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ACSWP reports on its Fall 2009 meeting

Focuses on justice issues in the Southwest and economic values    [12-15-09]

By ACSWP associate for policy development and interpretation the Rev. Belinda M. Curry

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) held its fall meeting in Phoenix October 15-17, 2009. The committee engaged in dialogue with members of the Grand Canyon Presbytery and other invited guests on immigration, energy and Native American concerns. The committee authorized a resolution on the economic crisis and worked with representatives of a General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) Review committee. The Committee heard project updates from members assigned to various study groups and other Committees, including matters of compensation, gun violence, HIV/AIDS and public education. In addition the Committee spent some quality time during its fall meeting reflecting on the ministry, witness and life of the Reverend Dr. Lewis (Lew) S. Mudge who died on September 11, 2009.

Social concerns in the region included immigration concerns, energy issues, Native American matters. Among the national and denominational concerns were the new Social Creed for the 21st Century, and updates on current study projects including a theology of compensation, gun violence, HIV/AIDS, and public education. The ACSWP group also met two members of the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC)’s Review Committee on the advisory and advocacy committees.

For the full article >>

Rev. Tom Dietrich, church redevelopment pioneer who used Saul Alinsky principles, has died    [12-14-09]
Should anyone want to send a note of condolence to Dorothy Dietrich, her address is:
687 Hickory Creek Drive, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066.
Her email address is

Thanks to Bill Dummer

From Presbyterian News Service, Dec. 10, 2009

The Rev. Thomas E. Dietrich, who pioneered church redevelopment ministry for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), died Nov. 30, in Oconomowoc, WI. He was 78.

A native of Milwaukee, Dietrich graduated from Carroll College in Wisconsin and McCormick Theological Seminary. It was there that he became an adherent of the community organizing principles of Saul Alinsky which he put to use in urban pastorates in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Madison, Wis.

He later served on the national staff of the PC(USA) in church redevelopment and concluded his distinguished career on the staff of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve in Cleveland.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Dorothy; a daughter, Karen, and son, the Rev. Stephen T. Dietrich; a sister, Marlea Sechtig; and his four-legged pal, Buster. A memorial service was held Dec. 5 at Delafield (Wis.) Presbyterian Church.

Witherspoon co-moderator Bill Dummer adds this note, which he sent on December 5, 2009:

I want to let you all know about the death of the Rev. Tom Dietrich on Monday, November 30. At his memorial service today, his widow, Dorothy, asked me to let Witherspooners know. Tom and Dorothy have been members for many years, and I gather from what she said, some of the founding members.

Tom did urban ministry in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Madison, WI, before going to the staff of General Assembly as the Associate for Congregational Redevelopment. When he retired from that position about 1996, he worked part-time for Western Reserve Presbytery. A few years later, they moved back to Milwaukee Presbytery (where he came from originally). He did a few part-time interims in small rural type churches that were transitioning to suburban ones.

He had surgery a couple weeks ago and was recovering nicely. Then, last Monday morning he crashed and could not be resuscitated. He was 78 years old.


“Tom Deitrich was my Mentor in 1970-71"   [12-17-09]

We received this note about Tom Dietrich on Wed., Dec. 16, from John Wilde, in response to our earlier post about his death.

I spent one year at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1970-71. On Sunday mornings I drove to Philadelphia for my field education at Tabernacle Church, which was and still is Presbyterian and UCC. I just went to their website and see that they remain a dynamic Progressive Christian, More Light Community of Faith.

Tom Deitrich was the Pastor and I will always cherish his tenderness, kindness, and passion for peace and justice, healing and reconciliation.

I lost contact with Tom and Dorothy but will never forget their hospitality and compassion.

I had a lot to learn back then and Tom was patient with me but also determined to guide me to becoming an effective pastor with some needed criticism, always gentle and even affirming. It takes a deep faith to be the kind of leader and mentor he was.


