Portland Oregon, July 23 - 27

The Georgia Perspective

During the Assembly we received reports and photos from Bill Thompson the chairman of the Communications Commission, Ray Miles, Regional Minister and Michael Weeks, Associate Regional Minister.

Friday, July 22, 2005

From Ray Miles

It can hardly be considered at day at General Assembly.  We arrived a day early so we could renew our acquaintance with the natural beauty of Oregon where we lived 10 or 12 years ago.  A full day at the beach and driving through the mountains renewed our belief that we have an amazing God.  A friend we were with remarked the expansive nature made him feel very insignificant.   The day in the wonder of God's nature made us forget the issues and problems we face and just let God wash over us.  As well the temperatures were significantly cooler than Georgia so it was pleasant.  We actually had to wear a jacket on the beach until after lunch.  Tomorrow we move into the business of the church at the Assembly.  We are here for a week but our prayers continue for Disciples of Christ in Georgia.


Saturday July 23, 2005

From Michael Weeks.

I had the opportunity to join 200 other walkers and runners at the Church Extension Spirit Walk here in Portland during the General Assembly. Walkers took pledges prior to coming to Portland and raised money for New Church Ministries. Each of us received a ribbon with the number 357. The number signifies the amount of Disciple churches started since 2001. Disciples have started 60 new congregations so far in 2005. We are on the way to 1000 new congregations and will reach our goal a long time before the year 2020.

Sunday July 24, 2005

From Ray Miles

"It's already the second night of General Assembly.  It's such a full time greeting old friends and trying to find every person from Georgia who is here to say hello.  What a wonderful time in a great church.

Last night the assembly opened with a stirring drum circle from the Yakima Christian Mission an historic home mission site for Disciples.  Our moderator Charisse Gillett then challenged us in her sermon to come into relationship with one another because Jesus is calling us to do that.  She said the time has come for us to reach a new agreement with one another to celebrate Jesus.  Don't be afraid of the victory we are promised and be at peace.

Tonight we opened worship with stirring singing and another message of hope and future looking from our current General Minister and President.  Chris Hobgood challenged us to engage in mission and not be preoccupied with our internal life.  We need to fall in love again with God and the mission of the church.

Dr. Lisa Davidson challenged us with a reminder of a message we heard in Charlotte two years ago. " if this church continues to try to blend into the landscape we deserve whatever troubles come our way." We must stand up and declare who God has called us to be, whether people like it or not. Secondly she asked us not "Are you called to ministry?" but instead "What ministry are you called to?" A question that makes us think.

Those are great words for the whole church and for us in Georgia as well.  The future is full of promise if God is in it.  My prayers are with you.  Pray for us here as we are the church together in this time.
I'll try to let you know how tomorrow goes but my computer is sick and acting up.


From Bill Thompson

Sunday evening….

Oregon Convention Center was filled with vibrant, singing, praying worshippers as Disciples heard the Rev. Chris Hobgood, Interim General Minister, preach from Leviticus 25:19-23 – a law of the Jubilee. In his sermon/state of the church address, Rev. Hobgood likened the history of Disciples to five periods of jubilee. In the first 50-year period, Disciples were born in freedom and excited discovery of the New Testament principles of the church. In the second 50 years, we experienced growth and the founding of many of the agencies of our church (missionary societies, the Pension Fund, NBA). In the next 50 year period, we saw mission expansion on the foreign field, along with the establishment of full-time ministries in many churches. In the 4th 50-year period, Disciples experienced restructure and destructure. And, like the process of perennial growth, bulbs retreat during winter, ready to bring growth again. Thus, he sees the 5th jubilee period as a time of new growth. This growth will be generous if we focus not on structural changes but an unchanging God.

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of persons at the assembly session. Many of us attended regional receptions after the session, which lasted until nearly 10 p.m. The rooms where the receptions were held were packed with ministers and laypersons alike. Those who were at the Georgia reception (part of SERF), were pleased to see Carole Lavery, Dean and Debbie Phelps, Hal and Ann Doster and others stop by and greet new regional minister Ray Miles.

Monday July 25, 2005

From Bill Thompson

Cheri and I were up early, attending our first Pension Fund retired ministers’ breakfast. There were ministers and spouses present who had retired just 14 days earlier and some who had been retired more than 15 years. It was amazing to hear how active were these retired servants of the church.

Then in the convention hall, we heard a Bible study from Dr. Ofelia Ortega, a Bible professor from Cuba. The business of the day included discussion of changes to the Design for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the closest we Disciples have to a constitution. The changes were approved overwhelmingly. Among the changes, the congregation is affirmed as the basic unit of the church and is listed first in the document. The general board will shrink from nearly 190 members to 67 members. This will be a major savings in administrative overhead for the general church.

