Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Redevelopment and Death

“The ways of being a denomination that have served us so well for so many years, in which I was raised and trained and done my ministry for the past 30 years, are passing away, some so slowly that we barely recognize it, some very fast,” Gray said.

“We have come to a time when any person with a computer can access a universe of resources, programs and relationships. And churches are not looking to the national office for these things much any more.”

Gray said she had heard a “scary question” floating around: “Why do we need a denomination?”

-Joan Gray

It is only in facing death that organizational change happens (if even then) with a church or denomination.

Each year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) closes a few churches; many other churches remain open—sort of. How many people does it take to “qualify” as a church in the PCUSA? Ten people in worship? Fifteen people in worship? More PCUSA churches would close if there was a realistic minimum requirement of people in worship on a Sunday. Why do these churches close? There is no simple answer! Most of them have faced the possibility of death (closing the church) for many years. They were either unable or unwilling to bring about change—even while they were facing death.

Churches only redevelop when they face the real possibility of death and decide that living requires a total change in how they go about being the church. It typically requires new pastoral leadership, new elders, new blood, new vision, and new direction. The cost is high. That is why so many churches slowly fade into oblivion.

The first step in redeveloping the PCUSA is to face the real possibility of death. Is this something that our denominational leadership can actually do? Does Kirkpatrick believe that the PCUSA is facing death? Does the new moderator of the General Assembly Council believe that the PCUSA is facing death? Does our moderator believe that the PCUSA is facing death? Do the GAC members believe that the PCUSA is facing death? Does the staff at “higher headquarters” believe that the PCUSA is facing death? Do the members of the PCUSA believe that the PCUS is facing death? If all of these folks do not believe that the PCUSA is truly facing death then there will be no redevelopment of this denomination!

There is a faint glimmer of hope for the PCUSA if there truly was a question of the future of denominations being raised at “the meeting.” Moderator Gray said that some denominations are passing away quickly and others quite slowly. Where would she place the PCUSA? The mere asking of “the question” at such a gathering shows that there is a small amount of hope.

But wait… don’t get too excited! Marian McClure, Director of the Worldwide Ministries Division made a comment that threw cold water on the spark of hope that came from our moderator. McClure recalled a time this past summer when the GAC executive committee was faced with this same question. “I suggested that it might be the wrong question,” McClure recalled. “Not why do we need a denomination, but, ‘Why do hurting and lost people everywhere need Christians to be well organized?’” (from News, September 28 edition) Another cup of cold water was thrown on the spark of hope by GAC Executive Director Linda Valentine. The previous day she said, “The crucial things as we move forward into the unknown are things like transparency. Accountability. Listening. And listening. And listening. And acting out of faith rather than fear.” If she truly believes that this list of things will bring about the redevelopment of the PCUSA then there is NO HOPE! “Transparency” would be nice. There should be no closed meetings in the PCUSA except when dealing with personnel issues. Closed meetings breed distrust. “Accountability” would be a good thing. When GA staffers do something that embarrasses the PCUSA they should be reprimanded or fired. “Listening” is always a good thing. Faith is important. But, faith in what? Faith in the PCUSA? There are at least two different faith streams in our denomination. We can’t even agree on the essentials of the faith so how can we have “faith”? Transparency, accountability, listening and a divided faith WILL NOT save the PCUSA!

Redevelopment requires a total change. Redevelopment is costly—it costs us everything. Redevelopment is like salvation in that we must die to ourselves and the old way of living and being. A few churches have been willing to pay this price and have experienced a rebirth. Many churches have not been willing to pay the price and are slowly (or not so slowly) dieing. Have any denomination ever faced a bleak future and successfully redeveloped? I am not aware of even one. Isn’t that tragic? Will the PCUSA be the first? The only hope is for the leadership and the PCUSA membership face the reality of the death of the PCUSA. Anything short of this will result in the slow (or not so slow) death of the denomination of which we are a part.


At 2:31 PM , Blogger Dave Moody said...

As best you can-- cast some vision-- what might a resurrected (am not sure 'redevelopment' goes deep enough!) way of being together as congregations look like? Don't worry about the way of getting there. But what might 'the new thing' look like? Or at least what are some elements for a new thing?

Thanks for what you've written the past two posts-- I look forward to your thoughts.

grace & peace,

At 3:26 PM , Blogger person in the pew said...

I don't mean to be pessimistic, but since the conservatives cannot accept where the liberals are determined to go, and the liberals have just recently stated that they will try again in 2008 (and beyond) to delete G60106b (hope I got that right!) from the BOO, it seems that the two groups have adopted positions which are mutually exclusive and ultimately irreconciliable.

At 12:02 AM , Blogger Presbyterian Gal said...

I really liked your vision a few blogs back of a church out in the world. No big buildings to argue over. Meet in schools or businesses closed at night. Go into the inner cities and minister to the people right there on the street.

If we could move our denomination in that direction and focus back on the message, so many disputes might fall away.

....and a church is as Jesus said "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Mt 18:20) So we can go down to just 3 people left and still have a denomination. Technically.


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