Letter from Lehigh Presbytery Moderator re: time of transition

May 17, 2015

To the saints called by God to be Lehigh Presbytery:

Lehigh Presbytery is in transition. This is our challenge, and we believe it is a challenge filled with opportunities and possibilities!

Yesterday (May 16), the Lead Team and Committee on Ministry spent the better part of the day reviewing the results of the congregational self-assessment, the Holy Cow! Presbytery self-assessment, and received reports from both our past and present treasurer on the financial state of the presbytery both present and projected.

With the departure of our Teaching Presbyter, the Rev. Dr. Steve Shussett, we find ourselves in a position to re-evaluate our life together and to chart some new courses. To that end, our June 23rd meeting will focus on a new direction for Lehigh Presbytery:

  • What is the role of a Presbytery? What are we here for?
  • What are the opportunities for mission and new life in our midst?
  • What is God already doing in our midst that we can celebrate?

We are not in this transition alone. The Synod is also in transition and we are part of that conversation as well. The Synod has also indicated that shared grants are available to us to bring in outside resources to assist us in our transition.

The Lead Team and COM will be meeting again on July 11th from 9:00 AM-12:00 PM. As a part of our new day, we would welcome the invitation to meet at your church (there are about 25 of us). All we ask for is a private space with adequate tables and chairs. Please contact me at 610-507-3927 or pastordave@pennsidepresby.org if you would like to be our host.

We are Lehigh Presbytery, and we will continue to communicate what we are learning. I hope to see you next Tuesday, May 26, at the Moderator’s Forum in Ashland and at our June meeting. We are in transition, and it is our intent to seize this moment and make the most of it – together.

In Christ,

Rev. David Duquette
Moderator of Lehigh Presbytery

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Northampton County Outstanding Senior Citizen Award

Congratulations to Marian Lewis!

Marian Lewis was born in 1923, making her a young at heart (soon-to-be) 92-year
old. She studied organ and church music at Westminster Choir College in
Princeton, NJ, graduating with the class of 1945. Marian gave piano lessons to
hundreds of eager students and had a major impact on the careers of many Slate
Belt musicians and music teachers. Many of her former students continue to
communicate with her to this day.

At the Faith United Presbyterian Church in Pen Argyl, she is an Elder, serves as their Organist, and sews with the Quilters. At Chandler Estates, she provides transportation for other seniors and is on the resident council overseeing programs. Marian is part of the welcoming committee as well. With her smile and unassuming nature, hers is usually the first friendly face seniors encounter.

In the midst of all that, she finds time to hold a monthly piano sing-along that is popular with the residents. Marian is also involved with My Brother’s Keeper that gathers every Wednesday at Hope UCC and transforms donated blankets and fabric into sleeping bags for the homeless.

In recognition of all these achievements, Marian was presented with the Northampton County Outstanding Senior Citizen Award on May 7, 2015. The Faith United Presbyterian Church of Pen Argyl’s congregation hosted a luncheon celebrating this honor after worship on May 3, 2015.

Well done, Marian…WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU!

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Letter from the Teaching Presbyter

To all the Saints of Lehigh Presbytery,

Grace to you all, and peace.

It is with a mixture of deep sadness and great joy that I write to you to share the news that I have resigned from the position of Teaching Presbyter in order to accept a pastoral appointment in the area. This decision did not come easily for me, nor was it made lightly. However, it is something that I joyfully and gratefully receive as a gift of God.

Lehigh Presbytery is in the midst of some difficult realities, many of which mirror not only the denomination, but also the western Church as a whole. I never once lost faith that God is at work in the churches that give Lehigh Presbytery its very being, and the Presbytery Lead Team, of which I am a part, has desired to be responsive not only to the challenges, but also receptive of the opportunities. But like many presbyteries and churches, we have found it difficult to get our arms around how to do this. Honest conversations have been held, honest questions asked, and more are needed.

In the midst of this, in a routine moment when it would have been so easy to miss God’s desire, God was relentless. Last fall, as I half-listened to a devotional podcast, I entirely missed the Scripture passage, but I knew I had to hear it. I played it again, then a third time. “That night [Jesus] appeared to Paul: “It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You’ve been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome!” (Acts 23:11, The Message). With that, I knew that while I could still contribute to our life together in Lehigh, it was okay for me to consider other places where I could contribute to God’s kingdom.

With utter amazement and stunned gratitude, I am able to tell you that I have accepted an appointment as pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Allentown, beginning July 1st. No, I have not left the Presbyterian Church (USA)! Rather, since 1997 four denominations have had a partnership, “The Formula of Agreement,” that was forged out of longstanding ecumenical discussion. In this, we allow the “orderly exchange of ministers” in a way that we have most frequently seen in our area with United Church of Christ partners. Under this agreement I will remain a PC(USA) pastor, with dual standing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Because I will remain in the area, I will still be under the authority of Lehigh Presbytery.