For nearly an hour, the new President of the National Benevolent Association, Dennis Hagemann, presented the report of N.B.A. and answered questions or heard comments from the assembly delegates. There had also been a well-attended forum the previous afternoon where questions and comments were much more pointed. I will have to say that Mr. Hagemann spoke eloquently of the pain, regret and sorrow those who are left on the N.B.A. staff feel because of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy just completed by the flagship organization of the Disciples. As a result of bankruptcy, N.B.A. has lost its management contract for all 78 of its H.U.D. financed homes, has sold 11 of its premier retirement facilities and now has only 5 non-residential programs that it manages. Hagemann asked us to pray for and support N.B.A. as it rebuilds. Several residents of the 11 facilities that were sold reported a good transition to new management, though Fellowship of John funds were not able to be fully saved and may affect care of some residents. N.B.A. has pledged to address these Fellowship of John issues in the near future.

The evening session was led by the General Youth Council. It began with a concert by the Portland Taiko (taiko is the Japanese word for drum). This spectacular group is a premiere North American taiko ensemble that was established in 1994. We were led in worship by members of the General Youth Council of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Lisa Davison, professor of Old Testament at Lexington Theological Seminary, brought the evening sermon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

From Ray Miles

"We just elected a new General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins.  I can't sing the doxology which has spontaneously erupted because the emotion within me is so great, so deep and so overwhelming.  I am filled with hope for the future of the church to the point where tears well up and fill my eyes. Leadership is powerful when built on relationship with a person and with God.  That is what we have now.  Sharon Watkins is my friend and she is dedicated to loving God and this part of God's church. If anyone can make the Disciples of Christ new and fresh she is the one.  She will help us sing a new song in a new Day and the Disciples of Christ can move into being what god expects us to be."

I wrote that earlier today to try to capture the emotion which filled the hall as we voted and the results were clear to us.  For the Disciple of Christ in Georgia what does this mean?  It means we have a chance to revitalize and become new just as the whole of the Disciples do that.  With Sharon as General Minister and President there is a new sense of hope and a new realization that god is not finished with us and has a vision for us to move towards.  Isn't that what we are feeling in the Region as well?

The other neat thing today was to gather with people at lunch who were involved in helping Disciple seminarians at the Atlanta seminaries feel part of the church and prepare them fully to do ministry in the Disciples of Christ.  Again it is a symptom of hope that we are looking towards future ministries rather than past events.

If today holds any message for your congregation it is that looking into God's future will give us the energy and vision to be what God has called us to be.  Your congregation can do the same if it looks not to become what it used to be but what it is called to be.  The theme of the Assembly is "Jesus Calls Us".. It is true.

From Bill Thompson

This morning I gave the invocation at the breakfast sponsored by the European Evangelistic Society, an organization with mission work in Germany at the University of Tuebingen. Speaker for the breakfast was Dr. Dennis Lindsay, on the staff at Northwest Christian College. He was a staff member of the E.E.S. some years ago. He spoke about “Bread Broken and Scattered, The World Church and Biblical Interpretation.” This is one of the series of “Dean E. Walker Lectures” sponsored by the E.E.S. Disciples have a witness through this organization in the heart of the protestant reformation. This lecture should be available within the next several months and I would commend it to all thoughtful Disciples. (www.eesatlanta.org)

Sharon WatkinsThe big news of today is the election by a near unanimous vote of Dr. Sharon E. Watkins as our new General Minister and President. This historic event is a most hopeful sign for the future of our churches. I think the most telling thing about her acceptance address was when she said, “This is not about me, this is about us. We are in this together…”
I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the house after the election.

At the lunch break, we ate with Dean and Debbie Phelps and shared their excitement with Dean’s new ministry with the regional church in Indiana. As we headed to the restaurant, Cheri and I spoke with Chuck and Linda Rolen of Murray, Ky. He was minister at Griffin First.

This assembly has been a renewal of connections for many of us in ministry. It has also been a refreshing time of focus on the future as a church. I have not heard the negativism of some past assemblies.

We’re leaving in the morning, so hope Michael or Ray will add their reports of the closing day of the assembly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

From Ray Miles

General Assembly has concluded and we have a new future ahead of us. The overall mood of the Assembly is that of hope. From the discussions of the National Benevolent Association to the discussion on the more contentious items the overall atmosphere seemed to be one expressing a desire to be one church and be one people.

During the installation of Sharon Watkins as General Minister and President there was profound emotion. The applause was spontaneous and more prolonged than any time I remember in recent General Assemblies. It was a hope for the church and recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit active and alive in our midst.

During the prayer of installation, one image projected on the big screens was of Sharon kneeling with the cross of the communion table silhouetted in front of her. It seemed to me to be an omen that if we keep Jesus and the Cross of Christ in front of us, we will move ahead. Sharon’s sermon emphasized the idea that we are a church whose time has come. If we are faithful to the one who calls us and who has given us our mission, we shall thrive and move ahead.

Coming out of the Assembly there were actions taken that all of us do not agree on, but the emphasis of our unity at the table of the lord is what will give us strength. We can be a strong church again, focused on congregations and becoming faithful expressions of God in our community.

To see the exact actions taken, check the general Assembly website. The overall sense I have coming out of this Assembly is that we have turned the corner and begun the journey to reclaim our heritage as faithful and strong congregations of the people of God.

Plan to come to our Regional Assembly November 18-19 to continue the renewal and focus on God’s future. Sharon Watkins will be there and you can meet and hear more of her vision for the church we can become.

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