Talk by John Buchanan

welcoming people to the Convening Gathering

of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians

Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

19 September 1997


Welcome to Chicago. This is, if you're a sports fan, this is a great sports city, although this
isn't a great moment.

I heard a great story this week, a Chicago baseball story, that I hadn't heard before. It's about
the Zeke Manuro theory of chance. I checked this with my Baseball Almanac and it's almost
all true: Zeke Manuro played first base for the Chicago White Sox between 1934 and 1938. He
was, according to local lore, one of the least talented athletes ever to play major league
baseball. He just wasn't very good! But there's an anomaly, a wonderful anomaly about Zeke
Manuro: his fielding percentage was sterling. And so there was this discrepancy between the
less than gifted athlete but the wonderful fielding percentage. Someone said to him, "Zeke,
how do you do this?" and he said, "Well, if it looks like I might miss it, I just don't try for it."
So by never moving much, by never stooping over or jumping or reaching for a difficult
ground ball, Zeke Manuro managed to live safely and securely with the White Sox for five
seasons. There may be something in that for us today. Then again, there may not be!

On behalf of the congregation of Fourth Church and its officers, I welcome you. On behalf of
my very good friend, Bob Bohl, thank you for being here to launch the Covenant Network.

From June 29, 1996 until June 14, this past June, it was my incredible privilege to serve as
Moderator of the 208th General Assembly. It was the honor of my life. The year included the
requisite travel overseas to bring greetings and encouragement to Presbyterian mission
partners and personnel, and of course, extensive travel within the United States.

I will never, ever, forget the daily experience of the vitality of this church. In the midst of all
the hand-wringing about the demise of the mainline, our continuing and distressing
membership decline, I kept encountering faithful Presbyterian people engaged in creative
ministries of evangelism and compassion, caring for the elderly and the children, the marginal,
ministries of justice and peacemaking and education. I encountered a church which has
somehow managed to include a rich theological diversity over the years, a church that
continues to be home to a lot of self-affirming, practicing liberals and self-affirming, practicing
conservatives, and lots and lots of people in between. I encountered and experienced daily a
deep affection, a love for this Presbyterian church of ours that transcends ideology or
respective positions on this or that.

So everywhere I went, I talked about unity, about the fact that, as I read First Corinthians and
the Letter to the Ephesians, the unity of the church in spite of its diversity is one of the gifts of
the spirit. That there is, as a matter of fact, something at stake here that's important for our
integrity as a church, that there's an evangelical imperative about unity. We're called in the
name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ to hold onto one another, not simply because it feels
better. We're doing this for Christ's sake.

Everywhere I went, I encountered people whose deep commitment to a position, either for or
against what was then called Amendment B and is now part of our Book of Order, that deep
commitment seemed to have become more important than anything else, seemed also to be
defining and shaping the very nature of the church and its mission and ministry, seemed even
to be shaping and defining their own discipleship.

And so part of the experience as Moderator was to be taken to task, vigorously and in no
uncertain terms, by opponents of Amendment B who told me regularly that my refusal as
Moderator of our church to condemn the amendment as sinful and unjust and exclusive (the
words with which they describe it) was cowardly and shameful. And I was taken to task,
vigorously and in no uncertain terms, by proponents of Amendment B, who told me that my
personal position, which I never particularly announced but could not hide, didn't want to
hide, my refusal to condemn those who were publicly opposing the amendment before and
after it was approved by a majority of the Presbyteries, that that was unfaithful to my office.

And everywhere I went, I encountered men and women on both sides who were and are
concerned about their church, its unity, its health, its prospects, its peace and its purity. "Tell
us that we're going to be all right," they said, everywhere I went.

I will tell you that I did not expect to be here. I did not expect Amendment A. I expected, that
if I had any role at all to play in a post-moderatorial year, it would be to try to convince my
sisters and brothers who were opposed to Amendment B that we needed to try to find a way to
live with it, that our church would always attempt to honor the faith positions and conscience
of its members and officers and congregations. My thickest file contains letters from
Presbyterian pastors and elders and deacons and members and parents and older adults and
young single adults and married people, announcing or threatening to quit because
Amendment B was passed, and then my responses to each one of them, which I carefully
answered, trying to persuade them to stay. I'm still receiving those letters every day, and I'm
still answering them.

What I did not anticipate was the harshness and the heat of the rhetoric. I received just
yesterday a reprint from the Internet, and I, as people around here know, am computer
illiterate. I don't even understand what it is or how it works, but I get it on my desk, and there
was a little thing from an organization called the Presbyterian Forum. And that little thing calls
this event today "posturing," and suggests that anyone who attends this is more interested in
euphemisms than content, and you and I are people for whom anything goes, and that we're
really rather more concerned with that than fidelity. I'm not prepared, brothers and sisters, for
the impugning of motives and integrity like that.

So let me be clear: that I did not anticipate the rhetoric, the harshness. I've been accused, as
you know, of manipulating the Assembly, scripting the preachers, including Fred Buechner.
Gee, next to getting asked to throw out the first ball at Wrigley Field, that's the greatest honor
that ever came my way, scripting Fred Buechner! Can you imagine trying to script Joanna
Adams?

From friends that I respect and love, I have heard sincere objections to my role in this new
endeavor; so let me be clear: unapologetic, but clear. I did not expect to be here. I do not
particularly want to be here, although it is really good to see you all. I have my hands quite full
as pastor of this church, which is what I love to be and do. I need to be doing the things today
that you need to be doing. I've got a speech to make in the morning and a funeral at 1:00, a
couple of sermons to preach on Sunday, and that's what I would like to be doing.

I'm here because I believe what happened at the 209th Assembly was not only surprising and
unexpected, but is, over the long haul, a way out of the divide which, regardless of the
plurality of the Presbyteries' vote, still exists in our church and many congregations and
sessions. I'm here because I believe the new amendment gives us a chance to live together as
brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm here for the same reason I ran for Moderator, because I
believe the new amendment says a good and right and moral word, and at the same time
extends to one another the gentleness and forbearance and humility and love of Jesus.

Paul wrote, in the lesson we heard this morning: "I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling
to which you've been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one
another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"
[Eph. 4: 1-3]. And I'm here because I believe that is the word from the Lord.

I'd like now simply to thank you again for investing your time and your resources and your
hope in this event. We know that it's not easy to get to Chicago. It's not inexpensive to be
here, so I'm grateful to you all for being here. I'm grateful to members of the press we invited
to be here, and who are here because this is an important date, and I thank them for their
presence. And I want to say a particular word of gratitude to Reverend Jerry Andrews, Pastor
of Glen Ellyn Presbyterian Church in our Presbytery here, who will be speaking to us for the
Coalition. His presence is important. I know Jerry to be thoughtful and articulate and a good
and dear friend and minister.

May God bless our time together. May God use us all for the strengthening and unity of the
church. Thank you for being here.


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