This has been such an unexpected meeting of gifts and desires between the church and me that I have to believe it is God-orchestrated. As the situation unfolded, it was remarkably evident how God was using this call in a multitude of ways — revealing to me the economy of God’s grace in a wonderfully unexpected way. Unanticipated though it may be, God is addressing my call not only as a pastor, but also as a husband and a father. Alicia, Rachel, and Daniel share in the joy of this new beginning for all of us.

I am in conversation with the Synod of the Trinity and Presbytery leadership on how my transition out of the Teaching Presbyter role can happen most helpfully, and how I can remain a part of the Presbytery most healthfully. Like a pastor leaving a congregation, I know that good and healthy boundaries are best for all of us. I am glad to say that I will be attending the June 23rd presbytery meeting in Slatington.

I wish it were possible for me to visit each of the Presbytery’s congregations one more time, to see the many friends I have made over the years and worked alongside in a variety of ways. I would love to share one last smile, handshake, or hug. We did not always see eye to eye on things, but so many of us could still look each other in the eye, with respect and affection if not agreement. That is what it is to be the Body of Christ.

There is so much more I could say. I will leave this ministry with many fond memories, many learnings, and many, many friends. Most of all, I leave with renewed conviction and confidence, that for us and for the world, God is indeed, all in all.

Steve Shussett

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PC(USA) Moderator Heath Rada speaks at Stated Meeting of Lehigh Presbytery

 

What I Am Seeing and Hearing across the Church

Heath K. Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board—April 2015

 

Heath Rada speech smallIt is my pleasure to offer to you a reflection of what I have seen and heard across our church during the 10 months since I was elected moderator. First, let me begin with some of the very positive reflections.

  1. We are seeing an amazing emergence of young adults coming back to the church. Whereas statistics indicate that these folks are leaving evangelical megachurches in large measures, the PC(USA) is seeing young adults returning to our membership. Let me give you three examples. My own church, Grace Covenant in Asheville, N.C., announced last year that for the first time in our history we have more members, from our 900 memberships, who are under the age of 45 than older. Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, the fourth-largest church in our denomination, with over 5,000 members, says that their rapid growth is being impacted particularly by the 21- to 31-year-olds—the largest demographic of growth in their congregation. White Memorial Church in Raleigh, with over 4,000 members now, says that of the almost 400 new members in their congregation in the past four years, the vast majority are young parents—at least 75 percent of them. I am hearing this over and over, particularly in urban areas. And when we ask why these folks are choosing to be members of our denomination, they give two primary reasons:
    1. We are a safe place where these young people can come and search for their faith identities. They can ask questions and seek answers and pursue deeper understandings of the faith without fear of judgment or feeling they shouldn’t have questions. They say the Presbyterian Church embodies the teachings of Jesus who taught us to love one another and respect one another.
    2. They say that we are a church without walls. Over and over, they say that we are a place where they can live out their faith. They don’t have to be in church every Sunday, but they are not going to let down the feeding programs for the poor when they are scheduled to be there. They may take a hike instead of attending worship on some Sundays, but they know they will come back and be fed and then be equipped to go into the world as living servants of Jesus.
    3. They say that we care for all of God’s children—regardless of race, creed, or gender issues. They do not all agree with gay marriage, but they say that being a part of a denomination that allows for them to have different opinions models the love of Christ, which they believe is true and is not hypocritical—a trait many of them have found in other denominations.

Let me hasten to add that I see and hear about this phenomenon in urban areas. Rural areas are not having the same experience. But rural areas are also working hard to keep young adults living in their towns and communities, because they are choosing to leave in large numbers.

 So my first question to us as a Presbyterian Mission Agency board and staff is, How are we going to address this new influx of dynamic Christians? How can we serve them in ways that will enhance their effectiveness and undergird their excitement as PC(USA) members?

  1. We are often criticized by many outside our church as not believing in the authority of the Scriptures and not accepting Jesus as our only path to salvation. I have preached on these two matters almost every time I have occupied a pulpit. And I want to simply say two things: both of those are untrue and almost blasphemous accusations about the PC(USA). First of all, there is not a teaching or ruling elder who is ordained in our denomination who does not have to answer the question in the affirmative—Do you accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God?—or some similarly worded statement that means the same thing. If they cannot say they do, they are not ordained. To say the PC(USA) does not believe that is a lie. It is sad that people who want to harm us have used this untruth to lead many people who are less informed about such matters to turn against us.

The other main theological question I am asked is if we believe in Jesus Christ as our sole means to salvation. Again, the answer is blatantly obvious. One cannot join a church in our denomination without answering the question in the affirmative that she or he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you do not, you cannot be a member in our churches. And I have not met one single person—member or officer of our church—who does not believe that as truth. There has been a campaign of hate and divisiveness built against us. And it is not a true reflection of our particular body of Christ.

Question number two: How do we undergird the basic theological and faithful principles of our church in a way that lets the world know the truth about who we are? Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to members of the PC(USA) than the acceptance of and love for Jesus Christ.

