Saturday, September 30, 2006

EOP Reaction, version 1.03c (beta)

Chrissie and I were at the annual Kirk Retreat for Friday night and Saturday. It was a great gathering with more than twice the number of people who attended last year. On the drive home my phone rang--it was Wayne. "Have you heard about the letter?"

Wayne went on to describe a letter sent to all Kirk members indicating that those who wished to remain PCUSA would be worshiping at Southminster Church at 5pm Sunday afternoons until they could meet at the Kirk buildings (presumably when the presbytery thinks it will take control of the property).

This is the third try by the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery to draw out a so-called "true church" from the Kirk congregation. The first was a mild attempt to provide a "supply pastor" for the Kirk since I and Wayne had left the PCUSA. The second was a letter inviting members to a meeting that took place at First Presbyterian, Tulsa. This is, by my count, the third attempt.

This letter raises several issues in my mind. First, we left the denomination virtually unified as a congregation. However, the presbytery is actively seeking to split people away from our congregation. Clearly their action is schismatic.

The second issue is about the legal process that we are in. The presbytery has responded to our suit to remove the affidavit from our property with a demand that the court force us to hand over our membership lists, along with a printed set of labels. The presbytery obviously already has the list. They've used it twice, once with the invitation to the meeting downtown and now with this letter inviting Kirk members to attend another church.

The question is why are they asking for this from the court? It costs a lot to go to court, and it makes no sense to spend the money to do so in order to get they already have in their possession. I would think that members of the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, knowing that money is in short supply there, might question such an expense.*

Third, the people who voted against the Kirk's disaffiliation are always welcome to attend church at the Kirk (some actually are). If what they want, though, is to be in the PCUSA, they can easily accomplish that by joining any of the PCUSA congregations in Tulsa. The handful of people wanting to remain with the PCUSA neither need the entire Kirk facility (designed for 2,000) nor could such a small number of people be able to pay the bills for maintaining the facility.

The EOP seems to be going blindly through a process--the check list, if you will--regardless of the illogic of doing so. If the gameplan says "get the church to hand over membership lists" they are doing so, even though they have them in hand.

So, the EOP will hold worship for the "Kirk" on Sunday afternoons at Southminster, deeming it the "true church." These Sunday afternoons are not meetings for discussion. They are an attempt to form a separate congregation from the Kirk. I would guess that they are hoping for numbers to indicate that there is a real division in the Kirk. I don't think that'll happen.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

* I know that the presbytery is responding to the Kirk's suit for a "quiet title" on our property. All the presbytery has to do to stop the expense is remove the affidavit that they secretly filed on our property. We asked them to do so, they refused, and we had to take legal recourse.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

So What Should Mainline Denominations Do?

What should mainline denominations do about the serious problems facing their future?
  • Membership numbers are plummeting (no one even mentions attendance numbers).

  • Reserve accounts are almost tapped out and current donations aren’t enough to make up the difference.

  • Leaders at almost every level of denominations are frustrated and fearful for their future.

  • Mutual trust is rare.
In The Layman (September 28, 2006) I just read some of the recommendations that came from a PCUSA gathering of General Assembly Council officers, as well as synod and presbytery execs. It began with some activities that, to me, speak more of spiritual vapidity than spiritual formation.
The General Assembly Council spent much of its time this week introducing presbytery and synod executives to “an appreciative inquiry,” “a new way for a new day,” meditative labyrinth walks and creating the “eschatological church.”

During three sessions, the middle governing body leaders compared their “faith journeys,” interviewed each other, and envisioned a future focused on the positive. They also retrieved stones immersed in water to take home with them as reminders of their baptism, and posted hand-scrawled newsprint lists on the walls.
But there were some good responses from the synod and presbytery people who attended.

One dealt with money
“Many presbyteries are trying to develop a vision for the future while dealing with disgruntled congregations that are withholding per capita or threatening to withdraw from the PCUSA. Offers of matching grants have little value for presbyteries that have nothing in reserve.”
Another dealt with the "headquarters" attitude:
“We need you not to promote a personal agenda or to act heavy-handed in a controlling or dictating way,” one executive said. “We need you to act with servant leadership. We need you to give away yourself and your position for the new life and health of the church, rather than trying to protect your own turf. If you are getting ready to take an action that you know will be controversial, we need you to consult us and get our feedback first, being willing to change your mind and not take the action at all if you hear from us that your action will cause a greater lack of trust … in our fragile denomination.”
Another person brought up a lack of focus:
“[O]ur diversity, once a source of creativity, seems now to have become an unmanageable cancer. We could use a unifying vision or mission to unite us, which seems to have come to our Biblical foreparents [sic] when they cried out in desperation and repentance. I understand that the Presbyterian Coalition … is struggling to find the future and that one option is to begin a dialogue with the PCUSA leadership towards a gracious separation. Will we have a creative, prayerful response or simply shut them down?”
Clark Cowden, an evangelical who is the Evangelist (executive) Presbyter in San Joaquin Presbytery in California, suggested that what needed fixing was the General Assembly.

“[It] provides more negative fodder during its biennial meeting than anything else. The General Assembly sets people up in opposing camps” and the rift continues long after the assembly's adjournment. “We can change that week, so that at the end of the week, we have positive news that goes out to a positive denomination.”
I have some suggestions to add for denominational leaders:
  1. Clearly set out what you do and don't believe. This will irritate some, but it is absolutely necessary for an honest beginning toward unity. If you believe what the Bible says, then publicly and repeatedly affirm that. If you don't, then let that be known. This also applies to the classic doctrinal statements of the Faith. A church's unity is in what it believes and teaches--not in its history.

  2. Remind each other that Biblical salvation is about souls, not social movements. The power to change the world comes first through changed hearts. If you need proof of this, read the Book of Acts, a biography of General William Booth, or a biography of William Wilberforce.

  3. Ruthlessly eliminate unnecessary or burdensome governing bodies, and make the remaining ones smaller. A connectional system requires that pastors and elders really know each other, as well as each other's ministries.

