Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday: Justice in the Streets

Presbyterians took to the streets of St. Louis today to deliver some $47,000 to the city's justice center to pay bail for hundreds of folks caught in a cash-bail system that is unjust and, if we still believe in the quaint notion of "innocent until proven guilty," also unconstitutional. Hundreds of us marched a bit more than a mile through the scorching heat from the convention center to the jail to bring liberation to the captives and to show the world what church looks like.
My friend, Bruce Reyes-Chow, received the following tweet as he marched:
"Hello! I live on Washington Avenue in St Louis. I am used to conventions happening down here, but I am not used to being moved to tears by the members of the groups. The message of that march was beautiful. I am not used to seeing a religion actually live out messages in the way you guys did today. Thank you for opening my mind, eyes, and heart to both the problem of cash bail and to the Presbyterians of the USA."
It's not all polity at GA. We're doing justice, too.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday: God Alone is Lord of the Conscience

“God alone is Lord of the conscience.” That’s the bedrock upon which Presbyterian polity rests, and it’s always good to hear it articulated at General Assembly. This morning I am sitting in committee 11 – social justice issues.
The committee is holding hearings on about 20 different pieces of business over two days. The day begins with open testimony. Dozens of people sign up to speak to the committee on the array of concerns on its docket. Anyone can sign up to speak – Presbyterians, non-Presbyterians, people of any faith or of no faith – because we believe that the church must listen to the world.
We also believe that God alone is Lord of the conscience – that no institution can stand between an individual and their conscience nor compel any individual to proclaim a belief they do not sincerely hold.
So we just heard back-to-back testimony from a doctor who is a woman speaking against an overture on religious freedom that, she feels, would require her to act against her convictions or be labelled a sinner by her church. She was followed by a pastor, also a woman, who shared the story of her ectopic pregnancy. Their views on abortion – and, probably, a whole lot more – were diametrically opposed, but they both were free to tell their stories, to speak their truth.
Now the church, embodied by the 50 or so individual members of committee 11, must discern the church’s truth. Moreover, whatever truth the committee discerns today (and the full assembly discerns later this week) individuals within the church will be free to follow their consciences; indeed, within our polity, individuals are called to follow where the Lord of their conscience leads. In that following lies salvation.
The challenge, of course, lies when faithful folks feel led in contradictory directions. The work of the church comes in working out our salvation together day by day in fear and trembling.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Remembering Peg

I’m in St. Louis for the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and over the next few days I’ll post a fair bit about the important business of the assembly. But, in the way of things, life and death will disrupt even the decent and orderly plans of Presbyterians.
So, instead of spending the first day of the assembly doing orientation work with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship interns I am helping to support, I spent most of yesterday in the hospital keeping vigil for a dear friend and colleague in ministry.
Last evening, the Rev. Peg True joined the church triumphant, and it will never be the same! She was surrounded by the prayers of countless friends, and her hands were held in a small circle that included her older brother, Fred, and sister-in-law Betsy. I am comforted in my own grief imagining Peg already serving on the Heaven Innovation and Transformation Team.
Peg, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall Friday evening and never regained consciousness, was a life-long part of the congregation in Arlington that I’ve been privileged to serve for the past 15 years. Our fellowship hall is decorated with a mix of photographs of the community over the years, and in one taken around 1945, an 8- or 9-year-old Peg is sitting at a Sunday School table with a twinkle in her eyes that suggests she was up to something. She had that same twinkle Friday afternoon as we chatted on the flight we shared from DC.
Behind the twinkle lay a sharp, deeply thoughtful and creative mind buoyed by a warm and compassionate heart. Peg was an educator, a vocational path she followed as a young adult when, in the late 1950s, her call to ministry was blocked by a church still far from ready to support women in their calls.
Nevertheless, she persisted, and, a quarter century later, encouraged by my predecessor at Clarendon, the Rev. Madeline Jervis, Peg was among a group of five women the small congregation supported in seminary. Peg was ordained by National Capital Presbytery and served congregations in NCP and Baltimore Presbyteries until her retirement in the early 2000s. In retirement, she served as parish associate at Clarendon, where her deep wisdom helped the community through several significant transitions and innovations.
In fact, the mission discernment team on which she served for the congregation over the past five months, just gave its final report to the session two weeks ago, and the congregation will be making some significant decisions this summer that will become part of her great legacy to Clarendon.
All of that, however, is a bit like a resume (and, being far from session records this morning I don’t vouch for the precision of any of this). Peg was so much more than even the most impressive curriculum vitae could cover.
She invested in relationships, and a walk with her through her retirement community was like walking with a celebrity. She knew everyone there, even though she’s only lived there for the past few years. In the short while she lived at Goodwin House she’d already been deeply involved in several groups working to make improvements for both residents and the staff. That was simply the way she walked through life: paying close attention to people and situations, and using her immense gifts to help them get better.
After she died last evening, I made some calls to folks who I hoped would hear the news from me rather than via Facebook. Among those, were my three young-adult children. Peg was part of each of their confirmation journeys, but more than that, she was part of their lives. When I reached Martin, my 24-year-old middle child, he simply said, “aw, Peg was the best.”
That pretty much captures it. Margaret ‘Peg’ True was the best. Well done, good and faithful servant.