  1. The third area I want to mention is related to our witness to Christ around the world. Our global missions program is still extraordinary. I have had the chance to sit with and watch our mission coworkers in nine countries outside of the United States during these 10 months. Their faithfulness and love and compassion, as well as their commitment to the faith and our denomination, and particularly to the wonderful people they are serving, is remarkable. We are extraordinarily blessed with these people, and they deserve increased support and affirmation as they live and work in areas where their very lives are under fire. Our mission partners in other countries love and affirm our work in their midst. Not only are they grateful for our past service, but they are eager for us to continue to work with them to build up their churches.

So, question number three: What can we do to help, as a board, to undergird these precious, long-standing, and devoted relationships with church bodies around the world? How can we impress on our denomination the significant impact we are having in addressing issues of world peace and compassion? The Presbyterians who are breaking off from us and becoming other denominations do not have the same history of relationships and long-term bonds of love. Nor do they have the networks and relationships with both the governments and the churches that we have developed. They are losing a huge advantage in their efforts to make a difference around the world. We cannot let our partner churches down. We also must find the resources needed to enable our mission coworkers to continue. How can we do that?

  1. The fourth will be brief but needs to be shared. Our church offices in New York City, with the United Nations, and in Washington, D.C., are huge factors in living out the faith by promoting worldwide peace and justice, the critical issues that Christ called us to pursue. In New York, I was told by numerous other faith communities that our UN office is the standard that they choose to emulate. Our staff and work there not only serves our denomination but is the model used by other Christian communities when it comes to being aware of, and responding to, issues around the world which impact God’s children. Likewise, in D.C., when I went to the White House, I was informed by so many people from other church communities and nonprofits that we are the denomination that brings the message of Jesus into the realities of policies and projects being undertaken by our government. In fact, one person tearfully reminded me that had it not been for the PC(USA), both the original act and the extension of the Civil Rights Act would not have been legalized.

Question number four: How can we undergird the ministries of these areas across the denomination? I find that our membership at large does not realize that as Presbyterians we have a formative voice in both national and international matters—a voice that lifts up the love of Christ and upholds the human dignity of our sisters and brothers.

  1. The fifth matter I wish to address is our relationship to the Jewish community in the United States. After our vote last summer on divestment, this became the number one issue on my plate, as well as the greatest topic of conversation around the church. In our effort to stand up for the humane treatment of Palestinians, we lost trust with our local and national Jewish communities. There are lots of issues related to this. It is a complex and challenging matter we have undertaken. I am not here today to debate the pros and cons of the divestment decision, as that is not the role of the moderator. But I can tell you that I have worked hard to communicate with both our Jewish friends and our Palestinian support groups, to see how we might communicate in ways that will uphold the dignity and strong anxieties which both bodies have—and I might add that I believe both groups are legitimate in their fears. Dialogue is critical. I am aware of conversations in so many communities where Presbyterian churches have come together to explore the issues and have found the conversations to be very helpful. I have had very meaningful meetings with the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and with Jewish rabbis. In fact, in a few weeks, and with the blessing of Gradye Parsons, who is our primary communicator in such matters, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who is in many ways the titular head of the Jewish faith community in the United States, and I are inviting a group of about 30 Presbyterian ministers and Jewish rabbis from across the United States to meet together in a private conversation to discuss ways that we might continue some form of reconciliation. This matter will continue to raise its head at our General Assemblies and will likely continue to be divisive.

So my fifth question is, What should we as a board do to help bring some degree of reconciliation to the peoples with whom we relate? Obviously, we cannot control the Israeli government or the Palestinians, but what guidance might we provide our denomination so it can look at ways to move forward in directions that would be more conciliatory?

  1. Number six is related to gay-marriage issues. Yes, whereas our decisions have been liberating and celebrated by some, they are painful and heartbreaking for others. But I am no longer seeing this as the defining issue of our church. Even in many churches where they have been quite divided, I am hearing members say they are tired of the fight, they are tired of being identified as a one-issue church, and they want to move on—as members of the PC(USA). I am aware of two very significant churches in Texas that were identified by many as two of five major churches in Texas that would be leaving the denomination. They were offered support and assistance to help them in this venture. But in the past few weeks they have stated that they are no longer going to be divided over this matter, and they have called dynamic pastors to lead them in ways that might make them be more strongly aligned with the denomination. Whereas there are still some churches that are considering leaving us, more and more I am hearing of those deciding to stay because what we offer as faithful followers of Christ is far greater than some of the issues that have been dividing us.

So, question number six: Now that it appears likely that the major storm of separation and upset over gay-marriage issues may be diminishing, what do we do to bring back the harmony we need and should expect as one body? I would say that we still need to interpret what we have done. We need to undergird that in this “big tent” we call the PC(USA), there is room for us to disagree in love and not be afraid that alternative positions will be crammed down our throats. People are not being asked to betray their conscience. Grace has been a hallmark of the Presbyterian Church throughout our history. And grace will continue to be a huge part of our DNA.