  4. Emphasize content over process. I once watched two labor teams at work in the Middle East. The first one was digging a trench, the second was immediately behind them filling the trench. People were kept busy, but nothing was accomplished. There is real content in fellowship and worship, which can be at the center of all denominational functions.

  5. Keep business real. Unnecessary announcements, silly skits, interminable reports that people could read, and committees without real purpose kill any sense of ministry and purpose. Any business done should be vital business, like ordination examinations, transfer of pastors, or conflict resolution.

  6. Set meeting times when people who have to work for a living can come. Younger people cannot attend weekday meetings during working hours. Too many weekday, day-time meetings automatically keep a vital portion of the church from attending.

  7. Use ministry teams instead of committees. Committees tend to find something--anything--to fill their time. And, over time, they continue to justify their existence even if they have nothing to do. Ministry teams are organized around projects, events, and well-defined, ongoing ministry. If their job is done, they are done.

  8. Make extensive use of networking tools between (or instead of) meetings. Email, conference calls, and video conferencing through the internet, can make true church business immediate and efficient. It can also connect congregations worldwide--not just in their particular geographic location. It can also save literally thousands of dollars in travel and related costs for face-to-face meetings.

  9. Encourage individual congregations, or alliances between congregations, to start new congregations. The old models are dead and should be buried. National or regional control over new church development smacks (correctly, I think) of control rather than encouragement.

  10. Learn from those who demonstrate spiritual life and growth. The ecumenical movement has devolved into lifeless meetings of liberally like-minded denominations. Pentecostal churches are the fastest growing in the world. While their theology should not be universally emulated, their faithfulness, sincerity, and spiritual focus have much to teach all of us. Individual congregations that are growing are often (usually?) resented. They also have much to offer.
Mainline denominations are at a critical crossroad. They can tinker their way into obscurity, or they can seek transformation. The prophet Jeremiah's words speak, I believe, to this very time:
“Jeremiah, say to the people, ‘This is what the LORD says: When people fall down, don’t they get up again? When they start down the wrong road and discover their mistake, don’t they turn back? Then why do these people keep going along their self-destructive path, refusing to turn back, even though I have warned them? I listen to their conversations, and what do I hear? Is anyone sorry for sin? Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”? No! All are running down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse rushing into battle! The stork knows the time of her migration, as do the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane. They all return at the proper time each year. But not my people! They do not know what the LORD requires of them. (Jeremiah 8:4-7)
This is a season for discernment. Unless we all find what the Lord requires of us, our ministry will be in vain.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Strange Kind of Hope

It is accepted wisdom that people with certain kinds of problems must hit bottom before any real change can occur.

The PCUSA has been desperately in need of change for decades. Membership decline is alarming. Theological dysfunction has spawned a spate of special interest groups—on the left and on the right—who strive to move the denomination in their direction. Repeated crises drive congregations out in numbers that, at any one point in time, seem negligible but taken altogether should be alarming. After all, they represent thousands of members seeking another denominational fold. Re-imagining, Justice/Love, PUP and their ilk have inflicted a cumulative credibility crisis.

But there is hope for change. News items today (9/27/06) show cracks in the fa├žade of normalcy. Some of the information is old news—falling income, inter-judicatory confusion, and the ubiquitous penchant for restructuring. In all of this is a new theme, though. The crisis seems to have hit a tipping point.

The first sign is in the middle judicatories.
“As middle governing bodies, it has now become perfectly clear to us that presbyteries and synods across the church are also facing significant instability and destabilization arising from a number of concerns. All of our missional, financial and institutional forms are seriously challenged. Yet, our present denominational structures provide no place where these concerns may be fundamentally addressed.” Presbyteries, synod ask GAC to hold consultation on their ‘viability and stability’
The second comes from the national office.
A five-year, $40 million campaign to raise funds for new churches and more overseas missionaries is in danger of having to shut down early because not enough operating funds are available, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly Council Executive Committee was told today.
“We only have enough operating funds to last through February of 2007,” Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands (MIJHH) campaign director Jan Opdyke told the group today. “Pledges are being kept, but donors are choosing to designate their money rather than give it unrestricted, which is where our operating funds come from,” Opdyke said. PC(USA) - News Service - Mission Initiative campaign financially squeezed

The third sign is an old one but, considering the first two, with greater significance.
“But in some ways, this gathering in Louisville is sort of a hybrid meeting: the old structure still barely in place but the new one not quite born yet. The three division directors are scheduled to end their jobs Oct. 1, but are still presenting reports at this meeting and Valentine publicly thanked them for their dedication. One item was presented with the explanation: 'This is something that would have been reported to the SLT (staff leadership team) if we still had one.’” Viability of presbyteries and synods may be studied

The saddest part of this, for me, is that the perceived crisis is about money. It will probably be addressed only as such and that will be a serious mistake. It will be a mistake because the financial crisis comes from deeper problems. PCUSA theology is so pluralistic (not just diverse) that there is no spiritual center in the denomination. The PCUSA has turned a deaf ear to its constituent congregations—particularly those like the Kirk who were on the brink of leaving, then did. There are perhaps hundreds of other congregations at the point where the Kirk was a few months ago. Despite theological confusion and a lack of trust from the pews, the leaders of the PCUSA see all the above problems strictly as a financial crisis, as evidenced in the cited articles above.

I don’t recall any previous crisis of such severity in the PCUSA or its predecessor denominations. The denomination is on new and shaky ground, and any number of things could result from the current crisis.
  • The PCUSA could continue its belt-tightening for the next couple of years, just postponing inevitable bankruptcy.
  • There’s a high likelihood that the PCUSA will become even more aggressive regarding money. Departing churches will pay premium rates for their property. Churches that leave their property will see each “true church” dissolved and the property sold. This is dependent upon the PCUSA having enough money in reserve to litigate.
  • Per capita payment will become an absolute requirement at the congregational level, rather than a voluntary offering.
  • Special interest groups, like the newly-founded Presbyterian Global Fellowship, will be lobbied to provide financial support for missions dear to their hearts, freeing PCUSA funds for administrative costs.
  • Someone will suggest that the PCUSA unite with several other failing denominations. This will guarantee a steeper decline for all involved.
  • The denomination is most likely to appoint a 2-year task force which will debate just what should be done. That task force will ask for an extension after the first two years.
  • The Washington lobbying office will remain open and funded.
The one good thing about this PCUSA situation is that crisis gives opportunity for bold, positive change. The question is whether or not the PCUSA leadership is up to the task of really renewing itself. So far, they've not demonstrated enough credible action to give hope.

I do hope that the PCUSA is renewed--first spiritually, then financially and structurally. The fact that the Kirk left the PCUSA doesn't mean that we hope it gets worse. The best thing that can happen for the Kingdom is faithfulness on anyone's part.

Keep praying--keep the faith.
Tom

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Legal Update

This blog is directed mostly to the Kirk community. It’s an update on where we stand in the legal process.

The Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery (EOP) filed two requests with the court (these requests, by the way, exactly follow the PCUSA legal game plan that was leaked to The Layman). The first is to have the court direct us to turn over all membership records to the EOP. Their stated purpose in this is to continue in their “process” so that they can effect reconciliation with the PCUSA or determine the “true church” amongst all our members. There is no question that this “true church” consists only of those who wish to remain PCUSA.

We have offered to mail a letter that the EOP can write to express these wishes to you. The EOP wants to do it on their own. To me, this indicates that there is more behind their request than simple communication.

I personally have a problem with turning over these records. We give our directory to members but we do not generally distribute it. While the information in it, regarding addresses and telephone numbers, is not purely private, it is protected. If we gave our directory to any group outside the Kirk that then used it to contact all of you, you’d be justifiably angry with us.

If you do wish to contact the EOP you can do so easily. Their email address is eop@scglobal.net. Their telephone number is 918-533-1324.

The second filed request is for the court to suspend our suit for clear title. The purpose behind this, as I understand it, is to put the property issue back into the PCUSA system. The problem with this request is that there is one—and only one—result obtained by going through their system. We will either lose our property or have to pay a significant amount to retain it. In the PCUSA/EOP system, the denomination is prosecutor, judge, and jury. They also stand to benefit alone from the outcome. As far as I can figure this is a guaranteed defeat for the Kirk.

Our attorneys have filed the necessary responses with the court. There will be a hearing in late October to determine whether or not the membership records will go to the EOP. In the meantime we do what we do best—ministry. I’ll keep you informed.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

The Chicken or the Egg?

Jodie is back on the blog and there is a kind of blog-volley between her, DrMom, and Larry. Jodie has a simple theology, “Jesus lives.” She cannot seem to understand why Christians would want to complicate belief more than that. I don’t think that she is alone. Many people want a simpler faith than what Christianity really teaches. Its teachings aren’t that complicated, but it requires more than an affirmation.

At first glance, her view seems powerful in its simplicity. It is true that Jesus lives. But what does that mean? For some people it will mean that Jesus lives as a memory. For others it is a metaphor. For orthodox believers, it is that Jesus is literally alive.

While a simple statement is attractive, it is inherently insufficient. Jesus didn’t leave us with the option of such a simple, stand-alone statement. His last words to his disciples before he ascended back into heaven are clear:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
(Matthew 28:19, 20, New Living Translation)

Simply saying “Jesus lives” doesn’t begin to fulfill this order.

  1. We are to make disciples. This could happen with some people simply by saying “Jesus lives.” I think, though, that people might want to know a little more about this man. Why do we say “he lives?” What did he do to warrant our interest in him?

  2. We are to baptize them. Here, Jesus states that we are to do so in a very special way—in the name of the Trinity. How are people to know what this means if we just say “he lives?”

  3. We are to teach these disciples everything that Jesus has commanded us to do. This is why we need all of Scripture. The Old Testament establishes the nature of sacrifice, which will be fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus’ teachings on the Law start with the Old Testament before they expand in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teachings are filled with encouragement, admonitions, and commands. Simply saying “Jesus lives” will not teach such things.

I hear from a lot of people who, for some reason, reject traditional Christian teachings for simplistic statements like, “Jesus lives,” or, more frequently, “all we need is love.” (sounds more like a song than a theology). In my opinion, such folk reduce faith to such things in order to avoid teachings of Jesus that are more challenging.

For example, most people hate the subject of hell. Yet Jesus, more than any one person in Scripture, speaks frequently about hell.
Matthew 5:29 "So if your eye—even if it is your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "

Matthew 7:13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way."

Matthew 10:28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Jody seems very concerned that people such as I (or DrMom) are believing men’s interpretations rather than Jesus. All we know about Jesus, though, comes from Scriptures. Jody has said,

Anyway, Dr Mom, you’ve asked me how I give meaning to “Jesus lives”. I don’t. That is what it means to be “irreducible”. Jesus gives meaning to me. He gives meaning to my life, and to my existence. He gives meaning to meaning itself. The only meaning I get from life I get through him. The only meaning I get from scriptures I get through him. He is the source of all meaning, the beginning and the end. All that there is can be reduced to him, and without him nothing that there is would even be. (humm… seems like I read something like that somewhere).
Anyway, an irreducible statement is one you can use to say other things, but one that cannot be further explained or simplified. It stands alone. It just is. It is like the smallest brick you can find to build a house. A cornerstone. Oddly, it is one that many people overlook. (I think I read that someplace too)
In thinking about it, you have put your finger exactly on the real question of our debate.
“Do the Scriptures give meaning to Jesus, or does Jesus give meaning to the Scriptures?”
The answer to that question tells us who or what we worship as our god.

With Jodie's philosophy we could simplify all knowledge. In mathematics we could say "pi is." in geography we could say "Darfur is." Psychology could be summed up as "the ego lives." There is a lot more to these fields than these simple statements reveal. it is the same with faith.

