The power of Scripture reading

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Greg and Susan Williams

In the summer of 2012, while pursuing my Doctor of Ministry from Drew University, I was presented with the unexpected opportunity of taking an elective course called Celtic Spirituality. It required that I travel with the professor and six other students by plane to Manchester, England, then by train into Wales, then by van to the village of Aberdaron, and finally by ferry boat to Bardsey Island. Remote and rather barren (see the picture below), Bardsey has only four permanent residents. Nevertheless, it holds a special place in the cultural life of Wales. Due to the large number of Christians buried there, it is known as “the island of 20,000 saints.” Legend has it that King Arthur is one of those buried there. As a result, the island attracts large numbers of artists, writers, musicians and pilgrims (my class included).

View of Bardsey Island (source)

In AD 516, an Irish priest named Cadfan sailed to Bardsey with 25 monks and began a monastery that operated through 1537. It was the mission of my class to recreate monastic life some 475 years after the monastery closed. In order to be formed into a monastic community, each of my classmates was assigned one of several roles: abbot, deacon, cellarer, cantor, acolyte, or the one I was assigned: lector. The job of the lector is to prepare the readings assigned for the mass (liturgical church service). The lector then either reads those long passages or assigns others to read them. I had no idea of the large amount of scripture that is read in these services.

Ruin of the Bardsey Abbey (source)

Initially, my reason for reading the passages had to do with fulfilling a degree requirement. But as I read, I was surprised by the profound, personal impact it had as I experienced the Word of God washing over me. As I went back and forth between Old and New Testament readings, my appreciation for Holy Scripture was renewed and deepened.

The course professor, an Episcopal priest, gave me some special attention (perhaps his Tennessee roots paired well with my North Carolina roots!). He teased me incessantly, noting that though we Evangelicals say we are Scripture-based, we read far less Scripture in our worship services than do churches that follow the historically-orthodox worship liturgy. He made a strong case for making Scripture reading a primary part of all worship services.

Being immersed for a week in Celtic spirituality had a significant impact on me. I was particularly moved by sharing in deep, rich community with fellow students. Together, we prepared meals, engaged in morning and evening prayer, daily mass, and other class exercises. But the takeaway I want to share with you is the profound power of Scripture reading in worship services. If your congregation does not already read significant portions of Scripture in each service, I encourage you to do so.

For two examples of how God is heard through the reading of Scripture, read aloud Ephesians 5:21-33. Do you hear God’s instruction concerning marriage spilling over into the mystery of the relationship of Jesus to his body, the church? As we listen, our minds become filled with awe and anticipation. The metaphor of being cleansed by the washing water of God’s Word infers how Scripture is every bit as inspiring and transforming as it is instructive. Now read aloud Psalm 119:9-16. What do you hear? What do you experience?

I encourage all our congregations to follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) in their worship services. Each week the RCL has assigned Scripture readings (called “lessons”)—one from the Old Testament, another from the Psalms, one from the New Testament Epistles, and another from the Gospels. Typically, the sermon expounds on one or more of these passages. You’ll find manuscripts for RCL-synced sermons written by GCI pastors and elders in each issue of GCI Equipper (click here for the sermons published to date). Along with each sermon we also provide a Speaking of Life video and discussion questions synced with the readings and sermon. I encourage you to take advantage of these resources as you proclaim and celebrate the Word of God.

Reading the Word of God with you,
Greg Williams, GCI President

New pastor installed

On November 3, Regional Pastor Tim Sitterley installed Anthony Walton as the new lead pastor of the GCI Los Angeles congregation. Over the last six years, Anthony served the congregation as an intern, pastoral resident and associate pastor under the direction of Bermie Dizon, the congregation’s outgoing lead pastor (Bermie continues to pastor the Glendora congregation). Here is a picture of the ceremonial passing of the baton of leadership from Bermie to Anthony as Tim looks on.

Women’s conference in Atlanta

The Women’s Ministry of Living Hope Christian Fellowship (a GCI congregation in Atlanta, GA) held their three-day annual conference in late September. The backdrop was a Hawaiian Luau; the theme was “Saved by Grace, Let’s Celebrate the Joy in Our Lord!”; the  theme scripture was Ephesians 2:8-9. The primary goal of the conference was to bridge the generational gap and promote a stronger “sisterhood” among the ladies of the congregation. During the conference, the women were able to have an open dialogue to address areas of concern, develop strategies for improvement, and work as a team to build stronger unity within the ministry.

Attendees at the conference ranged from 6 months to 80 plus years of age. It was a time of praying, bonding, fellowship and worship. The women enjoyed devotionals, fun games and activities, and plenty of food. According to Joyce Gordon who serves as President of the Women’s Ministry, “We were thankful for the many ladies, both young and seasoned within the church, who rose to the challenge by allowing their God-given talents and gifts be used in such a powerful way, remembering that we are all God’s work in progress.”

