May 30, 2014
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
It has been ten days since we gathered at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. I must say that the presbytery “chatter” since that meeting has been rich with energy and reflections on the sights and sounds of our time together in that sacred space. For me, and I believe for us, both our meeting and our worship was an affirmation of this “new thing” that God is causing to “spring forth” within our presbytery. Over and over again, I have heard how the Spirit of the Lord was powerfully present on May 20th – as we engaged one another in the ministry and business that has been entrusted to us; as we opened our worship with the music of congas and ended with bagpipes. I am so humbled to serve as your Executive Presbyter. Since I joined you in February, I have felt richly blessed by you – by your openness to my presence; by your warm embrace; by your prayers. I carry you and the ministries of our presbytery in my heart – even as I still have much to learn.
As I have shared, I have spent my first 100 days (which ended on May 11th) focused on listening to small groups in an effort to understand the rhythms and pulse of who we are.
Following is an adapted version of my report to our presbytery during the business meeting portion.RFSantanaGraceSpiritSoundings30MAY2014
On My first 100 Days
In addition to understanding our structural design and the work of our commissions and committees, my time has been rich with meetings and small group gatherings –– both of which I will continue into the next 100 days. The small group gatherings have included: pastors of our non-English language ministries; some of our self-identified evangelical pastors; ‘missional’ pastors, pastors who are 40 and under in age; and African-American pastors. Moving into the next 100 days, I will be meeting with smaller church pastors; currently serving interim pastors, retired pastors, pastors serving in validated ministries; larger church pastors and more. Some of these will probably have to wait until the Fall, but I am looking forward to the opportunity for the conversations. These gatherings have allowed for some candid reflections.
I have attended all the regional meetings – and have been encouraged by the commitment of the regional conveners and the leadership – as they explore ways to deepen relationships while equipping our members.
Working closely with our Moderator, Wonjae Choi and Vice Moderator, Mike Henry – along with the Leadership Collegium – I am privileged to walk along side a gifted community of faithful saints serving on our behalf. Together with them, I have attended and participated in countless ordinations and installations. I have also had the privilege of preaching to some of our congregations.
In addition, I have worked closely with our staff to better understand our operations, our commitments and our fiscal health. I love the people in our office. They are truly committed to the ministry of this presbytery.
Clearly, I will also need to slowly build relationships outside of our presbytery. As such, I have attended the inauguration of the new president of Eastern University, and have met the leadership of the local ministerium.
In summary, I’ve learned some amazing things about our history, our overall spirit, our hopes. But throughout many of the meetings I’ve attended, it is clear to me that we have some emotional and spiritual angst that reflects some of the journey of the past few years, the past decade – and perhaps, even longer.
I invite you to listen for some of what I have learned – in the words I wrote entitled Echoes of Prayers for the Pain– which was presented by nine of our younger minister members. Please click here for the prayers: Echoes of Prayers for the Pain
“Be bold and courageous – do not be discouraged.” I feel privileged to have been allowed into the sanctuary of this pain. It has caused me to prayerfully reflect on much – on the fact that the pain is real; that “isms” are alive and well. But it has also caused me to reflect on the truth that we are not defined by the pain; that we are more than our pain. This is especially true in our claim as a resurrection people. I believe that the danger of pain left without healing, is that it can become its own place of “dark comfort.”
Now I don’t stand here pretending that the “real” pain that has been experienced is supposed to disappear suddenly. Nor will I pretend that we will not impose pain on one another yet again. But I do stand here asking that if we have any hope of embracing the future God has prepared for us – this new thing that is springing forth; we must find a way that places that pain at the foot of the cross. We must find a way to forgive one another – not in order to make ourselves feel better – but in order to make room in our hearts – so that we might experience and see the face, the hands, the love of Christ in and through one another. We must find a way to forgive one another – so that together – across all human divide – we might dream dreams and see visions of God’s kingdom; so that we might serve as ambassadors of those dreams in this world.
I believe we can do this… I believe that the time is now! You see – in my conversations, I have also begun to get a glimpse of something else about who we are as a presbytery. I have learned about an indefatigable spirit that is us! It is a spirit that is indeed perceiving and ready to allow a new thing to spring forth.
And so I, along with our amazing staff and leadership collegium, offer a glimpse of who we are in this seven minute video presentation – as reflected in the life of our congregations – to the music of “God of this City.” We present to you: Our Church Story
“Greater things are yet to be done – in this city,” and in the suburbs and in the rural areas of this presbytery. The Gospel is alive and well in our churches – large and small. Yes, we have some significant challenges – but it is my hope that we will approach those challenges as opportunities or ‘fresh expressions’ of a new season of ministry. It is my hope that we can use the rich resources of people and institutions around us to enrich our leadership. It is my hope that we can become a laboratory for the training of future leaders of our church.
There is so much we can do together – But we will need to let go of the things that keep us in bondage to our past; to our pain; to our cynicism; to our indifference.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘Road to Emmaus’ in the Gospel of Luke. I imagine those two disciples walking – tired, disoriented, uncertain, discouraged, wondering what had gone wrong. But Jesus was with them along that road, even if they did not know it. Jesus was there! That is a great reminder for us as the Church of Jesus Christ. I also cherish the reminder that it was at the table – when they were gathered together – that God’s revelation in Christ was made known to them.
So I invite us to come together to the table that we call the Presbytery of Philadelphia – in all our imperfections; in all our uniqueness; in all our possibilities – believing that like those followers before us – we can experience God’s grace – and more importantly, share that grace in a world that desperately needs the Gospel.
Finally – Let me say – what an honor it is to serve you. As I said before my amazing installation service, I can assure you – I will “bring it” – but I will need you to “bring it” as well. I have no messianic delusions – I am not the Presbytery of Philadelphia – neither is any one individual. We are the presbytery together. And it is my prayer that the same adventurous spirit and courage that birthed this place 300 years ago – will inspire us to think of ourselves in new and exciting ways. I believe “greater things are indeed yet to be done!!