Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Love This County. God Loves Miami-Dade too.

This afternoon I attended the installation of the new "Certified Lay Pastor" at the Iglesia Presbiteriana Vida Nueva on Coral Way, about three blocks east of the Palmetto. A CLP is a layman who, under certain exceptional provisions of the Book of Church Order (the constitution of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) may assume the office of pastor of a given church. The CLP at Vida Nueva is Heidi Arencibia, who arrived in Miami a refugee from Cuba within the last ten years, bringing her children with her but having to leave her husband behind, and making her way here in Miami successfully, as so many of these refugees have done. About three years after she arrived, her husband was able to leave Cuba and rejoin his family.

(It did not hurt that her country of refuge was the United States, but far from diminishing her courage and Christian fortitude, her success and the success of her countrymen indicates to me at least that we need to reform our immigration laws so that they are as helpful to all outsiders as those laws have been and continue to be to the Cuban people.)

My attendance was "official", as I am a member of the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, a very powerful committee that watches over the pastors of the churches within the presbytery and pastoral relationships with individual congregations. I've been a member for nearly two years, and I have learned a great deal about our presbytery, its presbytery level officials (or "bureaucrats" to be less generous, which I don't really mean to be), ministers and congregations, and about how Presbyterians (or at least these Presbyterians) connect. It has been an eye-opening and enriching experience. Where I thought that becoming a member of this committee would mean something like gearing for battle against apostate clergy, I've learned how decent the people with whom I work have turned out to be, whether "liberal" or "conservative."

One of the things that the committee does is vet pastors who have been "called" from outside the presbytery to minister to a church within it. In other words, we review the resumes of these men and women and have the opportunity to ask them questions on the matter of their theology and approach to ministry. We can vote not to admit them to our presbytery, which is the same thing as a state bar refusing to admit a lawyer from outside the state to practice. We have probably gone through at least six of these examinations since I began my tenure. Most of the pastors whom churches had called were fine, as far as my fairly conservative views are concerned, but I must say that I have been at times dismayed by the vague and incomplete statements of faith that I have heard and read. I imagine that a COM in a PCA presbytery would have dealt much more firmly with some of the fuzzy theology. On the other hand, I think that anyone going before a PCA COM would know what that COM is looking for and write to it skillfully. In the PCUSA, a pastor seeking "admission" to a given presbytery may not know who is going to be examining him, and I think that accounts for the vagueness and fuzziness that I sometimes see.

I expected that I would have the most trouble with how pastors appearing for examination would deal with the authority of scripture or, perhaps, the matter of homosexual behaviors. But that has not been the case. The weakest areas have been on the issue of why Jesus came, not exactly a fringe issue. I have become the COM's questioner on the matter of the Atonement. The other day, we examined a young man, a very attractive young man who had spent several years in the banking industry in Dallas before going to seminary, who had a very fuzzy statement of faith. He was articulate and long-winded, in a way that probably reflected a strategy of filling up the time with his words so that our questions would be few. Finally, I asked him, "Do you hold to the orthodox view of the Atonement?" He started to begin another ramble, and I interrupted him and said, "Say yes", and he stopped and said "Yes". I was smiling at the time and people laughed. But I doubt that you would see that exchange in the PCA.

At the same time, I feel very comfortable being on the COM and happy to be there. I will go further and say that I am blessed and that I see God at work there and in our presbytery. Maybe that is evidence that I have been tainted by my association with people who dare to venture beyond the limits of the Westminster Confession, but there I am.

And so I get back to the installation this afternoon. Below is a photo that I took. The service was mostly in Spanish, and I got the gist of it fine. Furthermore, I felt the Spirit moving in that place in a way that I don't often sense. And the newly installed CLP, who received an MDiv equivalent from a Methodist/Presbyterian seminary in Cuba before she emigrated to the US, made a very short talk at the end of the service, in Spanish, that had fire in it. I want to go back and hear this woman preach, even if I have to take my Spanish-English dictionary!

What is interesting about this installation is that her being called did not exactly fit the Book of Church Order. It was not really made for the sorts of situations you see in Miami-Dade. It took the coordination of the COM with another powerful Presbytery committee, that which deals with candidates for ministry. It happened that I was the "liaison" with Vida Nueva church and had been working with them on the project of getting Mrs. Arencibia in a position to be "admitted", but we also had to get the permission of the other committee, the Preparation for Ministry committee. The chair of that committee was Van Lahmeyer, my pastor! So we made it work, despite the objections of a at least one of the pastor-members of COM, who, while he may not be a particular literalist with Scripture, took a pretty wooden view of the Book of Church Order.

I saw God work through this entire process and this afternoon was such a wonderful culmination of His sovereign will and grace.

(THE PHOTO: Heidi Arencibia is on the front row, in the dress. Next to her is the Rev. Dr. Arlene Gordon, the Presbytery Executive. To Heidi's left is the Rev. Mr. Martin Anorga, who gave a good "Proclamacion de la Palabra," the sermon. At the first row at the extreme left is the Rev. Dr. Peter Wendell, the Clerk of Presbytery. To Peter's left is the Rev. Mr. Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz, who is the minister of a bi-lingual church in Broward County and who also serves on the COM. Next to him is the Rev. Mr. Leon Lovell-Martin, the pastor of a church in Miami-Dade, the moderator of the COM, a very articulate and effective leader whom I have really come to admire and like. The other two people are elders at Vida Nueva, one of whom is Manny Perez, the Clerk of Session with whom I worked a good deal on this project.)


Walter said...

That's cool, Dad - thanks for the post! I enjoyed the video, too.

Paul Stokes said...

Thanks, Walter.