Freedom and Responsibility — Challenge and Opportunity
In the winter of 1975, I stood before Pittsburgh Presbytery for examination to come under care as a candidate for ordination to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament. I flew in from New Haven where I was in my second year of seminary for the committee meeting on Wednesday night and the presbytery meeting Thursday afternoon.
I had no notion of what I was getting into. I knew nothing about the controversial Kenyon case forbidding dissent toward the ordination of women decided about that same time, or the looming presence of The Presbyterian Layman in Western Pennsylvania, where it was founded. What I did know is that I was on fire to perfect the art of preaching and that ministry was the place to do that.
One of the first strangers in the church to give me heartfelt encouragement was Rev. Robert Lamar. Rev. Lamar was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (at that time, it was known as the United Presbyterian Church USA) for the year, summer of 1974 to the summer of 1975. He was in Pittsburgh that Thursday for his official moderatorial visit. Rev. Lamar introduced himself to me after I came under care, saying he shared the same alma mater, having gotten his M.Div. at Yale Divinity School. “Stay strong in your faith and sense of call to serve God in Christ in the Presbyterian Church,” he said to me.
Rev. Lamar continues to give me and the whole church his heartfelt encouragement still.
This spring, with other former moderators, Rev. Lamar signed a letter calling for unity in the face of the ratification of Amendment 10A. Now in retirement in upstate New York, I sought him out last week and asked him to share with me, specifically, how the church can best do that now. I treasure his wisdom and want to share it with you here.
“I believe that the new G-2.0104 Gifts and Requirements is a very Presbyterian way to hold the church together when our views differ on Scripture and on the nature of the human journey,” said Rev. Lamar, with confidence.
He observed that, “these revised standards enable sessions and presbyteries to make the decision regarding ordination” and that “the bodies with the responsibility have the freedom now to discern God’s call.” Rev. Lamar noted that, “this freedom is the privilege of responsibility and it is central to effective action in the church.”
Bob Lamar told me he was eager for this provision of responsibility and freedom to take the PCUSA to the next level of challenge and opportunity. And he was clear about what that next level will be, being that he lives in New York state and had just witnessed the adoption of same sex marriage only days before.
During my conversation with him, Bob seemed to be on fire about the challenge and opportunity presented by this development in New York state. He told me he was preparing to lead a study for his local interfaith alliance on the impact of the new law on clergy. “I am grateful that my state has taken this step,” he said to me.
Rev. Lamar also pointed out. “We will all, soon, know gay couples who are married. And we will all be living with ordained deacons, elders and pastors who are honest and open about themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”
Both these situations will challenge us to connect our experience with what we find in Scripture as well as to widen our knowledge of the nature of the human journey. This will, in turn, give us opportunity to serve Christ in our time and place, to respond to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of our minds and hearts.
What an uplifting conversation for me to take part in. I feel blessed by it. Moderator Lamar continues to serve the church with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. I hope his words sustain and inspire you as they do me.