Jodie’s argument is a classic tautology: which came first, the chicken or the egg? We live in a world with both chickens and eggs, so the question serves no real purpose. So it is in our faith: Scripture is the account of Jesus. Without it we have no knowledge of him. With it we can actually discern what it is that we need to say in order to make disciples, and what we need to teach them.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dhimmitude

I recently researched the Islamic concept of dhimmitude. This is a part of Islamic law that defines the subservient position of people in Islamic countries who follow the other religions “of the Book,” that is, Jews and Christians (dhimmis). While Islamophiles hold this up as an example of religious freedom in Moslem countries, it is actually is an enforced servitude for those with the desire to hold onto their own faith.

An integral aspect of dhimmitude is jizya. Jizya is a tax that has to be paid by Christians and Jews in Moslem countries so that they can practice their faith “freely.” It has its origins in the Koran:
Fight those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and his messenger have forbidden - such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the book - until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled (humiliated). Surah al-Baqara 9:29

I couldn’t help but think of this as analagous to the situation that some orthodox congregations face within the PCUSA. The old denomination is “tolerant” of congregations that wish to hold to orthodox faith, so long as they submit to the greater “truths” of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. They are kept in the fold as interesting antiquarians, useful for the money that they pass on into the denominational coffers.

The orthodox may believe what they want, just so long as the money keeps flowing and nothing is said or done that might upset the PCUSA system. Once you stand up for the truth and actually do something about it, the facade of toleration rapidly fades.

This is what congregations thinking of speaking out or leaving the PCUSA are about to face. The Islamiterian system is geared to guarantee compliance. If a congregation is out of step with the denomination or, God forbid, actually thinking about leaving, it faces the terminal jizya of forfeiture of church property, bank accounts, endowments, and any personal property kept within the building.

This is a grim reality that keeps most congregations within the “tolerant” fold. Dhimmitude requires reluctant compliance, regular payments and, above all, silence. If you want to know the rules of PCUSA dhiimitude, just read the legal game plan that Louisville has issued for executive and general presbyters. Responding to congregations seeking to withdraw

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

PS I mentioned the idea behind this blog in advance to a friend. He thought that the PCUSA might actually like the comparison, given their fondness for interfaith alliances. ;)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Orthodoxy and the Mainline Denominations

I was preparing a blog responding to some people who have characterized our disaffiliation as an “attempt to find a perfect denomination.” We all know that such a denomination doesn’t exist. What we were doing is leaving a denomination that we believed had first left us, theologically. What we are looking to join is another denomination that has clear beliefs that are actually followed.

While I was writing, another comment came in that, in ultimate effect, made my case. John Shuck is a Presbyterian minister in Tennessee who is, even for Presbyterians, extremely liberal. Here’s what he wrote to me:

Dear Rev. Gray,
I am John Shuck. You referred to my blog in this post. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Yet you say that I demonstrate “beliefs and teachings that are utterly against all the PCUSA says it believes.” No sir, I do not. They may be utterly against what you say the PCUSA says. Your very action to leave the denomination demonstrates that you and the PCUSA are in disagreement. My blog is a part of my teaching ministry to my congregation and to others. Teachers introduce students to a wide variety of ideas. I certainly do not need to defend myself to you. But then again, I would never dream of attacking another minister whom I don’t even know.
It appears that you are diverting attention away from yourself by pointing at me. You made your decisions. Live with them. Don’t bring me into it.
John Shuck
http://shuckandjive.blogspot.com/

I wasn’t attacking the Rev. Shuck, but using his public statements a evidence of what truly is happening in mainline denominations. He has every right to say what he believes, but he cannot escape scrutiny and comment. The Rev. Shuck has placed his beliefs, sermons, published papers, etc., in the public marketplace through his blog and webpage, even as I have done. In doing so, he’s put his teachings in a place where they will receive comment and criticism, even as mine have. In fact, his statements do demonstrate exactly what I believe is killing the PCUSA.

For the reader, here are some verbatim comments that you can verify from his blog (above) and his website (containing sermons and links to publications), which is linked from there.

  • The Mystery was called by different names in different languages in different places—The Great Spirit, Marduk, the Goddess, Brahman, The Holy One of Israel, God, Christ, Allah, The No-Thing, the Ground of Being. But the Mystery is elusive, not allowing a name to tame it, Allowing no human to claim it for a possession.

  • I can appreciate the Christian story as I appreciate a medieval work of art. I can revere it as the story of my ancestors. I can even find value in it at moments of loss for a departed loved one. But at best, it is a secondary story. For me, the story is not large enough to help me to come to terms with the challenge that human beings currently face.

  • No longer can the Bible alone be our sacred canon. No religion or tradition can claim to have or to be the canon. The universe is our canon of scripture. We are not creatures placed on Planet Earth from the outside and to the outside we shall return. We are of the same cosmic stuff as the stars, the sun, the planets, and the earth, and all species of Earth. All of it is sacred. It and we are all part of that creative mysterious power of the universe. Yet we are ignorant of this powerful story.

  • When faith communities begin demythologizing the Bible, some interesting things will happen. The Bible’s authority will shift away from the text and toward the individual interpreter or community of interpreters. No longer will the Bible be considered an authoritative source of truth that contains infallible propositions about God or the human condition. Rather, it will become a resource for wisdom. Since authority is earned by the truth it tells, the Bible will have whatever authority the individual or community gives to it.

  • The preacher can no longer assume that just because a text is in the Bible that it is from God or is even valuable.

  • Anything a preacher says must stand on its own terms. This ethic will free both the biblical text and the preacher. The text will be freed from the preacher’s misuse of it. The preacher will be freed from the constraints of needing to “preach from the Bible” or to have everything s/he says to be backed by scripture.


I believe that such views, once made public, are worthy of greater scrutiny. Is what he has written Christian? Is it in accordance with what the PCUSA says it believes? Is it wrong to ask these things?

The greatest question, for me today, is why such a different theology is in any way acceptable to the PCUSA. I do not challenge the Rev. Shuck’s right to state and publish his beliefs. I do not challenge his right to be a minister of a congregation (although I think his beliefs are closer to Unitarian/Universalism than Reformed theology). This isn’t about him, but the mainline denominations. Why are they so upset about things like per capita and property when the foundational beliefs they say they uphold are not?

