Is the Church at a dead end? More specifically, has the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. hit a dead end with the inevitable outcome of the demise of a denomination?
The Rev. Brian McClaren addressed the commissioners and various other participants to the 220th General Assembly meeting in an early morning gathering this week. His opening question was, “Is the Church (universal) at a dead end? He caught my attention! And it got me to pondering what I am experiencing/witnessing at this meeting.
First, this is not my first General Assembly (GA) meeting. I am a GA junkie! Oddly I love sitting in on the committee meetings and witnessing elders and clergy (always in equal numbers) struggle with difficult decisions on controversial matters that will affect the future of the church while being faithful to the Gospel and the Spirit within their hearts. These incredible men and women, lay and clergy, who are sent to the meeting are diverse ethnically, theologically, culturally, and in depth of experience. But one thing is certain – they love the Lord and the PCUSA. There is no end of differences expressed as a committee seeks consensus on the issues before them – brought from the individual congregations, presbyteries, synods and individuals. It is good to note that the employees in the denominational office do NOT set the content of the meeting, rather it rises up from “below” and any member (through a set process) can raise an issue. So… I am a GA junkie who finds excitement as I witness “the church” at work.
Second, I believe in the Presbyterian Church USA. Though our process for addressing difficult issues may seem ponderous, it allows for voices to be heard from all perspectives. When I was a new confirmand in the church I vividly remember a major theological argument between two adults on the topic of the divinity and humanity of Christ. It frightened me that these two men who were instrumental in my faith development could be so at odds over a major issue of the faith. As the argument wound down and the men began to laugh at their intensity I was left in awe. Somehow at age 13 I had the insight to ask what just happened. The answer: As Presbyterians we agree to disagree! I have held to that principle throughout my journey in the faith. It immediately taught me that even when I couldn’t agree or even understand another’s passion for a topic, I did NOT need to be frightened by it. Rather, I was called to explore it deeper. Subsequently; others challenge me and at times my mind has been changed, other times my resolve has been strengthened. But always my faith life has been enriched.
Third, I have come to believe that it is time to let go of some of my cherished “ways of doing things.” But, I am a process person. It is important to me to not just throw out a way of doing the business of the Presbyterian Church without evaluating the intentions, saving what is important and changing what is not. Process takes time, it takes commitment and above all it takes focus. That focus has to be on the call we as Christians and Presbyterians have to be faithfully working for the fullness of the Kingdom of God on this earth.
Yes, we will always disagree on what change is good or bad, on what theological/biblical principle should be followed, on what the Church should “look like,” but in the end it is about relationships. Relationships are complicated and they take work, serious and sincere work. As the commissioners of the PCUSA at this 220th General Assembly enter into the plenary session today (July 4th) to wrestle with serious potential changes to the Church, may God be with them and may they allow for the working of the Holy Spirit within their hearts. And may this meeting of a denomination be a witness to to the world that the PCUSA is not at a dead end.