Keeping In Touch
April 23, 2020
224th General Assembly
Committee on the Office of the General Assembly votes for shortened assembly
Rick Jones | Office of the General Assembly - April 21, 2020

For the first time in the history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination’s General Assembly will be held online only. The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a plan for a reduced assembly gathering that will require everyone involved — commissioners, advisory delegates, corresponding members and staff — to participate in a digital assembly.

The final decision was expected to be voted and announced on Thursday; however, staff from the Office of the General Assembly received information Tuesday that prompted a quick call with COGA.

“As we have discussed, we knew we would reach a point in time in our contract with the Baltimore Convention Center and hotels where they would not be able to meet the agreed upon services listed in our contracts and that day is today,” said Julia Henderson, OGA’s interim director of assembly operations. “This is a force majeure. We need to let them know we are canceling because they cannot meet their obligations.”

Force majeure is a clause in contracts that frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the contractual parties prevents services from being performed.

In this case, the COVID-19 virus has resulted in numerous conference cancelations. The General Assembly was scheduled to be held June 20-27. The convention center has converted space into a field hospital for infected patients.

Over the last few weeks, COGA and staff of the Office of the General Assembly have been working on contingency plans should the convention center not be available. The assembly will take place over three days; Friday, June 19; and Friday and Saturday, June 26 and 27.

Details are still being worked out, but the plan includes:
  • Question and answer session (town hall gathering) for moderator candidates followed by the election of a new moderator/co-moderators on Friday, June 19
  • Opening worship, two plenaries on Friday, June 26
  • Critical business, three plenaries, including stated clerk election and budget, on Saturday, June 27.

Some COGA members asked whether the church would be able to recoup all deposits to this point. OGA officials believe they will. Further discussions with the convention center will take place.

Now the attention turns to preparing for the upcoming assembly.

“We will send invitations to mid council leaders to attend one or two sessions next week with OGA staff,” said Henderson. “We will appeal to them to help us to ensure commissioners and advisory delegates are ready to go. We are also urging those commissioners who are no longer available to serve to let the stated clerk know as soon as possible.”

Other planned events will include technical training for commissioners and advisory delegates, participation in a virtual Poor People’s Campaign event, Bible study and electronic group gatherings.

COGA will conduct another virtual meeting on Thursday, April 23, to continue work on finalizing the assembly agenda.
Addressing the call process during COVID-19
Churches are looking for creative ways to help fill their pulpit
Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service - April 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to rethink the way we do business. That certainly holds true for churches. Church is the place where we gather for worship and fellowship. It is the place where we go to our pastor for spiritual guidance, and sometimes for counseling.
But what if your church finds itself without a pastor or you are exploring a call to become a pastor in this age of social distancing?

Mid council leaders from across the country gathered this week for a Zoom meeting to discuss the “Call Process during COVID-19.”

The  Office of the General Assembly  hosted a panel discussion with Manuel Silva-Esterrich, manager for Call Process Support, serving as moderator and panel members Laurie Griffith, associate director, Constitutional Interpretation; Tim Cargal, manager, Ministry Preparation and Support; and Edward Thompson, senior church consultant and director of Interagency Relations representing the  Board of Pensions , presenting information and answering questions concerning the call process during this unusual time for the church and the nation. More than 100 people participated.
Finding spirituality in a pandemic
Co-Moderators discuss where they’ve found balance and purpose even in isolation

Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintron Olivieri and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann are Co-Moderators of the 223rd General Assembly.  —Contributed photograph

The Co-Moderators of the 223rd General Assembly are known as enthusiastic travelers, women who love nothing more than sharing the gospel with churches and mid councils and interpreting the 2018 assembly across the United States and around the world.

But COVID-19 has grounded the remaining travel plans as Co-Moderators for the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann and Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, who were the  Facebook Live guests  Wednesday of the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of the  Theological Education Fund  at the  Presbyterian Foundation .

“It was jarring to go from a schedule full of visits and commitments to begin deleting them, one by one,” Kohlmann said during a 30-minute conversation called “Spirituality in a Pandemic.” As resource presbyter for the Presbyteries of  Boston  and  Northern New England , it became Kohlmann’s job to be “a resource for pastors and congregations dealing with something we were never taught to deal with. It led to several intense weeks” as pastors and worship leaders learned how to hold remote worship services, how to offer communion remotely and how they could make it through Holy Week, a hard enough test even without a pandemic.

“Now our conversations are about deeper spiritual and social justice things,” Kohlmann said. “If it’s not about embodying who we are as people of the incarnation, I don’t think it’s faithful.”