Witherspoon member John Wilde describes himself as “retired and living in Whitesboro (NY).” Then he adds: “Oh, yeah, of course I have a website and blogs with an orientation to Progressive Christianity: Progressive Politics, The Perennial Philosophy, Sustainable Abundance, Supporting the Palestinians, Rock'n'Roll, Travel, Photography and the Red Sox.”


Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) seeks nominations to recognize ministries of social justice

Press release from PHEWA, October 26, 2009

The Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) is seeking nominations for five awards that will be celebrated during the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, MN on July 5, 2010.

PHEWA, part of the Compassion, Peace & Justice Ministry of the General Assembly Mission Council, is a voluntary membership organization dedicated to social welfare and justice ministries. Ten networks are a part of PHEWA, organized for grassroots implementation of General Assembly policies in the areas of community ministries and faith-based community organizing, addictions, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, reproductive options, specialized pastoral ministries, child advocacy, disabilities, health and wholeness, and serious mental illness.

 “There are a lot of good people out there doing remarkable work with folks that find themselves marginalized or forgotten. These awards recognize those ministries and, by doing so, help to remind of us of God’s call to love kindness and to do justice,” said Nancy Troy, PHEWA Executive Director during the years 2000-2009.

PHEWA seeks nominations of:

·   PC(USA) Congregations that, either through ecumenical or interfaith community ministry, or through a special project of the congregation, have been faithful, creative and effective in their ministry to and with the community. The COMMUNITY TRANSFORMATION AWARD is presented by the Presbyterian Association for Community Transformation (PACT).

·   Persons, congregations, or PC(USA) entities that are exemplary in their affirmation, support, and advocacy for the gifts, rights, and responsibilities of persons with disabilities in the total life of the church. The NANCY JENNINGS AWARD is presented by Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC).

·   PC(USA) Congregations or church professionals that have contributed significantly in the field of addiction prevention, intervention and recovery. The DAVID HANCOCK AWARD is presented by Presbyterians for Addiction Action (PAA).

·   PC(USA) Congregations that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their ministry with those who have a serious mental illness and with their families. The FLORENCE IVERSEN KRAFT AWARD is presented by the Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network (PSMIN)

·   The Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN) will present their first biennial Faith In Action Award to a PC(USA) Congregation that, through prayerful action and through their ministry, walks alongside sisters and brothers who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS; initiating or supporting activities within the U.S. in meaningful and lasting ways. The ministries should result in increased sensitization to the issue and demonstrated impact on those affected. The recipient congregation for this Award will be one that shows God’s unconditional love for all people by striving to break down the walls of stigma and discrimination around HIV/AIDS.

Learn about past recipients of PHEWA’s awards by going to:

To nominate a ministry, congregation or individual for the 2010 awards, please submit the following information, by February 15, 2010: Name of person/congregation being nominated, the contact person for the nomination with addresses, phone numbers, email addresses for both, and a two page description of the ministry, including why they are deserving of this recognition.

Electronic submissions are preferred, but nominations sent by mail will also be considered. Send to: or to:  PHEWA, 100 Witherspoon St., Rm. 3228, Louisville, KY 40202-1396

Celebrating the life of Virginia “Ginny” Davidson

Virginia Davidson, who gave much of her life to helping the Presbyterian Church become the joyful, loving, and inclusive community that God intends it to be, died on Monday afternoon, October 19.

The pastor of Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester, N.Y., the Rev. Dr. Pat Youngdahl, sent this early notice to her wide, wide circle of friends:

Dear Friends,

Our treasured friend and companion in faith, Virginia Davidson, passed peacefully into the light of God's eternal love early on this beautiful October afternoon. She spent the last few days at home, surrounded by loved ones.

A memorial service in witness to the resurrection and in loving celebration of Virginia's life will be held in the Downtown Presbyterian Church sanctuary at 2pm this coming Saturday, October 24th, with a reception to follow in the Hallock Lounge.

