(Warning–this is a post for people who are interested in the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Be advised, there will be insider language and lingo.)
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) meets in a few weeks in Detroit. I will be there as support staff for one of the committees of the Assembly. At the last Assembly, two years ago in Pittsburgh, I was a voting delegate.
Two years ago, the discussion on the floor of the Assembly was rancorous and nasty. I had hoped for a meaningful discussion between people who see the world differently, about how we could still live together in the same denomination, the same family, with room for mutual forbearance and understanding.
Instead, we had ad hominem attacks and fights over biblical interpretation. People called each other horrible names (the word “abomination”, as in “you’re an abomination”, was used more than once). We needed a leader to stand up and say, “stop. We are better than this.”
We needed a leader to frame the discussions about same gender marriage, divestment in Israel/Palestine, and other sensitive topics with clarity of our purpose. We were not there to change each other’s minds about how to interpret scripture or how to understand world events. We were supposed to be there to recognize that in a large denomination, there are many ways to interpret scripture and read the newspaper. How, then, could we live together in Christian unity, if not uniformity?
I’m hopeful this will be a different General Assembly.
One of the reasons is because all of the candidates for Moderator of the Assembly are good ones. I’m thankful for these faithful people who are willing to cast a hopeful vision for the future of the church when the media reports of our demise are plentiful.
I see signs of life and hope in the church every day. The congregation I serve is strong and healthy and faithfully listening for God’s dreams for the future. Around the denomination, too, I see similar signs of hope and life, even as churches leave and budgets dwindle.
Is it sad when our fellowship is broken and churches leave? Certainly. But when the only faithful way for them practice their faith is to break away from us, people they see as unfaithful, unbiblical, and unchristian, maybe we should just let them go so we can get on with the work God is dreaming for us.
Would it be better to build God’s kingdom with them? Yes.
But can we work for it without them? Yes.
I have met all of the candidates for Moderator. But I know one of them fairly well. John Wilkinson has served the denomination well in many different capacities. I was very excited when he was nominated for Moderator by his Presbytery. I believe he can lead us faithfully to have important and difficult conversations about how to live together in faith and love.
He shares this paragraph from the Confession of 1967 on his website:
“With an urgency born of this hope the church applies itself to present tasks and strives for a better world. It does not identify limited progress with the kingdom of God on earth, nor does it despair in the face of disappointment and defeat. In steadfast hope the church looks beyond all partial achievement to the final triumph of God.” -Confession of 1967
“I am committed to that urgency because I believe in that hope.”
His Vice Moderator Candidate is also a friend of mine. MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a pastor in Virginia. She brings a willingness to set aside the forms that are no longer working in the church in order to live into the future church. She is also willing to reclaim traditions some had set aside in an attempt to be ‘current’.
I believe the two of them together will help us discern God’s dreams for our denomination as we move forward into the future with our urgent hope.
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