Retirements celebrated

On November 11, 230 members of GCI’s Spanish-speaking congregations in Southern California came together for a joint worship service in which Joseph Tkach and Lorenzo Arroyo were honored. The service featured exuberant worship and a well-received message from Dr. Tkach. The two honorees were given plaques showing the church’s appreciation for their many years of service.

Joseph, who retires from GCI employment in January, served for many years as GCI President. Lorenzo, who retired in 2017, served for many years as a U.S. Regional Pastor, and ecclesiastical supervisor of GCI congregations in Mexico and Spanish-speaking congregations in the U.S.

Joseph Tkach (with microphone) and Lorenzo Arroyo (at right) join Heber Ticas (second from left) in commissioning Jose Escalante (at left) to serve as the the District Coordinator of U.S. Spanish-speaking churches.

The wonder of the Incarnation

This “From the President” letter is by Joseph Tkach, Chairman, GCI Board of Directors.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Advent, which spans four Sundays (starting on December 2 this year), is a season of preparation for Christmas. During Advent we ponder the marvels of Jesus’ multiple “comings” (advent means coming). One of those marvels is the Incarnation by which the omnipresent God came even closer to us in the person of the God-man Jesus. As Luke proclaims, because Jesus has come, “nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17, NASB). I like Luke’s use of “come to light”—it’s an idiom that points to the reality that with the coming of the incarnate Son of God to earth, things previously hidden about God and humanity are now revealed.

To see physically, there must be a source of light and the same is true spiritually. The light that gives spiritual sight is Jesus—the light of God for the world. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6, NASB)

Christ Pantocrator
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Greek word translated face is prosopon from pros (meaning toward) and ops (meaning face or eye). It can also be translated presence. With the advent of Jesus, the everywhere-present though hidden God may be seen (experienced) through the Spirit in a deeply personal, face-to-face way.

Though omnipresent, God cannot be contained by created time and space. Through the Incarnation, God made himself personally present to us in Jesus. The Son of God first came to us through his human birth; since his ascension he is coming to us by his Spirit; and at the end of the age he will come again bodily. Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is not limited by the Incarnation. God remains Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the Son of God remains who he was from all eternity, while assuming a complete human nature. Because of the Incarnation, our uncreated, omnipresent God is present to all created things while remaining God over all things.

As portrayed in the famous icon at right, the Son of God, who was divine before the Incarnation, remains divine even while being with us in the human person of Jesus. As affirmed in the Chalcedonian Creed, Jesus is one person with two natures.

Jesus was, is, and forever will be, fully God and fully human.

My mind boggles contemplating that reality. Though I cannot fully comprehend it, Advent reminds us that God the Son came from eternity and stepped into created time and space to be with us. In Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin puts it this way:

For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! (Book 2, p. 53)

My mind continues to be boggled as I read what Paul wrote to the church at Colossae:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Col. 2:9-10)

As a baby lying in a manger, Jesus was still the omnipresent Lord, sovereign over eternity and all creation. Though he became human, the Son of God remained divine. As the author of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). While on earth, the incarnate Son of God lived a fully human life. Paul puts it this way:

Being in very nature God, [the Son of God] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)

The incarnate Son of God made this great sacrifice in order to reconcile, regenerate and transform within himself our rebellious, corrupted human nature. That transformed human nature is then shared with us by the Holy Spirit who ministers to us the things of Christ.

The wonder of the Incarnation, which we ponder during Advent, truly is beyond our ability to fully grasp. Nevertheless, it inspires our adoration and thanksgiving. Advent, along with Christmas and the other celebrations in the liturgical calendar, reminds us that our omnipresent, triune God reached down to us so that we might be lifted up to him. Thank you, Jesus!

Love and blessings upon you all this Advent season,
Joseph Tkach

PS: Due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday next week, the next issue of GCI Update will be published on November 28. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Passing of the Baton: report

This week we break with our “from the President” format to report on the ceremony held on October 14, 2018 in Charlotte, NC, where Dr. Joseph Tkach passed the baton of GCI’s presidency to Dr. Greg Williams. The report below was written by GCI-USA Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger. For additional information about this historic occasion, click on the links at right. —Ted Johnston, GCI Update editor

Never in my 58 years with WCG/GCI have I experienced a smoother, more meaningful transition in leadership. The honor given to Joseph and Tammy Tkach at the Passing of the Baton ceremony was equaled only by the support shown to Greg and Susan Williams.

The ceremony included presentations recounting the journey of change GCI experienced under Joseph Tkach’s capable leadership. Russell Duke (Vice Chair of GCI’s Board of Directors) provided an overview of the Tkach presidency. Michael Morrison (GCS Dean of Faculty) then gave a brief history of how Grace Communion Seminary began. That was followed by a presentation in which Celestine Olive (GCI Board Member) recounted how GCI’s teaching regarding women in ministry changed. Ted Johnston (GCI Publications Editor) then reviewed the process by which the denomination’s name was changed to Grace Communion International and the significance of the new name. Gary Deddo (GCS President) then addressed GCI’s journey of embracing incarnational Trinitarian theology. These presenters were then followed by President Tkach (pictured below) who addressed the significance and process of passing the baton of GCI’s presidency to Greg Williams.