  1. My seventh issue is related to communications. It was my honor and pleasure to retreat for several days with the six communication directors of our six denominational agencies. They are talented and competent people. They recognize that our denomination is seeking a coherent message. We don’t have a website that is working for us like we need. We hear from six different agencies about our work, but who is telling the story of the PC(USA)? Do we need a brand, something that could be a handle that would help to identify us in a way that shares who we are? Another way that question is being asked is: “I don’t know how to tell someone in a few sentences who I am as a Presbyterian. It is complicated. Can it be put into some simple statement that could then be elaborated on?” I would propose that for the next few years we might need to put greater emphasis on communicating than any other facet of our church. Churches want to know better ways to share their successes and ask questions of one another. They want to be able to ask which other churches have faced the same issues they are now facing and how they resolved those matters. People also want to know what the denomination has to offer on various topics and issues. In many ways, people are looking to our denominational offices to be the conveyers of information and not necessarily the instigators of new ideas. In many ways, that has been identified by our staff here as their new role. But we need to find new ways to communicate in a society that is focused on communications like it has never been before.

So, question number seven: What can we do to enhance communications between and among all constituents in the PC(USA)?

  1. What can we do about funding? When our Foundation is growing so well and our pension plan is financially secure (and everyone thanks God for both of those successes), why are our programmatic funds not also increasing? We have an excellent team of people raising money on many different levels. This is not a criticism of their work. But we are far short of what we need. Many people suggest to me that it is related to communication and the fact that people are not clear on what they should, can, and actually do give their money to support. Are we competing with ourselves? Should we embark on even greater efforts to raise the funds needed? Are there funds that should be redirected? Are we trying to do too much? In our Presbyterian Mission Agency board, we have asked our leadership to enact major changes in our budgets, which have resulted in huge cutbacks in order to be more efficient, while seeking to minimize cuts to services that the church needs to continue. But is the overall model of current funding for our whole denomination the best one?

So, question number eight: What can we do to increase financial resources for our programs and operations, which would more effectively undergird our work?

  1.   And now for my last point.

There is a lot of conversation at various levels of our church about how we function as a PC(USA) organization. The basic question I am asked in different ways over and over is, Is the PC(USA) set up to function in the most effective way to meet the needs of our denomination in 2015? And most of these people say no. These people are not the general pew sitters in our churches—those folk who care mainly about what is happening in their local church and want to know how to impact their local communities more effectively in the name of Jesus.

But for those who do care, at the General Assembly level there is a growing interest and concern about the way we operate at the assembly. Many of you know that there is a movement to explore ways to redesign our process for governing the church. We are seeing overtures from Foothills Presbytery that are calling for us to look anew at how we do business. We have people expressing concern that our wonderful democratic process of government can also be a liability when it comes to making a decision. It is felt that we have to wait too long for some decisions and that our emphasis on voting becomes our identification. It is said that “to vote” means to “divide the house” and that Presbyterians spend too much time dividing themselves from one another rather than looking at ways to build the church together.

We are currently exploring the role of synods. I don’t need to expand on issues being raised concerning that level of governing body, but we do need to include it as part of a much greater concern about our overall priorities.

And what about presbyteries? Recently, I heard these statistics from Sue Krummel: We have 171 total presbyteries. Thirty-four of them have no executive presbyter and most have eliminated the position. Another 34 have interim leaders. Thirty have a person serving both the role of stated clerk and executive as a dual role. Seven have someone sitting in the seat that used to be for the executive—but the role is now quite different. That means 105 of our 171 presbyteries do not have the traditional model of stated clerk and executive, the model we have used for so many years. And the negative impact of this is multifold, not the least of which is that the traditional avenue for communications across our denomination is no longer in place. It is interesting to note that stated clerks are required, so they are everywhere. We need to realize that the current structure for this was put into place 45 years ago, and demographics were different. People had much more faith in institutions then, and now there is suspicion and much concern about all institutions—religious or otherwise—in our nation.

We hear a great deal of conversation about “Louisville”—almost as if it is an entity unto itself. Things have been tough there. We continue to expect our staff to do everything they did when we had 5 million members and one-third more staff and money. It isn’t fair, but the system needs to be changed. What can we do to help create a new system that will change the church in ways that are needed?

My personal assessment is that we must spend time in setting our priorities as the Presbyterian Mission Agency and as a denomination. Does the structure need to change? All evidence says yes. But we can’t change effectively until we know our priorities.

For us, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, we are the operation that is most criticized. In some ways that could be expected, for so much of the “work” of the church falls under our umbrella and we are the most visible. If people don’t like something about the church, often it is because of some direction our programs are going, and that is usually related to us.

I have tried to listen carefully, and I am hearing three primary streams of thought.

The first one is from what I would call “insiders”—people in the church who focus on matters of church structure and operations. I do not find these dynamics to be focused upon by most people in the pews, unless pastors or some other folks to whom I am referring as “insiders” encourage them to do so. Of the ones I have been hearing, there seems to be confusion and dissatisfaction with our board as well as with our staff.

Here are the three sets of opinions I am hearing most often concerning the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and they are not in order of priority. All are perceived as problems.

