Monday, September 22, 2008

Full Court Presby Returns… Sort Of!

Here are some pics from my dahlia garden. June was a bad month for the PCUSA and for my dahlias. Fortunately, the warm August and September have caused the dahlia’s to bloom like crazy.

Now on to the blog…

My self-imposed break from blogging is coming to an end. To recap, this past General Assembly and the Stated Clerk’s release on the “authoritative interpretation” regarding the ordination of practicing, non-repentant gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender persons has made it VERY difficult for me to stay in the PCUSA. I would have preferred to use this blog to help me work through the feelings, theology and polity decisions that I will have to make; but alas, my Presbytery has a “policy” that makes it very unwise for me to do this in a public forum. I still have not made up my mind as to what my future is with the PCUSA. However, things are happening in my Presbytery that have caused me to return to blogging before I complete my time of study, prayer and reflection.

The Presbytery of Olympia held its September meeting in Onalaska, Washington, at Community Presbyterian Church. The meeting was to go from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., with a 45 minute break for dinner. During dinner I was seated by an elder that was not from my church. This elder had been at one of our Presbytery’s debriefing sessions following GA and remembered my extreme displeasure about the Assembly. During the dinner he turned to me and asked, “When is someone going to do something about what is happening in the PCUSA?” He was clearly EXTREMELY frustrated with the PCUSA and this past GA meeting. I felt his frustration and anger.

Olympia Presbytery (the Presbytery where my church is located) has around 10,000 members and the vast majority of churches are evangelical. There are some very liberal/progressive churches in our Presbytery. However, a vast majority of the “power” positions in our Presbytery are filled with folks who are from the liberal/progressive wing of the church. (Does that sound like your Presbytery?) Our General Council of the Presbytery is very concerned about the future of our Presbytery and the denomination. The General Council has formed a possibilities task force to look how, or if, we can move forward as a Presbytery in the future. The General Presbyter talks about how the discussions have been lively and good. People I know on the task force have told me that they cannot agree on anything—even the nature of God!

It is my belief that some Presbyteries need to step forward to help the PCUSA move beyond this mess we have been in since 1978. Some people may end up being sacrificial lambs in the effort. I am unwilling to keep fighting this same battle for the rest of my years in ministry.

Guess what? It is not just evangelical Presbyterians that are tired of this fight. A few weeks ago I sat down with one of the more progressive pastors in my Presbytery. He, too, is tired of this endless battle. He cannot do ministry that he would like to do. We agree that no matter which side “wins” at a given General Assembly meeting the other “side” is going to work non-stop to “win” at the next General Assembly meeting. Those of us in the PCUSA have to be insane to live and minister like this. My colleague and I are looking at ways that we might encourage our Presbytery to take the lead and end this fight. If it means that the denomination splits—so be it.

Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) and Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR) want the PCUSA to stay together—just not totally together. The champion the concept that to split the church is not right. First, the PCUSA is a denomination, not the church. If we are truly concerned about splitting the church then those groups would work hard to unite the Methodists, Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Lutheran Church of American, and all the rest. Second, if our beliefs are such that we have to have “special” Presbyteries and with different “rules” then I would challenge the PGF and PFR stances for keeping the PCUSA together.

Enough for now. Tomorrow I will talk more about what is happening in our Presbytery.


At 8:47 AM , Blogger Reyes-Chow said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and journey. Surprisingly what caught my eye on your post was this "policy" of your Presbytery that prevented you for sharing earlier. Can you share? Is there a "no-blogging" policy or is it more of a "don't air in-house stuff" kind of understanding? Or something else? Thanks.

At 10:34 AM , Blogger Reformed Catholic said...


I think its this paragraph in the Presbytery's guidelines:

"When the leadership of the presbytery becomes aware, either through formal congregational action or through informal contacts with church leaders or members, that a congregation is in serious disagreement with the governance of the denomination, the General Presbyter, Committee on Ministry Chairperson, and Presbytery Moderator will offer a pastoral visit by a Response Team. It is assumed that before this process begins the General Presbyter will have had conversation with the pastor."

It sorta sounds that if someone is reading this blog, and does not agree with the sentiments, this blog can be used as a reason for a Response Team to be formed.

It does not help people trying to discuss an issue, when even talk of the issue can be construed as something to be used against them.

Do the evangelical pastors of the PCUSA have to become like the pastors of the 'house churches' in China, and covertly meet to discuss issues with the current drift of the denomination; while liberal/progressive pastors can flaunt their violations of the BOO or disbelief in the foundations of Christianity without fear ??

At 2:16 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

I believe the concern with the policy is how easily the process can be escalated to an Administrative Commission with fairly sweeping powers (dissolving pastoral relationships, assuming control of the church, freezing assets...). And the whole process can be initiated simply when the presbytery becomes aware "that a congregation is in serious disagreement with the governance of the denomination."

Talk about a chilling effect on free and open dialogue!

So it's about much more than not airing in-house stuff - the policy creates a climate where you risk a lot just to express disagreements internally. And it certainly doesn't foster a healthy culture of trust and communication within the presbytery, or even within congregations or within sessions.

At 6:35 AM , Blogger jim_l said...

Add to all of the above "the Louisville Papers" and you now have a complete and total air of mistrust. The processes can be easily railroaded into heavy handed actions (that does not always happen, but has in some notable cases). As I understand it, if someone flaunts the rules by preaching / conducting / doing / approving things contrary to scripture and polity (as some have done), their only threat is someone bringing charges via a PJC. We have seen that rarely happens. However, if a pastor speaks about leaving the denomination, they run the risk of an AC who can dismiss them and a full takeover of the church. Once a "team" gets appointed, official action has started and it may be hard to stop. There is insufficient due process for the congregation / pastor to stop or slow the processes. Once the team or AC is in place, they are the sole determiner of when and where to stop. There are not enough checks and balances. There do not appear to be any legislated methods/rules for determining "schism", dissolving pastoral relationships, replacing session, etc. It is all up to the AC to determine, so it cannot be applied predictably or consistently. The whole process relies on trust instead of specifics.


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