Monday, June 02, 2014

Parody account @pres_church hang up their smart phones hours before Presbyterian General Assembly 2014 begins #pciga14

This afternoon, the team behind the @pres_church parody twitter account hung up their smart phones and retired.

They issued a statement in which they outlined their motivation for starting the account, as well as the thought processes behind their observations and parodying campaigns.

As the group say "parody is very effective" ... though it can also really needle people and wobble all over the line of what's deemed to be "decent and in order". That's the risk with parody. Real people have certainly been hurt and offended by some of the content, and not everyone has seen the funny side ... or appreciated the critical eye being cast over the denominations foibles.

On balance, I mourn @pres_church's passing and the end of their input and critique.

The group explain:
We are continually disappointed, dismayed and frustrated at the lack of authenticity in PCI ... Let's be honest, we know what the church should be because Jesus gave us a very specific blueprint in Acts. But PCI today in many parts is very far from that.
They also reflect on church leaders often being "silent" about issues of injustice. While statements take time to draft and agree, PCI could be a much more powerful voice and witness in the news cycle of some relevant stories if it spoke 48 hours earlier than it tends to manage.

After some near misses, attempts to interview one or more of the group behind @pres_church ultimately failed. (And the attempts were on both sides.)

@pres_church's farewell address is worth a read, even if you think you'll disagree with their means or their dissenting voice. After all, Presbyterians have a long - and proud - history of dissent ... The message over the last 18 months from @pres_church may not have been comfortable, but it is one that needs to be grappled with.

It reminds me of a piece I was asked to write for the News Letter around the time of General Assembly a couple of years ago. I can still stand over what I said and reproduce it below.

Later on tonight, the outgoing moderator Dr Rob Craig and the incoming moderator Dr Michael Barry will both address the Opening Night of this year's General Assembly. You can listen to them on Radio Ulster 1341 Medium Wave - or watch it streamed from the PCI website. I trust that the folks behind @pres_church will like what they hear about the church needing to be "a people of service and outreach" and our need to be servant-like in our attitudes to others, both in and outside of the Church. Though I'll understand that actions over the next year will speak louder than words.

(And following on from some observations last June, I'll be watching to see if there is a greater diversity of engagement at this year's General Assembly sessions.)

- - -

People Matter to God

When Rev Dr Alastair Dunlop became Presbyterian Moderator in June 2001 he chose “People Matter to God” as his theme. Ten years later and the familiar strapline that encapsulates the heart of the Gospel still reverberates around congregations.

General Assembly is dominated by internal denominational administration, reports from boards and committees, appointments, messages from sister denominations around the world and a lot of strong tea and coffee.

This week of introspection will be reported in the press as long debates on money (strategies to maximise congregational giving), sex (discussions around homosexuality and same-sex marriage are never far away) and maybe even the length of ministers’ annual leave.

Is that what I as a Presbyterian want to be known for? No.

I want Presbyterians to be known for loving the poor: the poor in health, poor in wealth, poor in spirit, poor in self-esteem, poor in literacy and numeracy. Jesus’ ministry was dominated by his interaction with the poor, reaching out his hand to walk with those who were less fortunate.

Whether in Derry, Dublin, Delhi or Durban, Presbyterians should be known for their habit of looking beyond themselves and their own comfort and making a positive difference right round the world.

I want Presbyterians to be more inclusive. Irish history shows that Presbyterians tend to turn up on both sides of a fight. Not all Presbyterians signed the Ulster Covenant. Presbyterians haven’t been universally loyal to the British monarch.

While the default perception is that most Presbyterians are unionist – and the more liberal ones vote Alliance – this assumption must be broken. People with diverse opinions on border, identity or language issues need to be given space and indeed welcomed. And there needs to be a constant reminder that it is the Presbyterian Church of all Ireland.

I want Presbyterians to be more aware of their own hang-ups and sinfulness and less condemnatory of others. Presbyterians should prop their doors wide open and be known more for our grace than our judgmentalism.

The very point at which parents take the initiative and approach a minister to ask for their infant to be blessed should be a chance to welcome people into the setting of a loving congregation, rather than an opportunity to get out a checklist and see if they qualify for God’s blessing.

I want Presbyterians to have the freedom and power to challenge structures which perpetrate injustice: politicians who fail to stand up for the rights of all; businesses and corporations which discriminate and exploit.

Bill Hybels said: “We never lock eyes with someone who doesn't matter to God”.

Presbyterians should lock eyes with greater numbers of people, and let their eyes search our souls. That should be the mark of Presbyterians in the months and years ahead.


Anonymous said...

I have gone to Presbyterian churches all my life but increasingly feel that I don't want to identify as Presbyterian. The denomination has much to commend it, but there is an increasing harshness, narrowness and legalism to it, such that those who dare to think (Biblically) in ways that deviate from a right wing Reformed default can find PCI a very cold place indeed. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of @pres_church, there has to be a place for Biblical diversity and debate in PCI. Legalism is utterly un-persuasive, and unless those who lead our church soften, they'll lose many people to Vineyards and other denominations, to whom the future seems more likely to belong.

Anonymous said...

The future belongs to God, not any denomination.