  1. That Louisville staff are not handling their administrative roles as carefully as they should, resulting in unnecessary problems and concerns. There is the feeling on the part of some that we need to hold people responsible who have made poor decisions.
  2. The second wave of thought is that whereas there have been some decisions made which were more harmful than helpful, that to lay the primary blame on the staff in Louisville is unfair. There is concern that our structure was formed when we had 5 million members, and that today our 1.8 million members want the same services and support which they received when our budgets were many times greater and our staff much larger. That group of people is calling for us to reexamine how we are organized beyond Presbyterian Mission Agency board operations. How might some of our functions between the six agencies work together more closely to help us achieve our priorities? Some social scientists say that in a day when all organizations are viewed with suspicion, and when people are looking for new forms of accountability, our model of working by consensus is no longer helpful—or even possible. Should there be a place where “the buck stops” and also a unified message from our church—rather than six different units sharing their own messages? They also ask, “Are we being fair to our staff by expecting them to work in impossible circumstances and criticizing them when they can’t do it all?”
  3. There is also a sentiment that our board, the Presbyterian Mission Agency board, is not functioning effectively. Marilyn, I have not heard this directed to you, nor Jo, so please don’t take this personally. In fact, I have heard you praised. I would have pulled you aside and shared it with you confidentially if that had not been the case. But what I have heard is that the other five boards of our organization respect confidentiality, are collegial to one another and to the staffs that work for them, but that there is dissent among the mission agency’s board membership.

Some people in the church seem to know our confidential business when they shouldn’t. They say that we go out and talk about our problems rather than working with each other to fix them. There is also a feeling that we have some on our board who are vying for power and position and using board membership to place themselves in positions of being appointed to major leadership roles or even in seeking paid positions.

In fact, one example that I heard in Nebraska two weeks ago was that the very issue we are talking about today—namely, the report of the 1001 misuse of funds, is being debated by our board in unhealthy ways. I don’t know where they got such information. Some say, quite bluntly, that Linda should have managed this better. Others who believe that may have been the case early on, say they believe that the board is the one who made the decision to have this study done, without Linda’s input, and therefore the almost certain negative reaction to what will likely be extraordinary expenses should be addressed to the board—and the church should be told that we did it—not management.

So there is a lot of tongue wagging about our board and whether or not we need to reexamine how we handle our role. The saddest part of this is the rumor I have heard from New York to California to Texas—that some of us are vying for key positions in the church and are helping to spread news that casts a poor shadow on our staff in public ways which should be dealt with in confidence. I cannot speak to the truth of any of that, but I do know that is what I am being told by pastors, and middle governing execs, and even seminary staff. And for us to do the work we are called to do, we need to name and address these matters.

My friends, God has called us into the communion of fellowship known as the PC(USA). In a spirit that reflects who we are as responsible followers of Christ, let’s start looking at ways to lead our denomination into our new reality. Let’s find ways to make God smile.

And remember this most of all: We have every reason to believe that God loves our church, because it is in God’s hands. And God also loves each one of us—so much that it’s as if God had nothing else to do.

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Olivet United Presbyterian Church celebrating before closing its doors

Taken from the Synod of the Trinity enews.

http://www.syntrinity.org/news-events/church-news/olivet-united-pc-celebrating-before-closing-its-doors/

“Death is not the final answer.”

Olivet United PC

That in a nutshell is what the Rev. Matilda Chase is trying to convey from the pulpit to the worshipers at Olivet United Presbyterian Church in Easton on a weekly basis these days. The reason for this message is that Olivet United PC is closing its doors for the final time on May 10 due to financial constraints. The once-vibrant church that had standing-room-only attendance with roughly 700 members in the mid-1960s has dwindled to a congregation that averages about 45 people on Sunday mornings.

There are varied reasons for the dramatic drop in figures over the years. But even though the church will no longer have weekly services and programs, those who regularly attend should continue doing what they’re doing. And that’s the simple message that Rev. Chase is trying to get across to her parishioners.

“Just because this congregation is closing doesn’t mean that these people have to stop doing ministry,” Rev. Chase said. “God has more in store for us.”

Hired to replace the Rev. Robert MacIntyre, who passed away in 2011, Rev. Chase came on board three years ago as the temporary supply pastor before being named the interim a year later. Attendance has dropped by about 15 in those three years due to deaths as well as other family situations that have pulled people away from the church.

A lack of people has resulted in a lack of giving, lending to ongoing budget issues. In 2014, the church had to pull $20,000 from its savings account to pay its bills, and with that likely being the case again this year, the final decision to close was made in late February. A May 10 date, which also happens to be Mother’s Day, was picked as the last day because it coincides with the May 11, 1899 anniversary of Olivet United’s organizational service.

“The congregation has been in financial trouble for a very long time,” Rev. Chase said, adding that over 10 years ago the congregation decided to no longer keep memorial funds separate from operating income. “There just wasn’t enough new income to cover operating expenses.”

Partly to blame for the decrease in people coming through the doors is the Easton area itself. A multi-cultural area that has become a blue-collar, working-class part of town is also home to extreme violence. In the week leading up to Easter alone, there were three shootings within three blocks of the church building.

“There are people who are afraid to come here, and certainly afraid to be here after dark,” Rev. Chase said. “Most of the current members don’t live in the community and for a long time that was how people came to church. They walked to church.”

