Marilyn Gamm is the 2014–2016 Chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board
“for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons”—Ruth 4:15
I was a teenager when my grandmother took me aside one day and said to me something along the lines of, “Honey, Grandma is getting too old to kill chickens anymore, and you know your mother can’t do it. [My mother is terrified of live chickens.] So you have to learn how to do it.” It was a passing of the mantle, and as much as I hate to kill and hate the smell of blood, I knew Grandma was right. I had to accept the mantle she was passing to me—this means of helping to provide food for my family—and learn how to kill chickens.
Named women are few and far between in the Bible, and therefore all the more noteworthy. Ruth and Naomi are two such women. Ruth, a Moabite, was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, who was from Bethlehem. When Ruth’s husband (and Naomi’s son) died, this daughter-in-law made a conscious, loving decision to return with Naomi to Judah, to stand by her mother-in-law and ultimately become her means of support.
Let’s be clear: Ruth did not have to “cling to” Naomi. She could have remained in Moab and remarried, leaving her mother-in-law to fend for herself. Indeed, it’s what Naomi expected and encouraged, even though, with no sons to provide for her, it would have left Naomi utterly destitute. But Ruth chose to stay with, honor, and support Naomi. Though neither could have known how God would ultimately use their mutual love, honor, and respect, through Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi she became King David’s grandmother and is included in Jesus’ lineage.
This month—Women’s History Month—I encourage Presbyterian congregations to co-missionally remember Ruth and Naomi and the bond between young and senior women as part of Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday on March 8, which this year also happens to be International Women’s Day. In countries such as China, Russia, Vietnam, and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is actually a national holiday!
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The calendar has just turned to a month when, as the old disco hit puts it, “love is in the air.”
We will shower our beloved with tokens of affection on Valentine’s Day and, just a few days later on Ash Wednesday, begin our Lenten journey together toward Easter—God’s ultimate expression of love for the world.
The particular love I’m inviting you to share in with me this month, though, is love for sisters and brothers living with depression or other mental illness. The poignant reminder below is adapted from a Presbyterian Health Network resource designed to help the whole church observe Health Awareness and Prayer for Healing Sunday, which falls this year on February 15.
Who is in need of God’s redeeming love?
The person whose mind cannot function normally,
or the person whose mind is closed and refuses to seek the wisdom of God?
The person who talks to “make believe” people,
or the person who cannot permit himself to have an imagination?
The person who is alone and crying for someone to come and visit her,
or the person who refuses to give her neighbor a helping hand?
The person who cannot get help on his own,
or the person who believes that he has to take care of himself?
The person who has depression and cannot get out of the bed in the morning,
or the person who is so busy that she does not have much time for sleep?
The person who attempts death by suicide,
or the person who ignores talk about suicide?
The person who is anxious and cannot make a decision,
or the person who makes a decision that is harmful to others?
The truth of the matter is we are all in need of God’s redeeming love. Let’s remember that.
A New Year
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. —Isaiah 43:19
Happy New Year! Yes, I know our Christian new year began the first Sunday of Advent, but culturally we have also now begun a new year. With the beginning of 2015 we are already 15 years into a new millennium! I can still remember Prince singing encouragement for us to “party like it’s 1999,” along with the Y2K concerns about disaster as our calendars changed to the year 2000. And now it’s already 2015!
I love the beginning of a new year.
It’s partly because my spouse and I got engaged on New Year’s Eve 11 years ago as the clock struck midnight and a new year began.
A new year signals opportunities to start fresh, which is why so many of us make New Year’s resolutions.
As Christians, we serve a God who’s all about new beginnings, fresh starts. That’s part of why God sent Jesus to be born, to minister in the world, to die for the sins of the world, and to be resurrected into new and glorious life.
We who serve through the Presbyterian Mission Agency and its Board of Directors are in the process of making a fresh start with regard to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative. We are taking steps to increase confidence that this disciple-making initiative is all that we believe God has inspired it to be for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
I continue to be inspired and encouraged by the 1001 vision. God is doing a new thing in the PC(USA). Won’t you co-missionally join with me in inspiring, engaging with, supporting, and encouraging those called through this initiative to “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”?
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6
This is my favorite Scripture from the Advent/Christmas season. Yes, of course, I love Luke 2:1-20, too. We cannot truly have Christmas without the story of Jesus’ birth.
Jesus was born into a world of poverty, a world of political, religious and racial/ethnic tyranny and oppression. In varying ways, depending on our life circumstances, we have seen and experienced a degree of the world where Christ lived.