“Now that we are over that mountain, we are returning to the call of being  a Matthew 25 church , to be the  Hands and Feet  of Christ and to be a people who love our neighbors,” neighbors who may well be out of work or sick or dying and not finding a place to receive care.

“That turn in focus for me is challenging and heartbreaking,” she said, “but it’s also the greater call to us as a church today.”

Cintrón-Olivieri, an educator, said she’s returned to basics since the pandemic has forced her and millions of others to isolate. She’s been reading poetry and the works of author, educator and activist  Parker J. Palmer  “on listening to the true self.” She said she’s been “reading Scripture more intently, not just for a sermon or a few minutes before I go to bed.” She’s also been coloring a lot, holding aloft Sybil MacBeth’s book “Praying in Color” to prove it.

“Coloring is not just for kids,” she said. “You meditate on what you are coloring and on what is clouding your mind. Some people walk or run or listen to music. I had to find a way to calm my mind.”

“My encouragement to everybody watching is to go back to the basics,” Cintrón-Olivieri said. “In between calls and home-schooling, try to find the spaces where you can find that connection with God and find some balance, because there are moments of clarity in that … Each person needs to find their own way of doing that. Only my husband watches while I color, and there is no judgment. Finding balance in the midst of a pandemic is not easy!”

Cintrón-Olivieri is now part of the faculty at  CREDO conferences , which are put on by the  Board of Pensions .

“Educators are life-long learners. Where was it God was calling me?” she said of the time she was transitioning out of the classroom. Traditional spiritual practices “weren’t working for me anymore,” and so Cintrón-Olivieri began a “beautiful, but also a painful journey” of finding new ways of understanding what God would have her do. Some of the results can be seen on the Co-Moderators’  Facebook page : Each week Cintrón-Olivieri reads aloud a children’s book published by  Flyaway Books , and each afternoon Monday through Friday Kohlmann leads the virtual singing of a well-known hymn.

Even as the Co-Moderators have had to cancel their travel plans, “folks across the church have not deleted you,” Hinson-Hasty told the pair while wrapping up the program. “You are very much a part of who the church is right now.”
Part 2 of ‘A Year with Matthew for a
Matthew 25 Church’ is now available
Free downloadable resource covers every Sunday between June 7 and Nov. 22
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Part 2 of the “ A Year with Matthew for a Matthew 25 Church ” resource is now available for the nearly six months between Trinity Sunday on June 7 and Reign of Christ Sunday on Nov. 22.

Drawing on the Gospel readings from the  Revised Common Lectionary Year A,  the resource is designed to help preachers, educators and worship planners attend to the three focus areas of the  Matthew 25 invitation building congregational vitality dismantling structural racism  and  eradicating systemic poverty . Offered by the  Office of Theology and Worship , the new resource takes advantage of the convergence of the focus on Matthew during the lectionary’s Year A and the April 2019 launch of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation.

Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation (OPSF) is offering fully paid scholarships for the May online Adaptive Leadership series.

Only 12 available so sign up today!
Scholarships for the May series are also available to all PLR participants.

Be sure to mark your registration "OPSF" or "PLR"
with the "Organization/Affiliation" drop-down on the registration form
to receive the scholarship.
Breath Prayer eases anxiousness
Ancient practice synchronizes breathing with sacred words
By Diane Stephens Hogue | Presbyterians Today

Whether it’s threats like climate change or a pandemic — or whether we feel powerless after news of another shooting or natural disaster — we live in a state of fear and constant vigilance.

Take a deep breath, I tell those who come to me for spiritual direction. Let’s breathe together, slowly, I say.

These are anxious times. And they are taking a toll. We find ourselves restless and indecisive. Tears flow at every injustice. We are less patient and more snappish. Self-doubt, stress eating and insomnia have a hold on us. Our creativity is shot.

Just breathe, I hear myself saying again and again.

While we cannot avoid stress in our lives, we can develop healthy ways of managing stressors, beginning with mastering “breath prayer” — a spiritual practice tracing its roots to the desert fathers and mothers in the third century A.D.

A brief word about the mail.

Recently the synod and the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area had a problem receiving mail (snail mail). I am happy to report that the issue has been resolved and we are receiving mail.

With that said, I am tempting fate by putting our mail on hold, again. Beginning April 24 the post office will hold the mail for both offices. Weekly I will pick up the mail from the post office and take it to our offices. If your mail is returned to you, please contact us.

My breath prayer is: "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well."
-Julian of Norwich
Synod School
COVID-19 Update : We are carefully monitoring recommendations from the Center for Disease Control regarding the coronavirus. We will make a decision in mid-June about whether or not to proceed with Synod School if pandemic recommendations for social distancing are still in place. If Synod School is cancelled, all monies will be refunded.