A community group was organized to approach the local police about the violence in Easton, and when Rev. Chase heard about the group, she approached the session at Olivet United PC about having a voice there. The reaction was telling.

“I said, ‘Who would be interested in being involved in this?’” she recalled, “and nobody indicated an interest. And that was the point at which I thought there’s not a future in this church.”

Another important time came when Olivet United PC considered upgrading its kitchen to help feed the hungry in Easton. The church received a grant from Lehigh Presbytery but still needed $55,000 to make it happen. The church voted on it and decided that it was too big of a leap of faith to take at the time.

“What was astonishing to me was the number of people outside of this congregation who wanted to be a part of it,” Rev. Chase said. “I kind of felt like we missed the one opportunity to breathe new life into this community of faith and into this community. When that kind of fell apart I think the air went out of it.”

Discussions eventually ensued about the future of the church, and when all was said and done the church’s leaders agreed that closing would the best thing for everyone involved. Even though the church could survive for a little while longer, it was determined that Olivet United PC should shut down before the breaking point.

“The worst thing we could do was just hang on until we couldn’t hang on any longer,” Rev. Chase said. “It’s the same thing with a person who’s dying. We’ve moved to the place where we recognize the benefit of Hospice care. People acknowledge that they’re dying, that they don’t deny it and that they do what’s important for them to do so that they’re being faithful and they’re being honest about what’s going on in their life.

“I would hate for someone to keep coming to church and keep coming to church and then one day look at the books and say we can’t pay our secretary, we don’t have any money to pay the sexton, we can’t pay the pastor, I guess we’re gonna have to close the doors and turn off the lights.”

At the request of Rev. Chase, a Hospice preacher delivered a sermon in February titled “Live Until You Die,” and that has kind of been the approach taken by the congregation in these final months. Each Sunday at the start of the service, a “Minute of Remembrance” is held to allow people to reflect on an event or time in the church. Baptisms cropped up on Easter Sunday, and the church is holding a hymn sing so people can hear their favorite songs one final time.

In late April, a history celebration that will include the presentation of old newsletters and bulletins will allow members to reminisce and is scheduled in conjunction with a pot luck meal. On May 3, the tradition of a Scottish communion will be held Sunday morning, followed by the final service the following week that will include a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“I’m going to do a funeral service that day,” Rev. Chase said of her final sermon at Olivet United. “I made a promise to myself, once we knew that we were closing, I have made it a real point to preach the resurrection every Sunday.”

The Lehigh Presbytery requested a special afternoon service on May 10 to close the church, but the congregation did not wish to return to the building following the morning service. Where those same worshipers will end up the next Sunday remains to be seen, but there are two other PCUSA churches in Easton (First PC and College Hill PC) that could help fill the void.

“And there are other people who are going to take this opportunity to go and do something really different,” Rev. Chase acknowledged.

The closing of Olivet United PC will leave a hole in the lives of its worshipers and also in the Easton community. The church has been committed to mission work, having provided food monthly to a homeless shelter and local food pantry while also hosting two Alcoholics Anonymous groups and being the site for bi-annual community rummage sales. But the biggest void will come from the nursery school that has been under Olivet United’s roof for 40 years and is also closing May 1.

“This nursery school has made a real difference in a lot of people’s lives,” the pastor said.

Rev. Chase, who is moving to chair the Lehigh Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry to help churches that are in financial trouble find their way back to their feet before it’s too late, would like to see the church building continue to stay vibrant, maybe being a place of ministry in a community that needs it. It would help mask the feelings that are coming from a place and people who are going through a time of transition but should be confident in the things they’ve accomplished over the years.

“In the midst of that sadness is recognition of all of the good things that have happened in that place and that this has been a long run for people who were faithful,” Rev. Chase concluded. “The fact that we’re closing doesn’t mean that these people haven’t been faithful as followers of Jesus Christ.”

by:  Mike Givler, Communications Coordinator
The Synod of the Trinity, 3040 Market Street, Camp Hill, PA 17011

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Lehigh Presbytery elects a New Stated Clerk

Ruling Elder Marsha Heimann, from the First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, was elected and installed as Stated Clerk on February 24th. We welcome her to her new ministry in Lehigh Presbytery.

New Stated Clerk

 

[Moderator Teaching Elder David Duquette, Stated Clerk Ruling Elder Marsha Heimann, and Teaching Presbyter Steven H. Shussett]

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Memorial Tribute to the Rev. Herbe Stocker

September 28, 1930 – December 9, 2014

Herbe Stocker: a true ‘doulos’ (as he used to call himself)…a ‘servant’ of God. I first met Herbe when I moved to the Lehigh Valley over 30 years ago. I was to be installed as an assistant pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Allentown and needed a commission of teaching and ruling elders for a Sunday morning installation. Being new to the area, I said… ‘Who can I ask?’…all the pastors are involved in their churches on Sunday morning. Someone suggested Herbe Stocker because he was serving at Moravian College. I remember him being so gracious and willing to help. Fast forward 4 years: I became re-acquainted with Herbe when I moved over to serve First Presbyterian Bethlehem. Herbe and his beloved Jean worshiped there. I became pregnant and quite ill with morning sickness and asked Herbe if he would help me by making some hospital and nursing home calls until I could tolerate ‘smells’ again. Herbe graciously agreed. He walked alongside me in partnership for the next dozen years (and beyond!)