Isaiah 11:6 envisions a different kind of world, a world in which predators and prey live together in peace and harmony — fantastic enough to try to imagine — with a little child serving as their leader. It is a hopeful, hope-filled image for the Israelites facing conquer and exile by a foreign power. It is a hopeful, hope-filled image for Jesus and his contemporaries living under cruel Roman rule. And it is a hopeful, hope-filled image for us, today, living in a world of terrorist threats.
As faithful people have down through the ages, I need this kind of image — fantastic though it seems — to give me hope, courage, and encouragement for the days and times in which we are living and serving.
As we receive gifts of hope, courage, and encouragement from Scripture during this Advent/Christmas season, I invite you to co-missionally join me in opportunities to offer gifts of hope, courage, and encouragement.
The Presbyterian Giving Catalog is another opportunity to co-missionally participate in opportunities to offer hope, courage, and encouragement.
Together, we can not only envision, but participate in a different kind of world.
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:6-7
Through Scripture, the psalmist continues to call people of faith to humbly worship our Creator. Although the forms and expressions and venues for worship have been and continue to be many and varied as Jesus’ disciples have spread his teachings around the globe, the One we worship remains eternal.
John E. Burkhart writes in Worship: A Searching Examination of the Liturgical Experience, “Worship is the celebrative response to what God has done, is doing, and promises to do.” In worship we encounter the Triune God, who invites us into transformation and to see the world through divine eyes. Worship motivates us to serve: serve God, one another, our community, and the world.
The 221st General Assembly (2014) called the denomination to consider a proposed revision to the Directory for Worship—the middle section of the Book of Order. A draft of this revision has been commended to the church for a one-year “season of study”—July 1, 2014-July 1, 2015—with an invitation to comment upon it. Comments will be reviewed and considered for incorporation into a further revision, expected to go to the 222nd General Assembly for inclusion in the Book of Order, pending subsequent approval by the presbyteries.
A recent 30-minute webinar on this proposal—“Revising the Directory for Worship: Bread, Bath, and Beyond,” now available on the Directory for Worship website—was recorded and is free for congregational and individual study as well.
All across the PC(USA)—in congregations, mid councils, seminaries, and beyond—not only is the proposed revision generating positive reviews, but it is being put to practical use. One mid council leader reports that he is already using the draft to talk to pastors about worship and finds the revision clearer and easier to use. Seminary professors say they look forward to using it to teach about worship and help students prepare for ordination exams. Leaders from another Reformed denomination have praised the document as an excellent account of our common tradition.
I invite you to take the time to “co-missionally” engage this Directory for Worship revision process with questions, thoughts, and suggestions. In this way, worship can truly be the work of the people of God.
Domestic violence. “Domestic” as in “home” and “family” life. “Violence” as in abusive, controlling behaviors and words from a position of power toward another, which may be physical, psychological, or spiritual, or some combination of any or all of these.
Domestic violence. Two terms in God’s created good world that should never go together. But in too many homes across the United States and around the globe domestic violence imprisons people in a life of silent fear, pain, and despair, and often leads to violent death.
The overwhelming majority of victims of domestic violence are women and children. Domestic violence occurs in the homes of rich and poor alike. It occurs in every racial/ethnic group. Domestic violence can happen to anyone.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which this year coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act.
This is a time to talk openly about this crime against humanity in worship and other venues, raising awareness and making resources available. The Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network (PADVN) resource is downloadable here.
This 2014 resource includes the launch of, “an exciting new resource written by PADVN Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Kevin E. Frederick, Men in the Mirror: Constructing and Applying a Christ-centered Masculinity to Interpersonal Relationships, a new 13-session curriculum for use in addressing violence against women and children.” In it, Dr. Frederick writes that, “By studying the dynamics exhibited in Jesus’ relationships with a variety of others in his lifetime, this new [study] sets out to explore and address the values that impact men’s relationships giving them the opportunity to critique their own relationship skills and grow in their discipleship to Jesus Christ.”
I invite you to co-mission with PADVN in using “these resources in the month of October and throughout the year, working to Break The Silence around domestic violence.”
Every day as I read and hear news reports from as far away as Israel and Iraq and Ukraine to as close as Ferguson, Missouri, my heart breaks for peoples and communities for whom a peaceful life is, at best, only a dream. And I wonder what can I do? How can I make any difference in such complicated, conflicted situations?
There are no easy answers.
But there are some things that I—that we—can do. We can all pray. Pray for those in harm’s way. Pray for families who have lost loved ones to war and violence. Pray for those trying to mediate peaceful solutions. Pray for leaders to be open to a mediated peace.