The Rev. Shuck seeks, I think, to have his congregation focus on this world, and not the next. His religion is not rooted in the eternal, but the temporal. This is how he puts it:

The point is not to “believe” that the corpse of Jesus was resuscitated. The point is the power of the Spirit alive in us. The presence of Jesus with them is so powerful that he changed their lives. Without that hope, without that presence, life is hopeless. That is what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 15. He saw Jesus in a vision. He didn’t see a resuscitated corpse. But his life changed.

The Rev. Shuck has, if his writings are representative, left orthodox Christian faith. My argument is that, while he is not a typical Presbyterian pastor, the direction in which he is leading seems to be the direction mainline denominations are taking. He may simply be more honest than others.

Where are the mainline denominations going? They are leading their people away from an orthodox faith in Jesus Incarnate, crucified, and bodily risen. I believe that they are trading the power of the cross and empty tomb for a simple social creed that, while earnest and good, is nowhere near the teachings of the core of the Gospel. Many are trading the inheritance of orthodox Christian faith for the potage of simply “doing good.” This is what I hear in what the Rev. Shuck is teaching:

I have not been one who goes head over heals [sic] for creeds.
Yet this parable has prompted me to declare some truths.
I will close with what I consider to be the message of Jesus.
This message is condensed in five simple statements.
I have decided to call these statements my five fundamentals.
1. Consider your life and your limited number of days.
2. Articulate a purpose for your life.
3. Accept that the rewards for following your purpose will be intrinsic.
4. Live your purpose.
5. Allow others the freedom to do the same.

Such is good advice for a part of life, but not for all of it. C. S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Friday, September 15, 2006

Listen to What's Being Preached

Every pastor wonders if people are listening to the sermons. Its obvious that some nod off while still others are distracted. But one hopes.

Sometimes that hope is dashed. One commentor on this blog, purporting to be a Kirk member, said the following:
"I think it's just a matter of how you decide to understand Jesus and how to understand the Bible...."
"I believe that the way Jesus, himself, lived -- the broad brush view rather than the hair-by-hair of the brush
view) is the truest manifestation of what God wants us to follow...."
"I think I can see Jesus smiling on your efforts to seek the truth for yourself and your family -- and I have a strong suspicion that that's good enough."


Someone wasn't listening. We at the Kirk teach the Bible as the revealed Word of God. It is not superceded by how one wants to interpret Jesus. Jesus didn't share the "broad brush" view when he said that "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Matt. 5:18 )

The person also wrote that Jesus smiles on "efforts to seek the truth for yourself...." It isn't individual truth that we seek, but the Kingdom of Heaven. Continuing with Jesus' words (I sense, somehow, that this commentor might reject Paul),   “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man." (John 5:24-27)

Our christian (small "c" intentional) culture has gotten bogged down by making exceptions the rule. It says our sexual behavior isn't an issue with God; our thought lives are not an issue with God. By extension, it seems, nothing is an issue with God and, insofar as our christian culture addresses it, the only thing that God will judge is our intention.

Yet this goes against all that Scripture teaches. Cain intended a good offering, yet it was unacceptable to God. I'm sure that there were well-intentioned Israelites who chose not to mark their doorposts and lintels with blood, and missed the Exodus. Felix had good intentions toward Paul's message, yet ignored it.

The central message of Scripture leads to and focuses exclusively on Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, salvation through Him, and eternal life through Him. Any other focus made central is heresy. When we make the focus ourselves--our ideas, our desires, our thoughts--it is also heresy. All of us are heretics in one way or another. It only becomes spiritually deadly when we deny that and cease our exploration of and obedience to the clear teachings of Scripture.

This is what is so discouraging to me as a preacher. I don't know how long this commentor sat in our pews (or if he or she did at all). But if they were there, I have to ask the question, "why?" I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I don't want to keep non-believers from attending--evangelism is our business! I don't expect people to be "cookie cutter" Christians. But I do expect a minimum of Christian belief from those who are members.

Our new member process is a six-week class, taught by lay leaders, that begins with an in-depth investigation of Christian faith, along with a challenge to follow Jesus Christ. Our standard of receiving members is their free-will affirmation that "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." Everyone who is a member at the Kirk should have affirmed this.

Why would a person who disagreed with this become a member? Why would they stay in a church that regularly preaches this? The answer probably can be found in our christian culture (small "c" again). Some people come to a church not to seek the Lord, not to seek Truth (capital "T"), not to seek or serve Jesus as He commands, but to experience something pleasing to them. A recent article from an Episcopalian member who believes little demonstrates this:

"We all love the incense, the stained-glass windows, the organ music, the vestments and all of that,' he said. 'There will always be people who love that. ... It's drama. It's aesthetics. It's the ritual. That's neat stuff. I don't want to give all that up, just because I don't believe in God and all that."
A Proud Skeptic in the Pew

If that's all you choose to believe, stay home. Sleep in. Do something more honest with your Sunday morning. If, though, you are truly seeking, you are always welcome, regardless of what you might currently believe. Come with an open mind. Listen carefully to the preacher. Match the preacher's words with Scripture. If they don't match, go somewhere else. If they do, those words just might make an eternal difference for you.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Waiting for Support

There are a lot of PCUSA leaders who are waiting until the GA permanent judicial commission gets a case, hoping to see if the PJC undoes the “local option” aspect of the PUP report. There is already a taste, I believe, of what is to come.

There was a decision by a synod PJC on one of the most clear-cut cases possible.
A Classical Presbyterian: Neither Hot Nor Cold: Synod of the Sun PJC refuses to correct Mission Presbytery: “In a 5-5 tie, the Synod of the Sun PJC has refused to correct Mission Presbytery for admitting an admitted practicing lesbian woman to candidacy for ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.
After repeated deadlocked votes by the PJC that could not break the tie, the complaint against the presbytery was not upheld.”

