Welcoming Remarks

Covenant Network Conference
November 4, 2004
John M. Buchanan, Pastor
Fourth Presbyterian Church

On behalf of Session, staff and people of Fourth Presbyterian Church, I welcome the Covenant Network of Presbyterians to what promises to be a very important two day conference.

Fourth Presbyterian Church is particularly pleased to host this event. We are a contributing and charter member of the Covenant Network. We send lots of people to meetings and conferences, we provide leadership and financial support in our life together, here on this busy urban intersection we strive to live out the radically inclusive Grace of God which we have experienced in Jesus Christ which we believe shapes how we live and has the power to change the church and the world.

Part of our mission is hospitality. So you will share our facilities with the thousands of people who come here every wee

  • for day care and pre-school
  • for food and clothing and a place to rest in the Elam Davies Social Service Center
  • for aerobics and Tai Chi designed especially for older adults
  • for therapeutic services at our Counseling Center

and in the evening, for tutoring. Each week 450 youngsters come here from the Chicago Housing Authority projects for a hot meal and an hour and a half session with a volunteer tutor.

And on Sunday — we attempt to express the Reformed Tradition liturgically at four worship services, 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. If you are making a weekend of this we invite you to one of those services.

A special presentation of Maurice Durufle’s Requiem will be featured at the 6:30 p.m. Vesper service.

Fourth Presbyterian Church is pleased to welcome you. Do contact me — or any staff person if we can be of assistance.

I also want to welcome you personally. This Covenant Network is very important to me and to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), more so today than ever.

We began in a conversation I had with Robert Bohl in the summer of 1997.

Bob was the Moderator of the 206th General Assembly — Wichita, two years earlier. Bob and I experienced both the vulnerability of the Presbyterian family when its theological diversity becomes ideological polarity and voices get louder and faces redder. And we also experienced an amazing moment of reconciliation — when the whole General Assembly decided to stand-down from polarized positions about Reimagining — and to stand together.

Two years later I was privileged to serve as Moderator of the 208th General Assembly and had the responsibility of presiding over the process that put what we called Amendment B, G-6.0106b, in the Book of Order.And then to travel the country as Presbyterians debated and voted, and the world as Mission partners wondered about what we were doing and why.

I ended that year convinced that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) had made a huge and harmful mistake. The 209th — 1997 Assembly reversed the 208th by passing what we called Amendment A. I thought it was a sound, faithful reflection of our tradition — it spoke of “fidelity and integrity in all relationships of life” and did not single out one category of people for exclusion.

Bob and I talked about what we could do to help our beloved church through what looked like a difficult period.

And so we called a few friends — Gene Bay, Joanna Adams, Jack Stotts, Cynthia Campbell, Barbara Wheeler, Laird Stuart, Doug Oldenburg, Randy Taylor — and others — and the result was the Covenant Network.

Our first meeting was here — on September 19, 1997 — there were 150 people in attendance 42 Presbyteries. We called it the Convening Gathering of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

Gene and Joanna spoke, Susan Andrews and Bob preached, Jane Dempsey Douglass lectured and Cliff greeted and made a strong plea for church unity.

We also invited Jerry Andrews to speak to us about the perspective of the Presbyterian Coalition — to begin what we hoped would be a dialogue and collaboration in addressing the issues that were dividing us.

Parker Williamson also came — was cordial as always — then took one of those legendary pictures of his — this one from the very rear of this Sanctuary — which brilliantly succeeded in making it look as if a small handful of lonely souls were huddled pathetically together.

There are/will be 600 plus attendees — numbers aren’t the only indication of how we are doing — but I do believe we are one of the largest independent events happening in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Parker still owes us a better picture.

  • There are 350 members churches.
  • 9,000 supporters on our mailing list

And many, many thousands more across this church, gay and lesbian Presbyterians, parents of gay and lesbian Presbyterians who always came to talk to Sue and me wherever we went, with tears in their eyes, devastated about what their church had said about their children, and ordinary Presbyterians who don’t ordinarily get upset about things their church says or does but who long — as we do — for the day when the issue of ordination is behind us because the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has finally come to its senses and accommodated a diversity of opinions — that are biblically rooted, theologically consistent and Reformed — in the highest and best sense of our motto – Reformed and Always Reforming and once again trusted its Sessions and Congregations and Presbyteries to make faithful decisions, led by the Holy Spirit, about leadership, as it had been doing pretty effectively for 200 years.

You may have noticed that there was an election Tuesday.

Both the headlines this morning and NPR featured reports and commentary on the enormously important role moral issues played in the election.

Something like 22% of the people said that moral issues were the reason they cast their ballot.

And 80% of that 22% voted for the President.

Many of us are disappointed with the outcome, not all, obviously.

More important than our disappointment (and I do personally believe that now that the election is over — things will not be as dismal — as my own children, for instance, are convinced they will be)

More important now is what my friend Jim Wallis at Sojourners calls the “real debate” — namely what are the real religious and moral issues.

The religious right, Wallis says, succeeded in defining the moral issues — keeping the focus on gay marriage — went from that to outrageous statements that good Christians could only vote for one candidate — and won in all 11 states where gay marriage was on the ballot.

We have work to do. We are clearly in a minority position within the religious community.

  • never has it been more important to be absolutely honest and realistic about that.
  • never has it been more important to be absolutely clear about what we believe and why
  • never has it been more important to be strong in our public representations of our position. Most of all, never has it been more important to affirm the hope that is in us.

We are, after all — all of us — children of a movement that historically has done better from a minority position.

We are, after all — followers of the one who said something about the leaven in the loaf, the salt of the earth, the light shining in the darkness.

I don’t like what has happened to us — but the very heart of my faith in Jesus Christ, my trust in him — gives me hope that simply will not die — hope for a more just and peaceful future for my country; a more just and Christ-like future for my Church

Chicago icon and hero — Studs Terkel — is 92 — and seriously ill.

Studs loves this city and this nation. He knows everybody — he’s interviewed everybody — written many books — that celebrate and probe and explain this amazing culture.

His last book — published not long ago — is Hope Dies Last — it is about the very important role in history played by what he calls “Prophetic Minorities.” In a personal interview he gave a few months ago he said that most of the important things in human history were started by minorities — prophetic minorities — including the founding of this Republic.

He explained that the title was given him by a Hispanic woman who worked with Ceasar Chavez — Hope Dies Last.

Studs Terkel is exactly right — and the title of his maybe last book I offer — as our under girding theme — our guiding star — for the days ahead — Hope Dies Last.

It is very important that we are here together — November 4, 2004.

Again, welcome.

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