Monday in Ministry

June 2, 2014



Dear Friends of Cayuga-Syracuse Presbytery, welcome to this week's edition of our e-letter, Monday in Ministry.  Our goal is to highlight things going on throughout the Church:  within our Presbytery, in our congregations, as well as in the Synod of the Northeast and across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Your input is valued, and your comments are always welcomed!



In This Issue


Prayer Concerns

From the Stated Clerk/Communicator

Around the Presbytery

Around the Synod

Around the PC(USA)



Prayer Concerns


The Rev. Barbara Sterling Willson, former pastor of the Whitelaw Church, Robinson Memorial Pres, and Associate at Elmwood Pres. is very ill in a Boston hospital.  She will very soon be transferred to Hospice care as she is not expected to live much longer.  Her family has asked for our prayers.


The Rev. Roger Martin will be having surgery to remove a kidney on Friday, June 13, at the Oswego Hospital.  He expects to be hospitalized 2-3 days after surgery, and then a two-week period of recuperation.  Please remember Roger and Carolyn in your prayers.



From the Stated Clerk/Communicator


A Conundrum about Weddings


I remember very clearly one interview I had with a Pastor Nominating Committee years ago.  We had been in conversations for a couple of months, and we were getting serious.  We had a Saturday morning time set aside to make a final discernment together.  I regretted having to call them a few days before that time to tell them I had to reschedule our interview, since a member of the congregation I was serving had just died, and the funeral had been set for Saturday morning.  (I was not far from the PNC's church, so rescheduling was fairly easily accomplished... thankfully.)  We agreed to meet on Saturday afternoon.


When I got to the church the committee was already gathered.  After some informal visiting, we prayed together, and then began our discussion.  Someone asked me how the funeral went... which I always find to be an interesting, if not a little peculiar, question.  I vividly remember looking at this person, and then at the rest of the committee, and saying, "You ought to know this about me.  Most times I would rather do a funeral than a wedding any day.  At least in a funeral, the focus is clearly on God and our need for God's presence in our circumstances.  In many weddings, the focus is on the dress, the tuxes, who's standing next to whom, where to sit family so no one is offended... in other words, almost anything except a clear focus on God and our need for God in that circumstance!"  There was a marked pause, and then folks slowly started to shake their heads in understanding and agreement.  "I can see that," said one.  (By the way, they ended up inviting me to candidate, and I ended up serving as the pastor of that congregation for eight years.  So, they clearly weren't too shocked at my comment.)


To be sure, there are weddings that are an absolute joy to be a part of, and I am grateful for times when I have been invited to be a part of such a celebration of covenantal love.  But then there are "those" weddings... where family members can hardly keep good manners, where everyone is distracted by things (like clothes and who stands where) that really don't make one bit of difference in the long run, where my mention of God almost seems an inconvenient interruption in the events of the day for people.


Over the years, I've come up with an easy solution... but one I doubt if I'll ever see... although one never knows.  I believe that our Presbyterian Book of Order ensnares us in an inescapable conundrum in the first two sentences in the section on marriage (W-4.9000 for those "inquiring minds" among readers).  Here is what it says:  "Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family.  Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man."


Now, the Church is going to be wrestling once again at this year's General Assembly in two weeks, focusing on the second sentence above... but focusing on the last six words of that sentence.  I contend that it is the first five words that present us with our dilemma... or at least with the dilemma I have felt over the years.  I'd welcome a day to come where the Church no longer is in the "business" of overseeing "civil contracts" between people in a marriage.  We Presbyterians believe strongly - even vehemently at times - in the separation of Church and State.  Yet here we continue to put ministers at weddings in the position of functioning as an official at a State ceremony, having to sign a State-issued marriage license.  It would be cleaner, in my opinion, and would solve all sorts of dilemmas, if we just declared that we were getting out of the wedding business as a Church!  If people want to be married, then go to the State and have a civil ceremony to satisfy the legalities of a marriage relationship.  But then, if the couple wants to proclaim and give witness to the importance that their faith in God has for their marriage, that is when you would come to the Church.  Then is when there would be a joy-filled worship service, clearly focusing on God as the source of all love and the one who blesses our covenant relationships.


As I said, I'm not going to hold my breath on this one, but I do think that wedding ceremonies then really could be services of the worship of God, asking the Lord to bless this already-married couple and their relationship, giving public witness to the joys, responsibilities, and blessings of what it means to the Church and to our society to live together in a covenant relationship.


Who knows?  I might be surprised some day... and it would be a surprise that I would surely welcome.



Around the Presbytery


Job Opportunities


Westminster Presbyterian Church in Syracuse is looking to fill two positions:  a summer intern to work with youth, young adults, and children, and a part-time Administrative Assistant.  If you're interested, or know of someone who might be interested, you can view the complete position descriptions on our website:


Sidewalk Bake Sale


Westminster in Syracuse is having a Sidewalk and Bake Sale on Saturday, June 14 from 10:00-3:00.  $1 lunch - hot dog, bag of chips, soda.  The church is located at 1601 Park Street.  All profit will go to fund youth camper-ships and the Summer Enrichment Program that helps keep children engaged and learning during the summer months.


Book Groups


Don't forget the Presbytery's Ministers' Book Group, which will be meeting at First Pres. in Marcellus on Tuesday, June 10, from 10:00-11:30.  Discussion will center on Richard Rohr's book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.


Westminster Church in Auburn also has a book group, whose next gathering is on Monday, June 30, at 7:00 p.m.  They will be discussing the book, God Is Red, by Liao Yiwu.  This book is about Christianity's spread and survival in China, mostly underground and unsanctioned in the days of the Communist totalitarian regime.



Around the Synod of the Northeast


Breaking Bread is one of the new 1001 New Worship Communities of the Presbyterian Church in our Synod.  They describe themselves this way:

"Our community is a place where you can share your story & discover how you fit into God's Big Story. Together we read books, study scripture, wrestle with questions, pray, share food, love deeply, tell stories, laugh hard, strive for peace, do art, suffer together, and seek to passionately love God and God's world. Whether you’re a fervent believer, a jaded doubter, a pious saint, or a curious skeptic - you will have a place at our Table." They meet regularly in the Side Chapel of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, NJ.



Around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


The Great Ends of the Church


In case you aren't aware, or if you haven't recently (or ever) picked up a copy of the Book of Order, Part 2 of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), there is some great stuff there!  Among other things, here are what have been identified as the Great Ends of the Church (in other words, why we are here and what we should be about).  The Great Ends of the Church are:


1. The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind.

2. The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.

3. The maintenance of divine worship.

4. The preservation of the truth.

5. The promotion of social righteousness.

6. The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.


These were first adopted by the United Presbyterian Church of North America back in 1910... but the words still tell the story, don't they?



The Rev. Steven W. Plank, Stated Clerk/Communicator

P. O. Box 6010

Syracuse, NY  13217-6010

(315) 632-5698


"I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear

much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."  John 15:5


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