Additionally, the Redwoods Presbytery took an even more egregious violation of the PCUSA constitution—the same-sex marriages that Jane Spahr admittedly performed—and decided that there was “no violation.” This, of course, was before PUP was approved by the GA, but it tells the same story: there will be presbyteries and synods who heartily approve of local option. The GA might object but, unless their rules are supported and enforced, they will be meaningless.

The big question is how the PJC will choose to interpret the cases before them. Often, they ignore theology and focus only on process. In such a case, a lower judicatory can make a vile decision, but do it the “right” way, winning over any complaint against them. The current ethos of the PCUSA doesn’t look promising for those who wait.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

Saturday, September 09, 2006

No Voice of Reason

Here’s the scenario—your denomination is hemorrhaging members. There are churches leaving and others considering doing so. Some are suing for their property while others remain in the denomination only because they fear losing their property. There is tremendous confusion about what the denomination believes. Some are trying to respond by clarifying what is and isn’t acceptable for leaders. Others are trying to withhold giving in an attempt to persuade denominational leaders to listen, learn, and act appropriately.

If you were leading in such a situation, what would you do? It would be good to listen to the voices of those agonizing over their place in the denomination. You might want to step up to the plate and help clarify what you do and don’t believe. At the least, you’d assure congregations that you are striving to work things out in accordance with what you're hearing.

Don’t hold your breath if you’re in the PCUSA. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the highest staff officer of the denomination, has given his response to this real-life scenario in a letter to the stated clerks of presbyteries.

His response starts out giving some hope: “The assembly called [us], as we face difficult issues, to be engaged in ‘processes of intensive discernment through worship, community building, study, and collaborative work.’ The assembly also encouraged us prior to decision making to engaged in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, discernment of the will of God, and seeking to hear God’s voice through the voices of those in our community.” (emphasis added)

Then, though, Kirkpatrick gets to what his letter is really about and expresses concern (read, opposition) to the following:

  • “Actions by a presbytery that in essence set aside the assembly’s authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 and require subscription to all or specific constitutional standards.”
    This means that conservative presbyteries, like San Diego, cannot set standard tenets for ordination. This is in spite of the fact that ordination vows require adherence to the “essential tenets” of Reformed theology (which are nationally undefined).


  • “Establishing answers that are required of candidates for installation and ordination, or determining in advance answers that will be unacceptable.”
    This goes against logic. If churches and presbyteries examine candidates, it must be on the basis of the responses they expect. Whenever a company hires an employee, the interview process is designed to seek out qualifications, suitability, experience, and the like. Presbyteries should not expect particular compatible beliefs from candidates.


  • "Proposals to grant congregations – based on a super majority vote or other criteria – to leave the denomination with their property in the event of schism."
    Let no presbytery grant grace to a departing congregation. Although Mark Tammen, the legal eagle of the PCUSA, blithely states that they “dismiss” four or five congregations every year, he fails to mention the financial consequences of this, given that “dismissed” congregations either pay for their property (again) or forfeit it.


  • “Actions to restrict presbyteries from fulfilling their G-9.0404d responsibilities to transmit their per capita assessments to synods and General Assembly.”
    This is to keep congregations, and then presbyteries, from withholding money from the national offices. Even though the PCUSA's permanent judicial commission has judged per capita to be a “voluntary donation,” Kirkpatrick’s office still enforces it as a tax.


  • “Mandates that presbyteries seek to place on sessions for procedures or content for the examination of candidates to be elders or deacons beyond those specified in the Constitution or its authoritative interpretations.”
    No presbytery should dare to establish standards for its churches.


  • “Yes these are difficult days for many of you. But it is in times like this that we most need to seek the spirit and mind of Christ and to be faithful to our Constitution, as we seek to build up the church in faithfulness to its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”


Does not Kirkpatrick sense that the people in the pews are speaking the spirit and mind of Christ that they have discerned? Is the Stated Clerk’s office the only source of Christian wisdom?

Rather than listening to “seek God’s voice through the voices of those in our community,” Kirkpatrick is trying to silence those very voices. While he attributes his admonitions to the authority of the constitution, he has choices. He can choose to proactively implement the whole constitution or just the parts he’s interested in. The Stated Clerk’s office has effectively ignored egregious moral violations of the constitution while sniffing out every possible challenge to the money that might flow into the national offices. Ironically, by ignoring the one, he has caused the other.

Another blogger, and even some who have written me, have compared the attitude of the Stated Clerk’s office to the establishment of Rehoboam’s reign after his father, Solomon, died.
Then King Rehoboam went to discuss the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?”
The older counselors replied, “If you are willing to serve the people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.”
But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and who were now his advisers. “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?”
The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist—if you think he was hard on you, just wait and see what I’ll be like! Yes, my father was harsh on you, but I’ll be even harsher! My father used whips on you, but I’ll use scorpions!’”
(1 Kings 12:6-10)

Rehoboam follows the young men's advice. The direct result of that choice was the division of Israel into two kingdoms. It never recovered and both kingdoms eventually were conquered.

Whither the PCUSA? This is a time when a witness of grace from the “top” could result in healing and hope. Instead, the march to division and destruction goes on.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Friday, September 08, 2006

Hate Mail

I've gotten some hate-mail throughout the process of disaffiliation. It has suddenly increased. All pastors get this kind of thing. I remember when I was pastoring at St. Cuthbert's Parish Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. One parishoner wrote an anonymous poison-pen letter that ended "you Americans should all go home." Interestingly, it was signed, "a friend."

Those opposed to the Kirk’s disaffiliation from the PCUSA attribute a great amount of power to me. Some see me as a mad, Rasputin-like (yes, someone actually used that term) demagogue.

I don’t usually read unsigned letters, but one was so good that it is in circulation around our staff. They particularly like the description of me with which it ends:

Somehow, you’ve been able to entice and mesmerize a group of well-intentioned parishioners to adopt your own personal agenda as their own….Get over yourself, Tom. Take a long, hard look at what you’ve done and what you’re doing. For your sake, I hope you are seeking the care of a mental health professional. Your behavior and the delusional influence you’ve captured over your constituents borders on massive paranoia and unparalleled egotism. You’ve lost control of your ego, and I hope you’ll get help before you lose yourself and your own well-being.

