A Message on Non-Violence
A year ago, we went through the very important process of preparing a mission statement for Rye Presbyterian Church. The way we did it was something other than just collecting a bunch of disparate opinions. Rather, in the small groups that a hundred or so people attended, we first read scripture, listened to it, prayed and listened to each other pray, and then, and only then, proceeded to ask what God is calling Rye Presbyterian Church to do in the coming years. That was important to determine who we are, and therefore what sort of leader is needed to shepherd the congregation in the coming years. But it was also important in another way. As many people who went through the process said afterwards, in the very act of discernment we were acting as a church. We were deciding and thinking like a church.
Since the Newtown killings in December, the Session of Rye Presbyterian Church has been discussing a number of issues and questions that arise from that appalling event. We have, for example, discussed the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s position paper, “Gun Violence, Gospel Values.” We have pondered how the church might be an effective witness in a violent society. We have pondered how the church might understand itself in a violent society.
At its most recent meeting, the Session voted to extend these discussions by sending a message to the congregation inviting it into the discussion. Take time to read and respond to that message which is printed in full in this issue of Grace Notes. The ad hoc committee that first proposed it recognized that the issue of violence in our society is a broad one. It certainly involves guns, but as they note “the issues are not limited to guns. They are broader and deeper.” How then can we be a witness? What is Christ calling us to do in this context, both for the society and community in which we live, and for our own self-understanding? Thus it is asking members of the congregation, individually at this point, to undertake a time of discernment and to submit what their prayers have led them to suggest to the session.
I think it is important for each of us to know that things are not going to stop there, nor are all these suggestions simply to be collected and put into a statement that will soon be forgotten, and even sooner ignored. As we discussed in the Session meeting, we hope this will be the beginning of a longer process of discernment involving the leaders and members of this church. While much will depend on what we receive, and the dedication of the congregation, I can envision certain possibilities, any of which might help guide your prayerful considerations of these issues even now. It would, for example, be appropriate to have numerous Bible studies over the course of some weeks and months, say, on the Sermon on the Mount. We can do so in the spirit of the small groups that participated in the Mission Study, asking in this case, “What is Christ calling us to do about violence?” That would be a very good discussion, after reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 for quick reference.) From there, are there things that we should be doing churchwide? Things we should be focusing on educationally from Sunday School to adult education discussions? Are there things that we should be asking our members to do about violence as Christians? Are there things that we should be saying in the community, which is also asking some of these questions?
As we enter into this with great hope, let me note one final thing. We are all very outcome oriented. But, I assure you, the greatest outcome of all will be in the church acting like the church, and by its attention to the Word, shaping itself body and soul. This itself is a great witness to non-violence.
SESSION MESSAGE TO THE
Incivility, rudeness, bullying, violence … we see them all too often around us, among all age groups here in Rye, and in our larger society. Who among us has not been touched, directly or indirectly, by a consequence of the coarsening of modern society? There is much in the news about gun violence, but the issues are not limited to guns. They are broader and deeper.
Recognizing that the world around us is full of diversity, how can we foster a respectful conversation about these issues leading to meaningful action? How can we, as a congregation of Christians, further Christ’s teachings of peace and tolerance? How can we make a positive impact, as a church, on ourselves and our surroundings?
The Session of RPC recently began to engage in reflection about the impact of rude and hateful behavior in our modern-day culture, and now seeks ideas from the congregation about what steps RPC might take to reduce violence and increase civility in all age groups of Rye and its surroundings. As part of that reflection we ask each congregation member to pray for guidance, reflect on the Word, and then, if they wish, to submit their thoughts to the Session via this gmail address:
Submissions will remain anonymous.
The Session plans to continue in coming months its discernment on this significant aspect of our lives, and will consider the submissions received as it furthers discussion about what Christ wants us to do to increase civility and reduce violence in ourselves, our community, and our society.
Clerk of Session