Over 30 years of friendship, you learn a great deal about someone. Herbe was a man who found a way to make lemonade out of lemons. He acknowledged life’s challenges but chose to see the positive in a situation. Discover you have life threatening asthma-shift your call from parish ministry to personnel admin in church-related colleges; Grow up without a mom-become the best dad you can be; Learn you have prostate cancer-assume you will be cured. Learn you have incurable cancer-prepare to die well-surrounded by love and loving those God has entrusted to your care.

Herbe was a true friend. He supported me in ministry…but particularly as a woman in ministry…when there weren’t too many of us! He truly dedicated himself to the ministry…but also to making me look good and to succeed in overcoming stereotypes and prejudices. He was a great balcony cheerleader. Herbe was supportive through thick and thin, in good times and bad.

Herbe was transparently honest. He taught me: If you make a mistake-own it; take responsibility. If you fail to do something, don’t cover it up-apologize and do better next time. If you are in a conversation and don’t agree with someone, but don’t want to offend, merely say, “I don’t see it that way”. Herbe gave honesty and integrity a new standard.

Herbe was committed. His yes meant yes and his no meant no. Herbe was passionately in love and deeply committed to the woman he said ‘I do’ to-for 59 years. Jean and Herbe gave witness to a mature love that could agree to disagree, that supported and lifted up one another through the good, the bad and the ugly. I remember when he retired and Jean was still teaching, he assumed the household responsibilities of cooking and cleaning with enthusiasm. They invested in their relationship and it showed. Herbe loved his family. He was so proud of each of his 4 adult children and their loved ones. He adored his grandchildren. He made certain to keep his family a top priority, especially in retirement.   Jean and Herbe’s move to Washington, to be closer to family, was a great loss to the Lehigh Valley, but a great decision for them as they were able to enjoy their family ‘to the full’. We had the great privilege of visiting them late last summer sharing memories, meals and moments of sadness as we faced the vicious nature of the cancer overtaking his body. He faced his death with such courage and honesty. Herbe graced my life…he brought unexpected joy again and again…he brought to me…the face of God.

Rev. Sue Pizor Yoder
February 24, 2015

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November 18th Stated Meeting Highlights

The November 18, 2014 Stated Meeting of Lehigh Presbytery was graciously hosted by the First Presbyterian Church of Easton, where Temporary Supply Pastor Cindy Simmons warmly welcomed those gathered. Among those introduced were Teaching Elder Stuart Wilson, the new interim pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Stroudsburg, and Marianne Kitzmiller, who would later be elected as the new Treasurer of Lehigh Presbytery.

Of the five proposed amendments to the Constitution presented at this meeting, the Presbytery voted in favor of actions to adopt a child/youth protection policy, changes in the processes and examinations of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, and a new statement on a denominational stance on interreligious relations. The Presbytery voted against changes surrounding renunciation of jurisdiction.

Along with the slate of persons elected to a variety of presbytery and synod committees and teams, and the aforementioned election of a new treasurer, Teaching Elders David Duquette and Susan Bennetch were elected to moderator and vice-moderator of the Presbytery respectively. Outstanding vacancies remain on the Presbytery Lead Team, Committee on Ministry, and Committee on Preparation for Ministry. Also a new stated clerk is to be elected at the February meeting, if the way be clear. Concluding this report was recognition of, and gratitude for, Dave Boltz’ eight years of service as presbytery treasurer.

Two additional, and significant, moments of recognition took place later in the meeting. First, a memorial tribute to the Rev. Al Stone was offered on behalf of the Presbytery by the Rev. Dianne Kareha. Rev. Carol Brown subsequently led a celebration of the ministry of the Rev. George Taylor, who retired earlier this year as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Stroudsburg. George offered some words of his own, and was lifted up during the worship service.

The Presbytery was given an update on the transition in camping ministry of “Kirkwood-Brainerd” (featuring the Brainerd logo), including an open house scheduled for January 24th at the camp. Prayer and thanksgiving was shared regarding former Camp Director Jen Henshue’s service to Brainerd.

In preparation for the presentation of the 2015 budget, the Presbytery Lead Team presented a document entitled “Areas of Focus for the Teaching Presbyter,” identifying teaching and congregational transformation as the primary duties. A consequence of this is eliminating stated clerk responsibilities from the Teaching Presbyter’s portfolio; the clerk position will be funded from reserves in 2015. Ultimately the budget was approved with only a 20¢ increase in per capita, to $27.33 per member in 2015.

Among the several important matters brought to the Presbytery by the Committee on Ministry, Ruling Elder Joan Spangler was examined and approved to serve as a Commissioned Ruling Elder (formerly known as “Commissioned Lay Pastor”) at the First United Methodist-Presbyterian Church of Ashland. Additionally, it was announced that the Synod of the Trinity has made $10,000 available (for one-year) to each of its presbyteries within its bounds in response to the increased Board of Pensions family health coverage costs for teaching elders.