This anonymous writer may enjoy the fact that the staff thinks I should "get over myself," too.

According to various writers, I’ve
  • Single-handedly convinced the Kirk congregation that the PCUSA is in the wrong.

  • Told members they cannot attend EOP meetings.

  • Insisted on being “worshiped” as a “hero.”

My congregation will be thrilled to hear that they are such a mindless mob. I can think back on all the occasions where I’ve held sway. My favorite was the first time I tried to move the choir from the balcony to the front of the sanctuary. Then there was the second. I was so successful that there probably won’t be a third try.

Truth is, members at the Kirk are intelligent, independent, highly educated, opinionated, and vocal. They are also faithful, generous, prayerful, studious, and loyal. Their loyalty is to Jesus Christ before any denomination or pastor. They are the least likely congregation to blindly follow a leader of any I have known.

One thing that critics are ignoring is the possibility that those who are staying in the denomination are the ones being misled. I know of those who remain who do so knowledgably, still in the fight to renew the PCUSA. They have my deep respect. But how many other congregations have really examined the PCUSA and what it believes? How many are there just because they hear one side about the denomination, or nothing at all? What do you think would happen if all the facts were put forward and every congregation had the chance to vote?

The problem critics are having may be that this has been such a unified decision of our congregation. I was actually amazed at how substantial the vote was, even though I knew it would be a sizeable majority in favor of disaffiliation. I believe that the response shows that our move is a Godly one.

The fact that it is Godly does not make it simple. We wrestled with the alternatives. We’ve been told from the beginning that this may mean the property will revert to the EOP. We knew that some people would leave the Kirk, whichever decision we made (even, perhaps especially, if we did nothing). I have spent sleepless nights and expect more to come. I do not believe that our disaffiliation is a panacea; no denomination is perfect, and even independency of a church is fraught with problems.

This decision has not been easy at any point. I don’t expect the path ahead to be any easier. Critics abound, but the truth remains, and we must remain faithful to it.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery Deals With the Kirk

Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery met on Tuesday morning, the sole purpose of that meeting to discuss the Kirk’s disaffiliation from the PCUSA.

Our disaffiliation does not follow the normal scheme of things. The presbytery is trying to do its best to re-establish that order.

Our stance is that we are an independent, congregational church while we are in the process of being admitted into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Our disaffiliation disavows the authority of the PCUSA over us. The denomination’s departure from its own constitutional and scriptural standards created both a crisis for us (we cannot stay) and a mode of leaving (since the constitution was officially questioned, we did so, as well).

The following is a verbatim report of the presbytery’s plans for the Kirk:

Establish an Administrative Commission with power and authority to
  • Assume original jurisdiction over the Session, working with the current staff and leaders insofar as necessary for the day-to-day operations of the church.

  • Determine the current ordained leadership and corporate officers

  • Determine ownership of property and records

  • Determine the factions within the current membership and attempt reconciliation

  • If reconciliation is impossible, determine the true membership of the Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church [sic]

  • Provide pastoral care for those wishing to remain members of the PCUSA

  • Determine the strategy for mission in that community

  • Establish and maintain a regular and continuing relationship with the higher governing bodies of the Kirk.


The additional information in the report strongly suggests that I and Wayne have misled the Kirk regarding the denomination. There is also a long list of our actions that are determined to be irregular.

One of our members attended this meeting, providing the notes I am quoting from. He also noted at the bottom of the page, "All recommended actions passed unanimously.* No attempt was made to address the underlying problem which led to the Kirk’s actions.” (emphasis added)

His statement further underscores the position of the denomination toward dissenting churches. There is little or no concern for the causes of dissatisfaction, but there is tremendous concern about taking control and the possession of property.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

* we later found that one person voted against the EOP action.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Intolerance Goes Both Ways

I’ve recently read three different articles that point to the same problem: the pro-gay movement in North America is becoming ever more aggressive and anti-family. The first incident is in Canada.

Craig Chandler, rhe owner of a pro-family website, which has Scriptural statements against homosexuality on it, has been repeatedly sued by pro-gay groups through the Alberta Human Rights Commission. He has already had to spend close to $100,000 of his own money for defense. He expects that it will cost him $250,000 more before the last two cases are settled. He describes the problem as a Kafka-esqe situation where his legal rights are in question:

"'The thing about a Human Rights Commission complaint is that it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong, you still have to foot the bill. If I want to get our money back, I have to take them to civil court,' which, Chandler pointed out, will only incur further expense without the assurance of winning."

"Chandler vociferously denies any accusations of hatred against homosexuals on the part of him or any of the websites. 'They're saying the websites are anti-gay,' he said to LifeSiteNews.com. 'We're not. We're not anti-gay. Hate's not a family value.'"

"However, he adds that 'Sometimes the truth hurts...That's exactly our perspective on it. The gay and lesbian community, homosexual activists, they don't want anything but complete silence to any disagreement to their views on the issue.'"
VirtueOnline - News - Islam, Persecution & Culture Wars - ALBERTA: Homosexuals Seek to Shut Down Canadian Pro-Family Websites

The second issue involves a conservative Episcopalian bishop's (a rare breed these days) sermon in one of the more liberal congregations in his diocese. He preached from the lectionary, something required of priests in the Episcopal church, and the passage he chose from the several there was from Ephesians 5. As he read the passage, and then preached, he was continually hissed by members of the congregation.

The 21st verse says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It continues, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”

“Bishop Sauls told approximately 45 worshipers at St. Martha's. 'That is not a message that preaches well in 2006... But the bishop focused on the rest of the passage, which calls on husbands to love their wives unconditionally and selflessly 'just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.' The passage also contains the egalitarian commandment: 'Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.' This is'a radical idea,' Sauls said..The prolonged hissing didn't seem to faze Sauls.”