In these sacred days of sorrow, remembrance, and thanksgiving, may we be especially alert to the movement of God's Spirit among us to comfort and inspire.

May the grace and peace of God be with us all,


The Rev. Dr. Pat Youngdahl, Ph.D., Pastor
Downtown Presbyterian Church
Rochester, New York

More from That All May Freely Serve, and More Light Presbyterians >>

Task force approves final Form of Government report

Two Witherspoon/Voices board members offer comments


Presbyterian News Service reports – using a story written by Leslie Scanlon of The Presbyterian Outlook – that the new Form of Government Task Force of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has The Form of Government Task Force has submitted the final draft of its report to the 219th General Assembly (2010).

The task force voted unanimously at its meeting in Louisville last month to approve the report.

The new proposal makes some changes from the recommendations regarding the Form of Government (FOG) that the General Assembly considered in 2008, but it keeps intact some key recommendations from that first plan, including some considered controversial.

For the full story, please Click here. And the complete report of the new Form of Government Task Force is also available online.

Gene TeSelle offers these thoughts:

For several years committees have been working at a new and supposedly shorter Form of Government. The first draft was sent back to the drawing board by the 2008 General Assembly. Now a new draft has been circulated.

First, we should note that no changes were to be made either in G-6.0106b or in the “trust clause.” Re-drafting was not to be a smoke screen for making basic policy changes.

But of course there will always be questions about changes in emphasis that could have major consequences. A careful comparison might be made between the summary of the Reformed tradition and the one we already have in chapter 3 of the Form of Government.

I notice that there is a reversion to the old language of “teaching” and “ruling” elders, abandoning the ecumenical language of “ministers of Word and Sacrament.” At first glance it seems to be an abandonment of ecumenicity – and perhaps a new assertiveness on the part of elders. Governing bodies are called “councils.” In the history of the church, councils were always temporary gatherings for a specific purpose. The English language has led to some confusion, since we use “council” for a group whose function is “counsel.” But there’s a difference between concilium and consilium, concile and conseil, that should not be lost. The Catholic Church calls the ongoing organizations “conferences.” But why don’t we just continue our language of “governing bodies”? If we want something really classy, we could follow the Dutch and call a presbytery a classis.

Finally, a basic caution. The call for a new Form of Government seems to be motivated by impatience with the detail of the existing one. But those details have been added through the years, usually judiciously, as a result of procedural confusions that inevitably arise and need clarification. The new mood is that “the church is mission,” that “form follows function.” The danger is that it might encourage an impatience about procedures and minority rights in order to “just get the job done.” If that happens, then there will be a new round of amendments to fill gaps that did not need to be created in the first place.

Mitch Trigger adds these comments:

I have looked forward to the culmination of the work of the Form of Government Task Force as they have shown some interesting developments along the path of its development. It seems to show the flexibility and singleness of direction that it was asked to develop.

That’s why I was disturbed, though, by its use of the word “standards” in regard to the confessions of the church. As a minister of Word and Sacrament, I take seriously my vow to be “instructed and led by the confessions.” The FOG draft, however, has added something I can’t agree with. “While confessional standards are subordinate to the Scriptures, they are, nonetheless, standards. They are not lightly drawn up or subscribed to, nor may they be ignored or dismissed. The church is prepared to instruct, counsel with, or even to discipline one ordained who seriously rejects the faith expressed in the confessions.” (FOG draft, F-2.02)

This use of the word “standard” raises more problems than this section would have otherwise engendered. Does this mean I must ascribe to the concept of original sin as it is found in the confessions? Must I now advocate substitutionary atonement? And do we have to delve into predestination again? By using the word “standards,” and the sentence where the church is “prepared to instruct, counsel with, or even to discipline one ordained,” the Task Force has created a very different meaning than the vows I took in my ordination.