The meeting concluded with a lovely service designed around the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and music provided by the Chancel Choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Easton, Director Elizabeth Campbell, Organist Gloria Snyder, and Flutist Elaine Martin. In addition to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, presided by Teaching Elder P. Douglas Cronce of Catasauqua, the annual reading of the Necrology took place, remembering all the saints who went before us in 2014.

The next stated meeting of Lehigh Presbytery is scheduled for February 24th, 2015 from 1-5 p.m., at the Presbyterian Parish of Bangor-Roseto.

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Tribute to the Rev. Alfred W. Stone

January 14, 1927 – September 30, 2014

“Call the question!” That’s how I’ll remember Al Stone, a no-nonsense, humble teaching elder, full of integrity and a great sense of humor. Al’s wife, Jeanne, remembers him as a kind, caring husband, who regularly conveyed his love in word and deed. As a father, Al made up stories, read to the kids, and did many other fun things with them.

Born on January 14, 1927, in Jersey City, NJ, Alfred William Stone graduated from High School in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, in 1944 and enlisted in the US Army, serving until his discharge in 1946. After graduating from Cornell University in 1950 with a degree in engineering, Al took a job with an engineering firm in Jackson, Michigan, where he met Jeanne. Following their wedding on June 29, 1952, Al and Jeanne moved to Poughkeepsie, NY, where Al worked for the Public Utility Company. They became very active in the First Presbyterian Church of Poughkeepsie, where they organized a Bible study group; and Al served as a deacon, coached basketball, sang in the choir, and served on various committees.

When Al decided to pursue a call to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament and enrolled in Princeton Seminary in 1957, they and their three children lived on a chicken farm in the Princeton area.

Reverend Al’s first pastorate was in Fairless Hills, PA, where he served for 7 years. Al’s next call was to Bellville, NJ, where he served for 22 years, including one year as Moderator of Newark Presbytery in 1979, and where Jeanne taught elementary school in Glen Ridge, NJ.

After retirement to Allentown in 1989, Al sang in the choir at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, served as a Stated Supply Pastor in Reading for 4 years, and served on nearly every committee of Lehigh Presbytery.

Surrounded by his loving family, The Reverend Al Stone died peacefully in his Luther Crest apartment on September 30, 2014. He will be deeply missed by his dear wife Jeanne, their daughter Susan, sons Jeff and Doug, grandson Derric, and many friends, including us here in this presbytery.

We thank God for Al’s life and ministry, and we commend Al to God’s never-failing love and care.

Gratefully,
Rev. Dianne Kareha, Luther Crest Chaplain

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Christian Camping Appeal Letter

Kirkwood-Brainerd Camp

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”     Isaiah 43: 19

 

November 19, 2014

Dear Friends of Christian Camping,

As we enter into a season of Thanksgiving, we would like to say thank you for your steadfast support of Camp Brainerd over the years. As I attended the closing ceremonies, I was quite taken with the depth of commitment and love we have for the place of Brainerd. But I was very encouraged to hear talk of how the spirit of Brainerd will live on.

We are now at a point that affords us the opportunity to take that spirit to a new place and a new level. Lehigh Presbytery’s Camp Brainerd and the Presbytery of Philadelphia’s Kirkwood Camp will merge into one ministry. For more than six decades, these two camps birthed countless testimonies of the power of Christian camping. Stories of formative faith experiences echo throughout the hearts and minds of members of both presbyteries and their churches.

Joining in full partnership with Philadelphia – birthing something new with them – became an opportunity for new life and vision that has begun to be realized. The merged ministry will bring more children to camp, increase the number of churches supporting the new camp, and help insure that camping ministry is available to our children for generations to come.

There is much to be done. A Transition Team comprised of an equal number of members from each presbytery has already begun to meet to plan the camp’s future. In order to recognize this new, joint ministry, a new name will be developed for our camp – and the spirit of Brainerd will continue to shape young hearts and minds. We have a very bright future ahead of us!

Our hope is that you will continue to faithfully walk with us, as you have in the past. We need to begin this joint ministry and the 2015 camping season on a sound financial basis. So, we are asking you to please consider joining us on this journey with your gifts of talent, time, and treasure. A meaningful first step can be making a donation to the camp. Online donations are possible at www.kirkwoodcamp.org. Checks may be made payable to Kirkwood-Brainerd Camp and mailed to: Presbytery of Philadelphia, 915 East Gowen Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19150. Also, please note the name of your church in the memo section. Additionally, it is possible to indicate whether you prefer your donation go toward scholarships or general use by including either “Scholarship” or “General” in the memo section as well.

Together, we can continue in our commitment to transform hearts and minds through Christian camping. Again, thank you for your faithfulness to our camping ministry. May our prayers abound as both presbyteries continue to forge this new path and new way of doing ministry together.

Blessings,
Rev. Ruth Ann Christopher
Christian Camping Transition Team, Co-Chair
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