Following the passing of the baton (see above), Greg (below) addressed the audience, speaking about the way forward for GCI and his excitement concerning how the Father, Son and Spirit are leading our journey. The special worship service was concluded with Communion and a benediction as one era of GCI ended and a new one began.

It’s hard to capture in words the wonder of what was a very special day. Hopefully, the pictures provided with this report, and the videos linked at left will help. Note as well the comments below from GCI denominational leaders who were in attendance.

Traveling from afar, it was a real privilege to be part of the Passing of the Baton service. From the call to worship, to the benediction given by Greg Williams, it was a very inspiring service. The choir and the worship set a wonderful atmosphere where speakers outlined events and accomplishments during Dr. Tkach’s tenure. The Communion service, led by Joseph and Tammy Tkach together with Greg and Susan Williams, summed up the love, unity and peace of Christ that encompassed the whole event. —Daphne Sydney (Assistant National Director, GCI-Australia)

It was an honor to attend the presidential transition ceremony. It was a living example of how peaceful, pleasant and yet profound leadership change can be when directed by the Holy Spirit. It was an example for any organization, large or small, of how such things can and should be done. Kudos to those involved, particularly Joseph Tkach for his willingness to pass the baton of GCI leadership with such humility, grace… and humor! —Randy Bloom (Regional Pastor, GCI-USA)

The best way to describe the passing of leadership from Joseph to Greg is to picture the orange, yellow and red glow of the horizon as the sun sets. After you take a few seconds with your eyes closed, enjoying the scene, you open them only to magically see the first ray of sun piercing the morning sky followed by the canvas of light bringing in a new day. It was a majestic moment for GCI. —Jeffrey Broadnax (National Coordinator, GCI-USA Generations Ministries)

The Passing of the Baton service was very moving—a powerful testimony to the grace in Joseph Tkach’s empowering servant leadership. We are seeing the future with excitement and are inspired to participate in this chapter of the GCI journey, fully supporting Greg’s leadership. It is great to be GCI! —Eugene Guzon (Mission Developer, GCI-Philippines)

Often in the past, passing the baton ceremonies felt like a pause in the race, with a stumbling restart and often a change in direction. On October 14, I saw no misstep or break in stride. The direction of the race is clear and the momentum earned by the outgoing president clearly carries over to the incoming president. —Tim Sitterley (Regional Pastor, GCI-USA)

It was exciting to be present at the beginning of this new chapter in GCI. I’ve appreciated the leadership of Joseph Tkach in getting us to this place in our history. I’m sure that I speak for all the Canadian members of GCI when I say that we look forward to the future under the leadership of Greg Williams. —Bill Hall (National Director, GCI-Canada)

To the household of GCI around the world, you can be well pleased with the love, grace and dignity that permeated this moving occasion of historic significance in our fellowship. We cannot underestimate the value of the years of service and sacrifice of outgoing President Joseph Tkach and his wife, Tammy, who were honored and celebrated in thanksgiving. Then Greg and Susan Williams were launched into the new role with personal love and enthusiasm and a swell of uplifting support. To God be the glory! —Rod Matthews (retired Mission Developer, Southern Asia and South Pacific)

Our members in Europe salute Joseph and Tammy Tkach for the wonderful job they have done in our fellowship, and celebrate the smooth transition to Greg and Susan Williams. Our gratitude goes to them for the inspiration they give our churches around the world—merci beaucoup, muchas gracias, muito obrigrado, dank u zeer, vielen Dank, mange tak, grazie mille, tusen takk, Благодаря ти много, tak så mycket, Ευχαριστώ πολύ, большое спасибо вам—thanks so much! —James Henderson (Mission Developer, Europe/UK)

It was a privilege to attend the worship service, including the transition ceremony in which Joseph Tkach passed the baton symbolic of the role of President of GCI to Greg Williams. Joseph has been used to provide stability and doctrinal direction for us through the most turbulent waters. For me, he has been an empowering and supportive leader and friend for whom I have the deepest respect. It was wonderful to witness the peaceful transition to Greg’s faithful, passionate leadership. —Gary Moore (retired Mission Developer, GCI-Canada)

I am humbled and honored to receive the baton as GCI’s fourth president. I have many memories from that day and felt overwhelming support from all who were present. One experience that was especially meaningful was the support from my family—all my children and grandchildren were in attendance. My younger brother Mark and his family came along to show support as well. Mark has not been an active member of GCI for the last 27 years, and he intentionally approached Joseph Tkach to congratulate him on the monumental changes that have occurred in GCI over the 23 years of his presidency. Those changes include the move to orthodoxy, the inclusion of women into ordained positions as church elders, the name change to Grace Communion International, the addition of Grace Communion Seminary and Ambassador College of Christian Ministry, immersion into incarnational Trinitarian theology, and the move from a corporate sole advisory board of directors to a governing board. What a strong foundation to build from going forward! —Greg Williams (GCI President)


Here is the bulletin from the Passing of the Baton service: