I was in seminary.  I learned a lot about what it meant to be a part of faith community as a leader.  They were very gracious and very patient as I “tried on the robe” of ordained ministry. What I learned there continues to influence and shape me.


There’s this picture:IMG_6687

Looking out on the Sound of Iona

Iona is my “thin” place—that physical place where there is not much space between this world and divine. Iona is the only place I have audibly heard the voice of God.  Time there with people there continues to ground me.

There’s this picture:IMG_6688

My brother-in-law gave this to me one Christmas.  I collect nativities and this is the only one I have that is painted.  That he thought of me and then put to paint to canvas is breathtaking.  I see it every time I walk in my office.  It always brings me a sense of calm.

And then there are these two:


Before this gig in Cleveland, I had the honor and privilege to be the pastor at Arlington Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA.  Through an intentional discernment process, this community of disciples gave up their building so others could have a place to live.  The Washington Postcovered part of the journey.  From my perspective, they were stories too good not to keep.  Each time I see these, I am reminded of what discipleship, trust, risk and faith looks like.

A community that welcomed me, allowed me to fail, learn, and grow…

A place that is holy and divine and, in its setting, enables me to more clearly hear the voice of God…

A representation of the incarnation, the riskiest thing God ever did…

A community willing to discern, listen, and act…

I think my wall hangings capture my heart and spirit.

Countdown to G.A.

General Assembly

Gateway Arch

Your Presbytery Office and Commissioners are almost ready to go!

  • We’ve been reading overtures and rationales pro and con.
  • We’ve been talking to our more experienced colleagues about how GA works.
  • We’ve updated our smartphone apps.
  • We’ve been impressed by the prediction for temperatures in the 90s for the entire week.
  • Three friends from the Cleveland Jewish community came to meet with us to communicate their views on the several overtures related to Israel and Palestine.
  • We either traveled to Pittsburgh or stayed home in Cleveland for the webinar version to learn more about the proposal to increase per capita, from the PC(USA) Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson and our own Tricia Dykers-Koenig, now the PC(USA) Associate Director for Mid-Council Relations.
  • And some of us may have preached on Sunday about what it means to be a connectional church.

We are excited to see and hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in the PC(USA)!  Please check this blog for our updates!

The Spirit of St. Louis

General Assembly

A couple of weeks ago, Sharon Core and I did what any good Presbyterian does for fun on a Saturday: we drove to Zelienople, PA, to attend a conversation around potential changes to our Presbyterian per capita.  I went partly because J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, was doing the presentation, and I will listen to J. Herbert speak anytime I get the chance.  I went because I wanted to get a sense of local responses to a possible increase in annual per capita.  I also went because, like a handful of others from the greater Cleveland area, I am boarding a plane this weekend and heading off to St. Louis, for the 223rd General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church, where this per capita issue is likely to be a hot topic.  I wanted a little background info.

This will not be my first General Assembly.  I am not even going as a commissioner; I am going because I love GA.  I love being a part of something much bigger than my own congregation or our own Presbytery.  I love being a part of this connectional body that is the PCUSA.  I love being surrounded by thousands of people, coming from different states and different countries, all coming together to be about the challenging, exciting, and ever-changing work of the church.

I attended my first GA in 2002, when it was meeting in Columbus.  I went down for two brief visits, but that was all it took.  I was hooked.  I applied to be an elder commissioner to the next GA, in Denver in 2003; I was elected and faithfully served on the Peacemaking committee.  The following year I was elected to the General Assembly Nominating Committee, and to my delight, I got to keep attending GAs as part of that Committee’s ongoing work.  Since rotating off of GANC, I have managed to attend at least part of most General Assemblies.

I cannot completely explain my fondness for GA, except that it grows out of my deep love for this church.  I have been a Presbyterian forever.   My roots go deep and include years living as a Mish Kid, growing up as a faculty brat at a Presbyterian college, attending another Presbyterian college, working at a Presbyterian church, serving as a Presbyterian mission worker, chairing committees, attending conferences, singing in choirs, joining the staff of the Presbytery.  This church is my family.  And attending GA feels like going to a family reunion.  Do we all agree on everything?  Not even close.  Do we all get along?  Not always.  Do we all want the same thing?  Sometimes.  Do we all gather in love and with a deep commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus for a troubled world?  We do indeed.  We will gather together to worship, to pray, to sing, to laugh, to cry, to celebrate, to mourn — and to do the nuts and bolts of the work that must get done.  Through it all, the spirit will be among us and we will be blessed.

A History Lesson

Worship Study Prayer

Wednesday morning–at 1am to be more specific–I took an Uber to the Cleveland Amtrak Station and boarded an eastbound train, headed to Philadelphia.

I’m Josh, the Presbytery Office Administrator.

The purpose of my trip to Philly is not in search of the best cheesesteak (although I scratched that itch, too…) but instead to visit the Presbyterian Historical Society.
For those of you who don’t already know (or who don’t have easy access to Wikipedia), the Presbyterian Historical Society is the longest running continuous denominational historical society in the U.S. Many know them because someone from the Presbytery staff brings them up when a church closes. As in, “We’re going to send all the registers and session minutes to the Historical Society.” Once there, they are catalogued in their new home in the Society’s 32,000 cubic feet of archival records in Philadelphia. Their collection includes personal papers, Session minutes, paintings, rare books, and other curios and treasures.
So did I go there? I visited the Society as a continuing education opportunity. I got a tour of the facility, used the archive to do some research for a member of the Presbytery, and perhaps most importantly: it was an opportunity to learn more about the history, structure, and workings of the PCUSA.
Some of you may be snickering a little to hear me wax poetic on the subject of learning more about the history of the denomination. Around the office, I can frequently be heard saying things like “I don’t care what the form looked like last year,” or “‘It’s always been done that way’ is not sufficient reason to continue doing it that way,” or “I know there’s a biblical basis for changing this process–something about wineskins.” Given all the changes I’ve championed over the past two and a half years, it may be hard to believe that I have a strong connection to, or interest in, history.
Change can be a hard pill to swallow–for anyone, although I have found this to be especially true in church work. So when I came parading in with Google, and electronic meeting registration, and digital records storage, I was not surprised to be met with some skepticism. I was the new guy, after all, and not even Presbyterian. How could everyone have been expected to trust me with the information and traditions of a Presbytery that goes back over 200 years? (That’s a long time–my family hadn’t even come to America yet at that point!)
But here we all are. And I think that through our work together over the past two and a half years, most of you already know this, but just in case you don’t: It’s specifically because I value the history and mission of this Presbytery and the PCUSA that I get excited about new and better ways of doing things, of gathering and distributing information, of being church.
I look at the legacy of an organization that knows at its very core that the way to be a community is to embrace our disagreements and find a way forward together. Indeed, one that believes debate between colleagues is the movement of the Holy Spirit. I look at that and think, Now this is a denomination that has something to say to the world we live in.
And I want you to know something else: I think of myself as a steward of this Presbytery’s historical records, and I take that stewardship very seriously.
I didn’t grow up in Presbyterian churches. I haven’t been an office administrator or church employee for my entire career–I’ve mostly worked in service or retail since I was 16. But between my various jobs and academic programs I’ve learned about communication, processes, and information technology. And I try to bring that knowledge to work every day and leverage it for the good of this Presbytery.
The world we live in is changing fast, and while the message of God has never changed, the ways we share that message has. And I’m very excited to be a part of that, to come to work every day and solve problems, in order to help build God’s world.
So I’m grateful for this strange, difficult, wonderful work. And I’m grateful for all of you, for going on this journey with me. And I’m glad we’re all a part of a church that’s committed to reforming, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
I plan to write more about my experience at the Historical Society, once I’ve had some time to process it. Thank you for reading.

Meet Ed Pawlowski, Commissioner to General Assembly

General Assembly

My name is Ed Pawlowski, Ruling Elder at Orwell North Presbyterian Church. This is my first trip to the General Assembly. I am truly blessed to be representing the Presbytery of The Western Reserve and have prayed daily since knowing that I will read all of the information available before the meeting to understand and be able to place a heartfelt vote as to what would help PCUSA operate as God would have intended. I look forward to all of the information sessions and meetings, but mostly hope to meet and fellowship with many new ‘family members’. Praise God that we have this ability in a country such as ours. God Bless.

