Who? What? Why?

Who? What? Why?

Welcoming Remarks to the Covenant Network Commissioner Convocation Dinner
214th General Assembly, Columbus, OH
June 14, 2002

Deborah Block
Pastor, Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Milwaukee

The word of God to the people of God last Sunday holds some good words for us this evening. An Old Testament call story, God to Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12. A call, a promise, a new place. And we are told they “journeyed on by stages” (12:9). A Gospel call story, Jesus to Matthew, a.k.a. Levi, in Matthew 9. A call and the promise of a new community. This wonderfully motley crew of friends and followers at table, with the Pharisees, a.k.a Presbyterians , questioning the guest list.

So who is at the table tonight? Even the Presbyterians have been invited! How many of you are commissioners and advisory delegates? Even the Presbyterians have been invited, an orderly collection of saints and sinners, called to be the people of God in a particular, even peculiar way in this week. To journey on by stages, to experience the hospitality, yes, of these good Columbus folk, but more, to experience the hospitality of Jesus Christ, and to learn again or for the first time what God is requiring of us: to live the ethic of hesed, that central and inexhaustible who and what of God that is God’s desired how of human relationships, what Brueggeman defines as “a patient, attentive, waiting, hoping solidarity” (1986:15).

In that spirit we welcome you, and in that spirit we invite you to share a particular journey and call within the Presbyterian Church (USA). To embrace a particular vision of the church that is faithful to its Lord and Savior, to the scriptures and to foundational Presbyterian principles; a church that is just and whole: healthy, peaceful, inclusive, one. We are the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. We are Presbyterians committed and newly recommitted to a Book of Order that helps us live together into that vision of the church, where gay and lesbian Presbyterians called and gifted for leadership in the church are elected and ordained and installed, where the hospitality of Jesus Christ is affirmed at our dining tables and our committee tables and our communion tables.

We’re five years into a big mistake. G-6.0106 (oh, no!) b. Case study for G-1.0307. Anyone? “It will easily be admitted that all synods and councils may err.” And we’re coming up on a five-year anniversary of a group of Presbyterians who, working with many others, covenanted and networked to, first, replace Paragraph B, and more recently, remove it. We have not been successful, and this spring’s loss of Amendment 01-A is a loss for the Presbyterian Church. But we do not lose heart or hope that we can and will eventually remove Paragraph B and put in its place a new heart in this church we love. “Give us strength in (this) trying hour”! The confessing our church needs to do now is about its continued brokenness. Our call is to covenant community, Christ at the center, the scriptural witness to the hospitality of Jesus Christ as the foundation and horizon. We journey by stages.

And who are we? Presbyteries and sessions across the Presbyterian Church (USA). Seminary professors and the members of my confirmation class. Ministers and elders and the people of the pews. Mrs. Hipke, a 94-year-old widow who sends us a little money now and again and reads our newsletter cover to cover on the day it comes in the mail. Who is emphatic about what she calls the “evil” of welcoming gay and lesbian persons in the church door, showing them a pew, and then saying, “That’s it. That’s all.” Her exact words! The Covenant Network is 18-year-old Reid Harvey, who wants to know where there’s a Covenant Network church near the university he will attend in the fall. Reid, who insists the church that baptized his gay brother should be willing to ordain him. Reid and his brother, Hugo were baptized in a church in Beaver-Butler Presbytery.

The Covenant Network is people like my parents, baptized, confirmed, and married in the Presbyterian Church; met at a Presbyterian church camp and graduated from a Presbyterian college and when they built a new home where the Presbyterian Church wasn’t, they helped start one. People like Al and Carol Block who didn’t know they knew gay and lesbian Presbyterians, but knew, when they did, that ordination is a celebration of the variety of persons and variety of gifts in the Body of Christ. Who remembered what their daughter went through on the journey to ordination over 25 years ago. Who learned that Presbyterians change their mind as led by the Spirit, to new interpretations of oppressive texts and new positions on difficult issues. The Covenant Network is people like that. People like you. People like us.

We are the Covenant Network and we’re in this together for as long as it takes. We’ve been called. And we will journey on by stages.

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