There are many other areas where the work of the Task Force was clear and concise, areas where they did an exemplary job of illustrating our shared faith. I hope this can also be made to be one of those areas, but not as it currently stands.

Those are a few brief thoughts from two of our Board members. And now we’re interested in finding out about your questions and concerns – and your favorable comments – about the draft Form of Government.

Please just send an email note to Doug King at, or to Gene TeSelle at We’ll post all comments on our website.

Presbyterian Coalition protests that proposed new Form of Government offers “more harm than help”   [10-12-09]

The Presbyterian Coalition has issued a statement criticizing the proposed new Form of Government for, among other things:

•           “demoting” the authority of Scripture

•           imposing “Radical Inclusiveness Without Boundaries”

•           giving excessive power to presbyteries in matters such as dissolving pastoral relationships, appointing commissions to deal with problems in pastoral relationships, etc.

•           allowing presbyteries and GA to require payment of per capita assessments by congregations

•           removing many provisions now in the Constitution, reducing their weight to mere statements in manuals of the various bodies, thereby reducing their authority and creating a “denial of minority rights.”

These, they say, are “reasons to vote No on nFOG”

Their full statement >>

A Witherspoon note:
We have reported concerns of our own about the FOG report. As you might suspect, they differ a bit from those put forth by the Coalition.

It is published in the Summer 2009 Network News, starting on page 25.  But now it's right here, too, in HTML.

Form of Government Task Force approves final draft

'We commend this work to the church'

Sharon Youngs, communications coordinator of the Office of the General Assembly, has issued this news release on August 19, 2009:

DALLAS - The Form of Government Task Force has unanimously approved and submitted to the stated clerk of the General Assembly the final version of its work to revise the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The 11 members of the task force spent a major portion of their August 12-14 meeting here reviewing and refining their work before taking a final vote on Thursday (Aug. 13).

The task force released the initial draft of its work last fall. It invited feedback from across the church, which was taken into consideration as the group made final revisions to this portion of the PC(USA)'s Constitution. ...

Among the key items the task force members discussed last week prior to their vote was whether an interim pastor of a congregation could become that congregation's installed pastor. The task force voted to include that provision in its work. ...

The task force plans to post its final draft online by Sept. 1, which will be nearly six weeks ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline to submit its work to the stated clerk of the General Assembly for consideration by the 219th General Assembly (2010).

Between now and next summer's assembly, members of the task force will be making themselves available to interpret their work to governing bodies and other groups. Requests for visits can be made by calling (888) 728-7228, ext. 5808, or by sending an email to Joanne Green in the Department of Constitutional Services..

The full news release >>

Presbyterians invited to participate in review of Washington Office     [8-4-09]

News release from General Assembly Mission Council, July 31, 2009

NOTE: The Witherspoon Society encourages you, as someone who is likely committed to the social witness and mission of the PC(USA), to speak up in response to this invitation. Our voices need to be heard!

The Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  is “a central and important instrument through which Presbyterians make witness to their faith on matters of public affairs,” says Sara Lisherness, director for Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the General Assembly Mission Council.

In 2008, the Rev. Eileen Lindner, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor, presbytery executive and social research specialist, was engaged to lead a study of the role and purpose of the Washington Office. Presbyterians are now invited to provide feedback and responses to the study.

The study includes a provisional mission statement, eight principles to guide the work of the office in the future, and a request for input from Presbyterians. The mission study and feedback will be reported to the General Assembly Mission Council at the September 2009 meeting.

The effort that culminated in the initial report included analyzing previous research; assessing the work of ecumenical partners’ Washington presence; scrutinizing all correspondence regarding the office received over the last several years; empanelling a distinguished group of Presbyterians for additional consultation; conferring with leading secular partners in public witness activities; and reviewing related literature.

In preparation for the presentation of the report to the General Assembly Mission Council, the guidelines and comment section are now posted on the PC(USA) Web site.