And the Countdown Begins

General Assembly

In a little over three weeks, the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will convene in St. Louis, MO.  This biennial event brings together Presbyterians from all over the country for worship, conversation, decision making, reconnections, new connections and long times for sitting and listening.

I had the privilege of attending the 218th General Assembly (2008) as a teaching elder commissioner from National Capital Presbytery.  This year I’ll be attending in my role as General Presbyter for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve.  While I have a pretty good knowledge of what happens at GA, attending in this capacity is a new one for me.  And in all honesty, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I’m supposed to “do”.

One thing I am committing myself to is the support and encouragement of the commissioners from PWR.  I am grateful for their sense of call to this particular form of ministry.  I am awed by their excitement and willingness to give a week of their life to this work.  They deserve daily attention and “thank you so much” at every turn.  We will commission these 5 souls at our Presbytery meeting next week–praying over them and gifting them.  It is my hope that all who consider themselves a part of this Presbytery will extend to them gratitude and prayers.

There will be much more to chew on, think about, respond to as we are in the midst of the week.  For now, it is enough to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all those attending as commissioners and praying God’s Spirit will blow through them as God leads all of us into that Divine future.

Not Worrying About What ‘They’ Say

Worship Study Prayer

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Matthew 11:16-19

     16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
        17 “‘We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
        18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”

For a reflection on this reading to make any sense, you need to think back to a reading a couple of days ago, when Jesus was talking about John the Baptist. If you recall, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask whether Jesus was really the messiah or not. We thought about how odd that seems on the face of it, that John would have to ask that question. But we said that Jesus was so different from what the Jewish people expected the messiah to be like, that it seems that even John the Baptist was confused.

In yesterday’s gospel reading, Jesus talked about John’s rough manner and his strange way of life. (He ate bugs and wild honey and wore clothes made of camel’s hide.) But in spite of his oddities, Jesus declared that no human being had ever had a greater role in salvation history than John the Baptist. And that brings us to today’s reading.

Which is one of those passages in the Bible that can have you scratching your head when you first read it. But it winds up having something pretty interesting to say when you dig into it – when you “unpack it,” as the theological types say.

Jesus starts out by saying, “To what can I compare this generation?” And he isn’t using the word “generation” the way he would. Jesus really means people of the world in general. He’s saying something like, ‘People! You know what they remind me of?’

And then Jesus goes on to say that people remind him of a bunch of kids. In particular, the scholars say, kids in the Middle East of the time had a game they would play where the girls would pretend to play flutes at a wedding feast and call the boys to dance, and the boys would respond like they were at a funeral and call the girls to wail. (Probably a lot funnier in the original Aramaic, or at least I hope so.)

Anyway, the point Jesus was making seems to be this:

Because John the Baptist was known to walk around in his camel’s hair clothes (think about wearing rough wool or burlap in the hot sun of first-century Palestine), and to eat locusts and wild honey, some people said he ‘had a demon.’ Now, it’s possible that people really did think John the Baptist was possessed by an evil spirit, but I suspect that’s not really what Jesus was saying. I suspect that in the ancient world, where people had no idea about mental illness and considered it to be demonic possession, people just thought John the Baptist was “nuts.” Because, you know, walking around the Middle East in that getup eating bugs and honey you scoop out of a wild beehive does seem kind of nuts.

But on the other hand, Jesus lived what must have been seemed like a fairly normal lifestyle by comparison. Jesus ate normal food, went to parties, and accepted people’s invitations to dinner. Apparently he had no compunction about drinking wine, either (He could even make a pretty good batch when the situation called for it.) And while people criticized John the Baptist for being a crazy religious fanatic, they criticized Jesus for seeming too normal – not acting ‘religious enough.’

