An Interview with Jeffrey Gibelius
A Scripture Echo as a Prelude to Difficult Discussion

What happens when we disagree about matters that are central to our identity, our faith, and our vision of what life (and church) is supposed to look like? What happens when those matters are put to a vote and you have a limited amount of time to share your thoughts and articulate the concerns of your heart?

The Presbyterian Church, (USA), like many denominations, faces some tough discussions about homosexuality. In local churches and presbyteries (groupings of local churches), and at the national level, good and generous-hearted Christians will come together to talk about what to do and what to decide.

But we are human. And in our zeal for speaking the truth (our understanding of it) and in our fervent hope that others might see things the way that we do, sometimes we speak in a manner that we later might regret. Sometimes we treat others whom we love in the name of Christ, in an un-Christ-like way that we later wish we could undo. And sometimes…we forget that when two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, that Jesus is present with us and can guide us in our choice of what not to say, what to say, and how to say it.

The national conversation in the last week or so, after the devastating shootings in Tucson, Arizona, has been about how we talk together amidst our differences, our passionate and fervently-held beliefs. What an important reminder to the church. What an important reminder to all of us, as Christians striving to be the church, to be the presence of Christ in our time. What an important reminder to look first to God’s desire for how it is that we live together in community.

Jeffrey Gibelius is a pastor in the P.C. (USA) who is charged with the task of leading a time of devotion before a difficult discussion and vote in the Presbytery of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 2011. He commissioned a custom Scripture Echo reading of Colossians 3:12-17 to use a prelude to that difficult discussion.

I emailed him a few questions about Scripture Echo and the upcoming presbytery gathering, and I am grateful that he took the time from the busy demands of parish ministry to answer.

Interview with Jeff Gibelius:

What is your prayer for the P.C. (U.S.A.)?

My prayer is that God would help us to find a way to keep our differences from dividing us while keeping true to our faith.

As you approach the tough discussions of March 2011 in your presbytery, what do you think it's important for those present to remember?

I hope we remember that while these votes are important, they are not ultimately important. No matter what we decide on the matters facing us, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will continue to glorify God and serve God’s people. This might help us to put this series of decisions in perspective. Some people may leave the denomination over the decisions, but the vast majority of us are going to stay and keep on doing what we’ve always done (worshipping, teaching, reaching-out, and so on).

What is it about this scripture passage that uniquely speaks to the presbytery discussions?

Tracey suggested this particular passage, and we chose it, because it highlights values that we all hold in common, especially values related to how we need to treat each other, even in times of disagreement. We also didn’t want to use a passage that could be interpreted as favoring one perspective over another. This particular Scripture Echo promises to bring people together in a gentle, non-manipulative, way. We will use it in the context of an “Evening Prayer” service (based on the liturgy in the Book of Common Worship).

Why do you think a Scripture Echo reading will be appropriate for the prelude to such discussion?

We were looking for a way to read scripture that would help the presbyters to hear the Bible speaking to them personally. We also wanted to incorporate as many different “voices” in the service as possible, to reflect our diversity. Finally, we wanted to begin our worship service at that key presbytery meeting in a way that would stop people in their tracks. A Scripture Echo reading seemed to help us on all fronts. Scripture Echo readings, by their very nature, force us to pause and hear familiar scripture passages in a new way. By slowing the reading down, mixing in a variety of voices, and repeating or “echoing” key words and phrases, this type of scripture reading captures our attention and helps the passage come to life.

What is your experience of Scripture Echo readings? How do they speak to you personally? What has been the response of your congregation?

We used one for a passage during Advent this year; it was one of the readings from Isaiah. I actually changed part of my sermon based on how I had just heard the reading presented in the Scripture Echo. In this type of reading the importance of every word in each verse is made apparent. New meanings are discovered, even by people who have studied the passage many times. There is power in hearing the Word spoken well.

Scripture Echoes are a little like jazz music. Some people love jazz, some people don’t, everyone is challenged by it. Hearing a jazz version of a familiar hymn brings new life to it; Scripture Echoes do the same for beloved Bible passages. Based on our experience we plan to use them sparingly, once or twice a year and on some special worship occasions (for example Ash Wednesday and at presbytery worship). They lend themselves especially well to retreat and summer-camp settings, healing services, ordinations, and other occasions when creativity and innovation in worship or Bible study is appreciated.

Anything else you'd like to say?

If you want to grab people’s attention, try a Scripture Echo. If you want to present the Bible in a way that can’t be ignored, try a Scripture Echo. Scripture Echoes are one of the ways we tell “the old, old story” in new and creative ways.

Jeff Gibelius is the senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church of Carlisle, a 750 member congregation in Central Pennsylvania.

By Tracey Marx
January 20, 2011

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