From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Kirkpatrick successfully blends order and ardor

Date 3 Jun 2002 11:57:24 -0400

Note #7182 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Kirkpatrick successfully blends order and ardor 

Stated Clerk prepares for 214th PC(USA) General Assembly 
by Emily Enders Odom
LOUISVILLE - To spend a day with the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the 2.5 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is first and foremost to keep apace with his breakneck schedule.

Accompanying Kirkpatrick involves not only being physically shuttled from one location to another, but journeying with him through the vast wealth of Presbyterian history archived in his mind as he calls upon this comprehensive knowledge of the past to address the church's present and future challenges.  Once a history major at the Presbyterian-affiliated Davidson College, the chief ecclesiastical officer of the General Assembly allows his appreciation and command of the Presbyterian heritage to fully inform his sense of call.

And not incidentally, Kirkpatrick is also a pastor with a tremendous heart.

Preparing for the upcoming meeting of the 214th General Assembly (2002), the highest governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Kirkpatrick envisions a church that is alive and healthy.  He is sensitive to his own role in the fulfillment of that vision as he and his denominational colleagues seek both individually and communally to build up the church in deeply personal ways.

"There are serious differences on issues," Kirkpatrick said.  "But at a deeper level, those differences in issues can be overcome if people do understand that they have a common faith, a common love for one another, a common mission in the world, and a common challenge to share the Good News.  Without good communication, that won't happen."

Committed to both modeling and fostering improved communication, Kirkpatrick has intentionally spent more time out in the churches, presbyteries and synods building up relationships. The kind of conversation and dialogue that he knows to be possible within the Presbyterian covenant community is precisely his hope for the General Assembly.

"We must restore our governing bodies as our primary communities of care," he said.

As Kirkpatrick reflects on what historically unites Presbyterians, he returns time and again to the Book of Confessions, "truly the first book of our Constitution," and to first four chapters of the Book of Order.

"Without a shared faith in Jesus Christ," he said, "no polity can renew the church.  One of our first priorities for the renewal of our church would be the reclaiming of our Book of Confessions as the first and most important book in our Constitution."

Kirkpatrick's perspective on the constitution coupled with his Gospel vision is a gift valued and acknowledged not only by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) but also by the church's worldwide partners in ministry.  

Less than three weeks before he is to travel to Columbus, Ohio, to conduct the general assembly meeting there, Kirkpatrick's love for the constitution and pastoral heart first carried him to South Africa.  In a challenge which he welcomed with his customary enthusiasm and vigor, he accepted an invitation to meet with representatives of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa to work with them on building a new constitution to provide for a united Christian witness in a new South Africa.

Columbus, OH, comes next.

(Emily Enders Odom is communications officer for Montreat Conference Center. She will be working in the General Assembly Newsroom as press liaison for the Office of the General Assembly.)
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