So maybe the point Jesus was making to his disciples was not to get too worked up about what people say about them – not to put a lot of time and effort into trying to fulfill people’s expectations of what the leaders of a religious movement should be like. Because those who are looking for something to criticize will always be able to find something. The point of this little lesson seems to be, as we would say today, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Which brings us to the last sentence of this reading, the end of verse 19: “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” In the Jewish tradition, ‘Wisdom’ was used as a way to refer to God’s presence and participation in the world. This way of referring to Wisdom had something in common with the way we talk about the Holy Spirit. You can find this idea expressed quite a bit in Proverbs, for instance. And interestingly enough, Wisdom was always portrayed as a woman. In Jesus’ day, most Jews read the Greek Bible, and the Greek word for wisdom is ‘Sophia.’

So what Jesus seems to be saying here is that while people might criticize both himself and John the Baptist, in the end both will be seen to represent God’s actions in the world. And, of course, that’s exactly how we see them. We see John as sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, and we see Jesus as God appearing in human form to bring about reconciliation between himself and humankind.

We might take a lesson from this passage, I suppose. No matter how we try to serve God, there will always be critics. Some will say we’re too religious, some not religious enough. Some will say we’re too liberal, some that we’re too conservative. Some will say our music is too stuffy, some that there aren’t enough of the great old hymns. Some will say we waste too much on mission, some that we don’t spend nearly enough. But rather than worry about what people say, we should focus on what God seems to be calling us to do and to be, and trust that in the end, as our master said, “Wisdom will be proved right by her actions.”

Let’s pray. Lord, you know how worried we can get about what “people say,” and how that can lead us to do and say things that are foolish and defensive. Help us to listen for your leadership in everything we do, and to be more concerned with what you say, and less concerned with what people say. Help us to trust that if we follow your call as we hear it, all will be well in the end. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

(The other readings for today are Psalms 89:1-18 and 147:1-11; Proverbs 6:1-19; and I John 5:1-12.)

Morning Prayer – 5/8/2018

Worship Study Prayer

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A Prayer for the Morning

Lord, our God,
You caused the universe to explode out of the darkness,
And light came to be by your word.
Throughout the ages that have followed,
You have been bringing your light into the world,
And people who have lived in darkness have seen a great light by your grace.
Each dawn reminds us that no darkness can ever defeat
The light of your life at work all around us.
Lord, you know that the world can sometimes seem dark and cold to us,
But we remember that Jesus declared his followers to be the light of the world.
As we go into the world this day,
Help us to keep that joyful responsibility before us –
To shine the light of his love wherever we go,
To look for opportunities to give hope to the hopeless,
To reject the Satanic forces that would set us against one another,
And to cling to the ministry of reconciliation we have been given.
By your Spirit, move us to work day by day to be more like Jesus,
To live with discipline and courage,
Living in such a way that our striving for holy living
Inspires others to want to imitate Jesus, too.
Help us to be joyful and enthusiastic and vigorous and successful
In doing the things you give us to do this day,
And let everything we do bring glory to you
And to your holy name.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

From the Book of Common Worship

Eternal God, we rejoice this morning in the gift of life, which we have received by your grace, and in the new and abundant life you offer the world in Jesus. On this day, we thank you especially

for the love of our families . . .
for the affection of our friends . . .
for chances to serve your purposes today and to help you bring your kingdom to fulfillment . . .
for the communities and neighborhoods in which we live . . .
and for opportunities to give to others as richly as we have received from you . . .

God of grace, we offer our prayers for the needs of others, and we ask you to empower and direct us to serve them even as we have been served in Jesus Christ. On this day, we pray especially

for those closest to us – families, friends and neighbors . . .
for refugees and homeless men, women and children . . .
for the outcast and the persecuted . . .
for those from whom we are estranged . . .
and especially for other followers of Jesus from whom we are estranged.

Protect your people this day, O God,
And keep us safe as we live it.
Move us to be intentional in playing a part in the establishment of your righteous kingdom.
By your Holy Spirit,
Stir up in us a craving for that kingdom,
And let our lives reflect the light of your new day,
And the radiance of our Lord Jesus Christ,
So that anyone around us who lives in darkness
may see his light because of us. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Thanks for praying with us this morning,
and may you have a joyful and blessed day,