Lindner stated, “The public voice and public witness of the PC(USA) is the business of all Presbyterians in keeping with our Reformed theology. As we move closer to making decisions about the future of our public witness, we will be strengthened in our discernment by the shared thoughts of a diversity of Presbyterians sharing their views.”

"We need advocacy groups!"

Does the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) still need to support advocacy work? [Hint: Yes!]

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty , a PC(USA) minister and a member of the theology faculty at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky, recently published an essay dealing with this critical issue in Presbyterian Outlook. She begins:

This key question arises in many discussions related to restructuring at the denominational offices in Louisville, a global economic recession, reviews of the PC(USA) Washington Office as well as a review of the relationship between the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC), the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC), and the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). These discussions are adding to perennial theological debates about the church’s social mission.

My response to the question could simply be “yes.” Recognizing the need to take seriously the current context of these conversations in church and society, I want to offer three reasons why we as a denomination cannot afford to lose advocacy groups.

Her reasons:

bulletAdvocacy groups were formed to assist our church in reaching out and looking in
bulletThere is still reason to be concerned about justice
bulletAdvocacy groups help to cultivate and equip leaders for church and society

We urge you to look seriously at this article >>

See an earlier comment on this development >>

Do you have thoughts on this matter?
Please send a note,
to be shared here!

New Mission Network for Syria-Lebanon

The initial meeting of a PC(USA) partnership network with the Presbyterian Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon will be held on Sept. 8-10 in Louisville. After many months of preparation, and in coordination with three representatives of the Synod, this meeting will bring together those who've had long-term relationships with the Synod, those who share an interest in supporting the witness of the churches there, and who also wish to explore how the Synod may help us in the U.S. in many ways, such as in our ecumenical and interfaith relationships. For a copy of the letter of invitation, you may contact a member of the organizing group, Rev. Dr. Len Bjorkman <> in Owego, NY.

Mission networks are organized to consolidate interests and energies among the constituency to promote the work of the General Assembly and its mission programs; they are open primarily to representatives of congregations, mission committees, presbyteries, validated mission support groups, mission personnel (former and present), mission pastors, mission professors and recognized bodies of the Presbyterian Church (and in some cases, to "full-communion" partners) who share a mission history and current interest in a particular country or region.

This new network will join some 35 partnership networks, and will strengthen already existing relationships with the Synod of Syria and Lebanon and its related institutions, as well as working with two networks that cooperate with Presbyterians and other partners in Israel-Palestine and Iraq.

Thanks to Len Bjorkman, of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

We have a special page for reports and commentary from the Big Tent gathering held by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Atlanta, June 11-13, 2009
40 years of fighting hunger

Presbyterian Hunger Program celebrates anniversary by looking back, looking forward

Presbyterian News Service reported from the Churchwide Gathering:

What began with a General Assembly action four decades ago has become a program that has raised more than $125 million for hunger relief.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program celebrated its 40th anniversary with speakers, music and a raffle at the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women July 14.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was the first denomination to state that hunger is a grave threat and moral imperative for the church, said PHP Coordinator Ruth Farrell, adding that the program was originally charged with five focus areas surrounding hunger: direct food relief, development assistance, influencing public policy, lifestyle integrity and education and interpretation.

"Those five approaches are every bit as relevant today as they were 40 years ago," Farrell said.  The rest of the report >>

Earlier stories are indexed
bullet January - June, 2009
bullet July - December 2008
bullet January - June, 2008
bulletAll of 2007
bullet All of 2006
bulletAll of 2005
bulletJuly - December 2004
bulletJanuary - June 2004
bulletJune - December 2003
bulletJanuary - May 2003
bulletJuly through December, 2002
bulletJanuary - June, 2002
bulletApril through December, 2001
bulletDecember '00 through March '01
bulletJuly through December, 2000

Some blogs worth visiting


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Witherspoon’s Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, Witherspoon’s Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


Plan now for our 2010 Ghost Ranch Seminar!


July 26-August 1, 2010



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