We can also co-mission with the Presbyterian Mission Agency in its peacemaking endeavors. One of those is the new Peace and Global Witness Offering, formerly the Peacemaking Offering, which congregations are encouraged to receive in September and October. This offering funds the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, enabling us to bring in International Peacemakers, hold conferences, and advocate for active nonviolent solutions to conflict.
In his introduction in the Leader’s Guide for this year’s Peace and Global Witness Offering, Carl Horton of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program states:
“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) views peace as a core part of our identity and calling as believers. It is a central declaration of the gospel, calling us to model our lives in the pattern of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. This year, we invite you to take part in A Season of Peace, September 7 – October 5. This four-week pilgrimage is designed to deepen the pursuit of peace for congregations, small groups, families, and individuals.”
Carl concludes, “Together, we can transform cultures of violence into communities of peace.”
Presbyterians have long valued education, particularly quality public education. For this reason, the Presbyterian Mission Agency—through its World Mission and its Compassion, Peace, and Justice ministry areas—has just launched a new “co-mission” initiative called “Educate a Child, Transform the World.” Our goal is to help 1 million children move out of poverty through strategic worldwide education endeavors over the next six years.
We are inviting you to help us discern where and how we can have the greatest collective impact. World Mission director Hunter Farrell is suggesting that local church leaders gather concerned persons together to consider this question: “What would it take to provide quality education where we are?”
When I was a pastor in Madison, Wisconsin, a community organizer guided community leaders from all sectors in just this kind of conversation. The result was culturally relevant teacher training throughout Madison public schools.
As our young people prepare to head back to school, I want to lift up some of the ways the Presbyterian Mission Agency serves in co-mission with the church to support and resource quality education. Here are few practical suggestions to help you get started:
Taking action through prayer
Taking action through service
- Read more about programs that provide children and youth with mentoring and safe after-school and summer programs.
- Explore ways to get involved in your public schools.
- Sign up to receive updates from the PC(USA) office of Child Advocacy to learn about additional ways you can take action.
Taking action through public witness
TO WORK TOGETHER
Thanks. I'm a victim of domestic violence, but I'm a man. There are so many intricacies involved. It took me years to realize it and to finally seek divorce. Then I was seen as the "bad" father. But the freedom has allowed me to reconnect to my family of origin and other friends despite being wounded. I've worked with oppressed, down-trodden and violated people. Recently I'm helping those who have been victims of human trafficking. That's an awful business that often blames the victim. While women are the vast majority of victims and physical abuse is the most familiar thanks to what is publicly shared, there are many people and many men who are suffering emotionally, psychologically and socially. Blessings.
I am a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC. I have been involved in the Civil Rights Movement since 1961, and have been a civil rights lawyer since 1988 in North Carolina. My minister, Rev. Jimmie Hawkins and I both work closely with Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the NC NAACP. If you are not aware of his holy work, please check out the Internet under his name. I suggest you invite Rev. Barber to bring his prophetic message to the next large meeting of the social justice advocates within the national Presbyterian Church. Like John Witherspoon, Rev. Barber (and Rev. Hawkins) are bringing a prophetic message to Ferguson, MO, the 11 (former?) Confederate States, and to North Carolina, where over 1,000 people bore prophetic witness to our message of inclusion, justice, love, and fundamental social transformation. Thanks. Al McSurely, Chapel Hill Civil Rights Lawyer and NC NAACP Communications Chair
Congrats, Marilyn! I know you'll do a great job. Delighted with the litany, and we'll be using it next Sunday. Blessings.
Through PC(USA)'s partner NOROC ("New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children"), orphaned, abandoned, abused and otherwise at-risk children in Tulcea County, Romania receive desperately needed care and advocacy, which includes education. New education initiatives include "Granny Packs," which offer a staged preschool / KG readiness curriculum, lifeskills and job skills training, tutoring in groups and individually, computer literacy training, online learning, and a new library and activity center: The Louise Covington Learning Center. Through these educational programs, NOROC (which means "God Bless" in Romanian) bears witness to the inclusive love of Jesus Christ, empowers children and youth in a culture of violence, and breaks cycles of poverty, stigmatization and abuse. The goal is to help marginalized and at-risk youth, including Rroma, prepare for a self-sufficient future, participate actively in their communities, avoid exploitation and trafficking, and become adults who can care for themselves and, perhaps, a family. Please keep prayers rising for the education of the children in state institutions in Tulcea County, Romania! We know that God has a plan for every individual life in our care.