The article goes on to say that the church, in worship, celebrated a child's birthday and the anniversary of a gay couple.
Bible Belt Blogger: Bishop preaches unpopular text, gets hissed

The final incident comes out of the PCUSA. One of the independent organizations of pro-gay people in the PCUSA is called More Light. It has organized hundreds of churches to support the ordination of GLBTs along with same-sex marriage. They are following the Canadian model, trying to seek out and attempt to silence those who disagree with them. Most alarmingly, they are organizing people to make derogatory reports of any “anti-LGBT activity” in their church

“Following the principle that sunlight is the best disinfectant, if you're aware of this type of anti-LGBT activity taking place, or about to take place, within your presbytery or session, you'll help the entire More Light Movement if you can write a few paragraphs (short is fine, long is OK too) about what's happening locally and send it to us.... We'll edit your notes for clarity and publish a news item here on the MLP web site blog.”
MLP - Call for information: tell us about any anti-LGBT post General Assembly activity in your Presbytery or within your church

We should never be anti-gay people. Any kind of bigotry is wrong. But it is not homophobic to disagree with the homosexual lifestyle. It is not wrong to speak plainly one’s spiritual views, so long as those views are not forced on anyone. What’s happening in these examples, though, is the tip of the iceberg of a new kind of intolerance found, of all places, in church.

Keep praying--keep the faith
Tom

The Joys of Blogging

While the Kirk’s controversy is in hiatus, and the feeling of crisis is suspended, I’ve had some time to reflect on this blog.

I started it as a communication tool for my congregation during the June General Assembly. It served very well in that capacity but I was surprised by the number of non-Kirk people who were reading it and making comments. I tried, at first, to answer every comment I could.

When the Kirk began to withdraw from the PCUSA the readership and comments grew. Now there were too many comments for me to respond to and, very interestingly, the commentators seemed pleased to be countering each other with their comments. It seemed to take on a life of its own.

For the most part, commentators were decent, making good points to my blogs and to each other. Then it began to degenerate. Points and counterpoints got personal. I managed all the comments rather loosely. The comments came to me by email first, where I could judge those that should be posted and those that should simply be thrown out.

Some of those posting said that I only put in comments that supported my side. Anyone briefly reading any one page of comments would see the falsehood in that. The only rules I used to eliminate a comment were 1) no profanity, 2) no personal attacks against anyone but me, and 3) it had to make some sort of sense. You wouldn’t believe how many posts did not pass muster for one, or even all, of the above reasons.

I got some criticism for allowing “anonymous” people to post. If you look carefully, some of the anonymous posters signed their names at the end of their posts. Others were satisfied to remain in the dark, some with good reason.

There were people who posted with malice. The content of the posts didn’t qualify for elimination but, I’ve I’d had a rule concerning intent, they’d never have seen the light of day.

It was inevitable that I, and people at the Kirk, would begin to speculate about the people posting. “Jodie” was a favorite among many. Her first post said that she had no agenda in her responses, but that soon changed. It was clear that she was much opposed to the Kirk’s theology and actions. Others joined her in highly disapproving posts, often encouraging each other, sometimes getting a rise out of Kirk members who posted responses.

Other posts sounded like they came from denominational officials. I think that some did. I got an email from a former member of Hollywood Presbyterian church who, somehow, had the ability to track where some of my posts were originating. I followed this up and found that a great number of posts came out of the Louisville offices, and one even came from the Presbyterian Benefits office in Philadelphia.

If you look at the world map below my profile sidebar, you can see where the posts generally come from. If you click on the map, a larger one will appear. You’ll notice that I still have friends in the UK who are keeping up on news from me. Brazil has a large dot because of Jason Gardner and his family, who are our missionaries there (he posted comments non-anonymously). There are hits from Tanzania (Kathy Colby and Valerie Vaughan, our missionaries there), and from Nairobi, where we have mission contacts. I have no idea who is accessing this blog from China, Australia, New Zealand, Crete, Istanbul, Sri Lanka, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, or Europe. Costa Rica lights up because of our many contacts there through Kirk missions.

I’ve enjoyed writing the blog, even though some of what I’ve written was done in the toughest and fatiguing days in my career. I know that the readership, which was holding at 2,500 a day, will fall off precipitously (I looked at my graph of “hits” and it looks a lot like a graph of the membership decline in the PCUSA). The blog will now go back to my original intent—reaching the membership of the Kirk with current and accurate information about the denomination and our church.

I’m working on a review of the “best of comments” that I’ll publish in the near future.

Keep praying—keep the faith.
Tom

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Future Looks Great!

Now that we are freer to do the ministry to which we’ve been called, the greatest amount of our energy can be focused there.

I believe that we are called to build new churches. We were hampered in this in the earlier system, but now we are free to move ahead. I believe that we can have an impact in the fastest growing areas around Tulsa by planting satellite congregations in Owasso, Bixby, Broken Arrow, and West Tulsa. In effect we can build “Kirk North, South, East, and West.” Should we lose our property, we can add a fifth new location more central to Tulsa itself.

We are increasingly opening our doors to the community as a teaching church. Not only is this about the kinds of Bible studies we have for our congregation and community, but as a resource for helping other churches develop. The great success of the New Wineskins Convocation (successful because of your help) shows that we can put on large events for churches from around our part of the country. The Kirk’s experience should be a good springboard for leaders of mid-size churches that want to grow.

We continue to have impact through the media. I’ve been regularly on the radio in Tulsa for over 20 years. We will continue with this and, perhaps, be even more creative. We are doing increased in-house publishing of small group curricula and CDs of sermon series, as well as the WOW Bible study (Women of Worth). I believe that we will expand this in order to reach out into more homes in Tulsa.

Our children’s programs are in a renaissance period. If you haven’t visited upstairs lately, take the time to do so, soon. New methods of teaching the Bible are matched by astoundingly creative room renovations that should make kids excited to come each Sunday.

We continue in conversation and planning for ministries to people of all ages. We are looking into bringing people from places like Inverness Village and Montereaux to Bible studies and worship, ore even taking ministries there. Care ministries are expanding daily.

The best is yet to come. Your prayers, attendance, and financial support are vital as we move ahead.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom